Partying away the nasty

Southwest duo hosting sixth annual Shack Nasty Costume Ball

Time to break out the old Cher wig. For the sixth consecutive year, a group of Minneapolis residents — many from Southwest — are throwing one of the biggest costume bashes in the Twin Cities.

Hundreds of winter-weary partiers will flood the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown on March 1 to dance, drink and rebel rouse for the annual Shack Nasty Costume Ball. But before you get too excited, know that, like all the hippest parties, this event is invite-only and password protected.

“We wanted [it] to be a party thrown by friends for friends,” explains Michael Keller, co-founder of the ball and East Calhoun resident. “Everybody there knows everybody by probably one degree of separation.”

The invite list starts out as a group of roughly 50 people, or hosts, who set out to invite as many of their friends as possible, forming a massive web of vaguely connected guests. Invitees are given a top-secret password that grants them access to a sign-up page at where they can purchase tickets for $35. Costumes are mandatory, and without one, potential attendees could be turned away at the door.

Land of the stir-crazy

Keller, a marketing executive from New Jersey, and Dion Hughes, an advertising executive from Australia who now lives in Linden Hills, came up with the idea for Shack Nasty after noticing how cooped up Minnesotans get during the colder months. Both men had attended large, fantastic costume balls in other parts of the world and thought holding one in Minneapolis would be a great way to shake off the winter blues.

Hughes ran the idea by a work buddy who told him about “Shack nasty,” the term his grandmother used to describe the funky way upper Midwesterners smelled, looked and felt after a long winter stuck inside.

“[It’s] a horrible combination of spring fever and cabin fever,” says Keller. “It accounts for our snarkiness, our pissiness. It comes from light deprivation and having to bundle up and not seeing our friends and always being cold.”

The duo decided to hold the costume ball as an “antidote” for the “Shack Nasty Disorder.” Partygoers are given cocktail shots served in tiny cough syrup cups to “initiate group treatment” of the sickness. Dancing, socializing and watching hundreds of Minnesotans run around in costumes help further the inoculation.

Each year, the organizers choose a theme to help attendees plan their outfits — previous topics have ranged from The Sea to 1975–1984. This year, the theme revolves around the Shackademy Awards — good timing, considering the real Oscars will have taken place six days earlier.

In the parking lots near the Varsity Theater, limousines will pick partiers up at their cars and chauffeur them two blocks to the venue’s red carpet entrance on 4th Street. Paparazzi will line the sidewalk, cameras flashing, as guests make their way into the opulent theater, which is gussied up with decorations and movie clips playing on a large screen.

“I really enjoy the whole thing because I’m an amateur photographer,” says Mark Lellman, a Tangletown resident who has attended the balls since the beginning.

He plans to show up as a paparazzo this year, which will involve much less preparation than the sea-themed year when he went as a bed of kelp.

Going a little too far

Hughes and Keller always manage to dress up to the extreme, setting an example for their guests. Keller has been Xena the Warrior Princess, David Byrne from Taking Heads, Aquaman, Clint Eastwood, the Psychedelic Furs, and “All In,” a bodysuit covered in poker chips.

“There’s a certain pressure that we put on ourselves, being the organizers of the party, to go to extra lengths,” Hughes admits. Two years ago, he decided to go as Jack Sparrow from “The Pirates of the Caribbean.” After re-watching the film, Hughes realized that the character’s gold teeth were essential to his costume.

“I went to my dentist and mentioned it to her and she said, ‘Oh I know a way,’” he recalls. The morning of the ball, Hughes had temporary metal crowns put on his teeth — a decision he now regrets.

“I knew it was over the top,” he says, but it seemed worth it at the time because “People were coming up and saying I hear you even have gold teeth.”

The next day when Hughes returned to the dental chair to have his fake chompers taken out, the temporary glue with which they were adhered proved to be stronger than he thought. His dentist had to grind down the remnants, taking off bits of his enamel in the process.

“She had to put a porcelain front on one tooth,” he says. “It never was supposed to go that far.”

Party on

More than 400 people are expected to attend this year’s rendition of the Shack Nasty Costume Ball — mostly city-dwelling professionals in their 30s looking to get wild for a few hours. But as Keller explains, the party doesn’t just cure one night of cabin fever.

“It’s the planning for the party that gives them something to do,” he says. “It’s turned into [an event] that means something.”

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.


Shack Nasty Costume Ball

What: A costume ball for people looking for an antidote to the winter blues

Where: Varsity Theater, 1308 4th St. SE

When: March 1, 8 p.m.