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Article originally featured in SIGT Magazine Issue #11 /// Page #08-13
Click image to view full spread. Read full interview below.
/// BLUE STAR INTERVIEW — HÄOS on Church
First Show: The Beastie Boys opening for Madonna. 1985 in Atlanta, GA.
Interview by Mitch Foster.
TIME TO HEAL
I am grateful for my parents giving a good education and putting me in a curriculum of dance that was very rigorous and focused. Ballet is a discipline. I started dancing at age four. I was born with hip problems. My feet pointed inward 90 degrees. So “First Position” (heel-to-heel) is a 180-degree rotation for me and 90 degrees for everybody else. I struggled with that. It was a big thing. I just got two hip replacements — three months and five months old. When I had my hip surgeries I only took Tylenol and I ate edibles. They tried to give me pills but I didn’t take them. One good thing about 2020 is I had the time to heal — lay down, rest, be still, didn’t have rehearsal, or a show to put together, or a business…all I had to do was heal mentally and physically.
I grew up in Atlanta. I was a ballet dancer and a model. I was nineteen when I started go-go dancing in nightclubs in Atlanta. I remember I walked into this club called The Masquerade — three levels: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory — and that club changed my life. Backstreet (24-hour nightclub) changed my life as well, and other various gay bars — there was a lesbian bar called Revolution. I remember when I went to Masquerade for the first time, it was a Friday night, I went by myself, I had my leather jacket on — you know, it was Goth culture then — and I walked into Purgatory (the lower bar). There were two beautiful, androgynous, thin, gay boys with bald heads, tutus, makeup, and lashes swinging from these swings hanging from the ceiling. And there was a girl getting wrapped up in Saran Wrap. And someone over there had whips and chains. And I was like [big sigh of relief] “Oh man, I’m home. This is great!” And so that was my Friday night date for years. Every Friday night by myself — I met so many people there. It was my favorite thing to do. And those terrifying steps to Heaven — I saw Ministry there once.
My friends Deanna and John “Tweeka” Barber (who co-founded The Barber Fund) worked at a club called March. It was a really cool, industrial gay bar. Which during that time (the mid-’90s) nightclubs were it. I started a night there called Cherrybomb. It was a lesbian night. Me and my friend danced and we had opening numbers and we promoted it. There was a big vault door and once we even had a roller skating party there — cause that seemed like a good idea! It was wildly successful. That’s when I got the bug — 1995.
The ballet company folded and I was in school but I didn’t want to be in school. The club culture was very, very strong — this is now the late-’90s. I wanted to soul search and decide what to do with my career and my angels said let’s get out of here while we can. So I went to New York. I had a very dear friend who lived there. She took very good care of me and helped me get on my feet. I was sober and celibate while I was there. I was 26/27 years old. I did end up working with some nightclubs and lesbian promoters. I took ballet classes at Broadway Dance Center. I did some auditions. That was a really interesting time for dance — you were either a ballet dancer, modern dancer, tap dancer, or a jazz dancer. And I was tired of being a ballet dancer. I decided I wanted to go back to school. My roommate’s friend was down at Full Sail and his brother had just graduated. I weighed my options. My parents asked, “Why don’t you come down and look at Full Sail?” So I did. And they said, “If you go to Full Sail, we’ll pay for school because you’ll be closer to us.” It was a no-brainer. On July 7th, 2000 I left NYC and moved to Florida. In the fall, I started Full Sail for a degree in audio engineering.
A couple of my friends from Atlanta were living down here — Tweeka and Deanna. Deanna was working at Southern Nights so I asked her if there were any go-go gigs. She set me up with the manager Cindy Barbalock. I walked in on a Friday, Cindy said, “We have Lesbo-a-GoGo on Saturday, you can start tomorrow.” And off I went. From there, I started dancing around town at The Beacham, Blis, Antigua, and eventually House Of Blues. I loved House Of Blues. SIN (Service Industry Night) was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I remember falling in love with it. The woman who ran SIN night got a promotion, then called me and said, “I want you to run SIN night.” So I took on the facilitation role. They often allowed for my input and we started integrating themes for parties. That’s when I really started to understand how to throw parties. I had Lesbo-a-GoGo on Saturdays at Southern Nights. And I was DJing on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Then running to House Of Blues on Sunday. It was nuts! House of Blues truly is a wonderful marker for me. I’m very grateful for the team that was there. It was a wonderful family and very well-operated. There I learned how to turn my corporate mind on and still throw a party. At 29+ years old, it gave me a really good foundation of corporate rules, paperwork requirements, regimen, etc..
JACKIE WITH A PIE CHART (THE VENUE ORLANDO)
I opened The Venue in a sober moment—2012. 2011 was a rough year. I lost 12 people that year. I had some huge personal obstacles I went through. My partner and I went through obstacles together. I buried my grandmother on the last day of 2011. I was nightclubbed-out. I just wanted a place for VarieTEASE to live and breathe.
I had been in love with the building at 511 Virginia Drive (RIP) since I moved here. Everything about that building was so great. I was actively looking for a space and remembered Jackie (Lewin) came to me months before and said, “I think we need to make dinner and a show. I want to do business with you.” And she had pie charts and things—cause a lot of people say shit and then they fall off the planet but she had pie charts! Jackie with a pie chart! So I was driving and called my friend Scottie Campbell, who was on the board of directors (of Ivanhoe Village Main Street) at the time, and asked him what was up with 511 Virginia Drive. He said it, “just went up for lease, I can meet you over there in 15 minutes.” I slammed my foot on the brakes, turned around, and that day I toured the building and met the landlord and said, “I’ll take it.”
I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have anything to open a business with. I didn’t have any knowledge. I didn’t know about “change of use,” I didn’t know anything! I just knew I was going to open a business. I wanted to have a theatre not a nightclub. I loved watching all of the artists come in and do their thing and love that space as much as we did. With all the love we put in, everyone just kept bringing it back, ten-fold. Things like INSPIRE (by Kristin “KP” Porteous), Christian Kelty’s The Boy Who Stole The Sun, Megan Botto & that Wall…were magical moments. The wall was a thing unto itself. We had to build it because of ADA requirements, so we made something of it and that wall became synonymous with The Venue. I miss that little wall. Over the seven years it truly was inspiring to see all the levels of talent. What a journey. We closed our doors September 12, 2019 and the building was torn down in January 2020. I give the artists the credit for making The Venue what it was—all who stepped foot in there and laid their souls out on that stage. We facilitated the art and the artists took care of the rest. I hope that is what HÄOS on Church will do too.
HAÖS on Church
It’s crazy. I’ve never opened a restaurant before, now let’s open one during a pandemic! HÄOS on Church is located at 123 Church Street, downtown Orlando. We’re coming in with a lot of love and not a lot of money, which is, as you know, how you get shit done. I want to change the Church Street conversation. Right now it’s, “I used to go to Church Street for nickel beers,” or, “I used to come here when it was Phineas Phoggs.” Cool. Let’s change that conversation. There’s an opportunity to transform and reimagine something that is a treasure to Orlando and very important historically that the community loves already. We want to pay homage to the history that’s here and create more. I feel like it’s the perfect time.
Downstairs we’re bringing back what used to be synonymous with Church Street—dinner and a show. Featuring Cusinary by Chef Andrew Jones and Chef Michael Magonigle, who are no strangers to Orlando — Cityfish, Kres, Hue Restaurant. The menu has a mix of fresh delicious foods for everyone to enjoy—from meatatarian to vegetarians and vegan cuisine. Come taste our foods! Vegan Chef Jennifer Calabria is also in charge of Libations and has put together an incredible “fresh cocktails” menu. And every cocktail has an equally delicious “mocktail” — same taste without the wait™.
The upstairs will be full of Amusements, a new venue called Blue’s HÄOS with a current cap 70 seated (per social distance standards). We’re putting the love into it. We’re been painting light fixtures, repurposing chairs, taking apart tables and refinishing them… It’s an organic process. I want artists to be inspired to challenge themselves here. I mean — we’re on Church street! Church Street adds an extra talent tier. We’re hoping to open on a blue moon (hint, hint). It’s going to be a very special show. We’re really excited to be on a street with so many spirits. We talk to our spirits who are already here and we’ve done a nice good cleaning. Hopefully Gertrude is going to come to the party! And of course the ghost playing the piano is invited.
We have to provide hope. Orlando is an artist city. We’re a city of performers and technicians. It’s always crazy…and we all have a lot of baskets. And my mama always said, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” I sure listened. But I never thought at any time that all of those baskets would be unavailable. It’s disheartening. People in our industry all have a lot of side gigs. Many of us work for Disney or Universal. And as an artist, not performing, not having a job, not creating, not having your outlet—that’s rough.
HONOR THIS PROCESS
You have to honor this process. Recognize that the magnitude of what we’re going through is worldwide. Where we would normally get in our “woe is me” moments, we have to really just go, “This is happening. It is beyond any of our control.” And you just have to try. I think a lot of us have been in artistic ruts—I know I was. The last thing I wanted to do during a pandemic shutdown was create something. I had to honor that. You have to trust your process. If you need to dive deep, then dive deep. On the days that you feel good, feel good! As long as you keep yourself at a moderate level, you’ll be alright. These are tough times for everyone. Find your balance.
With Pulse, we had this lovely balance of the world hugging us. That really created this platform for us to heal. We don’t have that right now. Everybody is just trying to survive. It’s hard. You have to be forgiving—where you would normally put pressure on people, you have to drop it. They might be in their own depression. You have to allow people to be who they are during this time. As long as people aren’t putting themselves in harm’s way, allow them to figure this out because this is some shit.
We’re in this little boat together, in this big ocean that is the world—we’ll get through it. I hope everybody congregates at the HÄOS to lift each other up and support one another. I hope people find a way to create and when they say, “I got something,” we’ll look at it. My door is always open, 100%.
As an event promoter, you should know your community. It is the key to everything. If you know your community, and you’re integrated in your community, and you’ve put in work in your community, then your event will more than likely be a success—if you’re a good person. With all of those powers combined you will put on a great event. You’ve got to do the work. If you do the leg work, you set yourself up for success. Have a personal touch. That personal invitation means so much more than anything you post on social media. Know your demographic. And then, on top of all that, you have to be a good person, and your product has to be incredible. And then you have to follow through and put on a good event so your next event will grow. You have to have a good business model. You have to not be afraid to learn. And, as I always say, “there are no mistakes, only artistic opportunities.” You have to be able to compose yourself leading up to an event, and day-of show. You have to be a good leader—you have to be diplomatic. Set an example. Never ask anybody to do something you wouldn’t do or haven’t done yourself. Be respectful—it’s good business. Use your common sense. Be knowledgeable. Be aware. Take care of your people.
ARE THE ALIENS COMING?
I would welcome an alien all day long if that was just the remedy for all this crazy chaos. I believe there are plenty of other things flying around the universe besides us earthlings. When I was a child I often imagined I would have an alien encounter and used to want it to happen. I even would tell my dad that the aliens had come. I remember being in my crib—I can remember being in my crib!—and telling my dad this little green man would come and sit in my room with me. My dad would let me talk about spirits but I told him it wasn’t a spirit. I used to explain, “This little green man comes and sits in front of my door and he marches around and he protects me from that other alien that’s outside.” If aliens arrived tomorrow I would be wanting to throw them a party. What are they going to wear? Should I give them food? What do you think that they eat? This will be great—what music should we play?! Should we play house music? Do they want to dance with us? Can we dance with them? Are they fine? Do they get COVID? What do they look like? Are they happy? Do they have hair? Do they have secret follicles that we don’t know about? Do they feel like Play-Doh? Think about it.
Blue Star /// @babybluestar
HÄOS on Church /// @haos_on_church
Blue Star Interview by Mitch Foster.
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