Period arts group recreates history

Period arts group recreates history

Patti Cary

Photo by Patti Cary.

With classic charm and skill, the talented members of Period Events & Entertainment Re-creation Society (PEERS) have been spreading their special kind of magic throughout the Bay Area for decades. Dedicated to education through historical re-creation, PEERS is a nonprofit organization that firmly believes art is something you do, not just watch.

From their headquarters right here in Alameda, PEERS organizes and hosts balls (Age of Innocence, Victorian 12th Night), local picnics (Alice In Wonderland) and weekly dance lessons where they artfully weave the culture, romance, and grandeur of 18th and 19th century arts in to the fabric of our modern-day lives.

Attending a PEERS event is like being an invited guest to a fabulous, time-traveling party. The group takes such great pride in their attention to historical detail and many of the members and guests sport gorgeous costumes, many of them handmade, with all the appropriate frills and accessories.

“We were doing steampunk before it was even called steampunk!” co-founder and artistic director Cathleen Myers said.

PEERS was born in 1988, when several performers hired to work the San Francisco Dickens Fair (a Christmas tradition celebrating Victorian London) got together and decided to branch out.

“We thought, why do this only once a year?” said Myers, a lifelong student of dance who discovered historical dance in college. Meyers established PEERS as a nonprofit organization with her husband, John Eric Myers, in 1994; he serves as the organization's executive director.

Over the past quarter-century, the PEERS group of actors, dancers and performers has grown to almost 40 members, hosting over 200 Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco dance events. The group has had such a long and successful run that they are starting to see the children of the original members rise up in the ranks.

Events are generally held the first Saturday of most months, and each year, the group works to come up with new and exciting themes and bygone eras to re-create. In addition to dance, drama, music, literature and costumes are a big part of PEERS activities.

That said, Myers said she wants those interested in attending the group’s events to know that “costumes are admired but not required.”

The group’s popular Le Bal Des Vampires is an annual dance held at the Alameda Elks Lodge – a perfect venue featuring 1909 Edwardian architecture that will now serve as the exclusive venue for all future events.

“Alameda is very supportive of historical re-creation and the city is so dedicated to Victorian preservation,” said Myers. “This is our home.”

Live music for the events is provided by the classically trained English country quartet Bangers and Mash, and lessons for all the traditional dances are always held at the start of each event. You can also take lessons on Sunday afternoon at the Elks Lodge for a $10 cover charge – dance partners provided.

“Years ago, I was invited to operate Sam’s bar at a Casablanca event,” longtime PEERS member and performer Charles Mckeithan remembered. “I never imagined that years later I would be able to stop counting my dance steps out loud and start teaching the waltz.”

The organization is eager to welcome new faces and would love the opportunity to teach and share the art of historic re-creation to all who are interested.

“Our events are like stepping into the past and into the most romantic setting, set to beautiful music,” Myers said. “It’s a place where you become the artist and the performer. There’s really nothing quite like it.”

Enjoy a Viennese ball set in 1920s New York at the upcoming Age of Innocence Ball at 7 p.m. September 5 at the Alameda Elks Lodge, 2255 Santa Clara Avenue. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For more information on this and other PEERS events, contact the group at peers@peersdance.org or visit their website.