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Ballard's love letter to showbiz becomes ghostly play

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Missing Halloween? A slightly ghoulish entertainment haunts Hale's Palladium in Fremont this month.

"The Grimaldis: A Musical Ghost Story" opens tomorrow (May 16). Creator Dane Ballard has crafted an interactive evening where the audience becomes guests at a haunted party.

As a performer, Ballard has appeared at Can Can, Columbia City Theater, Noc Noc, Theater Off Jackson, ACT, and other Seattle theaters. As a producer, he thinks the time is right for unleashing a few ghosts on Seattle audiences, as he explained in a recent interview.

What led to the creation of the Grimaldis?
They say every theater is haunted! Several years ago I was producing a weekly burlesque show in Seattle, and performing in other circus, burlesque, cabaret, and variety shows around town. I was rubbing elbows daily with so many amazing performers, most of whom were keeping alive performance art forms from bygone eras.

So the show mixes up all these styles?
Burlesque, circus, vaudeville, and so on. The people I knew were so talented, and so passionate, but also vulnerable in their way. It seemed that every one of them had sacrificed so much, in dedicating themselves to their art. I started thinking about why they did it. Why I do it. That's when I got the idea for a story about a quirky showbiz family, made up of many generations of performers, all specializing in a different kind of performance. People so dedicated to the idea that “The show must go on” that their spirits stayed behind and keep performing.

Any connection to the artists that you knew in Seattle?
Each of the ghosts in my story was inspired by real world performers I knew and loved, many specifically here in Seattle. Later I added our protagonist Walter to tell a coming-of-age story that is now central to the plot. “The Grimaldis” is my love letter to showbiz.

So how does the interactive part of show work?
In a warehouse filled with the last remaining earthly treasures of the Grimaldi family, each audience member assumes the role of an auction preview attendee. Performances happen throughout the room. At times the ghosts mingle and chat with our audience. There are some things the audience can only learn by talking with our ghosts, or looking through their dusty old belongings.

Did the venue influence the script?
The show is specifically written to take place in a non-traditional theater space. This bit of environmental theater calls specifically for a warehouse space. Hale's Palladium is just that, a warehouse space that has been converted into an a amazing performance venue that features unique theater events like “The Moisture Festival”. It's a perfect place for our production.

So how should one dress to party with ghosts?
The same slightly dressy but comfortable attire that one would wear to an auction. That also would be perfect for a haunting.

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“The Grimaldis” with story by Ballard and original music by John Woods runs May 16 through May 25 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit the event’s website.

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