Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Aquarena Springs documentarian Bob Phillips - Part 1

When we heard a documentary on the history of Aquarena Springs was being created by a former employee we couldn't wait to see the finished project. After spending the past few years researching the history of the Aquarama in Missouri it felt like we had discovered a kindred spirit out there somewhere in the (relatively narrow) field of "people who devote years to the research of defunct mermaid attractions." We'd check online every few months to see if there were any updates on the completion of the film and this fall we saw an announcement for the screening of the film is San Marcos, Texas. Not being able to make it down to Texas for the screening we were pleased to see the film was also being released on DVD.

Cover of Aquarena brochure

We immediately ordered our copy and sent an email to Mr. Phillips congratulating him on his film. We've been lucky enough to share research with each other and Bob has generously spent time answering our questions. Here's Part 1 of our in-depth conversation with Bob about his project.

Vintage Roadside: For those not familiar with Aquarena Springs can you give us an overview of some of the different things visitors to the park could enjoy?

Bob: Aquarena Springs was located on Spring Lake which is the headwater of the spring-fed San Marcos River. Visitors could experience the "World's Only Submarine Theater" where you would be taken underneath the surface of the crystal-clear water to see mermaids and aquamaids (beautiful young ladies) perform underwater ballet, eating and drinking underwater, as well as Glurpo the Underwater Clown who performed underwater antics such as singing, smoking, and blowing smoke rings. All these performers were upstaged by Ralph the Famous Swimming Pig that would capture the hearts of all who saw him with his world-renowned swine dive.

Glass bottom boats would take visitors across Spring Lake where they could look below the surface at the beautiful plant and animal life as well as the water bubbling up through the limestone sand.

The Von Roll Swiss Skyride took visitors up over 100' across the lake to the hillside hanging gardens that included the Burleson Log Cabin, Mr. Manley the glass blower, a Mexican paper flower market, the 100-year-old Gristmill that ground corn meal you could purchase, and the Spring House Gift Shop where you could buy rock candy and cheese. Visitors could take the Skyride back or a ferry boat across the lake to Pirates Cove Landing which included a pirate and nautical themed gift shop.

Interior of Aquarena brochure

The Texana Village was an old western town (think Gunsmoke) complete with San Marcos' original home, a saloon, a barbershop, a general store, farm animals, a blacksmith shop, old carriages, and a beautiful rock and crystal collection. There was also Top Gun - a mechanical cowboy that would challenge you to a gunfight, the dancing chickens, a fire engine bunny, a basketball playing chicken, a piano playing duck and chicken, and the chicken that would challenge you to a game of tic-tac-toe - and beat you every time! There were even 20 live alligators you could see.

The gift shops were wonderful and sold all the stuff tourists love like Aquarena-branded shot glasses, rubber snakes, Davy Crockett coonskin hats, and Ralph the Swimming Pig t-shirts.

The Aquarena Springs Hotel was opened way back in 1929. It had about thirty rooms and sat right on the headwaters of the San Marcos River. You could sit on your second story balcony and see the fish swimming in the crystal clear water.

Visitors head into the original Submarine Theater

Vintage Roadside: It's incredible just how much there was to do there. We want to ask you more about Ralph and Glurpo, but before we get to that we'd like to hear about your connection with Aquarena Springs. Your family has a very deep history with the park. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Bob: My family history at the park began when my older brother Bill worked there for one summer when he was 12 years old (about 1960). I followed in his footsteps when I turned 12 in 1962 doing the same job he had done, which was sweeping up cigarette butts in the parking lot and placing bumper stickers on people's cars. We were called "Butt Boys". We actually had to go up to each car that entered the parking lot and ask the driver if they wanted a free Aquarena Springs sticker on their bumper. It was an inexpensive advertising ploy. Of course we wanted everyone to say yes but many didn't, and some weren't very nice about it. That was a tough job for a shy 12 year old. I seriously think this is where I learned the important lesson of how to overcome rejection.

Vintage Roadside: What kind of money did you make out there in the parking lot? 

Bob: The pay was a handsome 25 cents per hour, two dollars for 8 hours of work. The first few days on the job I ate lunch in the Aquarena Restaurant, but ended up spending a whole day's pay. Later, I started bringing my sack lunch (figuring that it was better for my parents to pick up the tab) allowing me to save some serious spending money. Being in South Texas in the summer on a blacktop parking lot got pretty hot and I would spend as much time as I could under the largest shade tree out there. There were about 4 or 5 of us San Marcos youngsters working at the same time and instead of spreading ourselves out over the parking lot as we were instructed by our boss we would all end up under the same shade tree telling stories. The boss would come out and tell us to spread out and it worked - for about 20 minutes. It could get lonely out there.

One day in August I had had enough and decided to quit, so I did. I went home and relaxed until my dad got home from work. He asked me how my day went and I told him I quit. He said "You what? You know they expected you to work until Labor Day." The next morning he took me back to Aquarena (this was very embarrassing for me, of course) and found the owner and general manager in the coffee shop, walked me up to them and said (without asking me) that Bob would be happy to come back to work and finish out the summer. Thank goodness they told my dad that was ok, they had enough help and did not need me to come back. Whew, that was a close call. 

An Aquarena Aquamaid performing

Vintage Roadside: What a great story! That must have been mortifying as a 12 year old. Did you go back to Aquarena that next summer?

Bob: No, the next summer (1963) I worked for my dad at his Mobile Oil business helping him fill up his huge gasoline truck that would transport hundreds of gallons of gasoline to the local retail gas stations. 

In 1964 my father sold his business and Aquarena offered him a job as assistant manager. So that summer I went back to work at Aquarena, but this time as the boss' son which wasn't that wonderful because now I had to set an example of being a good worker - no more goofing off. My job was upgraded from "Parking Lot Butt Boy" to "Inside Park Butt Boy" which included cleaning out the Submarine Theater between shows. I loved this because the submarine was air-conditioned and I got to help take tickets for the next show which allowed me to legally linger around in the shade until the next show started. 

I later became a glass bottom boat driver, underwater gardener, and swam as Glurpo the Underwater Clown. Being in that 72 degree crystal clear water was like being in Heaven. I worked there until I graduated from the local university, Southwest Texas State in 1972.

Vintage Roadside: Did you father continue to advance with the Park?

Bob: He did. He later became manager and then president and general manager of Aquarena Springs. He then went on to become a popular leader in the Texas tourism industry by becoming the chairman of the Discover Texas Association and chairman of the Governor's Texas State Tourist Development Agency - the agency that promoted Texas to the rest of the world. He was well liked by everyone who knew him. He was warm, friendly, and had an unbelievable sense of humor - everyone loved my dad.

Vintage Roadside: Did any of your other family members work at Aquarena?

Bob: My grandfather W.G. Phillips worked there in the Texana Village in the mid-1970s. His job was to hang out in the general store and visit with the public and tell the younger folks stories about the early 1900s.

Newspaper clipping showing Bob with 2 co-workers

Vintage Roadside: Now, you ended up being related to the Aquarena founding family didn't you?

Bob: I did. My mother passed away in 1974 and my dad later married the daughter of the founder of Aquarena Springs, Shirley Rogers. The family sold the park around 1985 to a group of investors who continued operating the park as best they could until 1994 when they sold it to Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State University). 

Vintage Roadside: The University didn't operate the park much longer did they?

Bob: Two years later in 1996 they decided to close the park - except for the glass bottom boats. Their goal is to use the area as more of a learning experience about the importance of the springs and the endangered species that are in the lake.

Currently the park is being torn down and brought back to its original environment - turning it back into an aquatic ecosystem. The springs have never stopped flowing for thousands of years and the site is known as one of the longest continually inhabited areas in the northern hemisphere. The glass bottom boats will still operate.

Vintage Roadside: Aside from your family history with the park, what were some of the other reasons you felt it was important to make this film?

Bob: I had such a wonderful experience and fond memories working at this beautiful place and I know that anyone who ever visited or worked at Aquarena Springs had the same feeling. They knew it was a magical place. I felt it was important to keep the stories and memories of Aquarena Springs alive for the millions of folks who interacted with it.

We hope you're enjoying our interview with Bob and learning about his unique history with Aquarena Springs. Join us for Part 2 where we'll talk about how he researched his film, compiled materials, and what you can expect to see on the DVD. 

Here's a trailer for the film:

Jeff & Kelly

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Vintage Roadside to debut all-new presentation at Modernism Week 2012!

We've got exciting news to share here at Vintage Roadside - we'll be giving an official Modernism Week 2012 presentation on February 24th, 2012! We're debuting an all-new presentation called "Mid-Century Mermaids: A History" in which we share the stories and people behind a true 1960s phenomenon - the Live Mermaid show. Tickets are now available here!

Oh, did we mention that we'll have a live mermaid performing in the Ace Hotel pool? That's right, the world famous Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid will be joining us for our presentation with a one-of-a-kind performance in the hotel pool - a true Modernism Week first! So, for all of you who wished you could make it to Florida to see Marina we proudly present the opportunity to see her in the desert for the first time ever.

Some of what you'll see in our all-new presentation includes vintage home movies from defunct mermaid attractions, archival photos from numerous sources not seen in decades, first-hand accounts from several former mermaids & performers, a selection of vintage mermaid tails, swimsuits and costumes (many of which were assumed to have been lost), a selection of current mermaid tails, and much more!

We'll also take you back to the days of the assorted aquatic shows that paved the way for the mermaid attraction of the 1960s. We've got Aquacades, Aqua Spectaculars, Aqua Follies, Aqua Frolics, stories of a famous movie star swimming around without his suit, and more.

We'll cover the 1950s which saw the heyday of the Porthole Lounge in some of the swankiest hotels in the country. Places like the Wreck Lounge, the Mermaid Room, the Jules Verne Room, Davy Jones Locker & more. 

The 1960s were the high point of the mermaid attraction. We'll highlight Weeki Wachee in Florida, Aquarama in Missouri, Aquarena Springs in Texas as well as places like Marineland and even Disneyland which featured mermaids to bring in the guests. And for those looking for a little adult history we'll let you in on the secret of which hotel featured topless midnight mermaid performances.

Before moving outside for our live mermaid performance we'll wrap things up with a list of places you can still catch a mermaid show such as a 1960s motor lodge in Montana.

We've been working for years to put all this together and can't wait to share what we've discovered...looking forward to seeing you in Palm Springs!

Don't forget to pick up your tickets here.

You can also learn more by clicking the "Events" tab at our Facebook page here

Jeff & Kelly

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid Part 2

Here's part 2 of our talk with pink gorilla suit-clad Marina...we promise you'll see that gorilla suit before we wrap up the interview!

Vintage Roadside: How do you train for your performances? Do you follow a fairly strict workout schedule and diet?

Marina: I train constantly - 6 days a week. Long distance runs, weight work, lap swims (underwater and surface) and dance, both performances and training.

Vintage Roadside: Followup question in regards to all that training - favorite "forbidden" food?

Marina: My fave "forbidden" food has got to be pizza. I only indulge in a slice after doing an "ultra swim" performance (2 hours or more) or after a half marathon.

Vintage Roadside: Well, we're going to consider this an "ultra interview" and raise a slice of pizza in your honor tonight.

Marina: Ha!

Vintage Roadside: Who designs and produces your costumes?

Marina: I do it all myself. I have specific needs with the costuming. I don't wish for it to appear too "realistic" as I'm trying to depict "Glamour Girls" rather than "fish". They also must be very hydrodynamic to allow for proper underwater maneuvers.

Vintage Roadside: You've got quite a wide & talented fan base. Aren't you even a character in a new graphic novel?

Marina: Yes!! There are so many amazing people I have worked with. They call themselves "MeduSirenaphiles" - entertainers, artists, singers...whoa. I'm fascinated with all the different depictions that have arisen - Hawaiian artist THOR has placed me in several pieces, Jolyon Yates has designed some great movie inspired t-shirts with my image, Fez-o-rama even has a MeduSirena fez, and many more great artists continue to floor me! To top it all off - Aaah! - I was the model for a character in Jim Balent's "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose" #70 & #71. This is a tremendous honor as I've been a fan of his work for a long time! I would have never thought 17 years ago that I would be appearing on BOTH covers! I'm still pinching myself over that one...

Vintage Roadside: You've performed in some pretty amazing settings. What's the "dream" list looking like?

Marina: To swim for Esther visit and perform at aquatic attractions all over the world and meet more aquatic performers, to share my knowledge and teach future performers in the MeduSirena style of swimming. Also to see more porthole pool attractions emerge, and to continue to dance underwater.

Vintage Roadside: Have you gotten just about everything that can go wrong with a performance conquered at this point?

Marina: Wardrobe malfunctions are seldom too problematic (part of the training is to learn how to handle those) so besides really bad water conditions, or no lighting (hard to swim in the dark!) things are pretty well under control...but that could change at any time!

Vintage Roadside: We've always wondered - is there any magic to keeping the tail on?

Marina: Nope. It fits like a sausage casing - the tighter the better!

Vintage Roadside: Ok, let's change gears a bit. We're headed out on a road trip together, let's say to the Sip 'n Dip in Montana, and we let you pick the first 5 songs to play in the car. Go!

Marina: "Out on the Tiles" by Led Zeppelin, "Rainbow's End" by Iron Maiden, "I'm In Love with My Car" by Queen, "Kings of the Wild Frontier" by Adam & the Ants, and "Tu Boquita" by Iris Chacon. Really, there are too many to single out, I just threw out the first few that popped to mind - there are TONS more!

Vintage Roadside: We know you just got back from California where you performed with the Tikiyaki Orchestra, but what was the last road trip you took?

Marina: The Florida Keys. Go there as often as possible.

Vintage Roadside: Any parting words of wisdom?

Marina: Maintain discipline, originality, honesty, service, appreciation, and be in the moment. Always remember and acknowledge the trailblazers, thank your inspirations and mentors - it does mean a lot to them, and that your body can do A LOT more than you think.

I sincerely hope to see this art form again establish itself and go beyond just being seen as a "Mermaid" trend. To watch someone be athletic and fluid in an underwater environment is truly a sight to behold, and fortunately also a wonderful celebration of that the human body is capable of. I'll continue to perform for as long as my body allows and to continue to teach (with great honor) those future aspiring performers for as long as they're willing to allow me the privilege. Mahalo.

Vintage Roadside: Thanks Marina, we appreciate you spending some time with us, and most importantly for all you're doing to keep this type of performance alive!

Marina: You are most welcome!

To learn more about Marina and all she's doing be sure and visit her website here and "Like" her Facebook here. We guarantee never a dull moment!

We'll leave you with this somber video we shot with Marina one afternoon. ;-)

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside
And, you can Like our Facebook page here (now with 40% more flavor)

NBC and Grimm restore a classic Portland neon sign

Just a quick post to let everyone know one of Portland's most well-known neon signs is lit once again for the first time since 1974!

The Oregon Leather Company sign in downtown Portland has long been one of our favorites and one we've always feared we'd never see lit again. Thanks to NBC and their series Grimm (which films around Portland) the sign is once again lighting up the corner of Second & Couch. We can't wait to spot the sign in an upcoming episode!

We spoke with a gentleman involved with the series and he was almost as thrilled as we were to have the sign working again. He mentioned that since filming often takes up on-street parking for blocks, and even closes streets at times, it felt great to give something back to the neighborhood. 

Here's how the sign has looked the last 37 years:

On the off-chance someone at NBC ever runs across this post please know how much we, as well as fans of vintage neon signs around the world, appreciate what you've done. Thanks!!

Jeff & Kelly

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid Part 1

We recently caught up with someone we've long considered an honorary member of the Vintage Roadside family - the one and only Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid!

We've given presentations together on the history of mermaid and aquatic attractions at Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau and will be teaming up again for an all-new extravaganza for Modernism Week 2012. If you've ever wanted to see a comprehensive history of mermaid shows, along with vintage costumes used in those shows, vintage home movies, over 100 vintage images, followed by a finale that includes a live mermaid and fire eating performance, you'll want to be in Palm Springs on February 24th, 2012. Here's a link to tickets for this Palm Springs first.

Before we begin we would like to point out that this was the very first time we've interviewed someone wearing a bright pink gorilla costume.

Vintage Roadside: Howdy Marina! So, "Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid" - some people might not know it, but that's just one part of what you do. Can you share some of the other aspects of your professional life?

Marina: Hi Jeff & Kelly! Ah, at the risk of sounding Munchausien - here goes. I'm a licensed pilot, marine biology and physiology major, Polynesian dancer, Middle Eastern dancer, fire performer, Wadaiko (Taiko) drummer, juggler, a former yoga & kickboxing instructor, vet tech, firefighter, EMT, & zookeeper (specializing in reptiles, primates, and bats) all of which have helped in my performances in one aspect or another. My performances include: fire eating, knife juggling, laying on a bed of nails, balancing on a ladder of swords, dancing on broken plates...whew! I know I missed a few other things...I still continue to train in all sorts of different disciplines to help enhance my work. As Eartha Kitt once said: "I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."

Vintage Roadside: Wow! We're ready for a 3-day weekend to rest up after thinking about all of that. That's amazing. We've really enjoyed teaming up with you for several presentation on the history of aquatic shows. Could you tell us a bit about your favorite aquatic acts from the past?

Marina: I'm absolutely fascinated by Aquacades and the underwater shows that were put on during tourism's golden age. Back then, porthole underwater views were a lot more common and swim/dive shows would take place in many pools & even restaurants. Some shows even traveled. The idea of sitting and enjoying your dinner & cocktails while entertained by a beautiful swimmer as she dances underwater behind glass just floors me. I'm doing everything I can to make it possible for us to relive that experience.

Vintage Roadside: We love the old Aquacade shows too. Billy Rose, Sam Howard, etc. We also really enjoy talking with the people who performed at the old attractions. Have you been lucky enough to spend any time with the performers from the past?

Marina: Yes indeed! I sometimes have the honor of performing for them. They'll come up and tell me what they've done and I'll just flip to learn they were in an aquashow, or Weeki Wachee in the early years, performed underwater for an old television series, or at an attraction that no longer exists. Most seem surprised at my enthusiasm at meeting them! After so many years of it not being noticed here's a gal in a pool jumping up & down in a tail (or whatever I'm wearing at the moment) to hear more...gosh...I could listen to those stories for hours!

Vintage Roadside: We know exactly what you mean. We love hearing from them, and doing what we can to share some of their individual history. So, with that said, who are some of your inspirations?

Marina: Easy - Newt Perry, Ricou Browning, Esther Williams, Annette Kellerman, Eartha Kitt, Bruce Lee, Freddy Mercury, Ginger Stanley Hallowell, Iris Chacon, Dame Shirley Bassey, pioneer scuba diver & aqua performer, Zale Parry...just to name a few.

Vintage Roadside: Let's jump to the present and hear how that ties into a piece of history. You perform (along with your Pod) every Friday at a place with some amazing history - The Wreck Bar. Tell us a bit of the history behind The Wreck.

Marina: The Wreck Bar is a Porthole Bar located inside the Yankee Clipper Hotel which is located in Fort Lauderdale. The $1.5 million dollar hotel opened in 1956 and was built to resemble an ocean liner. The hotel was quite popular, not only due to the Wreck Bar, but also for their Polynesian Revue (pre-Mai-Kai) and became even more popular when NBC broadcast its noon and evening news from a studio on the 7th floor of the Yankee Clipper! The Wreck Bar, which was built to look like the inside of a sunken Spanish galleon, was quite large - sporting seven windows which surrounded the back of the bar. There were tables, too, as well as a stage and aquariums to enhance the underwater experience. Entertainment ranging from live music to comedy acts would take place inside along with the aquatic shows. The location has been used in television shows and films such as "Where the Boys Are", and more recently "Analyze This". 

Here's a video we shot at one of Marina's Wreck Bar performances in June 2011

Vintage Roadside: We know The Wreck went several years without "Mermaid" shows. How were you able to convince them there was still an audience for them?

Marina: It was not easy. I had approached them five years ago and suggested the idea after noticing that the bar was practically forgotten by the locals and - GASP! - empty!!! They weren't too keen on the idea at first, though they humored me with an audition. Afterward when I wrote them and asked them how they liked it they mentioned not being interested...BUT they did say I could come and use the pool to practice anytime I wanted. Soooo...I did, every week...with full makeup and "fishtail". One month later the bar began to fill two months the press started to take interest and the fan base began to month three I was "hired" by the hotel. MeduSirena Swim Shows have been going ever since.

Vintage Roadside: When you perform with your pod do you have choreographed routines?

Marina: There are very few traditionally choreographed movements. Since it's a bar I wanted to keep the shows organic - more like watching a fish in a tank rather than a "stage show". That way people who return will see something different each time. There are some set pieces, opening line-up for example, or the finale. There are skits that are rehearsed too. But, for the most part, I direct as it goes, kinda like an auctioneer deploying the MeduSirena Pod of "Aquaticats" (my title for my performers) at a steady clip. We don't have air hoses, and the pool is chlorinated (our eyes will burn out after an extended period underwater) so timing is definitely of great importance.

Photo by Rick Kilby

We hope you're enjoying our visit with Marina. We'll be back mid-week with Part 2. If you can't wait you can visit Marina's website here or her Facebook page here.

And, as always you can find us hanging around our website and Facebook page.

Jeff & Kelly

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Go-Go Amy Part 2

Here comes part 2 of our interview with Go-Go Amy! So, grab your beverage of choice and let's talk about truck stops, ramen noodles, the pain of sleeping in your pasties, and why we think Amy won't lack for home cooked meals much longer.

Vintage Roadside: You do all of the booking and promotion for your tours. That seems like a gigantic task! As you tour more has it gotten easier to find venues?

Go-Go Amy: Gigantic is an understatement. When I started the show I had no idea how to book a show or run a tour so I faked it and tried to pick up everything as I went along. The first 2 years were really hard, but as our tour dates started adding up the show got better. We started gaining a good reputation with the venues and as I learned from my mistakes it did get better. At first, it was like fighting a room full of wild animals while blindfolded. Now the blindfold is off, but the wild animals are still attacking. It's still hard to string together enough shows to have a good tour but at least now I know what I'm up against.

Vintage Roadside: Your tours always include a mix of burlesque and sideshow. Have you always been a fan of classic sideshow entertainment?

Go-Go Amy: I've always been a theater geek. I grew up in the NYC area and loved going to see Broadway shows with my parents. (A love that's still very much alive - we're going out to see the Follies tomorrow night!) I seemed to gravitate towards the 1920-40's style shows with more of a vaudeville theme. That's why we define our show as "Broadville" - a combo of Broadway and Vaudeville. I didn't know much about sideshow until I started performing with the Brothers Grim but I absolutely fell in love with it. I've always loved the touring lifestyle and my want to go out on the road has as much to do with putting this show together as my love for life in front of the footlights.

Vintage Roadside: We follow you on Twitter, and being veterans of many road trips always enjoy your updates from the road. Any idea how many miles you've traveled in that RV?

Go-Go Amy: If miles were Playboy bunnies my odometer would have seen more of them than Hugh Hefner and an army of rock stars...combined! We're on our 8th national tour right now, and thanks to Johnny Coconutz (our roadie and mechanic) and some amazingly dumb luck, we're still going strong. One day I'd like to upgrade to a nicer bus but we've got to stick to the "Shasta" till we start pulling in some more money.

Vintage Roadside: Follow-up road trip question - favorite road food?

Go-Go Amy: My tour food consists of creamy chicken-flavored ramen noodles, rice in a microwaveable bag with canned veggies and canned salmon, or carrot sticks and hummus. But my favorite on the road food is when we're lucky enough to roll into a town where we have friends or family and can get a home cooked meal. I'm a microwave gourmet, but I prefer to eat something that doesn't come with a "flavor" packet whenever possible.

Future Vintage Roadside dinner party guests

Vintage Roadside: How about truck stops? 2 hot dogs for $2.00, 55 gallon drum-sized sodas, t-shirts with eagles riding choppers - late at night it's like landing on another planet! We're smitten.

Go-Go Amy: I hate to shatter your romance but I really don't like truck stops. At first all the funny touristy items are cute, but now it's just annoying to get stared at because it's 5:00 am and I have a head full of curlers, or having to eat truck stop food when all you want is a good salad. I do like truck stop showers as they're usually cleaner than most motel and RV parks we stay at.

Vintage Roadside: Fair enough. Back to the Pretty Things Peepshow. You've always got incredible performers touring with you. How do you choose the cast?

Go-Go Amy: We have had a variety of performers on the show but for the last year and a half our cast has been me, Lil Miss Firefly, Miss Heather Holliday and Donny Vomit. I really really lucked out when I got those 3 to commit to the show full time. They are like the Holy Trinity of amazing! Firefly and I met when we toured on Ozzfest with The Brothers Grim Sideshow in 2007. I met Heather the following year when Bros Grim took us to Sweden for a big festival and we also did several Halloween shows together. Heather in turn introduced me to Donny who worked with her on the Coney Island Sideshow.

We have a new performer named Stoya and she does some fabulous aerial and contortion acts. She came to us through our company photographer Steve Prue. Basically anytime Steve introduces me to someone something good happens...and that's totally the case with Stoya - she's been a great addition to the show.

Vintage Roadside: You've done quite a bit of pin-up work and even offer classes through your Pretty Things Academy. What can people that attend those classes expect to learn?

Go-Go Amy: Pretty Things Academy is my national network of Pin Up Modeling classes. In the class you'll learn how to do vintage hair and make up, pose like a pin-up and get a good kick in the self esteem. You'll also get a makeover and a photo shoot. Classes are now taught by me or one of my approved teachers all across the country. You can learn more about the classes on my website here.

Vintage Roadside: We'd like to ask a few questions from the "always wondered" category. Say the venue is either too hot or too cold. In your line of work which one is worse to perform in?

Go-Go Amy: Too cold is always worse than too hot. The only things you have to worry about in a venue that's too hot is sweating your pasties off and smelly costumes, but with all my wardrobe experience we're prepared for that. Cold is far worse. It's really hard to dance because all of your muscles tense up. No one wants to go on stage in our skimpy outfits, and pulling pasties off is a painful experience. Also, people can get really crabby when they're cold so it's harder for us to sell merchandise, and it's even hard to socialize after the show because all we want to do is huddle around Heather's space heater in the dressing room. Right now we're working on constructing fabulous matching 1930's style dresses with fur collar and cuffs that are fully lined and insulated (inspired by a Mae West costume we're all in love with) in preparation for our upcoming winter tour. With these we won't have to wear our coats around the venues.

Vintage Roadside: Pasties - Are they like roller skates in that once you take them off it still feels like you're wearing them?

Go-Go Amy: I don't wear pasties for that long. I'm in 6 acts in the show so I basically stick them on, hop on stage, and then pull them off to get ready for my next act. They may have a roller skate factor for someone who doesn't do as many changes as me but they're not on long enough for me to share in that experience. I have accidentally fallen asleep in them which I do not recommend to anyone. Pulling tape and rhinestones off your nipples while making your morning cup of tea is not as glamorous as you would think.

Vintage Roadside: Strangest gift ever given to you by a fan?

Go-Go Amy: Thank you for both thinking that I have fans, and that those fans actually like me so much they give me gifts. Both of those statements are false but I needed an ego stroke today. There are people who frequent our show and who buy us drinks as well as the occasional Valentine's Day card or rose, but I'm not nearly famous enough to have a good story about getting a pig heart or a lock of hair or anything like that. I did have this really cool chick tattoo the picture of me that Krysztof Nemeth did for my t-shirts on her arm. It's not necessarily a gift for me but I did find it really flattering that I'll be on that girl's arm for the rest of her life. I'm considering letting anyone who has a go-go Amy or Pretty Things Peepshow tattoo into any/all of our shows for free just to see if I can get someone else to lend us some flesh.

Vintage Roadside: So what's up next in the world of the Pretty Things Peepshow?

Go-Go Amy: We're taking Stoya out on the road with us for the first time this December so please come out and support our fabulous new cast member. Those tour dates are up on our website right now. We are also touring January-March of 2012 and those dates will be posted as shows get confirmed. And, we have a big show at Stage on Herr in Harrisburg, PA on New Year's Eve. 

I also want to congratulate Miss Heather Holliday for her new gig hosting the MTV Iggy Show which can be seen online now and will start airing on TV next week! 

Vintage Roadside: Where else can people get Go-Go Amy news and updates?

Go-Go Amy: You can sign up for our email list here, follow us on Twitter here, and "Like" our Facebook page here.

Vintage Roadside: Thanks Amy, it's been great talking with you and we're looking forward to your next show in Portland!

Go-Go Amy: You're welcome!

Jeff & Kelly

Monday, October 24, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Go-Go Amy Part 1

The reason we started Vintage Roadside years ago was to share and preserve the stories and history we felt were slipping away. In addition to the bygone places we've researched for our line of t-shirts, we've also met some amazing people with great stories to share - everyone from mermaids (past and present) to roadside museum owners. One thing they all have in common is that they're doing all they can to keep a piece of history alive. Another thing they have in common is that the hours are usually long, and the pay, well, did we mention the personal drive to keep a piece of history alive?

We recently caught up with one of the hardest working people we've met over the years - Go-Go Amy. Amy works tirelessly to keep traditional burlesque and sideshow alive through the touring company she founded - Pretty Things Productions, as well as working as a pin-up model and offering classes through her Pretty Things Academy. Here's some of what she shared with us...

Vintage Roadside: Let's start with the question we've always wanted to ask you (but seem to forget whenever we see you.) The first time we saw a Pretty Things Peepshow one of the things that floored us before the show even really got going was that you had your own Go-Go Amy theme song! It really doesn't get much cooler than that. What's the story behind the song?

Go-Go Amy: That song was written by a band from Canada called Hank Angel and his Island Devils. I did a gig with them. They were to play live after the burlesque ladies went on and something happened, the show was running short or some girl didn't show up, so I offered to dance for them live. No rehearsal and having never heard any of their songs we quickly decided on some cues for them to put hits in for some of my dance moves and I told them to give me 2 counts of 8 after my top came off to end the song. I guess they were impressed by my "Show Must Go On" attitude and how well I could roll with the punches because I got the song sent to me a few weeks later. After that whenever I was in Canada and we could make our schedules work I would perform with them live. It was a big compliment to have a song written for me but, on a more important marketing note, product placement is always important so if I can ever get my hands on a good song to include in the show that plugs the show at the same time I'll put it in our set. So, if any bands out there want to put together some track about me or the Pretty Things Peepshow you should get in touch. We'll take your tunes all over the world!

Vintage Roadside: We've always felt a kinship with you in the sense that you took something you love and realized the only way to do it full-time was to create your own job. What's a typical day like for you?

Go-Go Amy: I don't think I really have a typical day. It changes so much depending on where we are in our touring cycle. The week before we hit the road it's almost 24 hours a day getting last minute sewing done, advancing shows, cleaning and repairing the RV we use as a tour bus, and trying to tie up loose ends. The first week of tour we're all settling in, tweaking the set list, and getting into the groove of the tour. On tour a typical day is wake up at 9:00 am, work, send emails, and do payroll until about 1:00 pm. Then I eat, read a book, take a nap and have some "me" time. At 6:00 pm we load into the venue and get set up. 8:00 pm the doors open and the show starts at 9:00 or 10:00 pm and lasts till about 1:00 am. Then we hang out at our merchandise booth chatting people up, selling pasties, and throwing back a few drinks. 2:00 am we load everything out, drive a little and then pull over and sleep. Rinse and repeat. During pre-production I usually spend several hours a day online booking or promoting shows, updating our website, Facebook page, events listings, etc. The only typical thing about my days is that everything I do from the moment I wake up until the second I pass out is work on moving the show forward both onstage and off.

Vintage Roadside: Some people may not know this, but the amazing costumes you wear are designed and sewn by you. Is it a lot of trial and error? We can't imagine you can head over to the fabric store and pick up a pattern for a dress that comes off in 4 pieces!

Go-Go Amy: That's right, I do design and construct everything I wear in the show. I also make all the group costumes and I've started making costumes for some of the other cast members as well. My background is actually in costume design. I started sewing at age 6 and I was working professionally at an off Broadway theater company by the age of 14. I went to NYU for Theatrical Design and I've worked in theater in NYC as well as film, TV, and celebrity styling when I lived in Hollywood. When I was working I would always come up with these fantastical designs, but I never had an excuse to make them for any of the projects I was working on so burlesque became my outlet for all of the designs I had dreamed up but was never able to make. I also feel like my technical knowledge really helps the show. There are a lot of hidden snaps, zippers, and buttons that all help my dress come off in 4 (or more) pieces and that always keeps the audience in awe as they have no idea how the next part will come off.

Vintage Roadside: You've performed over 300 shows around the world. How do you come up with new routines? P.S. We're big fans of both your fire act and the Chinese Execution Blade Box - two completely different, but awesome parts of your show.

Go-Go Amy: Thank you! Those are 2 of my favorite acts as well. When I was a solo performer I just tried to put together acts that were fun to do and looked cool, but now that I'm part of a major production there's a lot more to it. We all try and keep track of what the other performers are doing, what costumes they're wearing, etc. so we don't double up on anything. In the Pretty Things Peepshow we want to make sure that every act is unique and exciting so you've got to keep tabs on everyone else to make sure what you're doing is unique. I also have to keep the set list in mind. I know my first act has to be a quick change because I only have about 90 seconds to change out of my opening corset into something fabulous so that act can't have too many pieces. I try not to do anything where I would have to take my shoes off after Firefly's glass act just in case there's a stray piece of glass left on stage. I always do my "Fire Boob" act before Heather does her fire eating act, and we never put them in the same set because we like to space out our fire acts. Some people would see this as limiting, but I like that we all care about the show as a whole as well as our individual acts - it makes for a much better show!

Vintage Roadside: Performing in such a variety of places has to be quite a challenge. We can't imagine that when you're someplace new almost every night things always go perfectly. The first time we saw you you were on a stage with a low ceiling and when you started your bullwhip routine it immediately got caught in the lighting above the stage. You took it completely in stride and had the audience laughing along with you. How do you deal with those types of situations?

Go-Go Amy: The trick to being on stage is simple. If you're having fun then the audience is having fun, so if you fu** up or if you're hit with an unexpected circumstance (like lighting equipment that you didn't encounter, even though you ran your act 4 times at sound check) you can't let it phase you and the audience will continue having a good time. And, at the end of the day that should be the most important thing - that the people who paid good money to see you feel like it was money well spent. I don't mess up that much, but when I do people remember it and how I was able to roll with it. Case in point you guys asking me this question. I can do hundreds of shows that go off without a hitch but the 1 or 2 flubs I have make the audience so happy because we have a secret together. It's like, for a second I've stepped off stage and am a normal person just like them messing up at my job. Then they realize that my job involves a whip and a pair of high heel cowboy boots and the show goes on. It's the thrill of live theater.

We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our interview with Go-Go Amy! Join us later this week for Part 2. We'll talk about everything from road trip food to whether or not you should sleep in your pasties. In the meantime be sure and "Like" the Pretty Things Productions Facebook page located here, and for more photos, videos, and Amy's upcoming schedule check out her website located here

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Vintage Roadside Visits: Dive Bar Mermaid Rachel

When you mention "live mermaids" many people think of Florida - with good reason. You can still catch a show at the one-and-only Weeki Wachee Springs, or venture down to the historic Wreck Bar in Ft. Lauderdale and watch Marina and her pod work tirelessly every Friday evening to keep a piece of history alive. Another option for those of us west of the Mississippi is the Sip 'n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana. The Sip 'n Dip, located in the O'Haire Motor Inn, is also a wonderful piece of roadside history. (Much more on the Sip 'n Dip in an upcoming post.)

When we heard late in 2010 that a new mermaid lounge was opening in Sacramento, California we were amazed. The building of a new mermaid attraction was right up there with someone opening a new drive in theater or a new roller rink - these things just don't happen anymore. Amazingly it did happen and in early 2011 The Dive Bar opened to rave reviews.

We caught up with head mermaid Rachel Smith to see how things were going at the Dive Bar and here's what she had to say...

Vintage Roadside: We read that you landed the Dive Bar job by submitting a "mermaid resume" - can you tell us a little of what makes up a mermaid resume?

Rachel: It's a regular resume, but showcases any mermaid work experience that I've had in the past. My resume for the Dive Bar didn't have any professional jobs on it, but it did have photos both above and underwater, my headshot, swimming experience and included a link to a video I had made with a friend. Lynda, our mermom, was incredibly impressed with the video - it was probably the thing that helped me the most to get the job.

Vintage Roadside: You do the mermaid hiring and training at the Dive Bar. What's the response like when you have an opening? Are you flooded with applicants?

Rachel: Everyone wants to be a mermaid! We have tons of resumes on file of men and women waiting to try out. We even had a girl send us photos of her in her underwear! Not exactly what we are looking for...ha! When we hold auditions we try to filter out anyone who has not had any swim, dance. modeling or acting experience. To swim in our small tank space, you really have to know how to control and move your body gracefully and safely. It's a lot harder than most people think!

Vintage Roadside: What type of training did you have prior to the opening of the Dive Bar?

Rachel: Our first round of mermaids (including myself) were trained by the incredibly talented Linden Wolbert of Mermaids in Motion. She taught us breath techniques, how to find neutral buoyancy in our saltwater tank, and lots of other mertips and tricks. When I train a mermaid, I like to keep what Linden taught us in the back of my mind - without her, we would have been floundering, literally!

Vintage Roadside: The Dive Bar tank is fairly unique. What types of things do you need to be aware of swimming in it?

Rachel: It's really important to know where everything is, all of the obstacles, props, etc. One of our biggest priorities at Dive is mermaid safety, we always have a lifeguard certified security member watching us when we're in the tank. It also took us some time to get used to swimming with the live fish. They all have personalities of their own, and can be a little feisty if it's a night that they're supposed to be fed.

Vintage Roadside: It sounds like you guys were as ready as you could be. Do you remember opening night?

Rachel: Between all the glitter, the screaming, and all the bubbles, it's a little bit of a blur - ha! We had all of the girls swimming that night, and it was actually my first night as head mermaid! Everything went swimmingly, of course. All the girls swam, flirted, and gave it their all. I think it was a very successful evening. We were even asked by George (the owner) to get back in the tank after the shows were finished for the night - people couldn't get enough of the mermaids!

Vintage Roadside: It sounds like all the preparation really paid off. No "goofs" at all for you guys?

Rachel: There are always awkward mermaid moments in the tank, they are unavoidable. Mermaid Aimee accidentally pushed me into the tank one night, and I just sort of dazedly swam back out. It must have looked pretty silly from below. I did the same thing to her a few weeks later though, completely on accident, so we're even now. ;-) There are always a few awkward escaping nose bubbles, and I've got a fish caught in my hair once or twice as well.

Vintage Roadside: What makes a Dive Bar show different from the other mermaid attractions?

Rachel: While Dive Bar definitely hearkens back to the aquatic shows of the 1960s, it's a really modern twist. We don't have a set soundtrack or routine that we have to perform while we're in the tank. Every show is unique, and every mermaid we have swimming at Dive has a different personality that they bring to the show. It's worth coming again and again, you'll always see something new.

Vintage Roadside: You guys even have a merman don't you? How does the crowd react to him?

Rachel: People really love it when our merman Antwan swims. The screaming does not stop!

Vintage Roadside: Who are some of the current aquatic performers you enjoy watching or wish you could swim with?

Rachel: Linden is incredible, I would love to swim with her out of the tank someday; either for fun or if she needs an extra mer. She is vivacious, bright, and cares deeply for our planet and its oceans. Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid is the best retro aquatic performer out there. She's a treasure-trove of talent and knowledge; I think that all mers could learn a lot from her. I also really like the styling of Mermaid Raven of Merbellas; I like her gypsy/tribal mermaid vibe. She makes beautiful tails and accessories. And of course, I would love to swim with our tail-maker, the fabulous Eric Ducharme. We're hoping he can come out to the Dive at some point and put on a few special shows with us. He's so enthusiastic and dedicated to what he does; it's been great working with him.

Vintage Roadside: We're big admirers of the Weeki Wachee "Formers" that perform once a month. Do you see yourself still performing in your 60s and 70s?

Rachel: I will always be a mermaid, but there will probably come a time to hang up my tail professionally. I'm very dedicated to my illustration, and painting and creating takes a lot of my time and energy. Being a mermaid is something I love so much, and comes so naturally to me that I will never stop doing it. Although in the golden years of my life, I might have to settle for Sea Hag! Ha!

Vintage Roadside: Thank you so much Rachel!

Rachel: You're welcome!

If you find yourself in Sacramento and are looking for something unique - check out the Dive Bar at 1016 K Street! They're open 7 days a week from 4:00 pm - 3:00 am.

If you'd like to see some of the artwork Rachel creates when not performing you'll find her website here

Jeff & Kelly