by Cole Sarar, photos and video by Cole Sarar
It is a Saturday night, past midnight, you’re in the Southern Theatre and there is an adorable girl on the stage, trying to give away a kitten. Or maybe there is Tay Zonday at his keyboard with his inexplicable voice and youthful face. Or there is quite possibly the most offensive man you’ve ever heard, spitting conspiracy theories so perverse and universally odious that you find yourself exchanging uncomfortable looks of consolation with complete strangers. Or there are a crew of dancer/acrobat/gymnasts leaping and flipping over chairs. Or a group of young men assemble a portable wall and staple gun one of them to it. Or just about anything. And you’re completely sober.
This is Balls Cabaret.
Balls claims the longest running weekly midnight cabaret in history- which may be true- it hasn’t missed one Saturday since its inception in August of 1991, and has always had first-time audience members. Run by Leslie Ball with a cast of regular friends, the cabaret is an Institution in the twin cities.
The thing about Balls is that it’s always fresh- always surprising. The thing that I have come to use as my description of a night at Balls is that you will see something awful, something amazingly wonderful, and something so bizarre that you will leave, thinking to yourself, “I could have never anticipated that.”
The performances are punctuated with hand picked music selections, to which Leslie will occasionally sway appreciatively on stage in the near dark of the theatre, before the lights rise and she introduces the next performer. The space is amazing- the raw stones of the proscenium arch, the enormous stage, and the stage lights would be intimidatingly beautiful, if not for Leslie’s gentle and deft blurring of performers and audience- as such, it becomes almost as if everyone had moved into the theatre to start a new family, close friends, weird second cousins and all.
Spoken word has long been a part of Balls’ traditions, and one will find the most experienced storytellers and poets performing alongside folks just getting on stage for the first time. Fiction and fact and everything in between, there’s room for all of it on the Southern’s stage. I’ve assembled a small montage of spoken word performers at Balls for you, and hopefully I’ll run into you there, sometime soon.