A burlesque love story
Debbie Solomon and Gavin Glass are unique on the local burlesque scene. While it’s not unusual for a performer/ entrepreneur to have a partner behind the scenes, sharing the stage is another matter. But Debbie, who performs as Peaches de Vine, shares it with Gavin, a creative synergy that began when they were both performers in the Purrrlesque Burlesque troupe, and which continues with the one she founded, Vaudeville After Dark.
For Debbie, it’s been a creative evolution. “I started off belly dancing, which I enjoyed but wasn’t that good at it; I was too goofy. A friend of mine, Johnna Solomon, asked me if I wanted to go take burlesque classes with her. I did, and fell in love with it. She and I and Faun Finlay started performing in Lunasea Dance Theatre, a belly-dance/burlesque fusion troupe. Then I did some stuff with Foxy Moxy’s Cabaret Risque. Then I joined Purrrlesque. After that, I started doing my own thing for a while and then formed my own troupe, Vaudeville After Dark.”
I ask Debbie why she chose that name instead of one with the word “burlesque” in it. “I think the difference is that burlesque is an element of vaudeville. Vaudeville encompasses more, including comedy. I’m a big supporter of the comedy scene here, and have lots of friends in it. Jennie Stencel and Steve Lesser of the Idiot box have been so supportive of me and Gavin. We try to include comedy in every show that we do.”
I ask Debbie if things feel different than when she started in 2009.
“I’m more confident now. In the past I’ve primarily been a comedic burlesque performer, with everything fast and goofy. Now I’m trying to slow it down a little. I’ve always felt sexy, but used to feel I always needed a comedy routine. Now sometimes I like to take it easy and do a good old-fashioned strip-tease!” At which point, the taller and hairier half of the duo, Gavin Glass, joins the conversation. I ask Gavin how he got into burlesque.
“It began when the ladies of Purrrlesque invited me up on stage because they needed a male to push around. 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 the Winter of 2010 when she was running her spanking booth. It was love at first spank! Since then, I’ve been emcee of the fire show at the Castle and at Summer Solstice at the Arboretum. Physical comedy is my inspiration and Peaches de Vine is my muse. We get hired a lot as a duo. This year I emceed a wedding that she coordinated on-site at the Greensboro Science Center Aquarium. Anything can become a variety show or celebration.”
Like so many performers, he felt like an outsider when young. “Never knew where I fit until I started creating spots where I did fit. They didn’t have an emcee for the Fire Show at Solstice or Castle until I did it. Now promoters are calling me the best in the business. This astonishes me, as I know there are amazing talents out there, and I wonder if I’m just a big fish in a small pond. But I love this area. This is where my family is now. Both families, the one I was born into and Debbie’s.”
I ask Debbie to tell me more about how this Burlesque Love Story began.
She laughs. “When I first met Gavin, I thought this was an awfully beautiful man, but I was married. But I happened to run into him a few months later, and his girlfriend at the time and I started doing belly-dance classes together. We were friends for a while, and when my marriage dissolved, dating him seemed the natural evolution. He’s been the best partner for me. He makes me a better person and makes life constantly entertaining. He’s certainly evolved beyond the foil and the slave. Although he still lugs things around for me.”
I ask them what it’s like working in burlesque as a couple.
“It hasn’t had any bad points,” says Debbie. “The great thing about it is that when we have to rehearse, we don’t have to go anywhere, as we live together. It makes things awfully convenient. It does have its special stresses.”
Gavin agrees. “Sure, it can be like a pressure cooker, having to deal with makeup and costuming and all the mundane stuff.”
Debbie adds that her role has its own challenges. “I’m the show producer, so we’re not exactly on equal footing, which can make things interesting. I’m a Type A personality and he basically has a hippie personality. So when it gets time to get ready, I’m keyed up, I’m on it, but he can be very Zen.”
Not that he just takes it easy until it’s time to perform. “I handle the promoting. We put zero money into advertising our shows. It’s all word of mouth. I just beat the pavement and put out flyers and handbills at First Friday, or any event downtown or at Quaker Village.”
“We have a really wonderful group of loyal sponsors who support us,” adds Debbie. “We have raffles for every show. Long term supporters like Adam and Eve have been so gracious and kind to us. Out of Sight Threads, they do little handbills for me for every show. I have a really wonderful troupe. I’ve just got beautiful souls in my group who are full of creativity, full of life.”
I ask Debbie something she’s been asked before; does she distinguish what she does from stripping?
Fortunately, she laughs again. “I knew you were going to ask that! That’s been a hot topic in the burlesque community over the last few years. Many burlesque performers are former or current strippers. At the end of the day, we’re all strippers, we’re taking our clothes off. But I see burlesque more along the lines of being a feature stripper than a regular one. There are a lot more themes and costumes, the kind of things involved in a feature act. But I’m not saying it’s that way for everyone. It doesn’t make me any better or worse than a stripper, it just makes me different.”
I ask Debbie what the 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 is a not my day job; I do have an 8 to 6 one that pays my bills. I have children and I have my own small business selling vintage and handmade items at Design Archives. I’ve gotten more into producing this past year. We’re currently the longestrunning regularly scheduled improv burlesque troop in the Southeast. I want to continue that. I’ve got things in the works with the Girly Girly Revue in Asheville, and we’re going to do some collaborative efforts. Queen April from that troupe is one of my best friends. She’s been a staple in the spanking booth at CM with me for years. That’s coming up as well on August 27. I’ve got an August 17 show at Shiners. It’s a Suicide Squad theme. I encourage everybody to dress up. The Idiot Box is closing down on Elm Street, so we’re doing a big ‘We Love Jennie!’ show August 19, the final burlesque performance at the Idiot Box.”
“In September, I’ll be having my Love your Body burlesque classes. It’s a 12-class, 3-stage series with Memphis Muerte of Discordia Dames. We try to promote body confidence. I’ve graduated quite a few people, at least 40 or so.
Watching these women grow is amazing. I’ve had people as young as 21 and ones in their 60s. They just want to feel good about themselves and feel beautiful and take pride in their gift, their instrument, their body. We have a lot of fun and I learn something about myself and other people every single time I teach a class.” !