Before Fake Prom closes down forever after this Friday’s bash at the Palais Royale, organizer Dylan Reibling tells us the history of Toronto’s favourite nostalgia party.
Since it began way back in 2003, Fake Prom has become something of a late-August staple for Torontonians craving a nostalgia fix—or just an excuse to dress up pretty and dance. With the annual throwback party drawing to a close after this Friday’s Enchantment Under the Sea-themed blowout at Palais Royale, The Grid asked Fake Prom organizer Dylan Reibling to tell us about the event’s evolution, its unexpected success, and what a legitimate Fake Prom actually entails.
How did you first conceive of throwing a party like this?
Originally, Fake Prom was just supposed to be a one-off event—a fun party for my friends and maybe some adventurous strangers. I was living in a tiny house at the time, and couldn’t really have more than 10 friends over at a time. Somehow, I was able to convince Shaun Bowring [now the co-owner and booker of The Garrison] to let me have Sneaky Dee’s for a Saturday night. The idea to make it fake prom-themed came after the fact.
Did you ever expect Fake Prom to explode in this way?
Not in a million years would I have expected Fake Prom to get as big as it has. For the first one, approximately 75 people showed up. It was such a blast, I couldn’t wait to do another one. When twice as many people showed up to the second one, it was clear Fake Prom had struck a chord. I’ve had great support from local media, but I think word of mouth has been the key factor in moving Fake Prom from Sneaky Dee’s [2003 and 2004] to the Gladstone  to Lee’s Palace  to Palais Royale [2007 to present]. People get dressed up, have an excellent time and then show off their pictures to their friends. It builds momentum for the next year’s party—now we get crowds of up to 1,000 people.
What’s the typical age range of the crowd?
It’s a 19-plus event, so no actual high-school students are allowed in. We get people of all ages, but I’d say the majority of people who attend are between their early 20s and late 30s. I think the record for oldest attendee was set in 2008, when a 90-year-old woman came dressed in a fairy costume. She was chaperoned by her children, so she didn’t start any trouble.
Do you think a lot of the people drawn to Fake Prom are reacting to their own lacklustre, or downright negative, real prom experiences?
I get a lot of people telling me they missed their high-school prom—whether for scheduling reasons or more social and political reasons, such as not being allowed to have a prom date of the same sex. So Fake Prom gives them the opportunity to have that over-the-top, dress-up, dance-party experience, but more on their own terms, without any of the baggage that comes with being a teenager. Otherwise, I think people just like a good excuse to get dressed up and dance in a beautiful venue.
What was your high-school prom like, and how has it shaped your conception of Fake Prom?
Everyone expects me to have had some kind of traumatic experience at my prom, but the boring truth is that my real prom was pretty unremarkable. It would have had to be a pretty earth-shatteringly disturbing prom for me to be trying to settle the score for 10 solid years.
What’s the music like?
My DJs for the past six years have been DJ Dougie Boom and DJ Shit La Merde. We usually have a guest DJ too, but this year Dougie Boom and Shit La Merde wanted the decks all to themselves. They’ve got six years of Fake Prom musical ideas built up and they want to get as much of it in as possible. They play a mix of retro hits and slow-dance jams—things that you would have heard at a real high school prom in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s. They also throw in some new stuff to keep people on their toes.
Does Fake Prom ever have the drama that real proms so often have?
I’m pretty sure we get at least one bathroom crying scene a year. Whether it’s in the girls’ bathroom or the boys’ bathroom depends on the year.
How does Fake Prom’s Fake Dating Service work?
My Fake Date Matchmakers have an extremely complex matchmaking system that results in only the best of Fake Dates. They’ve shown me how it works a couple of times, but I have to be honest—it is way too complicated for me to wrap my head around.
How many people are typically brave enough to use it?
Usually about 50 or 60 people are brave enough to sign up for a Fake Date.
Do the Fake Dates ever become not fake?
I encourage people to approach Fake Dates as a fun way to meet someone new without a lot of expectations. And I think that’s what happens for the most part: people meet their Fake Date, hit the dance floor, and have a couple of laughs with a new friend. I occasionally get feedback from people who say that a Fake Date was a great icebreaker and that they ended up pursuing things further. I secretly cross my fingers and hope that there are a couple of Fake Date marriages out there. I would really love it if a Fake Date couple names their kid “Superintendent” after me.
Is it acceptable/common to go dateless?
Not only is it acceptable and common, it’s encouraged! A funny thing happens when you get a room full of people dressed up in their finest and most creative outfits—inhibitions drop like flies. The feeling in the air at Fake Prom is always electric. It’s a great place to meet new people.
How did you come up with the idea for this year’s theme?
People have been begging for Enchantment Under the Sea for years. It is classic, classic prom style. Also, it’s the theme for Marty McFly’s parents’ prom in Back to the Future. So you can’t deny that there’s a lot of—ahem—depth to it.
Will this year’s Fake Prom have any new or distinguishing features?
I’ve got some new tricks up my sleeve, but I want there to be some surprises. I’m very excited to be bringing back The Ford Prefects, one of the very first Fake Prom bands.
So why is Fake Prom coming to an end?
Fake Prom is an excellent outlet for creativity and I’m always blown away by how much time and energy people invest in their outfits and costumes. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this thing for 10 years and that’s a long time for any annual event. So when I realized that this was the tenth one, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to celebrate with one last, crazy party.
Also, in my real life, I’m a filmmaker. My career is taking off—come see my short film Model at the Toronto International Film Festival in September!—and I find more of my time is becoming solely dedicated to film work. After all of the hard work I’ve put into Fake Prom over the past decade, I can’t imagine giving anything less than 100 per cent. The timing just feels right.
Fake Prom happens one last time this Friday (Aug. 24). Palais Royale, 1601 Lake Shore Boulevard West. #RON $20 advance, $30 at the door. 9:30 p.m.