Bigger Than Ever

Former 'underground party' now fills the Masonic Temple.


Behind the former Michigan State Fairgrounds, a tall wooden fence surrounds the original compound where a masquerade party known as Theatre Bizarre made a name for itself.

In 2000, the area was like the Wild West — with regular gunfights and houses being burnt to the ground. It also was, and continues to be, home for some of the performers and crew of Theatre Bizarre.

Despite the location, as many as 2,300 people would turn up for the annual event, originally held the Saturday before Halloween. But in 2010, the city of Detroit shut the party down, citing zoning violations and a lack of permits. Undaunted, organizers made sure the party lived on.

"It was a sink or swim situation, and now we're bigger than ever," says project manager Jason McCombs. "I think we've survived because we've created a community of performers who would never let this event end."

It has done more than survive. Last year's event was at capacity — 4,000-plus tickets sold. According to Steve Genther, Masonic Temple general manager, Theatre Bizarre is now the building's largest event.

This year, Theatre Bizarre is expanding to include a preview gala on Oct. 18, as well as the main event — called "The Procession" — on Oct. 19.

John Dunivant, the mastermind behind the event, designs an entirely new atmosphere each year that borders on sensory overload. As he walks through the Masonic Temple carrying his iPad with the building's blueprints and hundreds of conceptual sketches, ideas seem to pour out of him about his plans to make the event a hit until the final hour — 4 a.m.

Think carnival funhouse gone wrong, with devils and clowns fighting each other, fire breathers, people dangling in the air with hooks through their backs, tightrope walkers, and musical acts ranging from barbershop quartets to hardcore punk.

Dunivant is part artist, part set designer, and part choreographer. He manages a core team of 10 people, plus many volunteers and hundreds of performers.

Performance director Eric Scott Baker lives on the original compound — complete with a rooster crowing in the distance and an old sign with the word "spooky" next to a bonfire pit.

As he walks through a cantaloupe garden, Baker shares stories about how the event has shaped many of the performers.

"There's tons of people who put this together, but John (Dunivant) is the vision behind it all," Baker says. "This all comes from one man's mind. He is the one who's manifested all these characters into reality, and we simply have the honor of playing some of those characters."

Dunivant's army of volunteers helps create that vision by spending weeks of 24-hour days building new props, hand-painting signs, and focusing on the smallest details.

"The grounds' trees held all the colors of Theatre Bizarre — the autumnal color palette from reds, oranges, acidic green to black," Dunivant explains. So at the Masonic, every light bulb is replaced with amber-colored bulbs to mimic the original venue.

Not to mention, all props must also be designed modularly to fit through the Masonic Temple's narrow passageways.

The end result will be seven floors transformed into an immersive environment of imagination and twisted delights, with performers improvising and creating a unique experience for each guest.

For more information, visit


Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Mustang Fever!

The iconic 'pony car' marks its 50th anniversary

Earth Tones: Recycling Latex Paint

The Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recover Authority (SOCRRA) has teamed with Battle Creek-based ePaint Recycling to help divert latex paint from the waste stream.

Is it Time for a New Nickname for 'The Wolverine State'?

Despite our moniker and U-M’s mascot, ‘The Wolverine State’ seems to be weasel words

Wall to Wall Art

Park West Gallery and Dearborn's The Henry team up to decorate a 'boutique' hotel

The Art of Renovation: The Reopening of the Cranbrook Art Museum

After two years and $22 million in renovations, the CAM reopens.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. An Animated Life
    As Rob Paulsen prepares to publish his memoir, the Hollywood veteran and voice behind some of the...
  2. An Hour With ... Teddy Dorsette III
    President, Detroit Black Deaf Advocates
  3. State of the Arts
  4. A New Noodle Shop on the Block
    Midtown Detroit welcomes Urban Ramen
  5. Gold Standard
    Tucked into an industrial strip in Ann Arbor, a new restaurant offers French fare
  6. In Tune
    Influenced by its storied past, Willis Show Bar sets the tone for a nostalgic sound
  7. Drink Beer, Do Good
    Local breweries and pubs jump on the charity bandwagon
  8. Recipe: Roast Boneless Pork Loin With Tart Cherry Chutney
    Executive chef at Ford’s Garage, Darin Thompson’s boneless pork loin marvel
  9. Business Class
    Trim suits, creative layers, and crisp white shirts - Fall's wardrobe essentials are fitting for...
  10. Meet the Makers: Sydney James
    For muralist Sydney James, the city of Detroit is her canvas. Matters of the country are her muse