Friday, March 28, 2014

She's Popular While Remaining Authentic - Artist Tonya Kay - An In-Depth Interview

Styling by Kelly Maglia Couture
This interview was first published in "The Best of Frankie Tease
Magazine" Vol. 2, eBook via Bookbaby (Amazon, iTunes, Nook, which
does have the 18+ centerfold pictures of Tonya Kay not published here).

Few performers gain commercial success and yet maintain an underground star status such as American dancer and actress Tonya Kay (Los Angeles). She got her stage start in her home state of Michigan in her pre-teen years, and never stopped. Able to glide across world regions and genres like an adroit dolphin, Kay also remains publicly candid about her life-long bouts with Manic Depression, and how she has and will overcome it with a raw food diet. Whatever she's doing, it's worked well toward her longevity and amazingly youthful glow. She is one of the most naturally beautiful people I've seen in some time. A cross between a super hip rock and roll blonde Carol Burnett and her own character as the wild circus performer which grinds metal from her groin to create stage sparks during her burlesque performances, Kay kicks serious ass. She dances on stilts, performs tap dance, jazz dance, whip cracking, poi, fire, and is a published writer on several topics. She practices highly liberal beliefs and animal activism, as well as Veganism and Chaos Magick or Choate.
I didn't know any of that when in November of 2012 I attended and reviewed the Lalas Burlesque Show at the Palms Lounge in Vegas. The Los Angeles-based dance Troupe the Lalas has her work the MC slot and perform several strip-tease and burlesque numbers. Honestly I could hardly see the other A-level dancers and talented performers due to the bright light, amazing body, dance talent, and unending bag of surprises in Tonya Kay. Here is a performer I had never encountered before and I knew immediately she'd be one of the few artists who's careers I could never stop following. There is an amazing versatility displayed in Kay onstage that is very vaudeville in nature, a trait you rarely see nowadays: a truly well-rounded entertainment talent.
Her acts must be seen to be believed and are incredibly sensuous mixing innate originality, gender confusion, and physical acrobatics. Her performances are to say the least, unique. But you may also know her from a multitude of TV, video game, movie, and animal activist appearances. Just reading her IMDB profile is like a who's who of long-term professional and talented people in Hollywood and the world. It's a bit stunning. It must be her world-class appeal paving the way. Tell me if any of these TV, film or stage appearances sound familiar: America's Got Talent, Criminal Minds, Glee, Green Girl (voice), House, Numb3rs, Secret Girlfriend, Stomp, Video Game Reunion. How about being a lead dancer and choreographer for TV and music videos? She's done tons of that too. I was happy to delve into the mind of a magnanimous multi-faceted star. Here's what TK had to say during multiple correspondences winter holiday 2012, with her limited internet connection during an overseas trip to Costa Rica saving sea turtles.
FT: You started performing at a very early age, was it voice or dance first?
TK: I was a little Shirley Temple. When I was three years old my mom caught me shaking my booty while watching the TV: two tappers were dancing without music on Star Search. That was one of the most important days of my life - not only did my mom ask if I wanted to take tap dance classes, but she also taught me the meaning of the words a capella. I started tap dancing at four years old. I started acting and singing in local theater when I was six. I started teaching dance when I was 14 and I scored my first professional theater gig in Detroit, MI. when I was 15. 

FT: With expertise in so many genres, are they all of equal interest for you? Which genre runs your life most?
TK: I consider myself a performer. I've spent my life developing a wide array of self-expressive skills: acting, comedy, hosting, pro dance, specialty arts, voice and musical instruments. I feel confident in the process and am always learning. I say, give me a stage or a camera and that’s where my magick lives. Heck, give me a five toothpicks, a tire iron and an FlipCam and I’ll perform the heck out of that, too. My genre of expertise is performance.

FT: When did you become a Vegan and how has it impacted your health and performance?
TK: Raw food is popular and it’s momentum is accelerating. Back in the old days of living foods, everyone followed a natural, sustainable transition to raw food hitting years of vegetarian, years of vegan and then finally graduating to raw food. Today, you get people trying to quit smoking, forsake soda, give up animal products and go raw overnight. I've been high raw vegan for a decade, cooked vegan for a decade before that and vegetarian for many years before that. That’s a sustainable transition. I wish I could encourage newbies to take it easy on themselves and set themselves up for success.
Because my transition was so gentle and conscious, I was able to recognize the health and performance changes that happened every step of the way. My connection to and respect for my body deepened as soon as I connected to and respected other animals bodies and stopped requesting their death for lunch. Connection to respect and for the body heightens the signals one gets from the body - my coordination deepened, my emotional expressiveness clarified and my ability to hear what my body needs in terms of natural injury healing and prevention solidified - I became a better performer and heartier athlete when I went vegetarian. 
When I went vegan, I immediately lost ten pounds of puff. I was a pro dancer already at that point and a lean girl, so the puff, I knew, was not fat in my case. The puff was thick lymph. You can be a thin person and still have to clear your throat in the mornings, pick the crusties out of your eyes when you wake, have overtly oily skin or other thick bodily fluids as a woman. This is thick lymph, which vocalists and fitness models do not like at all. Getting the milk, eggs and associated products out of my diet leaned me out and continued to clear this vessel I express my athleticism and art through. 
After a decade of allowing the vegan lifestyle to change my body and consciousness, I stopped cooking my foods and started eating a high raw vegan diet and that is where the real miracles happened. Besides my physical beauty notably changing to my surprise and delight (glowing skin, bright eyes, strong digestion, age regression), my relationships have cleaned up too and that affects my performance career magnificently. Supportive people surround me and I insist upon it. My mental health is strong and I no longer whisper self-defeating phrases in my subconscious. I am potent, young, confident and grateful. Raw food is a fucking religion - I swear - that actually turns out the people you wanna be. I wish all religions had such great stats. Eat life - become life. It’s a celebration of living. 
On a side note, I am also very grateful that I am naturally a fiery, passionate person, whom has known sorrow, defeat and darkness in my life. I feel like the darkest souls are the natural warriors that are built to achieve and balance great highs. And there is nothing more beautiful than a soul whom has known torment, whom has struggled and whom chooses to be happy and healthy anyway. Happy people whom have known no darkness interest me very little.

Tonya Kay performing "Summertime" by Robert William Campbell

FT: Being a practicing vegan has lead you to some amazing work and collaboration as a model, can you tell us about some of that?
TK: Nothing turns me on more than when my ideals and art combine. My modeling work with Russell Brand, a fellow vegan, on the "Get Him To The Greek" soundtrack cover was one of my favorite fulfillments of this. Russell was also a fiery, sexual gentleman and posing with him on that bed couldn't have been a more enjoyable day at work. I also had the opportunity to model in fellow vegan, Rob Zombie’s music video, “Foxy Foxy”. He’s so dirty rock and roll with the tattoos, dreadlocks and fascination with horror and the macabre, like myself - it was exciting to watch him direct his own project. I recently was selected as a fitness model for a new, vegan juice bar, Get Juicy, based on my physique and vegan lifestyle. But the most fulfilling modeling work the vegan community has awarded me is shooting with Melissa Schwartz of Schwartz Studios and being the face of her "vGirls/vGuys" series. Melissa has substantial talent as a form and figure photographer and is a dedicated Animal Rights vegan. Her vGirls/vGuys series brings noteworthy, activist vegans to the lens where she brings out the best of our professional athlete bodies and renegade ideals. I've done six shoots with Melissa, my most recently, a stunning pole dance session. To me, modeling is performing. The cool part is, an audience sees one of my photos and ends up saying, “I’ll have what she’s having”. A photograph can change the world. That’s my bliss.

FT: How did you start on the road of becoming a video game star?
TK: There is a lot of cross-over in the comic book, video game, fantasy worlds. My initiation began in 2007 when I worked with Stan Lee as an original cast member of SciFi’s "Who Wants To Be A Superhero". Let me tell ya, Stan Lee is old school Hollywood fabulous, and just a pleasure to introduce friends to or work with.  From that experience, I got to model for comic heavies like George Perez, Ralph Navaro and Jason Shawn Alexander. I starred in Jim Balent’s “Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose” comic book series, featured in four issues that year and being drawn as the star, “Tonya Kay, the whip cracking Chaos Magician” in issue #59. Next thing you know, I’m starring as a hot mess satire of Princess Peach in the MTV Networks web series "Video Game Reunion" for which our cast won Best Comedy Ensemble (Indie Intertube Awards) and Most Watched Series of All Time on

FT: Congrats on that. Is "bi-sexual" or "lesbian" labels that can be put on you? If so, how does it work for you publicly and in your career?
TK: You know, it’s funny: as an actress, most of my roles are either lesbians or become lesbians after I am playing them. I also have been cast in more than one role written for a male. Coincidence? Growing up I was acutely aware that I was more assertive than other females I knew. As an adult, I drive hot rods, play with weapons and am much more likely to be caught head-banging at a metal show than shopping for purses. I've noticed that most acting roles are written for woman who speak quietly and define themselves by their relationship to a man in the story-line. Needless to say, I have a gender identity crisis: am I not a woman or are these other women not as woman as I? 
Anyway, at this beautiful and wise position in life, I have loved and am open to loving men as well as women. I think that open-mindedness affects my career in three ways; One: an open mind is a more creative mind. Two: I knock the same-sex characters out of the ballpark. Three: (and most significantly) In film and TV more and more women are showing up as Directors, Executive Producers, Camera Assists, Props and Writers. It affects my career positively to take notes well from that female Director, relate to the female Writer and respectfully listen to a female Producer. Some crew members aren't good at it yet, unfortunately. 

FT: When did you discover the "danger arts", and by who's hand?
TK: Danger Arts is a term I made up to describe the crazy shit I’m always dare-deviling. As a dancer, I've always felt finesse one the of the most noble art forms. The competency and proprioception required for skilled prop work is another level of movement mastery. And skilled prop work with deadly weapons raises the adrenaline and creativity barre exponentially. 
My proficiency in Danger Arts began with the coordination, agility and finesse of dance, of course. But it was at a pagan equinox festival when the young, cool magicians invited me away from the community bonfire and to a private fire dance of their own that I was exposed to my first danger art. It was not the dancing-with-fire that turned me on, so much as how one specific female danced with fire. She was dancing first and foremost - she was expressing the music, she was emotionally committed. The fire simply made it dangerously sexy and exceptionally well lit. I tied wads of newspaper to the end of yarn strings and taught myself to spin Poi by practicing simple circles (that turned into complex circles) for 15 - 30 minutes a day, over several years’ time. It was when Axis Dance (flagging), DecaDance (all-female concert hip-hop), De La Guarda (aerial harness) and STOMP hired me in New York City that I really realized that there was an established genre of performance termed “experimental theatre”, and I happened to be really good at it. I flew with De La Guarda in Las Vegas and toured with STOMP for three years. After the STOMP tour, I ended up in Los Angeles where I saw on Craigslist an ad for “knife thrower’s assistant”. Jack Dagger taught me to throw knives and we performed our duet on the "Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien", the History Channel’s "More Extreme Marksmen" and on Japanese TV of all places. When we were in training, we’d hold open practice on Mondays at a public park where friends would bring their props and teach each other to use them. I played with swords, ropes, knives, bows and arrows, staffs, juggling balls and throwing stars, but the one that I fell in love with and was especially good at was the whip. 
I also began performing with Freak Show Deluxe and let me tell you: on down time, side show freaks sit around, drink, smoke, and dare each other to do stoopid things. Some of those things end up becoming performance material. That’s how my "Animal Balloon Swallow" and "Grinder Girl" acts started. I learned stilt dancing as a company member of Stilt World, I am now a sponsored Platinum Athlete pole dancer and I just fought the Zoe Bell in the feature film "Raze". My skill sets cross over into many genres including vaudeville, circus, fetish, cabaret, side show and stunts. But the uniting element is that I could crack a rib, burn my breast or get brain trauma doing them (and have). So I group them all together as Danger Arts. I’m a Danger Artist.

Your resume' reads like a who's who in showbiz. You've worked on a lot of
amazing people and projects in film and television, is it only getting better as you become more known?
I've had the pleasure to work with the biggest of names in the entertainment industry. And the best thing about working with big names is people actually see your work. And these experienced ‘names‘ have a lot to teach. I love to learn.
FT: Are you hired more as danger, actor, or dancer for film and television?
TK: I make most of my money acting in film TV and I do the most gigs as a burlesque and danger artist.

FT: I discovered you at the Lalas Burlesque Show at the Palms in Vegas, 2012.When did you start taking it off in burlesque, and what's the impact it's had on your career?
TK: I remember your smile, Frankie Tease, taking notes on our performance like you were in class. You snapped photos and I even heard you say with anticipation, “here it comes” as I prepped the giant glass of water to my lips, missing my mouth and wetting my wife beater during my Janis Joplin "Summertime" act. You loved it. You love burlesque. 

Ten years ago I recall myself saying to a hot man I’d just met “I want to do burlesque in Hollywood”, even though I was so young I didn’t know what that entailed or how to go about it. Burlesque is a very specific world quite separate from professional dance, Danger Arts and other theater. My first Burly-Q soirees were comedy show sit-ins on the Sunset Strip, developing my act, which is to say: my Self.  Because every burlesque dancer knows that it’s her Self, not her act that the performance is comprised of. Luckily, I realized I have all these Danger Arts skills - why not combine them with my burlesque? Presto: Showtime’s "Live Nude Comedy" [Season 1, Episode 1 on Netflix] hired my Bullwhip Burlesque Solo and that got me serious. I've done several burlyQ stints on TV and in music videos since then, making a name for myself as the Most Dangerous Woman In Hollywood. I develop acts with the Dollface Dames at their TRiPTease weekly in Santa Monica, CA. or guest-starring in their company shows. When I travel, I sit in with the local burlesque crews (like Burlesque Noir and Burque Burlesque in Albuquerque). And most meaningfully, I am a proud company member of the Lalas Burlesque, a Los Angeles-based Burly-Q troupe comprised of professional dancers and career performers. Erin Lamont, the director of the Lalas, does not dance with us (though she could) but instead loves choreographing, designing couture and running the business. Thank goodness! These women are my best friends and my family. Plus, the Lalas made me the host of the show, so I can explore my social comedy verbally as well as visually. I, like you Frankie Tease, simply love burlesque in all it’s forms.
FT: Definitely. What does being on stage give you that being in TV and film doesn't?
TK: Film and TV has taught me the lessons of subtlety for a very close-up audience. Live performance is kind of the opposite. On stage you amplify your Self and do it BIG. In theater, you only get one chance to perform (there are no retakes) so you learn the art of humanness, which is not about not making mistakes - it’s what you do with a mistake that is your art as a stage performer. Mistakes are in my opinion, happy accidents because when you make one, the audience is paying the most attention right then, just to see how you handle the hiccup. No one wants to see you shame yourself or give up. So if you roll with it, laugh it off, become self-aware and commit harder, they will devote themselves to you completely. And then you can start playing super subtlety like you normally only get to do on film, because the audience is that attentive to you. Thank goodness for live theater’s mistakes. 

FT: Who are your burlesque sheroes or heroes?
TK: In the burlesque world I admire Lili St Cyr, Kristina Nekyia and this woman whose name I never got who performed (an excellent) belly dance in San Francisco facing upstage and then turned slowly and revealed she was nine months preggers - just exploding, ready to drop - and the crowd went wild. I've never heard such a response nor seen anything quite as special. She was glowing and goddess-like.

FT: Who are your TV sheroes or heroes? 
TK: Lucile Ball, Goldie Hawn of "Laugh In", Carolyn Burnett and The Muppets, of course.

FT: Who are your dance sheroes or heroes? 
TK: Fred Astaire.

FT: Who are are your vocal sheroes or heroes? 
TK: Chris Cornell, Stevie Nicks, Josh Homme, Pepper Keenan, Ella Fitzgerald.

FT: Who are your activist sheroes or heroes? 
TK: Lek of Elephant Nature Park, Pat Derby of PAWS, Bob Barker of Price Is Right, Todd Steiner of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

FT: With all your accomplishments what are your goals now? 
TK: My passions right now are my kit drum, pole dance and expanding that sexy, unshakable core of the adept actress. But spiritually, I’m a renegade and all I really wanna do is break the system by feeling great, being healthy, using my mind and body freely. In the words of the great Billy Holiday I'm “getting a little fun out of life.” 

Visit for more about her upcoming performances throughout the United States of Stage.

Hear my audio-interview with Tonya Kay by clicking here