Detroit’s Theatre Bizarre: The Greatest Masquerade on Earth

By: Toni Cunningham | October 13, 2014

Where can you witness acrobats, sideshow acts, burlesque dancers and nearly two dozen live bands all at one place? This weekend, you’ll find them all (and then some) at Detroit’s Theatre Bizarre, the greatest masquerade on earth.

The two-night event takes place at the Masonic Temple, 500 Temple St., Detroit, and begins on Friday, Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m. with the exclusive black tie Preview Gala. The evening includes a guided tour of the temple, strolling dinner, open bar and plenty of live performances scheduled for Friday night only. T&M Catering is providing the extensive menu, which includes Fire & Ice Bruschetta, Miniature Spinach & Feta Pies, Cognac Glazed Grilled Beef Tenderloin, Vegetarian California Sushi Rolls and much more.

“It’s a chance for us to enjoy the space the way we wanted to,” Jason McCombs, general manager of Theatre Bizarre, said. “Free to eat and drink and be merry without the chaos and the crowd of the big event.”

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

The preview gala is an exclusive, semi-formal Masquerade Gala with an audience limit of 450 that serves as an intimate, guided tour showcasing this year’s headlining talent as well as some favorites from years past. It serves as a warm-up to Saturday’s main event, The Illusionists’ Ball, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

McCombs, who began working with Theatre Bizarre in its second year building stages and performing as a DJ, said that there’s nothing like Theatre Bizarre anywhere else.

“It’s an immersive world that inhabits eight floors of the Masonic Temple in Detroit, which is the world’s largest. It hosts five main stages, 19 performance spaces and countless areas for spontaneous theatrics. The event hosts hundreds of performers, including upwards of 20 bands, world class burlesque, circus sideshow acts from across the country and so much more,” McCombs said. “This is all housed within an environment that has to be seen to be believed.”

The look on each partygoer’s face as they enter the venue, especially those who have never been, is McCombs favorite aspect of taking part in Theatre Bizarre. The event has come a long way since it began in the early 21st century as a Halloween party—one that grew to become an illegal theme park that spanned several residential properties covering three acres in Detroit.

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

“Theatre Bizarre is an artist installation first and a party second. The magic comes when (the event) is populated by revelers. There is entertainment everywhere you look, from the stages to the hallways. You are immersed in a surreal world. People often compare it to a lucid dream,” McCombs said.

The performances at Theatre Bizarre are not to be missed, because this is really a once in a lifetime (or, once a year, rather) opportunity. A sneak peek of this year’s lineup includes Roxi D’Lite (a burlesque performer), The Meatmen (a punk band), veteran sideshow performers from Coney Island, train rides (which can be found on the seventh floor), and a performer imported from Portland who shoots a bow and arrow with her feet while balancing on her hands. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like no small task to me.

“But one of the more unique aspects of this event is the fact that it is truly a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience,” McCombs said. “Eight floors of this enormous temple are in full swing simultaneously.”

Theatre Bizarre performer Chris Abolio, better known as Poppet, says you’ll never see the same thing twice from her, or any other performer. The event isn’t scary in the typical Halloween sense, but it certainly leaves you scratching your head and wondering what just happened.

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

“It will force you to question what you believe to be real, opening the floodgates to mankind’s twisted imagination,” Abolio said. “And is anything much scarier than that?”

Abolio promises a performance that is both strange and mesmerizing that will leave attendees confused and entranced at the same time. She chose to audition for Theatre Bizarre after hearing great things about it year after year.

“The performers are incredible, the organizers love and support Detroit, it’s crazy, bizarre and captures the very essence of Halloween. The Masonic Temple is a beautiful building, and it gets turned inside out for this event. Once you step inside, you are transferred to a different reality entirely. An unforgettable Halloween includes the biggest party in Detroit—the Illusionists’ Ball,” Abolio said.

The Detroit artists community is a strong one, full of creative people who challenge each other to be better, said Abolio. That, coupled with a contagious love for the city, allows events like The Illusionists’ Ball and organizations like Theatre Bizarre to thrive.

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

(Photo provided by Jason McCombs)

“We all need a cause bigger than ourselves, we all need a community (and) Detroit provides all of that for us,” Abolio said. “In turn, we will give the best damn show we are capable of.”

As of press time, both Friday and Saturday’s events just sold out. If you didn’t purchase your tickets in time, start planning for next year! Tickets to Friday’s black tie event cost $255, while the masquerade party on Saturday costs $90.

If you’ve already purchased tickets for either evening, be sure to take a peek at the dress code policy on the official Theatre Bizarre website. Costumes are required both nights, but Friday night requires strictly masquerade attire, while Saturday’s costume policy is still enforced, but is a bit more relaxed.

Both Friday and Saturday’s events are 21 and up only. For more information on Theatre Bizarre, visit the official website or Facebook page.