Calgary’s theatre community offers alternative to Halloween

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up. Move past the blue-haired fire-eater and head on in to Dark Carnival. Here, you’ll set your eyes on zombie burlesque, evil puppets, wandering magicians, contortionists, and of course, the bearded lady. And how could the night be complete without a mermaid? Don’t worry. She’ll be there too.

 Kirk Handy, producer and Dawn Desmarais, stage manager have been working to put together a Halloween event that will pay homage to the turn of the century traveling circus. Taking place at Quincy’s on Oct. 31, the event has held auditions for weeks to fill the venue with the sights and sounds of what Handy calls, “radical entertainment outside of the box.”

Like the carnivals of old, show-goers will be free to wander through the venueKnown by her stage name as Rica Shae, mother of four Bejasa will take her skills as a burlesque and belly dance entertainer to Dark Carnival, to be held at Quincy’s on Halloween night.

Photo by Justin Wilson
at their leisure while viewing, and sometimes interacting, with performers bringing their unique craft to Dark Carnival.

“The nostalgic part of it is going to be atmospheric,” says Desmarais. “We’re going to have a lot of character performance. Things like the muscle man, the talking mime, jugglers, and belly dancing. They’ll have to be in character both on and off their podiums.”

What to expect at Dark Carnival

Attendees will not only mingle with the performers, they will be treated to a number of major stage numbers throughout the night. A reproduction of the video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a Pirates of the Caribbean zombie scene – which Desmarais says is the first of its kind in Calgary – a live performance of Sweet Transvestite from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a big finish currently kept under lock and key.

“The nostalgic part of it is going to be atmospheric. We’re going to have a lot of character performance. Things like the muscle man, the talking mime, jugglers, and belly dancing. They’ll have to be in character both on and off their podiums.”

– Desmarais

Desmarais refers to the evening’s finale as the show’s “pièce de résistance.” The act is being kept secret and will be the largest production of the night.

Handy and Desmarais’ open auditions for Dark Carnival are meant to offer a welcoming and expressive outlet to Calgarians of all backgrounds, as well as a chance to be involved in something different.

Burlesque and belly dance performer Jennifer Bejasa, who goes by the stage name Rica Shae, got involved in Dark Carnival by attending an audition at Vern’s Tavern on Oct. 11.

Bejasa, a former banker and mother of four, describes the alternative theatre community as a different flavor to go explore, and regularly encourages those who wouldn’t normally attend darker shows to get to one at least once.

“You know, even if they say ‘No, it’s not for me,’ it’s something to add to what you’ve gone out and experienced.”

Trained by Guinness world record holder and fellow fire-eater Carissa Hendrix, Ross hopes to shine some light on her craft on Halloween night at the Dark Carnival.

Photo by Justin WilsonDark Carnival attendees can also expect to see fire-eater and burlesque performer Heather Ross, known by her performance name, Sanguine Siren. Ross has been performing for about three years and trained with Calgarian, and Guinness world record holder, Carissa Hendrix, to hone her craft as a fire-eater.

The varying ages, lifestyles, and talents of potential performers are something Handy looks for when choosing his acts.

“One of the things I learned a long time ago when dealing with people, is to just say, ‘this is what we want to do, here’s the night, who wants to be involved?’ Instead of hunting people down, you might get eight people you weren’t expecting, and all of a sudden the creative energy kicks in.

“Sometimes it’s like ‘Hey, that person is auditioning as a contortionist, but they would look really good as a girl dangling from silk strands dressed as a spider.’”

Desmarais adds, “It’s all about having the right environment to let creativity spur and present itself.”

A costume designer herself, Desmarais says there will be prizes for the best over-all costume, the best male-impersonating-female, and the best female-impersonating-male costumes. This is to celebrate the alternative lifestyle, and gay community who partake in the alternative theatre scene and who have provided she and Handy with venues to perform for so many years.

“We want to make sure there is a haven for all walks of life. Some people don’t have the outlets anymore so we really want to cater to that,” Desmarais says.

Tickets for Dark Carnival can be purchased in advance from The Little Shop of Pleasures and Priape for $15 and can be bought for $20 at the door on the night of the event.

jwilson@cjournal.ca