The Most Theatrical Halloween Celebrations

Courtesy of Masquerotica Trailer 2013.
Performers at Masquerotica in San Francisco
Performers at Masquerotica in San Francisco

With garish spectacles and ghoulish characters, many Halloween celebrations aim to imitate large-scale theater productions. Bringing suspense, flash and fantasy to life is irresistible. Even people who claim they don’t like plays or musicals will find themselves drawn to seasonal festivities.

The best Halloween parties borrow heavily from theater. They use performers and theater designers to transform their environment. Whether you are looking for a party or trying to produce one yourself, it is best to keep a few theatrical principles in mind.

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William Ball, author, theater director and founder of San Francisco’s American Theater Conservatory, outlines five predominant elements of theater in his book, “A Sense of Direction.” These five elements are character, plot, theme, spectacle and language. He maintains that choosing one of these five elements will give you an excellent chance for success.

“I believe narrowing one’s focus and being specific and creative within limitation leads to the most vivid success,” Ball writes. A good director, he notes, might be able to focus on more than one element. But focusing on all five will overwhelm the audience. “To allow four predominant elements is also unwieldy and will baffle the audience and cause disunity among the players. Even wise directors who take on three elements, allowing equal emphasis to each, usually turn out a vague and diffuse presentation, no matter how fine the play… That is why I choose one predominant element and stick to it with the exactitude of a monk, allowing a secondary element to mention itself gracefully, at appropriate moments.”

Using Ball’s five elements, let’s take a look at the most theatrical Halloween celebrations in North America.

Handmade carnival masks
Handmade carnival masks

Halloween whodunits are common storylines for soap operas, masquerade balls and dinner theaters. Finding a murderer should keep guests preoccupied throughout the evening. These plot-driven parties require forethought and perhaps even a writer or two.

Using an Edgar Allan Poe story as the basis of a party can also provide spooky entertainment. The Masque of the Red Death Masquerade Party in Akron, Ohio uses Poe’s story of the same name. A prince tries to find Red Death among six celebrants. These performers will use dance, puppets and wordplay to give clues to the prince and his party guests. While this celebration features psychics, singers and a henna tattoo artist, this game is the highlight of the entire evening.

Most Halloween parties ask guests to wear theme-based costumes. For instance, you might be required to appear as your favorite Hollywood celebrity. The most theatrical Halloween parties will go a step further, featuring an unusual theme, performances based on that theme and the appropriate setting.

The Steam on Queen – A Streampunk Halloween Bazaar in Toronto mixes steampunk and art for its Halloween celebration. Steampunk combines 19th century Victorian era and steam-powered machinery. Creating a Halloween party with that theme is no small feat. The Steam on Queen event includes Dragonfly Bellydance, home to the SteamFusions Troupe. This bellydancing group performs steampunk dance routines. This celebration takes place at the historic Gladstone Hotel, an arts-inspired hotel that first opened in 1889. Steampunk craft merchants will be on hand. The event is free, and you are not required to wear a costume for entry.

Spectacle is the hallmark of most Halloween celebrations. If you can afford it, fetish performers, realistic blood and maybe even a contortionist can make your Halloween party memorable. When it comes down to it though, is there anybody who can beat the West Village Halloween parade in New York City?

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But if you find yourself in San Francisco this Halloween, check out the 3rd Annual Masquerotica at The S Factory. This Carnaval Fantastique is an electronic dance party featuring Felguk and Freq Nasty. Mistress Liliane Hunt, Club Exotica Erotisphere and the Stripper Pole Olympics will perform on multiple stages. While it sounds like an erotic evening, the producers of this event also hope to foster tolerance, diversity and imagination. This sex-positive festival is for ages 21 and over. You will need tickets and costumes to enter. They don’t allow street clothing or pure spectators.

The Bubblesmith and the Babe perform at last year’s Masquerotica in San Francisco

Larry Rowlette portrays Colonel Cullman during a cemetery tour in Alabama.  (Photo by Greg Richter)
Larry Rowlette portrays Colonel Cullman during a cemetery tour in Alabama. (Photo by Greg Richter)

Although not nearly as glamorous as other theatrical Halloween events, a seasonal cemetery tour in your local community is another fantastic way to celebrate Halloween. A tour guide leads guests through the cemetery, stopping the tour along the way for performances. Actors standing next to a gravestone recite a monologue about the life of the person buried beneath them. Usually local historical societies or community theater groups sponsor these family-friendly outings. Check your local community events for a cemetery tour near you. Be sure to bring good walking shoes.

Literary Halloween events are difficult to pull off. Dressing up as your favorite author just doesn’t seem to be enough. You could include a candlelight reading of your favorite suspense and horror stories. It is a great way to celebrate literature, dramatic arts and the holiday. Many libraries also hold seasonal events for children and adults.

Ever hear of a haunted library? The oldest library in the state of Indiana is famous for being infested with ghosts. For more than 60 years, there have been reports of a Lady in Grey throughout the halls of the Willard Library in Evansville. Library assistants, researchers, patrons and even policemen have seen apparitions. There have also been plenty of strange occurrences, including noises, books moving on their own and people being touched by apparitions. People around the world watch the library ghost cameras to see if they can spot apparitions. The library hosts ghost tours each October to inform guests of the latest sightings. Reservations are recommended, and all ages are welcome.

View a video about the Grey Lady of Willard Library