ReQuiem for a (Midsummer Night's) Dream

By day, Paula Shimel is an unassuming real estate marketer who loves to eat chocolate, update her blog and gush over her three cats, Nermal, Nala and Bastet. But on Friday nights, she straps on black vinyl platform boots, carefully laces up her corset, and, if it's cold outside, grabs her cloak before she heads out the door.

Nearly every weekend, Shimel transforms herself into "Femmdraven" -- not a superpowered superhero, but Shimel's elaborately dressed Gothic alter ego. But she wasn't the awkward kid in high school who just never grew out of the "black phase." Shimel was actually once a "pompon girl," and joined the Goth scene when she was 33.

"It's fun to dress up and be someone different," says Shimel, who will turn 45 in June. "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. That is kind of my mantra."

Shimel has been working for the past two months to make sure that others have the chance to dress up and play by planning the Valley's biggest Goth event of the season. The third annual ReQuiem Gothic Butterfly Event beckons fairies, tree elves and other fantastical creatures who romp in a magical forest (a.k.a. Club Incognito) in their glitteriest and most elaborate ensembles.

The modest dance and bar space will transform just like its patrons as it gets decked out in vine-covered arches and twinkling lights. Think A Midsummer Night's Dream meets The Princess Bride. The club will award the two snazziest-dressed woodland dwellers with framed prints from fairy artist Jasmine Becket-Griffith.

Fairies, butterflies and sprightly forest creatures might sound too cheerful for the ghoulish group, but Shimel says being Goth doesn't doom you to a black wardrobe and a diet of bat's blood. "We aren't Satan worshipers or killing babies or casting spells," Shimel says. "We just don't really fit into the square box that everyone has fit into." After all, fitting into a box can't be easy with three-foot wings protruding from your back.

And although guarded whispers and occasional stares are part of a Goth's life, there is one big payoff, says Sheryl Hutcherson, bass player for local Goth band Reliquary, who headlines the event.

"There is the sense that you can be anyone or anything that you want. Whoever you are, there's very little discrimination in this scene," she says. Hutcherson manages a tech support call center during the day, where co-workers "tolerate" her hair -- "normalish" now that she got rid of her blue and black dreads.

Hutcherson says she'll be leaving her wings at home since "putting on wings and [playing] bass isn't the best combination." Instead, Hutcherson will sport her first custom-made corset. The black brocade number with an under-bust set her back $150, a mild dent in the wallet considering more elaborate pieces with lace and leather can cost around $400.

Evidently, being whoever you want isn't a cheap endeavor.

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Lynh Bui