By Advocate Contributors
Originally published on Advocate.com May 18 2012 5:00 AM ET
Because we know the value of “girlesque”
The cherry-lipped, singing, dancing Pin Up Girls have been performing for years now (a sort of sexier, gayer Pussycat Dolls) on TV (Logo, MTV, Spike TV, Showtime) and onstage in three cities (New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas). The Pin Up Girls’ latest videos (in which they sing, not lip-sync) are “Girl Candy,” a cute lesbian romp starring Elaine Hendrix from Superstar, and “Pretty Things,” a “retro burlesque, dark, and dirty video with a wicked story line” by director Joe LaRue. We caught up with founder Vixen Romeo to talk about butch burlesque, straight audiences, and life on stage. We even got her to reveal her secret identity.
The Advocate: The show I went to a few months ago really had a speakeasy feel to it. Was that intentional?
Vixen Romeo: Yes, we were trying a new format in a new space. It was the first time we danced in window frames, doorways, in choreographed patterns through the room, hopping on tabletops. Group numbers were broken into sections performed on the floor and on a bitty runway stage. It was very different for us!
How long have you been doing this? Did you do this solo before creating The Pin Up Girls?
I started dancing when I was 3 years old. I started teaching dance when I was 16. I've been in dance companies, I've performed solo, then came The Pin Up Girls — which has been a wild unexpected ride!
Unlike a lot of neo-classical burlesque troupes, you also sing and perform in your own music videos. How do you define yourselves as a troupe?
We began as a burlesque, tribal belly dance company with a touch of hip-hop. We made a dance studio out of my bedroom. My roommate at the time, my BFF Russell, was a doll about the whole thing. When you don't have money you improvise but you must always do what you love. We evolved into what I'd define as a burlesque girl group. I never imagined what it would become.
The cast on your website is pretty large. Do you rotate girls in and out of different shows?
We do. Our cast is very large. There is the main cast, The Drag Bois, we have guest stars, we have perma-guest stars, fill-in cast, on-call cast in New York, and returning Pin Up alumni for cameos in music videos and special appearances on stage. I'd have to sit and count all the girls on rotation — it'd take a while. For example, we are currently filming “Pretty Things,” a film noir-style murder mystery music video, so, we have Pin Ups and Drag Bois coming in from all over for filming: Vegas, Detroit, Idaho, Texas. If a pin up cast member has to move for personal reasons, family, jobs, school etc. they simply return for the main Pin Up Girl events. It's a very big family!
How long has the troupe been around? How many women have been with you since the beginning?
The Pin Up Girls started in 2005 with just a handful of girls. The original faces still performing are me, Brown Sugar, Top 69 DeWilde, and Coco Puff. Another early cast member, Kittie Cat, is making a cameo appearance in “Pretty Things.”
Tell me about The Drag Bois. Why bring them in? What do they add to the show?
When I first started casting, I auditioned for what I coined as The Drag Bois, a division of The Pin Up Girls that has been with us from day one. I thought it was very important that I represent for andro-chicks in our showcase everywhere we went — even if the audience was primarily straight. Did it confuse some of our audience members? Yes. Did it bother some people promoters, clubs? Of course. Have I been asked to change it? I have. But I don't and I won't. I used art to make a political statement, as a way to build acceptance and a better understanding of how breaking the mold is beautiful and sexy. It's also always been important to me that I be a strong role model for young people and that I provide good role models within the cast as well; so that young les-girls dealing with, well, what we deal with, can look on our stage, watch our videos, and see a bit of themselves and feel proud about who they are. The Drag Bois are essential to the show, the band, and to the image and vision I initially set out to project. They play character roles on stage and they provide delicious eye candy for the ladies.
You’re here in the heart of Hollywood. Does that affect your audience, your performances, what you do offstage?
Ah, the New Yorker comes to Hollywood! Since we live in Los Angeles this is where we do most of our shows and filming and it's where we do all of our recording with Top69 Productions and producer Jeremy Hinskton. It's home base. LA has been great to us from the start. Everything we became we owe to our fans and the root of that fan base started here. We perform full force every place we go, every audience, every venue, every city.
And when you’re not on stage?
Offstage we always remember that we are representing The Pin Up Girls and that means manners — “pleases” and “thank yous” — and hair and makeup looking pin up lovely on and off stage. Spankings are delivered at home for bad behavior.
How many of you in the troupe are full-time performers and how many have day jobs outside entertainment?
Oh lordy, let's see, I'm in the UCLA writing program in addition to running The Pin Up Girls. Top 69 DeWilde produces music, does improv, and is assistant director of The Pin Up Girls. Brown Sugar dances full time and does volunteer animal rights work. Coco Puff dances full time and is constantly on the go. Cherry Bonita has a day job — her secret alter ego can be found on our stage — and Rosie Reform dances full time back and forth between here and Las Vegas. We share Porcelain Venus with the acclaimed Belly Dance Superstars. Ryder Quinn is a security guard. Lucky 7 Denver is a full time heart breaker. Scarlet Mae is a designer — oh, this could go on and on forever. Eliana Thain, well, she's only 6-years-old, so she doesn't have a day job yet, but she is playing baby Vixen Romeo in “Pretty Things.”
Tell me more about “Girl Candy,” your latest video.
We wanted to do something fun. “Girl Candy” was musically playful and a blast to film. We wanted to record something with a little trendier sizzle and a little less retro flare than “There She Goes...She's Real Fly.” We added actress Elaine Hendrix because we adore her cool chick flicks, especially Superstar, and she's a natural born pin up. With “Girl Candy” we went very cute and light, which is the opposite of what we are filming now with director Joe LaRue. “Pretty Things” is retro burlesque — dark, and dirty with a wicked story line.
Who are some of the stars you’ve shared the stage with and who’s had the most impact on you?
Margaret Cho is an amazing person; she opened her arms up to The Pin Up Girls early on. We shared the stage with BETTY and they essentially put our band on the map by playing our music on Showtime’s The L Word. Performing at Music Box with Jane Lynch and Uh Huh Her was awesome — all such inspirational down to earth women. There have been so many that have impacted us, that's just to name a few.
What’s next for you?
More music, more live performances and more filming— short films, a webisode, who knows?
When you perform in other parts of the country is the reception different by region?
Yeah, an audience in New York is different from LA, LA is different from San Francisco, San Francisco is different from Arizona and so on. In NY and Vegas girls get kind of rowdy.
How many women in the troupe define themselves as lesbian, queer, or bisexual?
Lesbians, there are quite a few; bi girls, there's a bunch; queer, a good handful — pun intended — and we have two straight up straight girls. Or, ahem, or so we think. [Laughs]
Do you see differences when you perform for other women that you do when you perform for men?
Women vs. men is the eternal question. We've had rowdy women, observant women, straight women, bi-curious ladies, and we’ve made some women cling to their significant others for dear life. Men are usually like whoa, whoot, yayah — especially the gay ones! We've had to bounce straight guys off the stage more than once. Both sexes pop out cell phones, other recording devices, occasionally trying to sneak on stage or pull one of us off the stage. That's rock and roll! The show is fun for all so we perform for lots of mixed crowds.
You have a lot of fans that follow you, but I hear you have someone you adore.
Yes, I live for my class with author Claire McNab; she a brilliant mentor, she tells it like it is. I'm officially a McNab groupie. I spend a lot of time writing. I’m currently editing my fiction novel; it’s a young adult, paranormal, queer love story that takes place in the Pacific Southwest in the 1950s. I'm planning to get my masters degree in literature, if I can ever find the time.
You are famously tattooed. Tell me about your tats.
Most of my tattoos have meaning — important dates, words I love: On my forearm, I tattooed part of a text, one of my best friends, Joe Lauria, sent me the night before he died. It reads, “In the midnight hour she cried.”
You paid homage to Joe elsewhere, too, right?
Yes, if you look carefully there's a retro design Joe Lauria poster on the wall in Girl Candy.
What doesn’t the world know about Vixen Romeo?
My stage character is outgoing but in real life I can be very reclusive. I have two cats, a dog, and a fish. Family is very important to me. I'm loyal as all heck to my friends. I have an obsession with Old Navy PJ pants. I have an obsession with Top 69 DeWilde —luckily it goes both ways. I love Robert Smith. I have an entourage of boys, in New York, my best friends — I often call them at strange hours. Black is my real hair color. I'm nocturnal by nature. I rearrange my furniture often.
And the final Bruce Wayne question…
My real name is Julia Diana.
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