Gangsters’ Ball

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Gangsters’ Ball

It’s the event where style is everything. The event where playing it cool will keep you alive. Where men are fellas and women are dames. Leading up to its seventh birthday, we put on our best three-piece suit to have a chat with Graham Coupland, founder of the Gangsters’ Ball.
Hey Graham, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with Forte! Firstly, for those who have no idea what the Gangsters’ Ball is, could you give us a little description of the event and your role?
The Gangsters’ Ball is a faithful recreation of a classic ‘prohibition era’ Speakeasy, bringing to life the fashion, style, humour and classic merriment of the 1930s and ’40s. I’m the founder of the event and its creative director.
There definitely aren’t many events like it around. What sparked the idea for it?
When my swing band, The Velvet Set, started playing club shows in Sydney back in 2007, to keep things interesting I booked burlesque performers to dance between band sets. The shows drew loads of swing dancers and vintage-inspired punters alike and the gigs had a real party atmosphere to them. So the idea of hosting a swing dancing ball with classic variety acts evolved, and in 2008 the Gangsters’ Ball debuted in Sydney to a sold-out Gaelic Theatre. In fact, some 200 people in fancy dress queued at the door for over two hours to snap up the final 50 tickets.
Has the concept changed much since the debut show?
The first show in 2008 predominantly featured burlesque performers, along with the Velvet Set swing band. However, there were a lot of other burlesque shows and events running at that time and I wanted to create something more unique. So over the years the acts have diversified greatly, including burlesque dancers, swing dancers, cabaret starlets, vaudevillians, magicians, acrobats, jugglers, aerialists, contortionists and even a hypnotist!
The Gangsters’ Ball has sold out heaps of shows and is now in its seventh year (wow!). What is it about the event that has people coming back?
I think it’s the quality of the performances and great live music. Every show features the leading names in Australian and international cabaret, sideshow vaudeville, burlesque and big band swing, so attendees are treated to some amazing acts. It’s also the biggest fancy dress event in the country, and who doesn’t love a chance to dress up?
What kind of performances/activities can the audience expect to see this time around?
This year we have all the bases covered – burlesque dancers, swing dancers, vaudevillians, acrobats, jugglers, contortionists and a fabulous 10 piece big band. Attendees can slip into ‘The Gambling Den’ which boasts poker, roulette and blackjack tables, enjoy swing dancing performances, mingle with pin-up models, browse the merchandise stalls, sip a cocktail at the bar, visit the vintage styling parlour and have a portrait taken at the 1930s-themed photo booth.
What are some of your personal favourites that are performing this year?
I’m very excited to have the Czech Republic’s Queen of Burlesque Stephanie van der Strumpf performing in Australia for the first time ever. MC chanteuse and Gangsters’ Ball favourite Aurora Kurth will be back as Kitty Ka-Bang!, sword swallowing strongman the Great Gordo will turn heads in amazement and acrobatic troupe Headfirst will dazzle.
What’s the general vibe of the crowd on the night?
The crowd go nuts! Just picture 1000+ gangsters, molls and flappers, dressed to the nines, sipping cocktails and dancing all night long. It’s a hoot!
What is it that you love about those decades (1920s-’50s)?
For me it’s the fabulous fashion and classic big band music. I love stepping back in time to a bygone era when men wore three-piece suits and fedoras, women wore feathers and pillbox hats, big bands ruled the airwaves and gangsters ruled the streets.
The Gangsters’ Ball is certainly a go-to event. Where do you plan to take it in the future?
Plans are well underway to expand into Asia, Europe and America, with the Gangsters’ Ball to run as a nightly casino show in Las Vegas.
Thanks again for doing the interview with us Graham. Is there anything you’d like to add before we finish up?
I’d suggest your readers purchase their tickets soon as the shows always sell out. They can buy tickets from Ticketmaster and for more information on the event visit
When&Where: The Forum – September 13