Five years ago, when Devil's Playground founder Courtney Cruz staged her burlesque troupe's first Star Wars parody at Bordello, she wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary. They had done nerdy burlesque nights before, like a send-up of Batman and a night inspired by video games. "We just did the same thing we always do," says Cruz.
They didn't have a street team in the early days, so Cruz and Carlos Flores, who creates props and sets for Devil's Playground, head out late at night to pass out flyers themselves. She was expecting a normal crowd of around 200 people. Then Cruz walked outside the venue and saw the line stretching and wrapping its way around a downtown block. The show that became Star Girls was an immediate hit.
In the days that followed this now-legendary performance, a photo of Cruz as a stormtrooper, taken by L.A. Weekly's Shannon Cottrell, became a viral hit. Devil's Playground, which had planned to repeat the performance that March, had to look for a bigger venue.
Cruz — all long black hair and Liz Taylor eyebrows — sips a tea as she talks about the aftermath of Internet fame. It's weird, she says, to hear people talking about that stormtrooper photo without realizing that she's sitting at the next table. Weirder still is having to go to an attorney who specializes in parody to find out what is fair game and what isn't. "I got schooled," she says. But, it's been, as Cruz says, a "fun ride."
They got plenty of offers to take the show on the road, although it turned out that the production was too large to travel. Soon, similar shows unaffiliated with Devil's Playground turned up in other parts of the world. While Cruz's troupe has done lots of themes and has ventured into wrestling nights as well, nothing has been as popular as Star Girls. They bring back the show several times a year, frequently updating the costumes and sets. Their cast has swelled from six to thirteen. On this Friday night's fifth anniversary show at the Dragonfly, three performers will make their Star Girls debut.
Aside from Cruz, three other original members of the cast are still with the show. Audrey Deluxe, who plays everyone's favorite bounty hunter, has redone her act recently, bringing in a bad boy hero frozen in carbonite to undress her. It's based on a traditional burlesque piece, where the performer is undressed by a spider, Deluxe says. She adds that playing a male character is unusual for her — Deluxe's style is more retro-femme — but she gives the role her own glamorous spin. "I'm always Audrey Deluxe playing the character," she says.
Olivia Bellafontaine infuses her Princess Leia character with the rock star energy and powerful female imagery that peppers her other burlesque performances. "She's definitely an extension of me," says Bellafontaine.
Meanwhile, Scarlet O'Gasm, who partners up with Bellafontaine, looks for the comedic elements of a character, which she has been able to play upon in her send-up of Jabba the Hutt. " At first I think I was just trying to get in Jabba's head and it came out pretty scary," she says in an email. "I think I've just been trying to figure Jabba out for 5 years and discover his many layers and hopefully show a few of them — ya know, covered in balloons and expanding foam for only 5 minutes."
For Flores, the job started out with one project, to make Cruz's stormtrooper costume. Since then, he's handled the props and sets for the show. With each new character comes a new challenge and some of them have been pretty exciting. When Diamondback Annie joined the Star Girls fold, he modified her violin to make it look like Luke Skywalker's landspeeder. Flores redesigned the piece several times and worked over the New Year's Eve before her 2014 debut to finish it. "I just knew it was going to be something special," he says. The act has become a highlight of the show.
After five years, there will likely be more changes in store for Star Girls. Cruz anticipates that she won't be on stage much longer. "I will probably be exiting the performer part of my life soon," she says. Cruz says simply that she's more interested in producing the shows these days. Plus, she has become interested in producing performances for other artists in addition to Devil's Playground. Says Cruz, "That's where my heart is."
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