This is one Halloween party where the tricks and treats are decidedly not for the kiddies.
Few are as passionate about the October holiday as local artist John Dunivant, who invites his closest friends and anyone else who wants to ante up for one of the 700 tickets to what has to be the biggest bash on All Hallows' Eve.
As one of the founders of Theatre Bizarre
, Dunivant works all year to produce one extraordinarily wild production: a crazy, carnival-esqe Halloween bash guaranteed to freak out the faint of heart.
"The party is, by far, unlike anything else around," says Dunivant. "It's more like a full immersion into another world … a place that is both fantastical and magical. It's really something you need to see to believe."
Of that, there is no question. Looking more like a horror movie set than stage, Theatre Bizarre, located near the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit, encompasses a hybrid of haunted houses, carnival rides and freak shows — each eerier than the next. There are body parts strewn about, skeleton dunk tanks, a devil's peep show and a booth where Siamese twins read tarot cards. Dunivant says all this comes to life just one night of the year—at the Theatre Bizarre Halloween Party.
"Right now, this place is desolate and spooky," adds Dunivant, referring to the set. "But the night of the party, it becomes another thing entirely."
That "thing" is aptly called Theatre Bizarre
. For adults 21 and up, the Theatre is assuredly the best fringe Halloween festivity in the Midwest. Since costumes are mandatory, guests become part of the show, adding to the menagerie of unconventional performers like flamethrowers, suspension artists and burlesque. Guests enjoy carnival rides, carnival food and drinks, and live music by acts like Crud, Satori Circus, The Gepetto Files and Superhero Hotrod, to name a few. According to party organizers, performers are selected for their ability to add to the "bizarre" atmosphere of the night. The party is limited to 700 and tickets typically sell out fast and early.
Initially, Theatre Bizarre was the brainchild of Dunivant and longtime friend and filmmaker Scott West. "John was always really, really, really into Halloween," explains West. "One year, we decided to create an over-the-top Halloween party—someplace all the creative types in this city would revel in."
The first parties were held in the Russell Industrial Center. However, West explains, these parties grew too large, and with their elaborate sets, were also too hard to set up and tear down. While on the hunt for a new locale, Dunivant and West met fellow Halloween fanatic Ken Pourier. It seemed a match made in heaven, or more aptly hell. Pourier owned a home and three adjacent lots near the Michigan State Fairgrounds that he thought would make an ideal space for a wicked party. And better still, the sets could remain there all year. Thus, was the birth of the Theatre Bizarre you see today.
Built around a story of a serial killer and carnival, Theatre Bizarre had its first party in 2000. Since then, it has grown bigger and better. Dunivant and friends spend months sculpting, wiring, painting and repainting sets and stages. They also spend loads of cash. West estimates the first few parties, when they build the majority of sets, cost approximately $50,000. Although the cost is less now, it's still significant.
While the party is a collaboration of many minds, the overall Theatre Bizarre idea is the sole vision of Dunivant. A College of Creative Studies graduate and local freelance illustrator, Dunivant has always had a penchant for the dark side—and his art reflects it. "I've always been intrigued by old tourist traps like wax and natural history museums, as well as old carnivals," he explains. "Theatre Bizarre is an outlet for me. It's a place I can bring my vision and art to life…if just for one night."
The Theater Bizarre is located just past the dumpster of bodies at 967 W. State Fair Ave. For more information, go to: www.myspace.com/theatrebizarre
Theatre Bizarre Photographs Copyright Brett Carson