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Yvonne Hespos

A Horribly Good Experience

Jude Narita performs in the Cabaret Theater at TNC's Village Halloween Costume Ball.

Halloween is now the second biggest holiday in the US, after Christmas. All over the country people will dress up and go crazy. But every year they'll have to face one and the same question: "Where to spend Halloween?" In New York there are of course plenty of things to do but even here you are struggling what might be right for you and it becomes even trickier when you're just a visitor. Are you too old to go trick or treating? Did you not get invited to a private party? Do you also not feel like craning your neck for hours, while getting shoved around by a big crowd, just to get a glimpse of the Halloween parade?

One possible solution could be The Annual Village Halloween Costume Ball at Theater for the New City. Professional sculptors, painters and scenic designers transform the whole building into a series of Halloween environments and performances of every theatrical kind are held throughout the night.

That sounded interesting enough to me to check it out. When I got there, the event had already started at 4pm with several bands and an assortment of jugglers and vaudeville acts including fire breathers, on the middle of East Tenth Street between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway stations are Astor Place (6, N, R) and First Avenue (L train). But you need to be aware of any changes concerning your stop. Some trains ran differently that day because of the Village Halloween Parade. I almost ended up in Brooklyn.

Since I had to work that day and since I almost got lost on my way, I arrived a little later at the theater and was amazed to see that by 6:00pm the entire East Village was already bewitched. Many people from around the neighborhood had stopped by this free street party in order to warm up a little and to get into the right Halloween mood. It was already getting dark but it was such a mild night, that when the St. Marks Salsa Band played you could also think yourself being back in summer time. The atmosphere captured me right away; my only problem was that I still had no costume.

Make up artist Christina Williams at work. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

I went inside and straight to the restroom in order to put on some make up, because formal wear or a costume were mandatory. As I was wearing a black and white patterned dress, I figured I could go as a Harlequin if I just painted squares around my eyes and made my lips all black. For some reason it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to and as I was struggling with my tiny eyeliner pencil, a woman came up to me asking whether I needed a little help. I obviously did, so there was no way to tell her differently. She explained me that she was a professional make up artist volunteering that night at TNC to do people's Halloween make up for free. She is Christina Williams; she is actually an actress but had started her career as a make up artist. She really saved my day. She removed my vain attempt and made me look like a real Harlequin.

The Great Buffet at TNC. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Many people stopped to watch her painting my face and I was asked a couple of times that night how I did it and told that it looked just great. Later I also learned that I could have borrowed an entire costume from the theater, which makes life so much easier. Accoutered for a night's adventures, I left Christina with a bunch of new clients and continued my way to the great buffet, where there were a variety of American and international delicacies priced affordably for a broke student like me. In the whole evening I didn't spend more then $25; for admission, dinner and 2 drinks.

At 8:00pm I entered the Cabaret. There weren't a large number of people there, yet, but this didn't affect the performers in any way. In fact, it seemed to be part of the concept. People came and went on to other performances, in another room. I stayed to see four acts, each of them just about ten minutes long, before I moved on as well. There were tap dance, stand-up comedy and a very funny drag performance by Lavinia Co-op. After that I started to wander around in the theater. In the meantime the lobby had become much more crowded. People with the most amazing costumes, Iike Mary's little lamb or a mortally injured soldier, gathered around a 'coffin bar' with a female vampire inside who of course was very much alive and willing to pose for everyone who wanted a picture with her. The center of attention moved from her to Taikoza, a Japanese music and dance group. With four Taikos, which roughly translated means big drums, they made you stamp to the beat. This instrument is supposed to drive away the plague and evil spirits, so it was perfect for Halloween. It was like a little shaman dance and everybody was drawn in to it, but with the last beat the audience turned away to go on to the next event.

While I was studying my program a man came up to me who had previously watched my make up being done. He introduced himself as Walter Gurbo, which didn't mean anything to me. He asked me if I already had had the chance to see the ballroom and how it is decorated. I didn't, so I went with him and took a look at all the huge ghost paintings, which I learned then were painted by him. They depicted different white ghosts on a dark background. It was very interesting to talk to the actual artist about his work and I didn't feel embarrassed to ask all kinds of stupid questions. For example, I wanted to know why some of the ghosts were only painted half and Walter explained to me that this was supposed to look as if they come through the floor. He also told me that it took him only a few hours to paint these oversize pictures, which seemed very impressive to me as I can hardly hold a pencil.

The Hot Lavender Swing Band, dimly lit painting in back by Walter Gurbo. Photo by Yvonne Hespos.

While enjoying this demanding conversation about art very much, I couldn't help but listening to the great voice of the singer of the Hot Lavender Swing Band, who was performing in the same room. Some witches and genetic manipulated werewolves started dancing, which drew more and more people to hit the dancefloor as well.

In brief, it was a delightful and varied night because of the many creative and volunteering people at TNC. Everybody was enjoying what he or she was doing, whether they served you drinks, did your make up or performed that night. All these people just had one thing in mind: to celebrate a great Halloween party together and they sure did. With this great spirit you couldn't help but enjoying yourself as well and there was no way to get bored.

Think about it: Who could possibly throw a better Halloween party than a theater?

Yvonne Hespos is a English major student at the University of Mannheim in Germany. Recently, she is working as a PR-intern in New York.

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