Denver’s Mile High Flying Tease, Midnite Martini, talks adoption, Disney princesses, body image, Bob Fosse, eating disorders, and rope burns. Midnite is headlining Viva Dallas Burlesque’s Cirque du Burlesque show on Friday, February 4th at Lakewood Theater.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You were born in Seoul, South Korea, correct? When did you come to the States? Did you find it to be a difficult adjustment?
I was adopted from Seoul when I was just 4 months old and grew up in a Coloradan suburb. Since I was so young the adjustment wasn’t noticeably difficult. I grew up like any other red-blooded American kid on TV dinners, Disney Princesses, and Apple Pie! I had extremely caring parents and an outgoing family, yet oddly enough I was painfully shy and self-conscious as a child.
It was not until my adult life that I became more interested in Korea, Adoption Culture, and how being adopted psychologically and emotionally influences kids and how it might have influenced me as a child. There were a few other minorities growing up, but white suburbia never really spoke about race (besides the sporadic playground teasing or kids pulling their eyes back at me).
Now that I can take a look back at my life with a different perspective I can see how being adopted and adjustment are things that I struggled with and frankly continue to struggle with. I am trying to embrace it in all its loveliness and complexity. That’s what’s made me who I am today.
Your performance repertoire is quite remarkable! You started as a figure skater, and according to your bio, you “realized that martinis are better served off ice” and you began extensive training in musical theater, ballet, jazz, modern, tap, ballroom, and several other types of dance. What made you decide to pursue dance and theater?
Well I was a pretty awkward figure skater (despite what my mother tells you!) I started taking dance lessons to help my figure skating and found that I’m actually much better moving on land than I am on ice! The love I had for skating where I could artistically express myself while physically challenging my body was still there in dance. I was especially drawn to dance in musical theatre. My dad raised me on old movies with Gene Kelly and Danny Kaye, and my idol growing up was Vera Ellen. I took a lot of jazz dance and joined a community theatre in Middle School. That opened up my world to Bob Fosse, who from middle school through high school was my favorite choreographer and Fosse is still one of my favorite styles of dance. But really any type of artful or expressive movement captured me. I think it’s because growing up I was so shy that dance gave me a way to communicate my emotions without having to say anything.
In 2003 you attended UNC to study musical theatre dance, but you’ve stated that you were “turned off by the cut throat environment and negative body images,” which led you to seek other creative pursuits. Care to share a little more about that realization?
University of Northern Colorado, when I went there, had one of the best musical theatre programs in the nation. I was so excited to get into the program, which only accepted 20 incoming students my freshman year. On the first day of classes, our core faculty welcomed us, congratulated us, then promptly told us all that we would need to hit the gym and lose weight. I felt like I was in some old black and white movie where a big cigar smoking New York City agent tells the ingénue, “You’re never gonna make it kid, you just don’t have the stuff!” This advice infested my head like a disease! It triggered my pre-disposed body self worth issues into a downward spiral. Over my freshman year I became obsessed, and developed a starving, binging, and purging pattern that plagued me for about 2 years. I became depressed, lonely, and lost almost all of my passion and heart for dance and theatre. I no longer really enjoyed dancing, acting, or singing and flat out hated myself. So, I swore off performance art all together and transferred to another college to study psychology. Thankfully when I transferred I started seeing a university therapist and nutritionist and I was able to overcome my destructive behaviors and have done so for 5 years.
2005 was a big year for your development as a performer. Not only did you begin your training in aerial performance and circus arts, but you also started dabbling in burlesque at that time. Please tell us all about how you got started.
I saw an ad that Frequent Flyers Productions of Boulder, CO needed volunteers to help them for their annual Aerial Dance Festival. I volunteered in their office during the festival and got to know the Artistic Director, Nancy Smith. Nancy informed me that the company was going to have auditions for new dancers the following month. I took it as a sign from the Universe and went to the auditions. Fortunately, you did not have to have any previous aerial experience; the audition was based mainly on dance and floor movement. I made it into the company and since then Frequent Flyers has basically given me wings, training me in almost everything I know! Becoming a member was such an amazing opportunity, not only did it give me a creative outlet, but it also gave me an environment where artistry and creativity wasn’t attached to how you looked. It was and continues to be such a nurturing space where looks and appearance are not a concern; the focus is on the dance.
This made me discover that I could still perform but do it on my terms! Burlesque has been something that I’ve heard of growing up in the theatre world, but I wanted to find out more. I searched online for Burlesque in Denver and found the troupe Burlesque as it Was. I contacted the troupe director, Vivienne VaVoom, watched their show on New Year’s Eve 2005, and was gratefully offered the chance to audition by performing in their next show in February. I am very happy to say that I became a troupe member after that show and performed with Burlesque as it Was until 2009. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to get into this scene the way I did, and am forever thankful to all the amazing performers who inspired, shared the stage with, and befriended me along the way.
This past July you teamed up with Lola Spitfire, Fannie Spankings, and Honey Touche to produce the first Colorado Burlesque Festival. How did it go and what did you learn from the experience?
Oh what an undertaking, headache, and blessing all wrapped into one glorious glitter ball! We learned so much and know that there is much more to discover. Something I definitely will do differently this year is to streamline the communication between the CBF producers and performers. I was responsible for sending out much of the information to performers and I must have sent out 10 different emails in one day as the event got closer. I know it was frustrating to me and I’m sure all of our lovely performers felt bombarded with all the separate emails of info!
We did not emphasize education last year, but will certainly focus more on that this year! Another new addition is Bunny Bee, our festival lawyer from last year and official producer this year. She is a shrewd intelligent legal aid and a hot playboy model all rolled into one amazing woman! CBF was more successful than Lola, Fannie, Honey, and I ever imagined the first year, so we are so grateful that we did enough right to pull it all off! From here we’ll only learn, grow, create, and share more. Please check us out at http://www.coloradoburlesquefestival.com!
In March you’re heading to Montreal to perform in the Grand Burlesque Show. What aspect of that show is the most exciting for you?
Oh what isn’t exciting! I was incredibly honored to have Scarlett James ask me to participate in the show and am just twitter-patted to dance along the sides of her, Michelle L’Amour, Renea Le Roux, Gentry de Paris, and all the other amazing entertainers on the lineup. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Montreal or performing in Canada before and have heard such lovely things about the city and people. Plus my partner in business and love, Jason (stagename Buster), gets to come along with me this time, so we will make a full vacation getaway of it!
What projects do you have in the works for 2011?
2011 is shaping up to be packed full of fun and excitement! I am still performing weekly at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret in Denver and producing my own show “Midnite Martini’s Sexy Circus Sideshow” every Friday night. I will also be producing a brand new burlesque production in May called “Midnite Martini’s Nursery Bump & Grinds,” where all of our childhood memories get a sexy tongue-in-cheek spin! We also will have other shows I’ve produced (Ladies of the 80’s Burlesque, Halloween Boo-lesque, and Burlescapades) return for their annual run later on in the year. I’ll be applying to many festivals in the hopes of continuing to receive opportunities to perform out of state.
Do you have any stories of injuries, accidents or other performance malfunctions?
My most horrific injury was when I was rehearsing on rope and harness and was suspended 20 feet above ground. The belay device I was using somehow got stuck and malfunctioned, which caused me to plunge. I grabbed onto the small rope trying to slow my fall down and my flesh started to burn off from the friction. The skin on my hands was toast- burn marks and open wounds. I couldn’t use my hands or fingers for at least 2 months. I needed help dressing myself, couldn’t drive or dance, and showering was horribly painful. But I’m a dancer masochist at heart, so I wore my wounds and battle scars proudly and though it was an annoyance, I felt like a badass the whole time!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank Fannie Spankings and Honey Touche for being my supports, friends, and teachers in burlesque. Thanks to Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret for believing in burlesque and giving us an amazing home to perform and produce. Love to Momma Martini who comes to support her daughter at all the shows and Jason-Bot/Buster for being my soul mate, best friend, business advisor, and the funniest person I know.