6Q’s with Magic Castle Cabaret’s Arlene Larsen

By Steven Libowitz   |   October 1, 2020
Arlene Larsen’s Magic Castle Cabaret opens its gift shop to the public for all of October and masks are mandatory for more reasons than one

Like every performing arts venue in town, the Magic Castle Cabaret has been closed since March as even private club prestidigitation has been rendered powerless by the pandemic. But the charming year-old establishment that serves as the local Santa Barbara-Montecito offshoot to the famed Castle in Hollywood co-founded by Milt Larsen in the early 1960s has one trick up its sleeve. With Halloween around the corner – giving masks more meaning than mere protection from COVID – the Cabaret is opening its gift shop to the public for the month of October.

Arlene Larsen, a longtime member of the Hollywood Costume Designers Guild, has been creating and decorating fashionable masks and plastic face shields and sending them to local celebrities for a few months in the hopes of having the influencers help make wearing masks seem cool and fun. Now regular folks can get in on the goodies, picking up a one-of-a-kind mask for Halloween as well as the upcoming holidays – Turkey feathers, anyone? – or just to lift the spirits with a gift for yourself or others in our still gloomy times. As they say about magic, the hand is quicker than the eye, but it’s the eyes that will be delighted by the designs created by Arlene Larsen, if a quick look at a few designs is any indication.

The shop will be opened 11:30 am to 4 pm Tuesday-Saturday, from October 1-31, with customers gaining entry by ringing the doorbell in order to be escorted into the tiny walled-off gift area one party at a time. If they can receive approval in time, owners Milt and Arlene Larsen plan to possibly expand the sale area to the club’s veranda. Arlene filled us in on the fashion features over the phone earlier this week.

Q. What drove the idea of selling your masks to the public?

Arlene Larsen, a longtime member of the Hollywood Costume Designers Guild, has been creating and decorating fashionable masks and plastic face shields

A. We’re going to be wearing them for a while, so we might as well have fun with them and use masks to match our outfits or just make a statement. So I’m buying all sorts of different designs and styles of masks – that way I don’t have to worry about them being up to code and correct (for COVID) – and then I’m working with them, trimming them up and jazzing them up with stuff I add. So they’re not like your ordinary masks. And that makes them a lot more fun to wear.

You’ve got decades of costuming experience. What goes into making a fun mask?

Lots of experience but even more leftover stuff (from my career). I’ve got applique, rhinestones, ribbons, and trim and so much more. If I can put them on the masks and shields I can get rid of all my stuff I don’t really use anymore and yet not have to charge the prices I would if I went out and bought them now. There are things like reminders of harem girls with a little fringe on the bottom, or little pieces of this or that that sometimes could be terribly expensive if you were wanting to make a dress. But I have just enough left over to put on a mask. If you had to shop, it would cost them a fortune and then there’s other stuff you can’t even find because I’ve had it for so many years.

How are you figuring out what to do?

It’s just what comes to me, anything to make things different. One of the ones for the face masks that everybody just loves was designed by a person who is deaf. She could only read lips. When she went in for surgery everybody had their (medical) masks on and she couldn’t see their lips and it scared her because she couldn’t hear what they were saying. So she designed a (transparent) face mask they could wear in surgery where you could see their faces. I bought a bunch of them and I fix them up with hair on the bottom so that it looks like you’re wearing a beard. Women want them too – like a bearded lady. I made a few that are S&M with the spikes and all that, and I’ve got the shields with the plastic in front of the face, which are wonderful to wear when you go out to eat because you don’t have to keep lowering the mask. You can see each other and talk. I put all kinds of things on the sides to decorate them.

It seems like whimsy by design.

It’s pretty easy to have some fun. You can add nothing but rhinestones and it’s so pretty. It’s like a woman putting on a piece of jewelry, because you have nothing else you can dress up for anymore. Why not use your mask like another accessory? It’s kind of fun to match your outfit or your shoes. You put on your earrings, your hat, and your face mask. It’s all part of your fashion design or wardrobe. I got a woman in New York who’s matching her masks to her husband’s ties, which is very clever.

Looking ahead, have you and Milt figured out how the Magic Castle Cabaret will adjust to protocols when you are able to reopen?

We’ve been working on fixing the place up to make it safe. [Even before the pandemic], we’d cut back from a high of 32 people in the cabaret at the same time to just 20. We’ll bring that down to 10 to have enough distance, and in groups so we can clean in between. We have these invisible plastic curtains in front of the stage so singers or magicians don’t have to worry. There are individual air purifiers for every table. And we change our filters and our air conditioning every day. We want to get those things airplanes use where we can spray all the chairs and tables to sanitize quickly. I don’t want to take any chances of anybody ever getting sick from coming to our place.

I understand if things stay as they are, movie theaters are supposed to be opening Friday. Have you heard when you can?

As a private club that’s very small we probably already could have had the okay a long time ago, but we closed two weeks before they told everybody to close and we’ll probably open up after everybody else does. I’m that cautious. It’s not worth it to jump the gun. I just don’t want to get sick, nor anybody else.


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