Shawn Strider spends the bulk of his time working on a two-day event so ambitious that it seems an impossible mission. It's not. Strider's Labyrinth of Jareth is now in its 13th year, and it has become the party of the year for Angelenos who love a masquerade.
Labyrinth of Jareth combines a Venetian carnival atmosphere and goblin and faerie lore with a nod to David Bowie's character in Labyrinth, Jareth, the Goblin King.
Strider spent much of his youth running an indie comic book imprint in San Diego, to which he returns as a volunteer at Comic Con. After a few years of hopping among various cities, Strider ended up in L.A., where he hit upon the idea of the party because he had never been to a large-scale masquerade. He estimates that 200 artists are involved in bringing the event together, including writers, performers and set designers.
"I have the best crew on the planet," he says of the show. "These guys put themselves through hell each year."
Strider can turn a fantasy world into a sensory experience so realistic that one might exit the ball with a newfound belief that goblins are real.
"All the things we build have to have a realistic edge," he says.
We met up at the Sword and the Stone, an armory in Burbank responsible for, among other things, costumes and props for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the Broadway play Spamalot. He spends a lot of time here, going over the odds and ends for the ball. If you look around the shop, you can see the relics from prior LOJs.
"We use real armor," he adds.
Strider's pet project goes beyond costumes and sets, though. His LOJ partner, Timothy Lamb, composes music for the event, with a handful of other musicians contributing to the score. Strider works closely with DJs like Malediction Society's Xian to plan a set list for the weekend. There's also a story involved, a goblin and faerie epic of sorts, which is really only known to the performers but guides the events that transpire.
Strider has created a temporary world where anyone can belong, as long as they are in costume. For two days, L.A.'s diverse subculture communities — from burners and goths to cosplayers and historical-reenactment types — congregate in one venue, which this year will be Park Plaza on July 16 and 17. Sometimes, a few celebrities show up, but you may never guess who they are.
"We don't care who you are," Strider reminds. "That's the whole point.
"It's a prince-and-pauper type of thing. In this world, everyone is noble, everybody is the same, except for those of us who are working. We are very busy."