Sunday, January 23, 2011

Overcrowded, Overheated and Underwhelmed – notes on the 2011 Edwardian Ball

I had heard such great things about the Edwardian Ball. My Facebook friends who had been to it raved about the dancing and the entertainment. I’m not sure they went to the same event that I did.

I wasn’t expecting the Viennese Waltz scene from “The Great Race”. And I wasn’t expecting Cirque De Soleil level Entertainment. But for a $50.00 ticket I was expecting at least some decent ballroom dance music and a professional Vaudeville revue.

What we got was this:

An inefficient door layout:
Check out any movie theater and you’ll see that it’s one line for people who already have their tickets and one for those who are buying theirs. Makes things work much faster, and rewards those who purchased their tickets ahead of time.

Great look to the venue but insufficient signage:
Creepy Dioramas were everywhere as were oversized cut-out drawings from Edward Gorey’s works. Nowhere though did we see signs like “Women’s Bathroom this way” or “Balcony”. Apparently there was ‘Rooftop Garden’ and a ‘Gaming Parlour’ somewhere on the property, but none of the many persons in our party ever found these places.

Punishment for our premium tickets:
Upon locating the balcony we were told that the end-zone best seats were reserved for VIPs. We were relegated to the wings of theater seating on either side. Then we were told that the front row of these seats was also reserved. And one block of our steerage seats was useless as the stage was completely obscured by the towers of speakers on either side of the floor.

Clueless DJs: 
It’s a BALL, people. People who are attending are anticipating ballroom dancing. And indeed there was a time set aside for this, between 8pm when the ball began, and 9:30pm when the stage show decided to make an appearance. And the music selection was almost, kinda-sorta ballroom, but way too post-modern for, you know, actual dancing.

Up in the balcony we amused ourselves by naming the various tunes that came by (“Tom Waits dances the tango” “Polka for lead-lined Doc Martens” “The worlds first Waltz in 4”), and also by watching the dance floor repeatedly empty for each of these songs, and then slowly fill back up as various couple would decide that they could bend a waltz that far, attempt a tarantella that slow, or foxtrot to Techno. It is an exceedingly rare occurrence when you can say with all seriousness “Gee, a Strauss Waltz would really liven up this party”, but this was one of those times.

Drink prices for the criminally insane:
$11.00 for a small cocktail, $3.50 for soda in an over-sized Dixie cup. These are prices that a baseball park would blush to charge.

Hothouse Atmosphere:
It was the harmonic convergence of sweat: A clear, warm night in San Francisco, thousands of revelers all dressed up in heavy period costumes, a 102 year old building with zero air circulation, alcohol every 30 feet, Dancing – of a sort, and a live steam engine in the main ballroom running all evening. The First Aid station was doing a brisk business.

The "Entertainment":

  • Act#1 was a seven-minute silent film with narration:
This served to completely take the air out of the crowd that had been dancing (albeit hesitantly) for an hour.

  • Act#2 was the announcement of the first act, Jill Tracy:
Following this announcement was about 10 minutes of this trio actually making its way on stage, futzing around, making unfunny announcements and finally deciding to play. Their first number was a maudlin ballad that instantly lost the crowd, who then spent the next 40 minutes standing around talking to each other. “Supremely Indifferent” was how one bartender described the crowds reaction.

  • Brilliant marketing:
Jill Tracy was so bad that we bailed and took off to see if we could find the vending room. We were not alone in our assessment of this musical group: Hundreds of people joined the exodus. So many that the vendors in their room were asking people “What happened? Why is everyone coming here now?” While they rang up sale after sale. Unfortunately the Vending Area was not laid out for this type of onslaught. 18 inch-wide aisles and no turnouts made for some epic gridlock down on the lower floor. We eventually gave up and returned to our ‘premium’ balcony backwater.

  • Act#3 was billed as a circus:
Yay! Something on stage to see! The Circus began with a Ringmaster who built up the hype for the first act – a knife thrower. This fellow, “Danger Jones” then appeared on the left side of the stage and threw knives at something further on the left hand side of the stage. From our ‘you’ve been bad’ seats we could not see anything of the target. Oh well. Next up for this circus was – oh. That was it. A 3 person circus of one act. Um, okay. Must be easy to travel that way – no huge circus train or fleet of trucks. A motorcycle with a sidecar would hold the entire troupe and its gear.

  • Pack ‘em in:
We adjourned to the bar to see if more alcohol would help this strange, strange evening. We strolled around the main dance floor as well as we could, but by this point in the evening it was too jam packed to move about freely. And it certainly was too full to attempt any sort of ballroom dance. People were just standing on the dance floor and talking while the roadies cleaned up from the circus, a task that on paper at least, should have been pretty straightforward.

  • Act #4 we also missed:
We made it back up to our ‘timeout’ seats in time to miss the next act, which was a can-can that took place on the endzone of the dance floor that we had just left. We could see only a small portion of these dancing girls, who briefly brought some energy back to the crowd.

  • Next up – nothing:
The can-can girls scampered away, and on stage we watched some roadies and the next band saunter around their instruments. The DJ was back on the scene again, attempting to make up for their utter lack of actual ballroom dance music by cranking up the Electro-Techno-Fake-O music to the point that the bass clef was fuzzing out in the speakers. We saw upwards of 10 people out of 2,000 actually dancing to this onslaught. Me, I just got a headache. And, as the next act looked like it was in no hurry to actually get going, we bailed.

Back in our hotel room we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning watching an epic, live tennis match at the Australian Open. In the morning we met up with some friends for breakfast. They were braver than us and stuck around for some of the Headlining Acts. There concise assessment: “You didn’t miss much.”

So what I took away from the Edwardian Ball was a very strange double reaction:
1)    For all the hype and hoopla (and up to $500 ticket) the whole evening had a strongly amateur vibe to it. As I said, I wasn’t expecting Cirque De Soleil, but I was expecting some professionalism at least.
2)    The crowd didn’t care. The real fun of the Edwardian Ball is the people who go to the ball. The costumes were fabulous and creative, the mood was friendly, the vibe was flirty and open. All of these people, of all ages, had seemingly put way more thought and effort into their evening than the people who were putting on the “show”. The real show was the attendees, and they seemed to be having a good time amongst themselves, IN SPITE of the wrong music and forgettable images displayed.

So we’re chalking this one up to Adventure. You pays your money, you takes your chances. SHRUG.

Angus McMahan


  1. I don't completely disagree with you. This was my first Ball. I had a BLAST, but it was disorganized and hugely overcrowded. The fun was to be had in the patrons and their amazing costumes. That being said, I will do it again next year. :o)

  2. I may do it again next year too, but probably on the Friday. Smaller crowd and better acts, from what I heard.

  3. Also a first timer. Agreed on the temperature. That place needs better ventilation. But we loved the music and had a blast dancing during the ballroom hour.