On a Saturday in June, the Regal Ballroom in Northcote will be transformed into a winter wonderland. “We’ve got icicles hanging from the chandeliers, and real snow will drift from the ceiling down onto the guests," enthuses event mastermind Dan Knaggs. "The glowing furniture will illuminate the space, making a wonderful, magical place for people to exist in on the night.”
On Midwinter’s Eve, it's said that the veil lifts between the goblin and human realms. In that spirit Knaggs presents the Goblin Ball: Ice Kingdom, an over-18s masquerade ball like none other. Costumed actors will interact with guests in a storyline that unfolds throughout the night. Main characters – or ‘Allies & Enemies’, as the website calls them – include goblins and faeries, plus the Queen (“she wants to destroy a lot of people”), the King (“he does pretty much whatever she says”), and Pintina, the Princess (“a little bit of a spoiled brat”).
All of these characters, and the entire plot of the evening’s performance, sprung from the mind of Knaggs. Usually a writer of horror and postmodern fiction, it was a departure for Knaggs to concoct a fairytale. “It was challenging at first, but after you get that initial click, then you just know what happens in that world. The storyline sat with me for a little bit, and then it all just came. It worked on a magical wave, I guess you could say.”
This isn’t his first foray into fantasy realms. In 2001, Knaggs and a few friends put on ‘The Labyrinth of Jareth’. An officially licenced Labyrinth-themed interactive costume party, in was thrown in a hedge maze (yes, they know how to pull out all the stops). A decade on – with the original crew reunited after stints overseas, and joined by more like-minded people – they’ve planned a unique event. “We wanted to create something exclusive to Melbourne,” explains Knaggs, who has gathered a talented team at production company Dark Realm consisting of Bec Piper (co-producer, and a friend since primary school); Jodie Welch (set designer and artistic director); and Olivia Duval from Golden Owl Events (head of publicity and marketing). They've partnered with horror FX company Nightshade FX to bring the world to life.
The elaborate evening starts with costumed guests getting a drink on arrival, canapés (with vegan and gluten-free options), free soft drinks all night, and $20 of ‘goblin money’ to spend on everything from trinkets sold by steampunk faeries to bribing a goblin. Strolling magicians, singers, and a DJ spinning songs requested by guests combine to make this the most interactive ball you’ll ever attend.
It gets even deeper, though: guests can choose their own adventure from the minute they buy their tickets. The ‘Create your Creature Feature’ allows you to interact with the existing faeries and goblins as an invented character. Seeing people’s registrations flood in might just be Knaggs’ favourite part of the event. He rattles off some of the stand-out characters: a cursed ex-handmaiden of the Queen, and spell-sellers who will try to undercut established sellers. Someone’s even registered as an assassin and threatened that “there’s going to be one less guest at the end of the night.” (Knaggs stresses that no one will really get hurt.) There’s even a fairy bride looking for a groomsman to marry on the night. All these characters will be worked into the overarching plot of the ball. No detail is left uncovered: “We’ve got cards to hand out. When you come to the door and have a quest, you’ll probably get an envelope with instructions on it."
You don’t have to dive completely into the fantasy world if you don’t want to. Explains Knaggs, “For the person who isn’t used to cosplay or that kind of character interaction, it would be perfectly fine to just hang out.” It’s not all about acting: “We’ve got a lot of activities for people to do, places for them to chill out, have a few drinks, socialise, watch the entertainment going on.”
Still, it might be the interactive part of the masquerade that sets it apart from all those other fancy dress parties on your calendar (if you lean that way, that is). As Knaggs points out, they’ve catered for everyone, human, goblin, or faery. “If you want to get a curse broken for the night, there’s a person able to fulfil it.” That sounds like a cause worth dressing up for.