DIRECTED BY GARY BREDOW AND PER FRANCHELL
Theatre Bizarre is an illegal, underground, fire-spewing, burlesque-filled, rock ‘n’ roll masquerade – at least it was until the city of Detroit ended its decade-long run by shutting it down in 2010. The founders, John Dunivant and Ken Poirer, along with an army of volunteers, toil year-round to create an otherworldly setting for a single night each year. Theatre Bizarre is more than just an event. It's a shining star in a city of darkness, and defines the identity of a Detroit subculture and has inspired a rabid global following of attendees and wannabe-attendees.
Directors Gary Bredow and Per Franchell (High Tech Soul, Bridging the Gap, Urban Roots), along with Theatre Bizarre resident photographer Brett Carson, fill the film with shocking footage from the last ten years of mayhem and creative brilliance set against a run-down and forgotten Detroit neighborhood. Until now, Theatre Bizarre has never been properly captured, despite attempts by media outlets like The Detroit News and the New York Times. It’s like lightning in a bottle - loud and flashy with more than a whiff of danger, but even that description fails to recognize the humanity of it all. Bredow and Franchell spent months on the grounds filming the outlaw theatrical production prepare for the 2010 event as they erected a full sized Ferris Wheel purchased on eBay, assembled a homemade roller coaster, built a frontier land complete with a bank, coffin shop and brothel, and constructed an enormous stage around a hundred year old oak tree… all completely illegal with no permits or insurance.
John Dunivant, established artist and Kresge Fellow, designs, draws, hand paints and constructs every square inch of the grounds of Theatre Bizarre. Nothing you see on the grounds has been purchased. This enormous piece of living art is the vision of a mad genius who has commandeered an entire block of a big American metropolis to use as his personal canvas. And only in the Detroit of today could an artist get away with this for over a decade, unscathed and relatively unnoticed. Ken Poirer is the original landowner who oversees the construction of John’s vision. He also serves as landlord to the many residents who actual live on the grounds in one of the many houses hidden by elaborate facades. In the early days, John and Ken had to literally fist fight for rights to the neighborhood against an all out crack war happening behind the property including frequent burning down of houses, shootouts, roberries, pistol whippings and in one instance being shot at point blank. Eventually, all gave way to the expansion of the grounds for this event to grow.
Complications to the annual event ensued when a "We want to Park at the State Fair Grounds" (across the street) campaign began on the personal Facebook wall of Michigan's governor, openly exposing the party to the state government. Needless to say, the party was no longer "underground" in the eye's of the city and the state. Officials came knocking hard at the door of Theatre Bizarre shutting them down due to an endless list of code violations -- including lack of occupancy permits, unapproved and unsafe structures… hours before the next event!
With close to 3000 tickets pre-sold, a substitute, last minute version of the event took place at the Fillmore Detroit, but lacked the fantastical world created on the original grounds.
This documentary will utilize hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes and performance video from the show’s ten year history, during its glory days, when it was an event like no other. It will also document the rise, fall and possible rise-again of this outlaw production and its leaders, John Dunivant and Ken Poirer.