Archived January 25, 2011
Labyrinth of Jareth
by Ani Mikaelian
Come one, come all, to the Masquerade Ball being held on the 16th and 17th of July, a weekend you can find yourself in a different realm of time. The Labyrinth of Jareth is a two-day event that is officially taking on its 13th year at a new location twice the usual size—the Park Plaza in Los Angeles, California.
With only two weeks left to this marvelous event, I was able to catch up with Sasha of the directing board who was more than happy to elaborate on the Labyrinth and how it came to be and just what we should expect out of it this year.
Ani: This is the 13th year going for The Labyrinth of Jareth. Can you tell me how it was first thought up and how it came to be after all these years?
Sasha:Of course. The Masquerade Ball was started by our fearless leader, Shawn Strider, many, many years ago when he was a wee pup. Basically, he was very young, I think 20, and he decided that since he had never been to a Masquerade Ball before he really wanted to go to one. Nobody was having one, and he thought about checking in a few different places, and he still did not find anyone throwing one so he thought, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to do it myself.” (Laughs) So he did, he threw one. They expected fifty people, so it was very little. I believe it was on the top floor of a nightclub. They received a hundred and fifty people instead. Then about the same time next year, people were starting to ask if he was going to throw another one again, and so he did it once more. More people showed up! And now it is a hobby gone horribly, horribly wrong. (Laughs) We do 1,500 people on Saturday night and between 800 and 1,000 on Friday night. It’s terribly exciting. Every year the patrons’ costumes get more exuberant and brilliant, and every year I just love to wait and see what people come in with. It’s just fun to see what people have come up with. That’s a long answer too. (Laughs) It’s how everything got started.
Ani: Oh no, that’s perfect. I love how enthusiastic you are about the event. Especially glad Shawn decided better to start one himself than to let it go.
Sasha: Yeah, exactly!
Ani:What varieties of costumes have you seen so far?
Sasha:Oh, wow. We get everything from Renaissance Fair style costumes, the historically accurate costumes with the accurate buttons and jewels—it’s amazing. Some people I know do go so far as to go about making their costumes the way it would have been made back in the day. So they do it all by hand.
Ani:Wow, that’s so interesting. They’re very dedicated.
Sasha: I know, I’m just amazed. (Laughs) Very dedicated people. So those are incredible, and then we have lots of fairies, elves, and goblins.
Ani:Would you tell me about a favorite one you’ve seen? Maybe the most memorable to you.
Sasha: That’s tough! There are a few that I really like. One of them… He looks like one of the Ringwraiths from The Lord of the Rings; he’s all in white. You can see all the details, and he’s always painted white, and he has the giant Ringwraiths head. You know, I don’t actually know if he’s a Ringwraith, but to me that’s what it looks like. (Laughs) That one is incredible. I also like it when people come in groups. The League of S.T.E.A.M. always comes and they have their amazing costumes, and they actually bring their own ghosts. So these women in black and white with no faces wander around, they’ll weave in and out of the men and the men pretend to not see them, so that they can see it on their ghost-catching clickers. That sort of thing is just adorable, I love it. Also, there was a group of green goblins that came last year, there were twenty of them or so, and they were all painted green and had beautiful goblin prosthetics. I like that a lot, when people try to coordinate what they’re doing.
Ani: That is really good thinking, it’s amazing how much people get into a night like this.
Sasha: You know, it’s amazing because I personally know patrons will begin their costume for the following year the day after they leave the Labyrinth. So there are people who plan all year for this.
Ani: They work around the event, yeah, that is brilliant. Big fans!
Sasha: Oh, it’s wonderful. And obviously, we do the same thing, but we build over a hundred costumes, different than the year before.
Ani: It’s definitely worth it though, especially when there is nothing else like it around.
Sasha: There isn’t. I mean, there are a lot of really fabulous events in Los Angeles. I don’t know much about San Diego, but I know in Los Angeles there are some really great costume events. This one, however, you can’t find and it just takes the cake. It’s because there are no limitations. Some events, you know, state that, “This is only Victorian,” or “This is only unicorn,” and really this is not at all like that. As long as you have a mask and you’re willing to have a good time, you’re in. I just love that feeling. You know, we have had someone come as Batman and they’re here thinking, “Oh, I should have not been Batman.” (Laughs) Batman just isn’t up to par with everything else there is there, although I did like Batman—he was very nice.
Ani:This year the Labyrinth will be taking place at another location, correct? The Park Plaza?
Sasha: It’s beautiful! Yes, the Park Plaza. It’s gorgeous, we are so fortunate to have found the place and then to have worked out the deal we did. It is just stunning to look at. Everything is so warm and so lush. It’s already such an inviting place. We’re very lucky because we can grow in this place.
Ani:The Park Plaza is much bigger, right?
Sasha:Yes, much bigger. It’s about twice as big as it usually is actually. And so we’ll be able to expand over the next four or five years before we hit max capacity on that one. That’s just exciting to me because I do a lot of the communications dealing with the public for Shawn, and every year there are so many emails consisting of, “Oh my god, I didn’t get my ticket. Is there anything I can do to get a ticket?” When you hit maximum capacity, there is nothing you can do. No matter how much I want to give somebody his or her ticket, I can’t. And also, our maximum capacity is lower than what the fire marshal said, just because of the size of the costumes. Some of them are so huge that we wouldn’t be safe if we allowed the fire marshal’s maximum capacity to come inside and play with us.
Ani:Oh, definitely, I understand you need to take precautions with this.
Sasha: Absolutely. Who wants to be in a forty-pound dress pushed up against other people? (Laughs)
Ani: No, not at all. (Laughs) It’s very good though, I’m glad it’s double the size this year.
Sasha:It’s terribly exciting. It’s just wonderful to think about. In fact, we’re using the entire Park Plaza, but we’re closing off one of the ballrooms. There is one ballroom we’re not going to even open this year. If the numbers grow as much as we’d like it to, you know, maybe we can open it next year. Maybe not, maybe it will be 2013 before we get to use the entire venue because it is so big.
Ani:We’ll see! Hopefully more fans will be drawn in.
Sasha: I hope so! By the way, on that note, thank you so much for calling me and doing this. This is just so unbelievably exciting for us, I can’t thank you enough.
Ani:It’s no problem at all, honestly thank you. I just hadn’t seen anything like this up close and personal, and when I realized it was so soon and so close to me, I found myself more and more interested with it.
Sasha:I can’t wait for you to come and see it. (Laughs)
Ani:So if one doesn’t show up in a costume, they are not granted entry. How are the costumes measured to be up to par though?
Sasha: We have a Lord Chamberlain who stands at the door on the clock and his job is basically to make sure everyone is up to par. Usually if you attempt something we will let you in. He’s a real stickler about certain things; if you show up in jeans and a t-shirt, it’s just like “I’m sorry, dude, you’re going to have to go get a costume.” If you show up and it’s obvious that you made a good effort, that you meant it, generally he is very gracious of spirits. I think the only people who have been booted didn’t have anything to resemble a costume. They came in a nice suit, but it wasn’t a tux, and it didn’t have a mask, and they really didn’t know what they were coming to anyway. (Laughs) Then there are those who show up in jeans and t-shirts, and we tell them, “We’re sorry, but there can’t be any spectators. You have to be in touch with us.” And that is why we do it—it creates a sanctuary for our patrons. If there are a bunch of people standing around in jeans and a t-shirt and you’re in a forty-pound, it’s a little awkward. It’s much easier for our patrons if everyone participates and chooses to be apart of the experience. It adds something to everyone’s experience because you do have to plan and you do have to take the time.
Ani:(Laughs) Very good idea!
Sasha:Yeah, but generally we don’t have people who pitch a fit. Especially when we were at the Henry Fonda, there was a costume shop nearby that would stay open late for the Labyrinth.
Ani:So there is a pre-show before the actual event on Friday and Saturday. Can you tell me a little about what is going to be previewed during that time?
Sasha:The pre-show is kind of a sneak-peak. We serve appetizers and desserts, and the patrons who bought the pre-show tickets get to spend a little bit of one-on-one time with members of the cast and crew, and to see Shawn Strider, which is usually why people come to the pre-show in the first place. To see him and who he is since during the evening when you see him he is generally whizzing by because he has something to go do. The pre-show gives you an idea of how we do what we do. The process for this year began in December. We have been working from December on pretty hard-core. Beginning in March, we usually wrap it up. During the pre-show you get to look at the artwork and the sketches that we’ve made before we’ve had to begin the building process. You get to listen to the ideas Shawn has and how the idea started. It’s basically just a nice, quite, and calm experience that lets you in on a little bit of the magic.
Ani: Yeah, it’s a little bit different to keep your focus. Do you usually get a lot of people for that as well?
Sasha:We do. We’re already sold out for the Saturday pre-show, and the Friday one is nearly sold out. So it’s great. I love the pre-show so much. It’s a peek at what we do, and the lady who is in charge of our pre-show running, her name is Natalia, she just rocks it. (Laughs) It becomes a whole separate event under her hand and that’s just wonderful.
Ani:That’s great, I’m sure it’s going to go down smoothly.
Sasha:We did our first cake for the pre-show the other day and it was so good. Oh, I’m excited!
Ani:You’re definitely looking forward to it!
Sasha:Oh, I am. I’m going to have to sneak food. (Laughs)
Ani:Only two more weeks! (Laughs)
Sasha: Yeah, I can do it.
Ani:What kind of music and art is to be expected?
Sasha:Oh, everything from rock music to set-dancing music to the fabulous 80s that everyone loves to dance with. We have many different DJs; we have four main DJs this year who rotate throughout the night. We also have two ballrooms this year that will feature different music, so that’s something new for us. We’ll have two DJs going on at a time. Each of them has a different style. They have a serial beginning when you’re coming into the event, and you’re having a bite to eat and something to drink, and then we usually go into the waltzes. The patrons come to Labyrinth with this in mind: “I came to Labyrinth to waltz in this outfit with this wonderful person.” We end the evening with a high note, generally with the 80s music that everyone can bounce around to. Then at midnight we play a very specific Labyrinth-esque song. We’ve done it every year so it’s become a tradition. We can’t wait; everybody’s so excited every year. So we go to a lot of places with the music, the DJs have pretty much a free range. As the DJ, you want to get the people dancing, and usually what gets them dancing are the waltzes and 80s music. So we will see what they like this year and see how they handle the two ballrooms. And then for the artwork, we have so many artists on this team. The team is probably just under 200 people. There is a core group of us who do the mega work and there’s probably about 30 of us at that. We’ve already begun the artwork for next year, usually we start eight months in advance. We have many sketch artists who come and sit down, and Shawn does this amazing thing where he just talks and they just do. With this combination and direction from Shawn, there are about three different renditions till Shawn sees something that he loves. So once he loves something, that will most likely go official and will be built. I love watching the process. I’ve been in theater forever and I’ve been directing for seven years now, and to see this process from the very beginning is amazing. So some of the artwork are just doodles on napkins, and some of them become these oil paintings. Half of them even get sold, so it is fun. It ranges across the board. I’m so sorry if I talk so much, I am just so passionate about Labyrinth. (Laughs)
Ani: Oh no, not at all, I really appreciate it. It’s definitely giving me a better insight to the event. (Laughs) I have one final question for you: What are you most looking forward to this year?
Sasha:I love to watch the patrons come in in the evening. I love to watch their entrances. I really, really enjoy that, seeing what everyone has come up with for his or her own costume. I really love watching people who are not on the crew, seeing how they put together their costumes and how they might have come up with it. I love the innovation. People come up with the most beautiful things-- people on stilts, people are mermaids, people who have made some outlandish dress that can’t even fit through the door. (Laughs) The night of the actual event, we’ve worked so hard and for so long, you actually get the chance to relax. It’s a really nice moment you get to pass someone else from the crew, to look at them and know that, “Hey, we made this.”