A Burlesque Love Story

by Ian McDowell

Debbie Solomon andGavin Glass are unique on the local burlesque scene. While it’s not unusual fora performer/entrepreneur to have a partner behind the scenes, sharing the stageis another matter. But Debbie, who performsas Peaches de Vine, shares it with Gavin, a creative synergy that began whenthey were both performers in the Purrrlesque Burlesque troupe, and which continueswith the one she founded, Vaudeville After Dark.

For Debbie, it’sbeen a creative evolution. “I startedoff belly dancing, which I enjoyed but wasn’t that good at it; I was too goofy. A friend of mine, Johnna Solomon, asked me ifI wanted to go take burlesque classes with her. I did, and fell in love with it. Sheand I and Faun Finlay started performing in Lunasea Dance Theatre, a belly-dance/burlesquefusion troupe. Then I did some stuffwith Foxy Moxy’s Cabaret Risque. Then Ijoined Purrrlesque. After that, Istarted doing my own thing for a while and then formed my own troupe, VaudevilleAfter Dark.”

I ask Debbie whyshe chose that name instead of one with the word “burlesque” in it. “I think the difference is that burlesque isan element of vaudeville. Vaudevilleencompasses more, including comedy. I’m a big supporter of the comedy scenehere, and have lots of friends in it. Jennie Stencel and Steve Lesser of the Idiotbox have been so supportive of me and Gavin. We try to include comedy in every show that we do.”

I ask Debbie ifthings feel different than when she started in 2009.

“I’m moreconfident now. In the past I’ve primarily been a comedic burlesque performer,with everything fast and goofy. Now I’mtrying to slow it down a little. I’vealways felt sexy, but used to feel I always needed a comedy routine. Now sometimes I like to take it easy and do agood old-fashioned strip-tease!”

At which point,the taller and hairier half of the duo, Gavin Glass, joins theconversation. I ask Gavin how he gotinto burlesque.

“It began when theladies of Purrrlesque invited me up on stage because they needed a male to pusharound. So Stage Slave Gavin was born.I’ve to take it from the slave stuff to the top shelf now that I’ve become an emcee. I also do ensemble work with the ladies. That’s where I’m most comfortable. I first met Debbie at Castle Carnival in theWinter of 2010 when she was running her spanking booth. It was love at first spank! Since then, I’ve been emcee of the fire showat the Castle and at Summer Solstice at the Arboretum. Physical comedy is myinspiration and Peaches de Vine is my muse. We get hired a lot as a duo. Thisyear I emceed a wedding that she coordinated on-site at the Greensboro Science CenterAquarium. Anything can become a varietyshow or celebration.”

Like so manyperformers, he felt like an outsider when young. “Never knew where I fit until I startedcreating spots where I did fit. Theydidn’t have an emcee for the Fire Show at Solstice or Castle until I didit. Now promoters are calling me thebest in the business. This astonishes me,as I know there are amazing talents out there, and I wonder if I’m just a bigfish in a small pond. But I love thisarea. This is where my family is now. Both families, the one I was born into and Debbie’s.”

I ask Debbie totell me more about how this Burlesque Love Story began.

She laughs. “WhenI first met Gavin, I thought this was an awfully beautiful man, but I wasmarried. But I happened to run into hima few months later, and his girlfriend at the time and I started doing belly-danceclasses together. We were friends for awhile, and when my marriage dissolved, dating him seemed the naturalevolution. He’s been the best partner forme. He makes me a better person andmakes life constantly entertaining. He’scertainly evolved beyond the foil and the slave. Although he still lugs things around for me.”

I ask them whatit’s like working in burlesque as a couple.

“It hasn’t had anybad points,” says Debbie. “The greatthing about it is that when we have to rehearse, we don’t have to go anywhere,as we live together. It makes thingsawfully convenient. It does have itsspecial stresses.”

Gavin agrees. “Sure,it can be like a pressure cooker, having to deal with makeup and costuming andall the mundane stuff.”

Debbie adds thather role has its own challenges. “I’mthe show producer, so we’re not exactly on equal footing, which can make thingsinteresting. I’m a Type A personalityand he basically has a hippie personality. So when it gets time to get ready, I’m keyed up, I’m on it, but he canbe very Zen.”

Not that he justtakes it easy until it’s time to perform. “I handle the promoting. We put zero money into advertising ourshows. It’s all word of mouth. I just beat the pavement and put out flyersand handbills at First Friday, or any event downtown or at Quaker Village.”

“We have a really wonderful group of loyalsponsors who support us,” adds Debbie. “Wehave raffles for every show. Long termsupporters like Adam and Eve have been so gracious and kind to us. Out of Sight Threads, they do littlehandbills for me for every show. I havea really wonderful troupe. I’ve just gotbeautiful souls in my group who are full of creativity, full of life.”

I ask Debbie somethingshe’s been asked before; does she distinguish what she does from stripping?

Fortunately, shelaughs again. “I knew you were going toask that! That’s been a hot topic in the burlesque community over the last fewyears. Many burlesque performers areformer or current strippers. At the endof the day, we’re all strippers, we’re taking our clothes off. But I see burlesque more along the lines ofbeing a feature stripper than a regular one. There are a lot more themes and costumes, the kind of things involved ina feature act. But I’m not saying it’sthat way for everyone. It doesn’t makeme any better or worse than a stripper, it just makes me different.”

I ask Debbie whatthe future holds for her, Gavin and Vaudeville After Dark.

“I had a big game plan when I first started,and kind of overwhelmed myself. This isa not my day job; I do have an 8 to 6 one that pays my bills. I have children and I have my own smallbusiness selling vintage and handmade items at Design Archives. I’ve gotten more into producing this past year.We’re currently the longest-running regularly scheduled improv burlesque troopin the Southeast. I want to continuethat. I’ve got things in the works with theGirly Girly Revue in Asheville,and we’re going to do some collaborative efforts. Queen April from that troupe is one of mybest friends. She’s been a staple in thespanking booth at CM with me for years. That’s coming up as well on August 27. I’ve got an August 17 show atShiners. It’s a Suicide Squadtheme. I encourage everybody to dressup. The Idiot Box is closing down on ElmStreet, so we’re doing a big ‘We Love Jennie!’ show August 19, the finalburlesque performance at the Idiot Box.”

“InSeptember, I’ll be having my Love your Body burlesque classes. It’s a 12-class, 3-stage series with MemphisMuerte of Discordia Dames. We try topromote body confidence. I’ve graduated quite a few people, at least 40 orso. Watching these women grow isamazing. I’ve had people as young as 21and ones in their 60s. They just want tofeel good about themselves and feel beautiful and take pride in their gift,their instrument, their body. We have alot of fun and I learn something about myself and other people every singletime I teach a class.”