Tonya Kay

Tonya Kay in Costume

Cruelty-free fans and corset by Tonya Kay, photo by Melissa Schwartz, graphics by Stephen Newell

Today we have the pleasure of talking with the amazing Tonya Kay:

1) Who is Tonya Kay?

I’m the Most Dangerous Woman in Hollywood

2) Where did you come from?

The first child spawned consciously by an emotional, artistic dad and an intelligent, driven mom who were very much in love with each other and still are today.

3) Okay, more specifically, where were you born?

I was born in a rural farming community in southern Michigan.

4) How did you find your way to Hollywood from your birthplace?

Lust for meaning through tactile adventure and gumption!

I starting working professionally in Detroit before I had graduated (Valedictorian) from my down-home high school. A tormented artist seeking her way, I worked in 13 factories (read: got fired from 13 factory jobs) for a few years after graduation in a small town in Indiana. All the while driving to Chicago to audition for theater roles. Thank goodness I got arrested in Indiana and started booking in Chicago almost simultaneously. Art literally kept me out of the assembly line life, which was proving quite detrimental to my spirit and pastimes.

I lived and worked musical theater and taught dance in Chicago for four years, then decided as 20 year old artists do, that musical theater didn’t “matter enough” and I wanted to make “art that changed the world”, so I moved to NYC where art means something, right? I ended up dancing in concert dance companies and discovered I was great at experimental theater (of course, I was!). I booked STOMP and De La Guarda and ended up touring the nation for 5 cumulative years, hitting all 50 states – many multiple times.

clothing by seaturtles.org, photo by Marti Matulis

clothing by seaturtles.org, photo by Marti Matulis

Touring worked out great for my personality and when I was on hiatus from touring I started traveling and often doing wildlife conservation volunteer work in faraway countries. At this point, I’ve traveled 15 countries and gotten up close and dirty with the critically endangered Asian elephant and critically endangered sea turtle. During my travels and touring, I was naturally in and out of Los Angeles and even booked three commercials, a TV pilot and some music videos before I “lived” here.

When I came off tour, I came to sleep on my girlfriend’s couch on the Pacific ocean and wouldn’t you know – having lived and traveled everywhere, Los Angeles proved to be the perfect home for me. The dreamers, the road trips, the activists, the year-round organic farmer’s markets and this entertainment industry – crazy enough that I’m constantly stimulated and don’t have to jet set for adventure – it’s all right here. I found home in California! Ironically, the reason I moved to NYC originally – to make meaning through art instead of simply entertain, has reached a full circle in Los Angeles for me and I now know that making people laugh IS meaningful. And making a statement IS entertaining.

5) Tell us about the Grape Space Coaster?

The Grape Space Coaster is a customized performance 1965 Buick Riviera of which I am only the fifth owner in a well documented and cared for history. I’ve converted three vehicles to run on waste vegetable oil, have owned two semi-trucks and delivery vans – this is my first classic (and my only automatic). She cruises the Blvd and the Strip, joy rides the PCH and makes everyone who sees her comin’ smile for her purple bestial belligerent beauty. Here she is on Speed TV’s My Ride Rules https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byX7yPfW_uU

6) What were you first experiences with burlesque – do you remember your first show?

I think my first show billed as a burlesque performer was at the Hollywood Improv. Like most beginners, I hadn’t invested much time or finances in costumes, yet, so it was without glamor and stylistically, was intended to be a straight up strip tease. Unfortunately, the Improv sound guy was really lame that night – couldn’t find my music and just played someone else’s song altogether. As a career professional dancer and long-term performer, I winged it with technique and stage presence, but let’s face it – that sh*t was bad. And I knew it. I was performing regularly with the freak show and circus venues, so I started working my burlesque ideas gently into my acts. And pretty quickly Showtime hired me to perform the finale burlesque solo of the season premiere episode of Live Nude Comedy. TV is not as forgiving as stage. You don’t have time to work your ideas out. You have one take and that will be broadcast to millions of people, so that show inspired me to get super serious about act development and still to this day I consider my Bullwhip Burlesque my first developed act https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRqGqr3t0i8/.

7) Do you remember your first corset?

Lingerie by Tonya Kay, photo by Melissa Schwartz, graphics by Stephen Newell

Lingerie by Tonya Kay, photo by Melissa Schwartz, graphics by Stephen Newell

I do! My first corset was a genuinely expensive costume piece provided to me when I was performing musical theatre in Chicago. It was a period piece and I was hired as a triple threat – an actress, dancer and singer. The girls in the dressing room helped lace me up our first show properly. The first act finale is always a HUGE production number in classic musical theatre – leave them wanting more after intermission, right? So here I am busting out a 5 min dance piece with full stage travel, time steps, barrel turns and you bet: the obligatory never ending wing tap steps WHILE holding the vocal refrain of this all-cast production number – I couldn’t breathe. I almost f*cking fainted! No one told wardrobe that you can’t place the dancers in properly laced corsets! And I didn’t know enough to direct them away from it, either. I was DANCING FULL CHOREOGRAPHY for five minutes and belting my vocal part simultaneously and never again – never again I vowed, would I allow anyone to lace my corset properly as a performer who is physical to that degree. In fact, since, I’ve favored corsets and waist cinchers that give the appearance rather than the function of corsetry. Seems those true lace ups are for less active performers – or even still models in photo shoots. Since, those young days, I now know how to offer production designers the details of my performer duties to assist their costume, hair and make up design so that we all can do the best with our jobs. I’ve been costumed in gorgeous corsets (loosely laced!) appearing in the Lone Ranger film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZgtu2bk_c4, on tour with Panic At The Disco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wBFERO3wBs and on TBS’s Friends With Benefits.

8) Improv, Dancer, Classic-Car owner, Conservationist, Stunt Woman, Vegan, Fire-Dancer – what don’t you do?

Fast food commercials, prescription drug commercials, perform with wild performing animals and lap dances.

9) What message(s) would you like to pass to our readers?

Get some fun out of life.

10) Any new projects on the horizon you would like to discuss?

Tonya Kay's Pinup Pole Show

Tonya Kay’s Pinup Pole Show

YES! I’m producing a live show and classic car cruise-in called The Pinup Pole Show! We have competition height poles (Platinum Stages) and are selling tickets to our show.  You can check out our promo video and please follow us on your favorite social media network.

I’m acting in many films coming out this year, so please keep your ears open for Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant, A Better Place, and Bastard.  You can watch The Kill Corporation online now and Dark Space and The Butchers are available on Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, or Amazon.

I love burlesque and tour a TON. I just got back from Ibiza and South Africa in fact – you can see my next live show dates and screenings at http://tonyakay.com/appearances/.

And I’m a long-term raw vegan and activist. Health is all that matters. It’s all we’ve got.

11) What’s your favorite on-stage persona?

All my stage personas are me and I like how real, how surrendered, how confident and how inspired I am on stage better than real life sometimes!

12) What are some of your favorite burlesque dancers past?

I like to tribute my favorite entertainers. Lili St Cyr and Gypsy Rose Lee are two of my burlesque idols. This act is in tribute to Lili St Cyr http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gb4AJW0-Nwk/.

Did you know Shirley Temple’s first gig was as a burlesque performer – at age 3?!? Very controversial! You can watch her five short Baby Burlesque films on YouTube. She was why I started tap dancing at age 4 and this is my brand new tribute act to her https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LixXUcJBQNQ/.

And Lucille Ball … she’s my Vaudeville idol. She’s got everything a true entertainer should have.  I pay tribute to her directly in my Tonya Kay’s Pinup Pole Show by recreating her “Vitameatavegemin” sketch comedy act with my own clown burlesque tribute in honor.

Tonya Kay's tribute of Vitameatavegemin

Tonya Kay performs Lucille Ball’s Vitameatavegemin sketch comedy act in Tonya Kay’s Pinup Pole Show. Photo by Marti Matulis.

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