D.I.Y.N.J. Part VIII: Breaking Burly – 10 Questions for:
Minnie D’ Moocha – Cosplayer, Pinup Model & Glow Burlesque Performer
Viktor Devonne – Director of The White Elephant Burlesque Society
Vonka – Cosplayer, Alternative Model & Burlesque Performer
By Matt Chrystal (WNJ correspondent)
I am flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi with America’s hottest band… and we are all about to die! Well, I’m not in a plane and I’m not with a band BUT I am possibly about to die… as my “better half” just walked in on me as I scroll through hundreds of photos of burlesque performers.
“It’s umm not what it looks like!” I shout. “It’s ummm… it’s for research purposes! I swear!”
Seriously, it actually was for research purposes but hey, as far as I know, there isn’t a law against enjoying your work, is there?! Anyways, my research and interviews with Minnie D’Moocha, Viktor Devonne and Vonka, three sensational performers who are breaking bad and literally busting out of the garden state, has led me to the conclusion that burlesque performers and cosplayers are kinda like Transformers… yup, there’s more than meets the eye. I have some more research to do, so let’s hear it from these three movers and shakers (pun intended) as they answer my ten questions for D.I.Y.N.J.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Everyone loves an origin story… Soooo…
1. Assuming this is your stage name and you are comfortable discussing, how did you decide on your current moniker?
Minnie: I love big band swing, and I Lindy hopped for several years. I’d been going by the nickname Minnie since high school, and I love Cab Calloway, so adding the d’Moocha to the end of it was a no brainer.
Viktor: When I was first coming up with a stage identity, which I didn’t really know for how long I was planning, I picked “Viktor,” which comes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. “Devonne” came out of the ether; I’ve never been able to place why I decided that as a surname, just that I knew I needed a full name.
Vonka: My familial background is more Russian than anything else so when I started getting involved in fetish work, I knew I wanted to choose a Russian name. I first heard the name Vonka in a silly movie called Miss March. It somehow fit me pretty perfectly and has become a huge part of my life.
2. How/Why/When did you get started?
Minnie: I started out as a pinup model under my stage name, and eventually decided to give the burlesque thing a try. I had been in rock bands and very active in theater most of my life but burlesque was this form of performance art that I could do solely on my own. I’ve always been a cosplayer at heart. I love making costumes, so when I discovered I could fuse the two art forms into one stage performance-or nerdlesque, I was thrilled!
Viktor: As a young gay man at the crossroads of a dwindling long-term relationship, a changing of the guard in his chosen community of Rocky Horror, and an absolute non-direction in life, burlesque came at a perfect time for me. I cannot imagine life without it. Burlesque fulfills a lot in me: I love the stage time, yes; I love creating acts, exposing audiences to my music tastes and providing my own live action music videos to go with them. I love getting dressed. I love the momentum of a show — the audience’s response.
Vonka: I started attending Animenext in 2003 and continued to attend geeky cons and occasionally cosplaying ever since. In 2009 I started modeling and getting involved in some pro-domming and fetish work. Burlesque was something I knew I wanted to do very badly so it just came naturally later.
3. What does your process look like (selecting characters, costumes, booking gigs, etc)?
Minnie: I select characters I am drawn to. Costuming detail is of large importance, but also that I can connect with the character on some sort of emotional level. Cosplaying and burlesque costuming are very different as with cosplay there is a great importance for others to recognize your character. For burlesque, your costume has to work with a live performance, and the striptease is important and often hard to do with costuming. It takes a great deal of time and thought to fuse the two. It isn’t unheard of for me to spend 200 hours working on one costume.
Viktor: I have costumes that fit my stage identity; I’m a hobo clown type, so I wear a lot of secondhand, or distressed firsthand. If I am doing an act that is vaudeville-style storytelling, I may decide to play it up as a hobo emulating that richer character’s lifestyle, or strut it up in a suit and tie, with the understanding it’s all just costume for my otherwise Buster Keaton-like sensibility.
Booking gigs, in an internet age, requires Liking and Following a lot of social media, but also going to shows. You have to meet people; not just to secure a gig, but to see what other people are doing, to get inspired, and to make friends with likeminded spirits. Burlesque backstages can get quiet or tense if the cast doesn’t get along or know each other; fostering community makes you feel good — and it helps if someone can zip you up from the back if needed!
Vonka: My process can vary completely from act to act. Sometimes I’ve known what character I want to portray and then I need to find the right concept and music. Other times I’ll hear a song and an idea for an act will hit me to go with it. I also have a lot of acts that came along as a result of a show casting call that gave me an idea for an act or character to fit the theme called for.
4. How big a role does the area/community of NJ that you operate out of play into your brand
Minnie: I enjoy living in New Jersey, and while there are a few venues that are very supportive of the art, there are laws and city ordinances that keep me from fully being able t o express my art the way I want. When I started performing there were many more opportunities available in NYC, where I spent most of my time learning, and having such a huge community was great for not only a large network of creative geniuses but also opportunities to work my shows out on stage.
Viktor: While White Elephant works a lot in New York City because it has a weekly show there, I go where I am booked… In NJ, I am a regular participant in the Noir Follies at Roxy and Dukes Roadhouse in Dunellen and the Noir Dames at Crossroads in Garwood; these troupes are both run by Vivi Noir. I play the foil in a lot of the sketches; these shows are run more as a vaudeville variety show than strictly burlesque striptease.
Vonka: My local community in NJ had a lot of impact on my beginnings in burlesque. I got my start when I joined a local troupe called the Ink & Paint Club Burlesque. They became some of my best friends and taught me a lot. The majority of my shows were in Jersey for a long time. I’ve only recently started traveling more and more and venturing out on my own as a more serious independent performer.
Speaking of community, in marketing and networking these days, online communities usually have a big role in the success and expansion of DIY businesses. And as with any relationship, there seems to be periods of love and hate as opinions and reviews flow freely on open forums and message boards…
5. Does being part of an online community make it difficult to “please the people” and still “stay true” to your vision?
Minnie: The online community is both a help and a hindrance. If I need to fill a casting as a producer, I easily can. As a costumer I can find inspiration and how-to’s at my fingertips. But the internet breeds trolls. Many times I feel like for as helpful as we can be to each other as a community; we can also be as rude and hateful.
Viktor: Burlesque isn’t easy. I also used to think that anyone could do it. They can’t. You have to be authentic on stage to be successful, and you have to be authentic offstage… Burlesque is an act of self-expression and rebellion; you’re seeing people literally stripping away the items that hide their most vulnerable physicality… Burlesque is a medium full of some of the most unapologetically weird and wonderful people who use social media for good as best as they can.
Vonka: I’ve found my online communities in burlesque and cosplay incredibly helpful. I book most of my gigs through casting calls posted in local performer groups. I also often reach out through similar forums to bounce ideas off of people. I can be as weird as I want and there will always be a place for me, but I might not have the same access to those places and amazing people without my community.
6. What phase of the love/hate relationship would describe your current state of mind when dealing with the online community? Hey, it’s just us, you can tell the truth!
Minnie: I’m tired of the hate, but it is a necessary evil to help me do what I do. I just keep negativity out of my own space and embrace all that are kind and talented and low drama. I do not like drama off the stage.
Viktor: Many burlesque performers want the audience to enjoy it in that context of being a vulnerable act; with social media, sometimes it is a difficult line when audience members and fans wish to interact with performers, without the context of the stage. An audience member should understand that they are not entitled to a burlesque performer offstage; some of us are entertainers but not public figures, and some of us need to “leave it all” on the stage.
Vonka: I’m pretty happy with it, honestly! It’s a tremendous resource more than anything else. Of course I see bits of the drama and “vaguebook” statuses but I’ve never really gotten involved. I’m very loyal to the people who have been good to me and I have far more to say about those who have helped me on my journey as a cosplayer and performer than those who have not.
7a. Your brand has taking you to many places, not only in the Garden State but also around the United States? What is one of your favorite adventures or experiences?
Minnie: My favorite was performing this last year at Colossalcon, which is a water park anime convention in Sandusky, OH. That was delightful and I got to watch many first time performers bring their acts to stage.
Viktor: I have been so lucky to work in New York City as often as I do, and this year I have performed in my first burlesque festivals. I traveled to Denver, Colorado and to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the last few months, and have other states on the horizon as well.
Vonka: This year I have already traveled more in a short period of time than in all of my life. I’m very thankful to burlesque for that. Recently, I flew out to Denver for the Fierce Queer International Burlesque Festival. It was my first time in Denver, first festival, and first time making such a trip solo.
7b. Any Least favorite?
Minnie: The worst was in New York, where after I was told several times I was going to be paid for an event, I was then told, “Ohh, this was an audition.” That was pretty awful, and why I now have an attorney who specializes in these things.
Viktor: I don’t have a lot of bad experiences, but I hate to be cut off. At two separate events, burlesque and bands happened throughout the night. When the bands didn’t start on time and ran the risk of hitting the venue’s curfew, the burlesque got cut in favor of the bands. However, having worked with a lot of bands, they very often are the burlesque’s biggest fans at the end of the night.
Vonka: I can’t really say what my favorite or least favorite place has been yet. I haven’t traveled much and every place has been educational and different.
Let’s shift to what is on the horizon for each of you…
8. What should we know about what you got going on?
Minnie: I produce a monthly show on the third Saturday of every month at Hells Kitchen Lounge in Newark called “Glow Burlesque.” It is a black light show, and going on its fourth year! I have won 8 cosplay awards so far, and plan to continue creating beautiful works of wearable art until my fingers don’t work anymore!
Vonka: Currently I’m excited to be working on some more sets to go up on mygeekgoddess.com in between my performances. Plus, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for acceptances to perform at more festivals that I have applied to.
9. What can we look forward to in the future?
Minnie: More of the same, including amazing new nerdlesque numbers I plan on bringing to the stage! Hopefully more that let me shoot arrows! (I am an archer and love to fuse things that I love together for a stage show).
Viktor: This weekend, on Aug 20th, I participate in the New Jersey Burlesque Festival, co-run by New Jersey’s own Attica Wilde. I will be in Boston on August 31st for an all boyband burlesque show called Dirty Pop. This September, I turn 33… Beyond that, lots of shows to be decided!
Vonka: One of the biggest undertakings I have made was dipping my toes into producing when I co-produced, hosted, and performed in a kink themed burlesque show earlier this year. Although I’m in no position to do so regularly at this time, I look forward to more and better opportunities to produce more shows with this kind of content in the future.
10. Where can folks find you to keep up with you?
Vonka: I’m pretty Googleable and active on Facebook (@romanov.vonka)
Instagram (@vonkaromanov) Twitter (@vonkaromanov), and Fetlife (@Vonka).
My next big performance in Jersey will be this Saturday, August 20th at The New Jersey Burlesque Festival in Asbury Park. Next month you can see me at A Video Game Con on September 10th at the Parsippany PAL.
Thanks for the info and your time, ladies and gentleman! I’m looking forward to all the shows that you all have coming up. Annnnnd to our faithful readers, Stay Up, Stay Tuned and Tune In Next Time as WEIRD NJ continues to “Break Bad” with the masterminds behind the Asbury Park Surf Rock Fest.