Baby Doe

Photo: Amanda Brooks
Photo: Amanda Brooks

San Francisco’s Baby Doe talks Tiki Oasis, Dixie Evans Week, Tease-O-Rama, the Devil-Ettes, and making family her priority.

Interview: Divertida Devotchka

Q: You’re the producer of Tiki Oasis (along with your husband Otto) which started in 2001 with an attendance of 50, and this year’s event, Tiki Oasis 13, themed “Hulabilly – A Hawaiian Hootenanny” promises to be a blend of Americana and Hawaiiana; in basic terms Hulabilly is Rockabilly meets Hawaiian, is that right? Please tell us more about how the event has evolved over the years and what you have in store for this year!

A: Anyone who knows me knows that I am ADDICTED (yes in all capitals) to producing events! There is just something special about having a kernel of an idea and seeing it become a reality. There is also the adrenaline that the ‘show must go on’ and you are doing this event no matter what – once you say you are making an event happen there is really no turning back. You just gotta figure out how to make things happen.

Sometimes the best events are the ones that grow organically. When Otto and I started Tiki Oasis it was as a fundraiser to support the rehabilitation of the Palm Springs Caliente Tropics Motel. It is funny to think now how impressed we were that 50 people showed up that year in the dead heat of the desert summer.  But each year the event has grown as the love of this sub-culture of Tiki enthusiasts has expanded. Eventually we found our Tiki Oasis homebase at the San Diego Crowne Plaza (formerly The Hanalei) where now over 3,000 attendees enjoy the event.

I would say our goal for Tiki Oasis is still around preservation of historical ‘Tiki’ but we do this in a much broader way now with the music, cocktails, symposiums and artists that attend the event. Each year we have a theme – more than anything the theme allows my husband Otto and I a little fun to explore different genres that interest us. This year at Tiki Oasis we are exploring the Hawaiian influence on American music.  “Hulabilly” is part Americana, part Hawaiiana; Hulabilly is an American music style derived from the blending of Rockabilly and Haole Hawaiian music.

What to expect at Tiki Oasis? Tons of bands, car show, fashion show, burlesque, vendors, artists, dj’s, pin-up photoshoots, symposiums on everything from how to mix the perfect cocktail to how to tease your hair higher than Dolly Parton could ever dream…. truly the event is huge and diverse and there is really something for everyone who loves retro vintage Tiki stuff.  Believe it or not I am hosting my first ever beauty competition this year where we are crowning the first Miss Tiki Oasis! There is always something new to add and some interesting way to expand the event. Otto and I do our best to keep the event interesting for both of us and for the audience.

Photo: TomCat
Photo: TomCat

Q: You’re on a team along with a number of other industry heavy-hitters to put together the first ever Dixie Evans Week, occurring this August 26th through September 1st to raise funds and show love and support for Dixie. Can you describe your role on the team and how the planning process has been going thus far?

A: In January of this year our godmother of burlesque Dixie Evans suffered a stroke. Dixie is someone that has always had a special place in my heart. When we first even thought about doing Tease-O-Rama we called up Dixie to find out what she thought about the event and she was just thrilled and so supportive. She came all the way from California to New Orleans for the first show and has always been so supportive over the years.  In March I visited Dixie Evans at a rehabilitation facility – I could still see the sparkle in her eyes even with the troubles she was having talking I could tell Dixie is still there! I was not sure what could be done to support her or what was really needed. When Angie Pontani and Kitten de Ville threw out the idea of doing a fundraiser for her I was happy to volunteer. We did our best to assemble a core committee that spans wide in the burlesque scene – really building off of each of our strengths. As for myself, I feel that my greatest asset to the team is that I am trustworthy and honest. Over the years I have created many relationships and ties in the community that run fairly deep and strong. For the committee I am helping with the online fundraising portion and also helping with promotions. I am also co-producing a benefit for Dixie in San Francisco with Bunny Pistol. We have a line-up of the best talent in the Bay Area so I am thrilled to get to see the fundraising portion come to life in my own hometown!

Baby Doe with The Devil-Ettes at Tease-O-Rama 2008 (Photo: Amanda Brooks)
Baby Doe with The Devil-Ettes at Tease-O-Rama 2008 (Photo: Amanda Brooks)

Q: You were the Artistic Director and Producer of the very first burlesque convention, Tease-O-Rama, first held in 2001 in New Orleans. What was it like planning a burlesque festival for the first time? How did your process develop over the years?

A: I always loved burlesque… the costumes, the dancers, the music, the old-style comics! I was thrilled in the late 90s when I started to see dance troupes like the Velvet Hammer bringing this dance form back to life. Around that time I created my 60s Go Go dance group The Devil-Ettes, and although not burlesque, we were part of the up and coming burlesque scene being booked on the same types of shows and being involved in the same online forums, etc.

In 2000 Tease-O-Rama was created from an online forum called ‘burlesque’. There was a writer in New Orleans named Alison Fensterstock that contacted all the burlesque groups happening at the time for an article she was writing for the late, great Atomic Magazine. My 1960s dance troupe The Devil-Ettes was featured in the article. Alison suggested on the online forum that a group show should be pulled together with all the talent across the US and she suggested her hometown of New Orleans. I quickly raised my hand to be part of the show (mostly because I wanted the Devil-Ettes to get to dance in New Orleans) and before I knew it I was the Artistic Director and Co-Producer of the very first burlesque convention! Alison had never produced a show before and I had already been producing multiple events with my dance troupe and Tiki events so I guess I seemed confident to Alison that I knew how to pull this together!

Luckily Alison and I had the same vision – get as many performers together on one stage and showcase all this amazing burlesque talent. Word spread quickly that we were doing Tease-O-Rama and as we invited artists to get involved everyone said YES. We pulled that first event together in just a handful of months and even though it was far from perfect we were really pleased with the results. We ended up with 25 different ‘acts’ including Dita von Teese, Catherine D’Lish, The Velvet Hammer and the Va Va Room which included members such as Miss Astrid, Dirty Martini, The World Famous Bob and Julie Atlas Muz. We also had vendors selling burlesque wares, daytime classes taught by up and coming burlesque stars and legends, and legends of burlesque such as Dixie Evans.

After that first year, Alison and I wanted to continue Tease-O-Rama. We didn’t know what to expect but we had a feeling it would be bigger and even better. We brought in Alan Parowski (Bardot Au Go Go) as our co-producer and to help make sure our vision continued. Alan and I have been producing Tease-O-Rama together since 2002. Both Alan and I have families so we do not produce a Tease-O-Rama yearly but when we decide to make it happen you can bet it will be over the top!

It is funny that you ask how the process of producing this event has changed over the years. I would have to say not by much! Sure I have MANY failures over the years but I learned from those mistakes. I have always been open with the performers and always let them know what was expected from them. I think building trust and confidence and respect from your performers is key to any good producer-performer relationship.  Tease-O-Rama is about showcasing the best of the best on stage and in order to do that as a producer I need to be the best of the best off stage and behind the scenes.

Q: Speaking of Tease-O-Rama, I can’t even count the number of performers and legends that I have interviewed who mark TOR 2001 as the beginning of the burlesque revival as we know it, and in 2011, you were even awarded the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s “Sassy Lassy Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Art of Burlesque” because of its impact. For those of us that weren’t there, could you please describe the energy/mood of the event? Could you ever have imagined what far-reaching effects the event would have and the community that would blossom from it?

A: The most amazing thing that came out of it that first event was that we connected and created a community. Anyone who was at that first Tease-O-Rama will tell you there was something special about those 4 nights in New Orleans. Everyone there just knew they were part of something unique and magical.

It is hard to believe now, but this truly was the first time most of these burlesque dancers met each other in person. Phone numbers were exchanged that lead to bookings in various cities. The press was there in full-force to capture this new scene and it is hard not to feel special when you’re being interviewed by top international press! Most importantly the performers learned from each other… either through the classes at the event or through watching each other on stage. Now the performers understood that it just wasn’t them in their own towns trying to make something happen but that there was a whole world of talent to lean on. I hope this doesn’t sound too cheesy but Tease-O-Rama was really the foundation and the glue of the community in those formative neo-burlesque years. I truly believe that is why so many performers hold Tease-O-Rama in such a special place in their hearts!

Q: For 14 years you have been the Artistic Director and Choreographer of The Devil-Ettes, San Francisco’s only 60’s go go dance troupe. How did the group get started and what are some the most memorable moments you’ve shared together?

A: Moments, eh? I really should write a book about The Devil-Ettes! Gawd that is a great idea, isn’t it? I mean I would have to change names to protect identities but the stories! Oh the stories! The thing is we started the group when we were young and had all the time in the world to dream about costumes and future tours to fabulous glamorous locations. We spent hours putting glitter on home-made horns, watching Annette Funicello beach party movies and taking roller skating lessons. We would go out for drinks after each rehearsal and because there were so many of us (the first few years we maintained a group of about 18 women) it seemed like everyone in San Francisco knew a Devil-Ette personally. Actually it is hard for me to think of just a few memorable moments because there are so many of them… could it be the time we had an interview with El Vez in Vegas for British TV? Or getting to be made up to the nines for a photoshoot with Glamour Magazine? Nah, probably my favorite memories are being sweaty and stinky with all the girls at our countless years and years of rehearsals just being together and creating our little mini masterpieces.

The Devil-Ettes by Lenny Gonzales

Above photo: The Devil-Ettes (Photo: Lenny Gonzales)

The Devil-Ettes have started as all my ventures have, by accident. There was a talent show at a restaurant I was working at and a group of us had no identifiable talent. We decided to come up with a dance routine to some 60s songs and somehow this group number blew the minds of everyone at this party and before we knew it we were booked at clubs around San Francisco opening for hipster bands and 10 months later found ourselves on a stage in Las Vegas. We hadn’t planned to start a dance troupe but after a few months we realized we were really something and decided to get a little more organized.  I found myself the leader and choreographer. Over the years have learned a lot about group dynamics (that is a class I have taught at Burlycon!) and I also grew up myself through being in and leading The Devil-Ettes. Eventually some women left the group and others joined, many now have ‘real careers’ and families and other commitments. There are fewer visits to the bar after rehearsals but what we have is a strong working ethic, true friendships and a love for 1960s dance. As long as our fans want to see and learn about the lost forgotten dances from the 1960s we will continue to perform.

Q: If I understand correctly, Pip Squeak-A-Go-Go is a children’s go go dance party that you created to teach “the lost art of go go to the next generation.” I’d love to hear more about that!

A: I started to realize we lost some of our wild party crazy Devil-Ette fans after they had kids. I decided to create an event where our fans could come and bring their kids called Pip Squeak A Go Go. I even created a theme song for the event! For the most part, The Devil-Ettes are pretty much rated PG so we really didn’t need to change too much to make it kid friendly. We host the shows at rock venues, parents can drink beer while the kids learn 1960s go go moves from the heyday of go go, while they wear our homemade (non-toxic) devil horns. There is something weird and awesome about a Pip Squeak A Go Go. I imagine it is only a matter of time that I will be seeing some of these tikes all grown up and starting their own 1960s go go dance troupe. When that happens I will feel like an ultimate success!

Q: In addition to your impressive production and performance resume, you also balance family life with your husband, two children, and a regular full-time job. How on earth do you manage it all? Can you offer advice for the rest of our readers who struggle with similar balancing acts?

A: For me my family is my priority. I use the experience I have in organizing events to get involved in my kids schools and in volunteering in their classrooms. I also include my kids, when I can, in creating events…when age appropriate that is! I ask their advice about what to include in events, I show them options of costumes we are creating, etc.  Last year we watched a solid 6 months of spy movies to get ready for the spy Tiki Oasis. They feel like they are part of the process and that means they are part of my life and something that I am passionate about.  Now that my kids are 7 and 11 they understand that mom (and dad!) create events and they understand what it is to be a producer and performer. Neither of them seem interested in doing either at this point, I think because they know how much work and dedication goes into it! But I can tell that they are proud of what I do. As for the day job, I am lucky that I work in a creative environment that also sees value in what I do outside of the office. That is not to say that the day job hasn’t taken the top priority multiple times in my life. It pays the bills and honestly producing shows rarely if ever does that!

My advice to mamas in this scene is to follow your heart and do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Of course, I can’t do it ALL! Most likely something will have to give. You might not be able to book all the shows you want to, make all the appearances you want to and you might have to go to your son’s soccer game the night after a show with only a couple hours of sleep. But if you are doing what you love you will not have regrets and it will make you a better mom and person to be around.   

Baby Doe & The Mod Mobbers (Photo: Amanda Brooks)
Baby Doe & The Mod Mobbers (Photo: Amanda Brooks)

Q: You’re a longtime collector of tiki and various other kitschy items. What first sparked your love of tiki culture and when did you first start your collections? What are some of your most prized items?

A: Going to thrift stores at an early age sparked my interest in finding unique items. I remember clearly around age 8 my friend Michelle’s mom telling me how I could score designer jeans at a thrift store if I dug around enough. She took us with her on one of her thrift shopping trips and I think she was a little confused when I bought a 60s bright blue mini skirt covered in bright yellow flowers. I have always been into vintage clothing and eventually my interest expanded to vintage photos, vinyl, and various kitschy items. My sister Coco was actually the big Tiki Mug collector so I used to buy Tiki Mugs and send them to her until she eventually said she had too many and I should stop sending them to her! That is how my Tiki Mug collection started. That was back in the late 80s! It is funny, once you have a couple dozen of something you are now considered a ‘collector’ and everyone and their uncle will start adding to your collection. Eventually I met Otto and we combined our collections into one mega collection of Tiki Mugs as well as menus, matchbooks, statues, etc. As for my favorite? I am not sure I can just pick one! I guess I have always loved Tiki Bob. He is from a San Francisco restaurant that had a bit of a seedy reputation for having a lunch time Lingerie show! Oh and Tiki Bob has eyeballs! I really love just weird things that are a little bit strange. One of my favorite items in my closet right now is a 1960s straw hat that has sunglasses built into the rim of the hat so you can sit poolside and totally be incognito. My dream is to have a closet filled with those hats so I can wear a different one each day! I am obsessed!

Q: What’s next for Baby Doe?

A: I will continue to produce Tiki Oasis and Tease-O-Rama and dance with The Devil-Ettes. I have plans to keep working with The Mod Mobbers which is the all male version of The Devil-Ettes that I created in 2009. I have quite a few creative projects in the works – it’s just finding the time to really dig my go go boots into them!

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