A Cabaret of the Macabre Rises Up in Costa Mesa

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Droves of hearses; a pair of gigantic three-dimensional pumpkin sculptures; Hollywood Fringe Festival’s Best Cabaret Show and a concoction of magic, puppet wizardry and comedy will provide a special brew of ghoulish fun during the 13th Annual Trick or Treat Festival in Costa Mesa.

Retired hearses, vampire poets, side show freaks, a giant dragon shaped pumpkin, puppet wizards, and other unusual characters will "Come to the Macabaret", the theme of the 13th Annual Trick or Treat Festival set for Sunday, Oct. 24 at the Orange County Market Place, the weekend swap meet at the O.C. Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free with admission. Free trick or treating is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The 11th Annual Halloween Hearse Procession and Show will be held in conjunction with the Festival and kicks off with a four-mile ride at 10 a.m. through Costa Mesa before arriving back to the swap meet for an all day exhibition. An estimated 50 antique, classic and restored hearses and funeral cars will be in attendance. National syndicated radio personality Dr. Demento, returning for the 11th year, will serve as grand marshal riding in the lead hearse provided by Phantom Coaches Hearse Club.

Several hearse owners, who prefer in some cases to be referenced as vintage car collectors, have participated since the show’s inception .This includes Clarence Williams of Santa Ana, who drives his 1977 Cadillac Superior Crown Landau End loader throughout the year.

“Some people do like the Halloween slant, some people like how unique they look, and others admire the way they’re built. I’ve just always liked them ever since I was a little kid. I never realized what they were really used for but I always thought they were neat,” said Williams.

But the morbid and macabre isn’t what this club is about. For the most part, it’s dedicated to preserving the hearse and educating people about these often overlooked cars.

“Hearses are very strong symbols and for a lot of people they represent grief, loss and things of that sort,” Williams said. “But I like taking my hearse to work some times and when I do I find that people can relate to it as just a car, and not as something ghoulish.”

However, performers with Los Angeles based Freak Show Deluxe, winner of the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival's Award for Best Cabaret/Circus, aim for the ghoulish image. The troupe’s founder and creator known as the Reverend Tommy Gunn (Thomas Nealeigh in real life) bills himself as the Minister of the Macabre and has put together a traveling circus of sideshow performers who do everything from eat glass, razor blades and fire to walk on machetes, swallow swords, and pound nails into their head. They perform regularly at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, North Hollywood’s California Institute of Abnormal Arts and the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade as well as touring the country doing shows on Coney Island and Paramount’s Carowinds Amusement Park in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fire eater Vincent Wolf, who resides in Buena Park, will serve as the official host and a featured performer during the Freak Show Deluxe shows at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. which will include fire eating, sword swallowing, ladder of machetes, glass walking, the human pincushion, bed of nails and other surprises.

Known best for his discovery of Weird Al Yancovic, Dr. Demento will perform three half-hour sets of “The Festival of Dementia,” at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. He will also present the Hearse Show Awards at 3:30 p.m. Like past years, this living encyclopedia of music (he holds a Master’s Degree from UCLA in folklore and ethnomusicology) will play wacky and demented songs embodying the spirit of Halloween, including that staple of the season, the late Boris Pickett’s 1962 novelty hit, “The Monster Mash.” He will also sign autographs after each show.

It may seem like magic, but it is more artistic talent when San Jose computer programmer “Farmer” Mike Valladao transforms giant pumpkins into three-dimensional masterpieces. He has carved giant pumpkins everywhere from Texas to the “Tonight Show.” This is the 11th year at the Market Place event, in which the world renowned pumpkin sculptor will transform Atlantic Giants weighing around 500 pounds into an art form. Valladao will carve out a fire breathing dragon in one of the canvasses and convert the other into one of his original Halloween pumpkin faces. Last year he engraved a hearse into the featured pumpkin. In previous years he has carved out the likenesses of presidential candidates, Spiderman, Harry Potter, and Frankenstein to name a few.

Valladao began carving pumpkins in the mid-1980s, favoring their texture and idiosyncratic shape to other sculpting materials. “I like the fact that a lot of my design is dictated by what the pumpkin looks like,” he says. “A tall, thin pumpkin is a much different canvas than a short, squat one.”
He uses a Buck 100 carving knife and a few other assorted tools, and estimates that each design, whether it’s carving a face into a pumpkin, or creating a relief-type effect, takes about three hours.

Magic in its traditional sense will be presented by a variety of performers during the Festival. They include 16 year old Mark Gibson of Rancho Santa Margarita, a member of the Magic Castle’s Junior Society, doing sleight of hand coin and card tricks at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Jeff Abbit of Irvine brings his Ha-Ha Halloween Comedy Magic and Juggling Show to the stage at noon and 1:30 p.m. Strolling magician Steven Williamson of Azusa will do close up magic from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Swazzle Puppet Shows will present the pirate themed, “Goldilocks and the Three Buccaneers” at 11:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. Founded in 2004 by twin brothers Sean and Patrick Johnson, Swazzle is a Glendale, CA-based company specializing in puppetry for film, television and the stage. Together with their troupe of professional puppeteers they have performed hundreds of shows in venues across California. The Johnsons have worked with leading children’s entertainment companies including The Jim Henson Company, PBS Kids Sprout, The Walt Disney Company and The Baby Einstein Company. They also teach puppetry technique to actors and comedians from The Groundlings for The Jim Henson Company. They created many of the classic puppet characters from Pee-wee’s Playhouse and built a handful of new puppets for The Pee-wee Herman Show, that played at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles earlier this year.

Also adding to the atmosphere at the Festival is the Macabaret Stilt Walking Troupe, Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde-the Ultimate Schizophrenic, Looney Ballooney witch, and the League of Vampiric Bards     crooning gothic parodies and poetry.

A costume parade and contest for ages 13 years and older will be held along with free face painting and balloons.

Orange Coast Memorial Hospital will hold a blood drive from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

All entertainment and festivities are free with admission, which is $2 for ages 13 years and older, and free for kids 12 and under.

More information may be obtained by calling (949) 723-6660 or visiting the website http://www.ocmarketplace.com where a complete schedule for the Trick or Treat Festival is available.

In its 41st year the Orange County Market Place is held every Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the O. C. Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa. Along with a variety of special events held throughout the year, the Market Place features nearly 1,000 vendors offering products and services, a fresh produce center, artisans and crafters, hair salon, used luxury car sales lot, manufactured homes and many other items in a large outdoor setting.

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