Inside the Edwardian Ball's Steampunk Circus

Of all the types of entertainment that people can experience, there has always been something magical about a circus. Though the traditional traveling circus of the 19th century has all but vanished in the wake of increasing animal awareness, various key circus elements which still possess their mystique have been incorporated into the repertoires of several touring performance art groups. Though there are a couple of these groups which are household names, one which continues to gather devotees has a very unique quality. The Edwardian Ball not only brings the magic to town, but it entices the people within the town to bring their own magic to the gathering.

Now in its 15th year, the Edwardian Ball's eclectic mix of musical acts, acrobatics, clowns, side-shows, elegant anachronisms, ballroom dancing, and steampunk couture continues to grow. When the Edwardian Ball comes to town, SoCal folks will have but a single day to experience it (Valentine's Day). On the eve of this auspicious occasion, Edwardian Ball hosts / producers Justin Katz and Mike Gaines spoke with the Weekly and provided a glimpse behind the magic of their swank variety show.


In approximately 1996, musician Carrie Davis put an ad in a paper. Katz, who later married Davis, recalls that the ad was for “musicians for something strange yet beautiful.” This is how the band Rosin Coven formed. Rosin Coven, which performs “Pagan Lounge Music,” founded the ball in 1999 as an underground phenomenon, in San Francisco. At about the same time Rosin Coven was formed, OC native Gaines and his wife, Shannon, were throwing theatrical fundraising parties, featuring acrobatics, in an effort to open a school for dance and film, in Colorado. That was how the avant-cabaret group Vau de Vire Society came to be. In 2005, Vau de Vire joined forces with Rosin Coven in what Gaines deems “sort of a chocolate and peanut butter scenario; it was just perfect.”

Since then, Katz says, “Every year, we sort of have a process that Vau de Vire Society and Rosin Coven…seamlessly create an orchestral score and a stage performance.” Attendees are well-familiar that the fluctuating themes of these shows are based on the stories, art, and general aesthetic of writer / artist Edward Gorey, and while anyone who has experienced the Edwardian Ball will attest that it is an extremely well-designed experience, it is not entirely the product of its creators. Katz reveals, “Mike and I do not micro-manage; we get enough ideas and enough structure in place and then allow the art to flow. Then we can go through and be surprised and inspired.”

Beyond the music, aerial performances, parlor games, fashion shows (courtesy of Dark Garden), props, and vendor bazaar, Gaines says, “We are truly just a sanctuary for those people and those artists that want to put effort into their attire…it's a showcase of walking creations. We just open the doors up and our kin find us there, and they're creative, beautiful folk.” The fact that this creates more of an immersive experience than a simple show is what makes the Edwardian Ball stand out from other variations of circus-brand entertainment.

The Edwardian Ball is based in San Francisco, which Katz says, “is famous or infamous for creating these various entities that really push boundaries,” and this year's two-day San Franciscan event, which took place on January 16-17, attracted nearly 4,000 people. For the single-day visit to Los Angeles's historic Fonda Theatre, Katz expects “we'll be at a nice, comfortable full-capacity.” However, since virtually every person who attends the ball has a tendency to return, it is likely that the event's visit to Los Angeles will expand. Katz reveals, “The [Fonda] theater only holds about 1,200 people, so we can only take it so far until we find ourselves a bigger haunted mansion.”

See also:
The 50 Best Things About the OC Music Scene
The 50 Worst Things About the OC Music Scene
The 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: The Complete List

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