The 10th Annual Edwardian Ball of San Francisco

Lee Evil and Dougy Gyro
Lee Evil and Dougy Gyro in his “Nautilus” costume.

The tenth Edwardian Ball crept up upon us unawares, while we were still sleepy from holiday overeating and adjusting to our regular work schedules again. All of a sudden everyone seemed to say “This weekend? But I haven’t a costume!” And thus began the yearly scramble, with last-minute runs to the fabric store and safety pins carefully tucked away inside as-yet unfinished garments. The Edwardian Ball is one of those rare events where everyone–not just the performers and regulars–dons a costume. For some of us this means little more than our everyday wear, while others brainstorm for weeks.

A contact juggler amongst the revelers.

A pair of lovely lasses on the stairs.

Quickly outgrowing its first home in a crowded San Francisco bar, it moved to the Great American Music Hall for a number of years, adding additional days–Friday, the Edwardian Ball World’s Fair and Sunday Gorey Sunday–before coming to its current home, the Regency Ballroom. Even at this larger venue, the ball has reached maximum capacity on multiple occasions, drawing visitors from Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans and even London, in addition to San Francisco’s finest.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz, bassist for Rosin Coven and founder/producer of the Ball.

Purveyors and pioneers of their own genre, dubbed “pagan lounge,” Rosin Coven (amongst them included the founder and producer of the ball, Justin Katz) are the musical hosts, providing a lovely soundtrack for the night’s highlight performance by avant-garde circus nouveau troupe Vau de Vire Society, who each year act out a different Edward Gorey story; this year it was The Evil Garden (1965).

Jill Tracy
Jill Tracy, Friday night.

The Belle of the Ball, chanteuse and femme fatale Jill Tracy, had the crowd dancing to the debut of a brand-new waltz (the first time she’s had an entire room dancing, she tells me).

The ballroom
A filled-to-capacity concert hall of merrymakers dancing to Jill Tracy’s new waltz.

Fou Fou Ha!
Vegas and Fou Fou Ha!

One of the most amazing acts of the night was a musical number by the clown troupe Fou Fou Ha!, performing Tom Waits’ superlative “God’s Away on Business” as the finishing number to their rendition of Edward Gorey’s The Disrespectful Summons.

Fou Fou Ha!
Fou Fou Ha! performing Edward Gorey’s The Disrespectful Summons

Calamity Lulu of Quaintrelle Couture.

The lovely Calamity Lulu –in addition to designing the fabulous tailcoat worn worn by Jill Tracy for her Saturday performance– created your intrepid narrator’s own wondrous coat (I’m still searching for a proper photo).

Purveyor of fancy accoutrement, Kristy, at her booth.

Miz Margo
Miz Margo, in from New York, poses in front of the croquet garden.

A major change this year was the addition of another floor; the basement was dedicated largely to vending, a very small stage and a croquet garden.

Longtime Coilhouse supporters Choklit Chanteuse and Stache at the Adornments for Tarts table.

The milliner/singer Kat Toronto (another Coilhouse comrade) tends to her booth. Her Hey Sailor! hats sold like hotcakes at the Ball.

David Haaz-Baroque, puppeteer extraordinaire, pictured with his cousin and puppet Syrus.

Dave has for years graced the Edwardian Ball with his fabulous puppets; the main villain of Vau de Vire Society’s stage show was also his creation, as well as this mosquito, and an enormous bear that threatened the inimitable portraitist Suzanne Forbes:

Painter Suzanne Forbes cowers before the wicked Haaz-Baroque bear.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence always make quite an appearance.

Cicely Hansen (owner of Decades of Fashion on Haight), and Dan the Dandy.

Tom Sepe and his electric-steam hybrid motorcycle, the Whirlygig Emoto.

Coilhouse’s very own Nadya Lev, wearing Mother of London. and your Intrepid Narrator, clad in Quaintrelle Couture. (Photo by Audrey Penven.)

Audrey Penven, photographer extraordinaire (look for her contributions in Issue #05 of Coilhouse Magazine!) and the woman who braved my camera to take the photo directly above. Mme. Audrey also shot some incredible film at the Ball this year.

Calamity Lulu and Dizzy Decibel.

Totter and the wide-eyed Virginia.

Vau de Vire Society ringmasters Mike and Shannon Gaines. These lifelong sweethearts serve as co-producers, artistic directors, and lead choreographers of the Ball.

The much-beloved Rachel Brice, performing with Portland’s  Vagabond Opera.

Flynn Creek Circus wowed the crowd with a stunning trapeze duet performance.

Anna Quinones, production assistant to Justin, and an old friend.

One of my favorite pictures from last year (which I had to include for completeness!), darling Meredith Yayanos –dressed as Gashlycrumb Rhoda– with her penny farthing.

And thus concludes the first decade of a most inspired and heartwarming community tradition. The Ball encourages all of us to return to a time when gentility was the norm– a celebration perfectly suited to quirky San Francisco’s penchant for throwing down at the drop of a top-hat to create costumes and characters (as a score of friends did last year as the Gashlycrumb Tinies). Here’s hoping the Ball once again returns to Los Angeles so we don’t have to wait until next January for another fix!

15 Responses to “The 10th Annual Edwardian Ball of San Francisco”

  1. whittles Says:

    Easily my favorite Bay Area event. I could just wander the audience while taking in all the costume porn and be happy as a clam. The fabulous performances on top of that are like icing on the cake!

    Thanks for putting together this narrative, Neil!

  2. Emily Says:

    Fabulous article on an always splendid event. <3

  3. Michelle Says:

    So much eye candy!! Does the steam-electric motorcycle actually work? Because that would prrrobably be the best thing ever.

  4. Mer Says:

    Michelle, yes it does! I have seen it toodling along with my own eyes. It’s a wonder. You can read more about Tom’s development of the bike here:

  5. choklit Says:

    Delightful documentation, as ever, Mr. Nightshade! It was so fun to see Nadya there, and we were most definitely pining away for you, Mer…

  6. Suzanne Forbes Says:

    Thanks for the awesome photo and the great article hon! The curious can see my drawing of Nadya Lev in her Mother of London dress at Carnal Nation, in my own write-up of the Ball- which also features many excellent Neil Girling photographs!,0

  7. Mer Says:

    Choklit, I missed you guys so much that weekend. xoxo

  8. Stache Says:

    Ack…. I missed both Mer (being so far afield) and Nadya (whom I probably bumped into without knowing). So much fun this year, especially all the heaving finery on Saturday evening!

  9. Dave L. Says:

    I was very sad that the Edwardian Ball didn’t come to L.A. this year. :(

  10. Angeliska Says:

    One day I shall finally attend the Edwardian Ball! I think I ought to start planning my ensemble now, eh? Fabulous photographs, and a great run-down of all the fanciness and frippery. Droool..

  11. Nadya Says:

    @ Neil: It was an amazing night. Still kicking myself for missing Rachel Brice.

    You know, I was just thinking that the Edwardian Ball reminds me of Venice during Carnivale. I feel like the costumes and general sense of revelry are just as strong, and if anything, the EB may be even more creative in terms of performances. When I attended Carnivale, I said “these Europeans, they really know how to do it, nothing in America will ever compare!” But the Edwardian ball totally holds its own against the splendor of Carnivale. Looking at your pictures made me want to dig up my own old photos from Venice, which I post here:

    @ Suzanne: Thank you for the sweet write-up, dear! I blushed when I read it. Let me know when you want to get together at that new BDSM cafe on 8th and Folsom. I want to check it out!

  12. carnivillain Says:

    I was, coincidentally, just looking at your Carnivale photos, Nadya: and I am intensely jealous. The Europeans have the advantage of authenticity, both in architecture and culture. There’s a long history there that surrounds and pervades the whole experience — or at least that’s the feeling I get looking at your photos. You certainly have the advantage, having been to both.

    Perhaps it’s just a matter of “grass is greener,” but I maintain my jealousy. Someday, someday…

  13. Keith Says:

    Saw Vagabond Opera perform here in Portland at Halloween. Lots of fun! May have to check this out next year.

  14. Lilith Says:

    You are soooo lucky to have such events! And Rachel Brice! I want to move there :(
    Amazing pictures!

  15. The Blight - Photography by Neil Girling    » Edwardian Ball writeup at Coilhouse Says:

    […] wrote a small piece on the Edwardian Ball for my friends over at Coilhouse.  Go take a look and stay a while; their blog is a collection of dark and lovely things. […]