Attention flappers and zoot-suiters: your moment to shine is almost upon us, once again. The Gangsters’ Ball, that annual celebration of all things mobster, is back for its fifth year and – yes, we know – bigger than ever.
It has to be, says the event's godfather, Graham Coupland: "The expectations of attendees becomes greater each year. It's proving harder to keep raising the bar, but I enjoy the challenge."
Burlesque, gambling, swing bands, vaudeville – all the elements necessary to send revellers back to the '30s will be present and accounted for.
The era's appeal lies in the sense of style, which is painstakingly recreated for the ball. "Over the decades, we've gotten lazier and lazier with our fashion," Coupland surmises. "Back then, men wore three-piece suits and women wore pillbox hats; everybody looked amazing every day. So everyone at the ball goes nuts. It's incredible to walk into a room with close to a thousand people dressed for the ’30s and ’40s."
Since starting the night back in 2008, Coupland has strived to capture the escapist feel of entertainment prevalent back in the day. His own jazz and swing band, the Velvet Set, front a lineup of awesome bands from a bygone era. "For me, it's about performers who do something unique," he says. "The acts you'll see at Gangsters' Ball you won't see doing these routines anywhere else. The burlesque girls we have are the best of the best." He's not wrong: the Sydney event will feature Miss Burlesque Australia 2012, Briana Bluebell.
This year's event will also feature a hypnotist, Shane Hill, which may feel a bit of an odd fit. "It's a Gangsters' Ball first," admits Coupland. "People will be selected out of the audience to participate in a traditional ’40s-style hypnosis show, the likes of which hasn't been seen before."
Fleshing out the eclectic roster is Mr Fish (a man who wears a fishbowl on his head and rides a unicycle) and Zoe Robbins, who makes juggling with her feet look most alluring.
In another first, the Gangsters' Ball is heading overseas later this year. "That's the plan," says Coupland. "We're getting the show happening in casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and we'll be including as many Australian performers as we can." One lucky guy or doll will get a head start, with a trip for two to the Vegas event up for grabs at this year's Ball.
Heading to ‘Lost Wages’ seems like a natural progression, given that the funny-money Gambling Den is always a highlight of the Ball. "It really adds to the atmosphere of the night, along with the two most popular aspects – the dressing up and the swing dancing."
What is the most rewarding part of the whole experience for the kingpin of swing? "Walking around the venue and seeing people drinking, laughing and dancing, completely embracing the theme of the night and having a great time," says Coupland. "There's definitely a formula, but it works. There's nothing like it."
Coupland's five gangster movies to get you in the mood:
Coupland's five gangster songs to get you swingin':