Holy freakin’ frijoles!
Somebody, somewhere must have reached into the dark corners of our subconscious minds and pulled one of our wildest event fantasies out. How else can the Philadelphia debut of Lucha VaVoom be explained?
Formed seven years ago in Los Angeles, Lucha VaVoom brings together Mexican wrestling, burlesque and comedy under one roof — this time, May 7 at the Trocadero Theater.
And get this: There’s actually a gay element to the show ... you know, beyond the obvious sweaty guys in tight Spandex grappling and rubbing up against each other.
Lucha VaVoom features the impressive talents of Karis, a 27-year-old, openly gay, gender-blurring, world-renowned hula-hoop artist.
“I’ve been working with Lucha for five years now,” he said. “On the burlesque side, I’ve been working with them the longest. The show has been up and running for seven years. It’s interesting that me being a boy, I’ve been with the show the longest. It’s really wonderful. Rita [D’Albet, Lucha VaVoom co-creator] hired me. We had an acquaintance in common. She was doing a different show and she booked me for that. And when she saw how the crowd reacted toward me, she booked me for Lucha VaVoom. It caught on quite quickly because what more do people want than sex and violence? You have the wrestlers that are stars in Mexico and these gorgeous women taking off their clothes. It took off quickly.”
Until recently, Lucha VaVoom has been a West Coast phenomenon, but Karis said the outrageous show is starting to catch on in our neck of the woods.
“We were just in Chicago and New York last year but it was our first time,” he said. “I believe it was in September. Now that they’ve got a taste for it, they want us back so it’s exciting to go back for a second time.”
He added that in each city the show hits, they try to draft local performers into the spectacle.
“Every show is catered to that audience,” he said. “Rita does a really good job of knowing what kind of crowd we’re going to have and getting local people to perform. I know that we’re having [burlesque duo] the Wau Wau Sisters to do the New York show, so it always changes up. The comedians come out and they start introducing the show. First, you’ll have burlesque performance then the wrestling match. So it’ll go from one to the other to cleanse the palette.”
Karis said at first he was unsure of how a predominantly straight audience would react to having an androgynous man in the mix at a burlesque performance.
“It was really predominantly straight before,” he said. “When it started, it was always artists going to it. Once it started getting popular, that’s when it started getting really macho. The crowd was just really rowdy. I was so scared. What are they going to say when I step out there? But it went together like peanut butter and jelly. It was just wonderful. It’s always the people [who are] looking for something more alternative and exciting that’s not your everyday thing.”
Still, wrestling and enlightenment are hardly guaranteed to go hand in hand. There had to have been some “keep the engine running” moments in the five years Karis has performed. But he said he keeps his performance moving so the audience doesn’t have too long to linger on his gender.
“I just performed for the Long Beach Grand Prix and it’s nothing but guys and they were all wanting to see girls take their clothes off and yelling,” he said. “Once I took off my clothes, they were sort of shocked. But I started hula-hooping afterward, so before the shock sets in, I started doing something else amazing and captivating. It’s a lot for them to take in all at once. They have a second of ‘what just happened’ but they continued cheering which is wonderful.”
He also added that he knows how to handle himself on stage.
“I grew up in the ’hood,” he said. “Don’t let my eyelashes fool you. I’m a tough cookie. I’m never really afraid. I get stage fright before I go out there and it‘s a little bit more when I’m in a straight crowd. But I just have to go out there with confidence because if you go out there defeated, they’re not going to take you seriously.”
Karis isn’t the only gay performer in Lucha VaVoom. The group also features a gay wrestler, Cassandro, but unfortunately an injury has sidelined him from performing when the group comes through Philadelphia.
“Cassandro is fabulous,” Karis said. “He is a one of the big stars. It’s funny that he’s one of the most bad-ass wrestlers. He just comes out and wins the respect of everyone because of the things he does and the moves he pulls. No other wrestler does that. His acrobatic skills are amazing. You have a division in wrestling called Los Exoticos. They don’t show it on TV. Los Exoticos always have to prove themselves. They’re kind of seen as a joke. I know Cassandro and that’s why he wrestles so hard and he proves it to them, which is really wonderful. He goes out there and at first people don’t know what to expect. When he starts wrestling, all of a sudden it’s a better way of demanding respect.”
Karis seems to be getting a lot of respect as well: Aside from his appearances with Lucha VaVoom, he also finds himself a sought-after performer outside the group.
“I spend a really great amount of time with Lucha VaVoom. Rita really pushes me to do something different with myself,” he said. “So I always spend at lot of time going back and forth with her on ideas on what to do. Whatever I take from Lucha VaVoom I’ll take it to other places. It’s really my outlet to be creative so that’s where I spend most of my time. Shortly after this U.S. tour with them, I’ll be going to Europe for two-and-a-half months and performing in the gay games out there.”
While his solo performances and his Lucha VaVoom performances have a lot in common, Karis said he can be more sexually ambiguous when he performs solo.
“I play a lot with my sexuality.” he said. “Whenever I’m performing for a predominantly straight crowd, I really lean more toward the feminine side. When I’m performing for a queer audience, it’s more about being myself, which is very androgynous. I still go out very glam but I think it’s a little more in the middle where my gender stands on stage. It’s really funny that I’ve been having to play a transgender role for a lot of things but I’m very comfortable being androgynous. That to me is the beauty because it doesn’t really matter what you’re seeing as long as it’s beautiful.”
As if to prove that point, Karis’ androgyny won him a job as a spokesmodel for an international ad campaign for the Philips epilator. He said getting the gig was historic, but it didn’t get the kind of attention he thought it deserved in the LGBT press.
“I am the first boy allowed to a global campaign by a huge corporation as a woman where they are not making fun of it,” he said. “It won at the British Television Advertising Awards. The U.S. never wrote about it, which was really sad. It was one of Phillips’ most controversial campaigns and one of their most successful campaigns. It was in my contract that it would never air in the U.S. but I was hoping at least some LGBT groups would write about it and it just kind of went unseen in the States, which is kind of sad in my eyes. If I was some flamboyant boy on reality television or something that doesn’t really matter, I’d be all over the place. But I felt that this was really a huge milestone and groundbreaking.”
Karis performs with Lucha VaVoom at 8 p.m. May 7 at Trocadero Theater, 1003 Arch St. For more information, visit www.luchavavoom.com or call (215) 922-6888.