Theatre Bizarre returns October 20th with The Summoning at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. Tickets are on sale now at TheatreBizarre.com. We took a few minutes to sit down with John Dunivant and Brett Carson to look over some early photos of Theatre Bizarre and hear some of their favorite memories of years past…
1xRUN: Do you want to talk about those first few years of Theatre Bizarre? How did things come together?
John Dunivant: The first year we had no idea what to expect, we thought to build this old carnival, but we were just flying by the seat of our pants. When it first started it was still a creepy carnival that first year, but everything was a bit more piece mealed, to start we had the dunk tank and lots of wood.
Brett Carson: All the wood for the initial structure was found at Tiger Stadium when they were filming that Billy Crystal movie 61. This photograph on the truck (below) was our first load of flats that we had and then after that we just went dumpster diving. We asked the movie people if they thought it was ok and they said sure. So we started to bring back all this crazy wood and paneling.
John Dunviant: Since they turned old Tiger Stadium into old Yankee Stadium in 1961, they had all these sterile institutional green pieces that were painted with all these fake rivets to make it look like steel work. Then I was painting these oranges and reds off of these, it really made all the colors pop. It was a great base to start. We pulled and used all the fake rivets and we’d use them for other things. It really determined the era and solidified some of the esthetic.
Brett Carson: We’ve got wood. Let’s build a party.
John Dunivant: After that backyard has never been the same since.
1xRUN: Can you tell us about how the stage went up?
John Dunivant: I remember when we first raised the original marquee into place the first year. A guy shows up on the clock from Detroit Edison with a 50 foot bucket truck. And he is drunk. So we are using a 50ft bucket truck while it’s on the clock to raise the marquee into place. Then afterwards he had harness that hung to the bottom of the truck, so he extends the arm to the full 50 feet and we’re just hanging from a harness below the bucket and he’s spinning the arm around so we can fly above the rooftops. So the first stage was a bit more of a lean to and the rough winter brought it down. We were so exhausted, it was supposed to come down after the first year, we had a rougher winter that year, but when it started it was not a real structure. The second year we decided to build this one:
1xRUN: What about the bands and aesthetic the first few years?
John Dunivant: The Demolition Doll Rods, Country Bob and The Bloodfarmers. I remember seeing The Ruiners play the first year. and they would ruin everything. They just had so many appliances, refrigerators…
Brett Carson: TVs…Ironing boards…
John Dunivant: Right, right, all this shit on stage, he’s singing Detroit Surfer Boy while surfing on an ironing board on fire, ontop of a refrigerator ontop of all this other shit. I mean the whole front of the stage was a mountain of rubble on fire. It was anarchy.
Brett Carson: The first three years were complete anarchy. Yea. It was a lot of fun.
John Dunivant: We wanted these side show acts and there weren’t really any around, not the way there are now. Most of the fire performers in town got their start with Theatre Bizarre, a lot of the groups came from directly like the Detroit Fire Guild. But we heard there was this sex circus, and they were basically a group of exhibitionists. We just sat back and watched not knowing what to expect. There was a 65 year old transvestite stripper who was deepthroating a six foot live boa constrictor. There was another guy stripping–we didn’t have a curtain the first year–and it’s 26 degrees and he whips his pants up and they get caught in the chandelier and the poor guy is jumping up and down naked trying to get his pants out of a chandelier. By the end there were 3 clowns going down on each other. There was a priest strapped to a cross. There was lady pain, she’s dead center with 14 closepins yanking her stuff apart. Backstage Monkey Boy was born.
Brett Carson: Another great thing that happened with Theatre Bizarre is that because we had this place that people could come and use to create tribes, the amount of performers here in town now has grown exponentially. You would go down there and there would be people working on their acts while we were working on the stages year round.
Leading up to this year’s event we will talk about the illustrious Theatre Bizarre Main Stage, which met it’s untimely end this past year. We will get a look at past photos over the years as the Theatre Bizarre main stage and hear both John Dunivant and Brett Carson recall some of the many memories of the annual Halloween Masquerade. Read on below to see a quick glimpse into the madness that ensued on the fabled Theatre Bizarre main stage.