HAIL ZOMBO! Confronting the Shadow Self at Theater Bizarre

HAIL ZOMBO! Confronting the Shadow Self at Theater Bizarre

Writing and Photography by: Niki Williams

A group of costumed revelers gather around a stuffed white goat. Candle wax drips off the table onto the floor as a figure — scratch that — an apparition rises, donning a black dunce cap as it croaks, “Hail the Call, Hail the Hunt, HAIIIIIIL ZOMBO!”

The scene is one of the quieter moments that took place on Saturday, at Theatre Bizarre, the largest masquerade party in the country, perhaps the world. The masquerade, which takes place in the Masonic Temple of Detroit, the largest building of its kind is a true a culmination of the occult; including carnival sideshows, burlesque, sword eaters, fire twirlers, skin suspension acts and rumor has it, even a secret sex dungeon… Theatre Bizarre is a participatory theatrical event of grand scale.

A choose your own adventure of spooky delights, the event stretches through eight floors of the immaculately carved limestone building. Each layer was meticulously designed by Jon Dunivant, a local legend and 2011 Kresge Fellow, as well as a long list of collaborators, volunteers, performers and freaks. 

This is the place to engage the shadow self. To confront the pathological perception of order in our society and embrace chaos, the absurd, and the smarmier parts of our character. It is, after all, good for you!

Carl Jung, the 20th century psychologist known for his writings on archetypal images and experiences, posited that most of modern society’s woes were caused by a repression of the shadow self.

Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.

Jung writes that, if these projections remain hidden, “the projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.” These projections insulate and delude individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.

With that in mind, Theatre Bizarre functions as a panacea, a cure for our hidden derangements, a safe place to sin (costumed volunteers keep people from catching on fire) and a party featuring more candles than could ever seem possibly safe.

The function got its beginnings, like most Detroit institutions, in the truly D.I.Y. days of pre-bankruptcy Detroit as an illegal theme park at the Michigan State Fair Grounds. At the height of its build, it was shut down in 2010 at the behest of the city officials. In 2011 the event found its permanent home in the Masonic Temple.

A true community, Theatre Bizarre is 100% produced by a grassroots collection of volunteers. The enormous amount of performers it takes to put on has spawned “freak trade schools” of sorts, for example, Detroit’s Fire Guild which operates out of Tangent Gallery and teaches people how to swallow flames.

Immersive, totemic, dark, hilarious, sexy, the bizarre offered something for everyone. Each of us human beings like the many candles scattered throughout the hallowed halls: burning, casting light and projecting shadows… Here they are in their costumed glory…

Writing and Photography by: Niki Williams

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