It was hard to know what to expect. This was Thursday evening, three days before Halloween. The title of the event was only semi-instructive: The D.I.Y. Emporium: A Benefit for Rock Paper Scissors, an art collective in Oakland. The entry fee was five dollars, proceeds to go to the collective. Samantha Stevens, a filmmaker and event planner from Oakland, put the show together.
A deep maroon carpet, faded after years of use, covered the floor of the entryway and continued up the grand stairs that led to the second floor of Sweets Ballroom in Oakland. There were no decorations on the walls, no flyers, no posters.
With each step up the stairs, the music got louder.
At the end of the stairway, a patterned carpet led to a bar. One left turn, and then vendors could be seen along the length of the second-floor ballroom. The stage and runway were empty.
The ceilings were cathedral-like. The lights were dim.
A giant black number, on a single sheet of white paper, identified the vendors. They were locals, which was the point; D.I.Y. stands for Do It Yourself, and Stevens convened the Emporium both to raise money for Rock Paper Scissors and to encourage Oakland residents to make their own costumes and use Halloween as another occasion to buy local. Colors, fabrics, and feathers covered the tables. Each display was a manifestation of the artist who had set it up, and who in most cases was sitting nearby, waiting.
A burlesque performer named Ruby Vixen began the show.
“I got to reach down deep here,” Vixen said, as she reached deep into her ample cleavage and pulled out a cell phone. She made an off-color remark about certain images on the cell phone, and things proceeded from there. Go-go dancers performed, dressed like zombies. Strippers removed most of their garments. A Rocky Horror Picture Show cast entertained the audience through a time warp.
“Holy smokes!” exclaimed Kingfish, Vixen’s co-host, as the Rocky Horror cast exited the stage. “That’s what you call a grand finale, ladies and gentlemen.”