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A few observations from inside Theatre Bizarre's "The Summoning"

October 21st, 2012

“Just remember that death is not the end.”

I arrived at the Masonic Temple late on Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t dressed for the evening, yet. I was there to get my media pass about an hour before the doors opened. After shuffling from place-to-place within one of the most amazing pieces of architecture Detroit has, I was given my lanyard and headed off to get ready for the evening. On the way out, I saw the man responsible for all the visuals – artist John Dunivant – on a ladder putting the final touches on the sign. John and I exchanged hellos and I told him, since I doubted I would see him later, “Have a great night!”

With a knowing smile he fired back, “You too!”

About two hours later, the line to get into “The Greatest Masquerade on Earth” was running down the sidewalk in front of the Masonic Temple for about a block and half. As I waited hundreds of people dressed in all manners of Halloween finery floated by - from ghouls to ghosts, Jesus, Mary… but I can’t say I saw Joseph – he must have had the night off.

But as I noted last year, zombies continue to abound. But this year saw the rise of the political undead – “Mitt Zombie” (?) and an Osama bin Laden were in attendance.

As for the surroundings, Theatre Bizarre’s design team, led by Dunivant, topped themselves. There were mainstays – some of the stages and various props continued to find their way into the event but new lighted signage over doorways helped to offer a better guide to revelers. Seven floors of events, bands and spectacle featuring featuring at least one stage per floor.

But the piece that attracted the most attention, and rightfully so, was a scale diaorama of "the grounds” - Theatre Bizarre’s original, and now closed, homeland near the Michigan State Fairgrounds. The scale model captured the main stage, roller coaster, Ferris wheel and other aspects of the haunted carnival in folksy detail.

The model also featured gas jets that shot fire from the mini-performers on stage. For added realism, the diorama also featured an unfortunate patron losing the contents of his stomach as tiny orange mugs, reminders of the “free beer” severed during Theatre Bizarre’s illegal, underground days, are strewn about.

From a performance aspect, it seemed this year was much more about reveling in the flesh with a focus on burlesque, fire and other such performance.

Lest you think burlesque is sexist, and true there were many beautiful women who danced and teased on the “Dirty Devil’s Peepshow” stage, men were also part of the action.

One such performer was a man presenting himself as a minister trying to save the souls of the sinners at the event only to be overcome by the spirit of Elvis singing "Run On" with its refrain to divine judgment as his clothes came off.

“Go tell that long tongued liar,
Go tell that midnight rider,
Tell the gambler, rambler, back-biter,
Tell them God almighty gonna cut them down” – “Run On”, Elvis Presley

As for bands, I was able to see a few songs from several local acts. Tiny stages included bluegrass-folk sounding players or jazzy combos. Bigger stages featured local acts unleashing rock or hip-hip in disguise. One standout was Passalacqua backed by the Ashleys dressed up as the Blues Brothers. Opening the set with the Blues Brothers theme – “Mister”, without his trademark beard, and “Blaksmith” tore up the ballroom stage in the basement of the Temple.

Also, local favorite the Detroit Party Marching Band made the scene by livening up the halls of the undead with its percussive and brassy sound.

New additions of “The Summoning” also included “The Sinema” – a screening room of short films in a horror or exploitation vein – and “Marvin’s” – a small version of Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills featuring vintage skill games & pinball machines.

Before leaving, I heard one final song from a jazzy combo in the lobby of the Masonic Temple that gave me pause to think about the themes, the images and the ideas of what Theatre Bizarre brings to the table, annually. 

“Just remember that death is not the end.”

And while the party on Saturday may be over, it was only alive for eight hours, the sights, sounds and connections made will live on inside the revelers and the volunteer crew that makes it happen.

I received confirmation of such through the Theatre Bizarre facebook page, this morning:

“As the final embers grow cold and the fog clears, Zombo settles, once again, into the cold comfort of his restless slumber. His blackened heart is warmed by the adoration of his minions and he offers his solemn promise to return. For now, there is only darkness and the memory of a single night – but that is enough.

Thank you, minions.”

Happy Halloween!

Rob St. Mary