Labyrinth Masquerade Ball returns to Atlanta at puppetry center

Back by popular demand, the Labyrinth Masquerade Ball will return to the Center for Puppetry Arts Aug. 31, celebrating the iconic Jim Henson movie and the exhibit at the center dedicated to the film.

Like last year’s ball, the event is timed to lure some of the thousands of Dragon Con fans who will be arriving in downtown Atlanta that same weekend, and, like last year’s event, it has become one of the most sought-after tickets.

With a price tag from $175 to $500, the gala is virtually sold out, though organizers tell us “keep your eyes open.”

On display since last September’s 30th anniversary revival of the film, the center’s exhibit, called “Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey to Goblin City,” offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the cult movie, which starred David Bowie as the Goblin King and a 14-year-old Jennifer Connelly as Sarah. Originally slated to close Sept. 3, the exhibit will stay open until Oct. 1.

“Labyrinth” was a box office disappointment at the time, but has endured to become a cinematic touchstone, distinguished by David Bowie’s songs, George Lucas’ concepts, Jim Henson’s puppets, remarkable sets and elaborate non-CGI special effects.

The exhibit at the Center for Puppetry Arts includes scenery, drawings, goblins and monsters, as well as Bowie’s costume and other outfits from the movie’s masquerade ball scene.

Creative cosplay enthusiasts filled up last year’s Labyrinth ball, where they enjoyed a costume contest, exotic refreshments and attendance by members of the Henson family, including Brian Henson, chairman of the Jim Henson Company and the voice of Hoggle. Lisa Henson, president and CEO, will attend this year’s ball, along with a special guest, Toby Froud, son of fantasy illustrator and “Labyrinth” concept designer Brian Froud. Thirty years ago, Toby was the baby — named Toby — in the film.

Interest in the exhibit — and in the ball — has boosted attendance at the center’s museum.

“Museum admission last year was over 90,000,” said Kelsey Fritz, director of the museum and exhibits. “It’s definitely been an uptick for us, especially for people coming to the museum only, as opposed to the puppet shows.”

Audience demand encouraged the center to extend the exhibit for the extra month. It has also extended the center’s reach beyond parents bringing children to puppet shows. Adults are learning about the 15,000-square-foot museum, which offers displays of artifacts both familiar and exotic.

“It’s been a really good opportunity to reach a whole new audience of people who might not have known about us,” Fritz said.

Other events geared to adults are planned for the fall and should help expand the center’s reach.

On Sept. 30, the center will screen fan films inspired by “The Dark Crystal,” Henson’s 1982 all-puppet fantasy film, with an appearance by Cheryl Henson, who will sign “The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History,” of which she is co-author.

On Oct. 7, the center will kick off the Halloween season with a party hosted by the Ghastly Dreadfuls, the macabre musical ensemble that has been scaring and delighting audiences since 2006. There will be music, dancing, appetizers, a cash bar, a costume contest and other merrymaking.

Resident puppet builder Jason Hines, one of the Ghastlies, who also helped design the Ghastly Dreadful show, said the Ghastlies will be the house band at the party.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do the Ghastlies is we wanted to have a band,” Hines said. “We had to do this puppet show as an excuse to put the band together. We have a pretty big repertoire of songs, more than we can play in any one show,” including creaky old numbers and more contemporary tunes like “Spooky” and “Black Magic Woman.”

A deep assortment of puppets and artifacts from the Jim Henson collection anchor the museum, but it is also distinguished by examples of the puppetry arts from around the world. In November, the center will open a special exhibit dedicated to the puppets of India.

In the meantime, the center continues to perform puppet shows for children and adults, such as “Charlotte’s Web” (planned for Sept. 19-Oct. 22) and “Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat” (March 20-May 13, 2018). “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the center’s most popular show, will return Nov. 7-Dec. 31.

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