Dallas female impersonator Patti Le Plae Safe talks Home for the Holidays Texas, Viva Dallas Burlesque, Miss Gay America, small town life, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, witch hunts, doing what you love and Orange Power.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka. Photos: Michael Stephenson of Modern Noir Studios
You’re the president of Home for the Holidays Texas, a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for persons living with AIDS. You and your team work feverishly to raise funds for this cause, and you just completed a black tie benefit for the group, right? There’s also the December Viva Dallas Burlesque show, Festivus Follies, which will again be a benefit for this organization. Please tell us about the outcome of your black tie event and your expectations for the upcoming burlesque benefit.
The 2010 Black Tie Dinner Organization chose Home for the Holidays Texas (HFTHT) to be one of the 20 charities receiving benefit money from the Annual Dinner. If Black Tie hadn’t chosen us I am most sure we would have faltered within a few years. Raising money for charity these days has gotten very hard and small organizations like HFTHT work ten times as hard. It has become a daily need to raise more money just to keep up with the requests our organization gets. We just have to be more creative with doing it. Luckily, Black Tie notices us and respects us and was more than willing to support us last year. They gave us $23,475 – enough to stretch us out for the roughest part for almost 2 years. Next year we will go knocking on their door with the hopes that they will support us again. We aren’t greedy; we know there are other organizations that need help too, so we don’t intend to ask for money every year. Yes you are correct the December 2nd Viva Dallas Burlesque show Festivus Follies will again benefit HFTHT. We are so honored to have been selected again to receive money from the producers of VDB! Last year was so much fun, and I certainly plan to make it fun again. We have auction items and a 50/50 raffle planned. If you remember the winner of last year’s 50/50 auction gave the money back to HFTHT! She was so generous to do so. With the VDB crowd you never know what to expect; we are so full of surprises!
Speaking of Viva Dallas Burlesque, you are the host of the monthly show at the Lakewood Theater, and have been since its inception last summer. Now that you’ve grown accustomed to the burlesque world, I’d love to hear your input on how hosting burlesque differs from your other hosting and performance gigs. What are your favorite aspects of hosting Viva? What are the biggest challenges for you?
You know I really didn’t think I would be accepted and/or fit in with the BurlyQ crowd. I still wasn’t convinced until the audience started asking for my autograph. OMG they want my autograph, are they sick or something? Really? This is going to be so much fun for me! Now I can’t wait to play with the audience and make them smile or laugh about what ever my brain cooks up. I plan a script for each show but oh so many times I ad lib on a dime and hope that it plays off well. I am stalling for the “Panty Wranglers” to clean the stage and prepare props for the entertainers. Truthfully, I think I do my best work when I have no script at all. Like I said before you just don’t know how a crowd will be with the VDB audience. You have to be up and ready for them at all times. Can you believe people come up to me and ask me to pick on their best friends (usually hot straight men) and try to ruffle feathers and scare them? Now that is hard work, sometimes a little scary, but it is so much fun to do. Especially after the show when “fans” tell me they enjoy me as much as they enjoy the performers. I’ve even stripped a few times. In the early years of Burlesque, there were famous performers that were men and absolutely no one knew. It’s all about the costume and lighting and the total tease. I have no intention of trying to fool anyone. I know I am a man in a dress, a pig in a wig! Who is the wiser here? I am having the time of my life and I think the audience is too. At least they tell me with laughter, applause, get pictures after the show and ask for my autograph. You wanted to know the difference between VDB emceeing and other hosting appointments. There is a huge difference. The VDB crowd most likely has never met a female impersonator LIVE! All of my other hosting appointments are typically gay and lesbian. I’d rather work for a primarily straight crowd like the VDB audience. They are so much more fun to share with, learn things from, play with, tease, and mostly get laughter from. They laugh with me and never at me. I think to be honest the straighter crowd is a hell of a lot more “open” than my gay and lesbian crowd. What do you think of that statement! But I really mean it. I would so much more play with a straight crowd! Our little Burlesque family is perfect! I am so lucky that Shoshana came to GayBingo that month and invited me to emcee. Who would have ever known? But I think now after a year and a half we are the perfect match!
You were Miss Gay America 1995 and really took to the pageant circuit. Are you still doing pageant work? If so, how has the dynamic of the pageant scene changed since you first started? (If not, do you have any plans to resume doing them in the future? Why or why not?)
I entered Miss Gay America on a dare, not knowing I had what it takes to be a winner. It was my very first time to enter a pageant and I became the winner above 82 contestants. I’m not bragging but in 40 years of the MGA pageant that has only happened 2 times. I’m the last one it has happened to. I have a lot in my life to be proud of. I did a ballroom dramatic dance and theatrical performance for the talent category and I was up against girls that did illusions of Janet Jackson, Madonna and Cher. My talent was refreshing and it told a story that either made you want to be on stage as me or my dance partner. It was so romantic and so different from the high energy dance numbers everyone else was doing at the time. Pageants were so different back then. Now if I were competing, there is no way I would win. Kids today start planning and playing in makeup (secretly no doubt) in the early teens and once they hit the pageant circuit they are primed for the “look” of a winner! It took me years to perfect my look and I am still changing. In my day, lordy I hate that phrase, but it’s true, back in my day, interview was the most important category next to talent. I won interview with only 6 points from a perfect score. Today, scoring has changed and the system has changed a lot. The winners are more seasoned each year and very prepared when they finally win. For some winners it has taken them as many as 12+ years to win. It is a very serious entertainment business, and a very different world once you get involved! I wouldn’t be the entertainer I am today if I hadn’t simply tried it. MGA made me polish it up and glam it up for the stage. Burlesque in the last year of hosting has allowed me to be more myself and let me have fun with being who I am. I am so very happy that I am still evolving and becoming so much more than I have been and that is because of my Burlesque family! As far as entering pageants again……..nah prolly not! After winning the best title in the Drag World on my first try, why enter something lesser just to say I won something else? And maybe have to enter 12+ years to win it? Not only no but hell no!
You grew up in a small town in Arkansas, and since early childhood you were planning your escape to the big city of Dallas. Do you find that life in the big city was all that you thought it would be growing up? Do you find yourself missing the peace and quiet of Arkansas now that you’ve been in the city for so long?
I grew up in a town that was so small you couldn’t hide from anybody! Picture this: if I opened the back door and stepped out with my left foot, before I blinked or breathed and even begun to lift my right foot — the phone would ring! The neighbor lady next door would tell my Mom she needed me to bring her a gallon of milk since I was going to the store… HOW DID SHE KNOW? To this day I still never knew how she knew, but she did and of course I returned with her gallon of milk! Do I miss any of that? Yes I do! We all cared for each other. Life was simpler then, but I had dreams. I wanted to be famous! I had to go or I would have committed suicide. Life was simple but oh so slow and certainly unimaginable for a gay boy like me. I had needs and desires that fueled me and motivated me to get out and make a name for myself. I always knew it would be Dallas. I sort of took a long route to get here, but I knew once I made it that it was perfect for me. I was bullied pretty badly during my school years and recently at my 35th reunion one of those bullies apologized to me. He honestly meant it; shocked as I was over it, it was closure and certainly made me feel differently about the past. I have forgiven him and thanked him too. All that bullying made me the strong person I am today. I am a survivor and today a better person because of it. I am walking proof that “IT DOES GET BETTER!”
You were a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and you also worked as a computer programmer on an Army base. I’m curious to know about your experience in the military and your thoughts about this year’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
HAHAHA too funny! I am not a bit different today than I was back then. A nelly boy never carries a sledge hammer. I have screamed more than once “Stop the War!! I forgot my Purse!” I have survived so many witch hunts during my time in the USAF and as a civilian in the Army. They were ridiculous. We were interrogated in front of groups of men and singly with men who tried to entrap us into the “gay” world. Once I was interrogated by this super hot guy (like a very young Kevin Costner or a Ryan Gosling kind of guy. Trust me he was hot!) He sat in front of me with his knees touching mine and tried to be “overly” friendly. Funny thing is if he was my type of man I still wouldn’t have touched him back because I knew what was happening. I was born on a farm but I wasn’t born stupid. He tried so hard to get me to admit I was gay, and it really was too funny to watch him try. I don’t know what made me think to do this, but today I admit it was a brilliant move on my part. I told him he was wasting my time. If he had some kind of proof like pictures or a video (back then it was 8mm) or a taped phone recording of me proving I was involved with someone of the same sex, then I would never need to admit anything, but until he did come up with that proof, I wanted to return to my job. I put my foot down and stuck to my guns with that thought and they couldn’t bother me anymore. You have no idea how many of my friends fell for the entrapment tricks and were kicked out of the military the very next day. I am a decorated soldier with an honorable discharge given only to those who complete their term of service with exemplary commitment to the military. So you see if you are strong nobody can knock you down. I am proud of my military past. I learned so much from serving my country and hopefully our country is a better place because I did.
Patti Le Plae Safe’s daytime alter-ego is Hott Rodd the Hair Godd, who has his own salon in Dallas, correct? Can you share with us how and when you got started doing hair? What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of your day job?
I was born to do hair. My motto is “If you like what you do, you’ll do it well!” So I ask you, would you really get your hair done by somebody who bitches and complains every time you sit in their chair? Do you really want someone who doesn’t enjoy coming to work every single day? I have found my calling. I used to cut hair in the dorms while I was in the military. We were poor and couldn’t afford to get our hair cut twice weekly to keep it perfect in standards. So I offered haircuts just so I could get free drinks in the night clubs. T’was in my blood long before I ever took professional classes and got my license. I was in computers bored to tears; I could do that with my eyes closed! When the insurance company I worked for here in Dallas decided to move our company to Indianapolis, I had only one quick question that needed to be answered. Does it snow in Indianapolis? I knew the answer, but it broke the ice in that big meeting. I offered to take the severance package whatever it was so that I could stay in Dallas. I took the offered package that was enough to live on for two years, went to school and well the rest is history. This past Valentine’s Day I opened my own salon just big enough for me and two clients at a time. I could not be happier. My career is great. I can always take new clients and never have to worry about the owner being upset because I am working too many hours. What doing what I love? Really? Okay I deserve my own place and the happiness that I create for myself. I wish I could bottle it and give it to those who hate their jobs… now that is sad for them. I just wish for them to have what I have!
I read a really beautiful story about you in the Dallas Voice, and I was very taken by your personal spiritual philosophy that you call “Orange Power.” Can you tell our readers what Orange Power is and how it affects your decisions and actions?
Orange Power (OP) isn’t real to anyone but me. I can’t help but to be honest. I don’t feel like everyone else in this world. I’m not saying I’m alien. I just don’t fit in with organized religion but I do believe there is a sense of a higher power. God to some people is very, very real. S/He speaks to them, but I have never been spoken to! I do know what is right and what is wrong. We all do. So I need something to make me feel closer to the good vs evil. The color Orange does that for me. I feel surrounded by the warmth of Orange when I see or wear it. I felt it was the perfect choice to develop an OP and not worship a god of any type. I find so many holes in blind faith. Religion is something I cannot touch when I need to. I can’t lean on it physically. Naturally, I’d rather tell myself to be good. I’d rather tell myself to stay on the right side of life. I’d rather tell myself to be proper, professional, and polite, etc. OP does all this for me and I’m not giving money to a bigger church in a country that tells the local church what they can and cannot do in their own local church. I prefer the warmth and love I get from the simple vibrant color of Orange. Pick your own color and make your own OP! It’s cheaper and you can touch it when you need to.
I know a number of us Dallas burlesquers have had this chat with you backstage, but you look DAMN good, and we’d love to know some of your secrets! How does a gal like you stay looking youthful? We’ve also discussed with you the similarities in aesthetics of drag makeup and burlesque makeup. Do you have any drag makeup tips that could be used to enhance a burly gal’s stage makeup process?
How do I stay so young? Miss Thang I am 53 and I look every wrinkle of it! If you really want to know my secret you’ll have to move in with me and watch my routine! A girl never gives her secrets away. You are so right drag and burly makeup is very similar! I just say more, even when you think you have enough on, don’t stop put more on! The spotlight is so bright and harsh on unpainted faces and skin that you tend to disappear on stage under all those lights. So the more you put on the more you are seen. I have a big face, so I have to enhance it with lines and shapes to make it look smaller. You might notice I don’t use shadows on my cheeks. I spend lots of time on my eyes and lips! I have to draw attention to where I make the most expressions. It might be ugly up close but on stage for your 6 – 10 minutes you will be marvelous! Oh and always more mascara so you can flutter those loverly lashes. I have to wear fake lashes and without them I look naked (in a different sense) on stage. I sometimes double up my lashes so that they totally frame my eyes…… I think we should have a class! Would you attend a class if I set it up?