Theatre Bizarre is one of the greatest parties in the world that you probably haven’t heard
about. Why is that? Well, Detroit is pretty good about keeping secrets and the rest of the world
is pretty good about ignoring Detroit. This series of interviews with party professionals from
Detroit challenges those stereotypes to reveal the incredible creative projects that have been
developing in this historic city.
Theatre Bizarre has grown into an elaborate, immersive, performative dark carnival themed party that spans 8 floors of the world’s largest Masonic Temple for two weekends leading up to Halloween. It is unlike anything else. In true Detroit style, the first ten years of Theatre Bizarre were developed under the radar and in a backyard, building year over year into a full scale hand-built theme park. It wasn’t until they brought the ferris wheel in for the ten-year anniversary that the fire marshall finally caught wind. When the event was shut down, they only had 18 hours to relocate. They found a new venue and their community came together, loading up pick up trucks to move the entire event and follow through for their ticket purchasers. After that fateful year, Theatre Bizarre had to go legal or give up. They decided to professionalize and party on. It wasn’t easy – shifting from complete creative freedom towards meeting the demands of the City, Permitting, Taxes, Insurance – But they did it, learning every step of the way.
In the 20 years since it’s inception, Theatre Bizarre has contributed to the professional development of thousands of performers, musicians, builders and makers in the Detroit area. People who started with Theatre Bizarre have made their learned practice a professional skill. Their fire safety technician has grown to become the lead fire technician for Burning Man and wrote the federal standard for fire performance safety. This event has been an important catalyst for creative professionals and saved the Masonic Temple from bankruptcy and deterioration.
This massive, immersive spectacle has done a lot for its community, but it also needs help. It’s not sustainable for Theatre Bizarre to continue in the Masonic Temple and they need to invest in their own space for the event and the community development to continue. Similar to how George R. R. Martin invested several million dollars to make Meow Wolf in Santa Fe a reality, Theatre Bizarre needs an angel investor to help this amazing project continue into its next phase. They need their own space that they can build out and use as a facility for the training and development of performers and artists. Learn more about the fascinating journey of Theatre Bizarre in this interview with founder, John Dunivant and his right hand man, Jason McCombs from March 24, 2019, the day before the Marche du Nain Rouge, another fantastic spectacle in Detroit you may not have heard about.
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Produced as a graduate applied project by Malena Grosz, MFA, Arizona State University
Intro music: “Moonlight Bounce” by Daniel T (with permission for use)
Podcasts edited by Corbin Garcia
Special thanks to Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University for grant-funded support of this project. Immense gratitude to my applied project committee for their guidance: Dr. Daniel Bernard Roumain, Dr. Rachel Bowditch, and Dr. Steven Tepper.