Detroit’s Theatre Bizarre 2023 is canceled

The long-standing Halloween party says a double-booking at the Masonic Temple ‘has made an impossible situation’

Jul 21, 2023 at 1:47 am
click to enlarge Zombo the Clown, the skeletal mascot of Detroit's Theatre Bizarre. - Josh Justice
Josh Justice
Zombo the Clown, the skeletal mascot of Detroit's Theatre Bizarre.

This October, revelers will not gather at Detroit’s Masonic Temple for Theatre Bizarre, the popular Halloween party that has been held there since 2011.

In a social media post published Thursday evening, organizers said the 2023 event has been canceled due to scheduling conflicts at the venue.

“A double-booking at the Masonic Temple has made an impossible situation that disrupts much of our main floor space, including our main entrance,” the organizers wrote. “We have a contract for the space and have been pressing for a resolution for some time. Unfortunately, it remains out of reach.”

In 2019, the Masonic Temple entered into an exclusive agreement with live entertainment company AEG Presents to operate and book its two venues, the Masonic Temple Theatre and the smaller Cathedral Theatre, where comedians Nurse Blake and Chris D’Elia have been booked, respectively, on Saturday, Oct. 21.

The message continued, “The Masonic Temple has been a tremendous partner for 11 years. We are hopeful this situation will be addressed and a glorious return produced in 2024.”

Theatre Bizarre started as an underground party held near Detroit’s former Michigan State Fairgrounds in 2000 as the artistic vision of founder John Dunivant, who along with countless collaborators and volunteers created an immersive gothic carnival inhabited by characters like Zombo the Clown, the event’s mascot.

The party grew in popularity over the years largely by word of mouth until it caught the attention of city officials, who shut it down in 2010 for various code violations. Theatre Bizarre hastily relocated to the Fillmore Theatre that year and the next year moved to the Masonic Temple, where it has drawn thousands of attendees over the course of two weekends in October.

The event was previously canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dunivant, a 2011 Kresge Artist Fellow, has long shunned corporate sponsorship of the event in order to retain creative control over it. He has also claimed that Theatre Bizarre is a labor of love that does not turn a profit and has previously threatened that it might not continue.

Last year, Metro Times spoke with numerous Theatre Bizarre crew members and volunteers who described a work hard, play hard culture behind the scenes. A number of longtime workers resigned that year, while others described what they viewed as a “cult”-like environment ripe for abuse. Theatre Bizarre leadership has denied many of the claims.

You can read Theatre Bizarre’s full statement below.

It is with deep regret that we announce the 2023 Theatre Bizarre season has been canceled.

A double-booking at the Masonic Temple has made an impossible situation that disrupts much of our main floor space, including our main entrance. We have a contract for the space and have been pressing for a resolution for some time. Unfortunately, it remains out of reach.

The Masonic Temple has been a tremendous partner for 11 years. We are hopeful this situation will be addressed and a glorious return produced in 2024.

To our dedicated leads, cast and crew who have been hard at work on performances, designs, and logistics, our hearts break with yours.

To our featured performers, who commit their time, vision and effort to their roles year-round, your immense talents will be sorely missed.

To our patrons from all across the country and beyond, whose experience has been denied, we share your disappointment and frustration.

To our many Detroit-area vendors and partners who will suffer a loss in revenue this year without this production, the impact this has weighs heavily on us.

This includes the Detroit Hostel, which we rent in its entirety for almost two weeks, caterers who will lose nearly $130,000 feeding our crew and patrons, the approximately $60,000 we spend on security, the Eastern Market farmer who will lose $15,000 in pumpkin sales, and the legendary Rocky Peanut Co., whose treats are enjoyed by our guests throughout the night. As well as the material suppliers, production houses, sound and lighting companies and countless other businesses that we rent from and work with. Not to mention the many Detroit-area hotels, restaurants and Uber and Lyft drivers that house, feed and transport nearly 10,000 patrons over the course of two weekends.

We appreciate all of you so much and could not have made it these 22 years without your passion, dedication, creativity, and blood, sweat and tears. With utmost commitment to each of you and the City of Detroit, we remain determined that The Greatest Masquerade On Earth will return in 2024.

With gratitude and love,

John Dunivant, Founder

Dawn Orebaugh, Controller

Maria Christian, General Manager

Zombo, Patron Saint

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