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Bringing Fantasy to Life – An Interview with Shawn Strider of Labyrinth of Jareth

Bringing Fantasy to Life – An Interview with Shawn Strider of Labyrinth of Jareth

San Diego Comic Con may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean that we’re done with awesome, geeky events. This weekend, August 14th and 15th, will be the ENORMOUS two-day event of the 18th annual Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball. If you’ve never heard of the ball, it’s a weekend full of amazing costumes, performances, and an immersive experience into a world based on “Venetian tradition, celtic faerie and goblin lore, and stories of fantasy”. In short, it is a unique adventure, and there is no end to the wondrous sights you might behold. I had a chance to chat with the ball’s founder, Shawn Strider, about the event and where it got started.

Geek & Sundry: Where did the inspiration come for the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade?

Shawn: I began LOJ in San Diego in 1997 – originally it was something I did simply because I had never been to a masquerade and I always wanted to experience it. At the time I was a comic book publisher, and when the artists and I sat around the studio finishing books late at night; I’d tell them stories and dreams about attending a ball influenced by fantasy movies and legends. And one day, through a strange set of circumstances, I found myself creating it.

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G&S: On your website you say that the masquerade is based on Venetian tradition, Celtic faerie and goblin lore, and stories of fantasy and wonder. That’s a very specific description, and it brings together aspects of costume and time periods that don’t often blend. However, when you look at pictures of past masquerades, that description totally fits the event. How did you come up with such a unique theme?

S: It was truly an evolution, as a fantasy publisher – many of the themes we initially incorporated were the great fantasy movies and legends that influenced us. The story of Sypher’s Court encompasses all of these influences. In our story, each year, gateways from all these realms open up – and within Sypher’s Court, we gather for the Masquerade before fading into a singular dream. it gives us a canvas to explore our own independent interpretations, to build costumes and characters that touch upon archetypes and celebrate them.

G&S: What did the first LOJ masquerade look like? I’m sure it was a smaller event than it is today, but there was clearly something special about it from day 1.

S: The first LOJ was vastly different than the show you see today – but you could see our ambitions even then. We were expecting about 50 people, roughly 150 showed up. We were all so young, most of us in our late teens and it was lovely. We had a single ballroom and a fire escape. Costumes were not nearly as elaborate, but you could see the glimmer of what it would become even in those early days. To put it in contrast – we took a month and made two costumes for the show. Tonight as I’m writing this, we have our costuming teams are putting the finishing touches on nearly 300 costumes.

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G&S: How has your vision of the Labyrinth of Jareth evolved over the years?

S: The vision behind the Labyrinth Masquerade really changed around 2003 when Brian Froud was working with us. His influence was monumental, working with one of our idols and sharing stories. We created a very fun homage to Dark Crystal, Legend, and Labyrinth – the show was beautiful but we ran out of places to take it. And it was Brian who told me of older stories that influenced his work. The ancient tales of faerie realms and Arthurian legends. Over a glass of wine, looking down at the Masquerade below, we started talking about the future. I looked into the next year as something new. A linear story of the Royal court, mixing these stories letting them blend and creating the tale of an elf-touched kingdom where time folds in on itself and the world continues to dream. From there, we began telling our story and that story is woven into the Masquerade each year.

G&S: Of course the masquerade isn’t just a fancy dress party. This is a massive two-day experience. What kinds of things can attendees expect to encounter at this year’s masquerade?

S: The Labyrinth Masquerade is a completely immersive experience. Characters around every corner, five stages and a linear storyline filled with unique music and orchestrations. This year we have some new orchestral music from Jeremy Soule (the legendary composer of Skyrim) and Jordan Bennett. Over a dozen dance acts, mermaids, bands, creatures and some of the best makeup and costumes on the planet. That’s just the surface, you can’t possibly see everything we’re offering by design. The experience at LOJ becomes really personal as everyone is a participant, and everyone gets to choose their own adventure within our realms.

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 Image Credit: Brian Erzen / JoL

G&S: This year’s ball will be a bit different, as you all will be at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel rather than the Park Plaza. How has it been, adapting the ball to this new, larger venue, especially so late in the game?

S: HAHA, it’s been a challenge for certain. We’re mapping everything to the new venue in a very short amount of time. With LOJ, we try to know every part of the experience, we map out every inch, we’ve been planning for a year. All the sudden, we have 3 weeks to change those plan fit an entirely new space. All the new areas and zones present interesting challenges for us to tackle, but we are making sure that we can bring every ounce of the experience into the Biltmore. The hotel is a little worried about Sparkles, our Frost Dragon fitting in their ballrooms. But my whole team is excited about some of the new backstage areas, and we’re reworking a ton of vendors, logistics and even our makeup areas to accommodate the new venue.

The Biltmore is beautiful and it’s been joy working with them, even with the tight deadlines and new areas to fill. It’s certainly time consuming and a near herculean task, but we’re rising to the challenge and making it all work.

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 Image Credit: Curious Josh / JoL

G&S: Where can we find you all on online, and how can we buy tickets to the ball?

S: Tickets are available at and you can find us on Facebook.

Have you ever attended the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade? Let us know your favorite experience there in the comments!

All photos courtesy of Labyrinth of Jareth, used with permission

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