In a tank-top and pony tail, across the width of a coffee shop table on Bumby Avenue, Ruby Darling is more Vargas than two normal women. Recently returned from a marriage misadventure in Polynesia, Darling sat down with Florida Geek Scene to talk about being the evil mastermind – “I prefer the term Evil Mastermind,” she told me – behind Skill Focus: Burlesque, as well as her other projects and interests.
How did she come to launch Orlando’s only geek-themed bump and grind company? It began with whiskey and the blood sport of karaoke, back in the spring of 2011. Darling and some friends were out at a karaoke bar, drinking that ruminative spirit. “We pondered to ourselves how we all really really liked burlesque, and we were all giant nerds, and wouldn’t that be two great tastes that taste great together?” So she and her friends put up a one-time show at The Geek Easy. “We were not expecting anywhere near the turnout that we got, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We packed the house.” And everybody wanted to know, when’s your next show?
That was the beginning of a theatrical endeavor that now puts on four new shows a year, and takes those shows on the road to conventions. They also perform to help support local charities. Their shows are often themed, and performers have donned – and discarded! – costumes ranging from Wonder Woman, to Lana Kane, to Yoda, to GLaDOS, creating a puzzle you don’t want to portal out of. Three years into their run, the remaining founders are Ms. Darling, Rosita Sparkles, and Cherry Bob-omb, with other members coming in and out as fate permits.
And SF:B has an open-door policy on sexual identity’s various variations. “We take boys, girls, everything in between. One of our performers [Fifi Latio], he performs as a guy sometimes, he performs as a girl sometimes.”
Ms. Darling has a decade’s experience as a performer and a technician in Orlando’s vibrant theater scene. “And prior to that, I was a childhood figure skater…I’m a good mover. I don’t know that I would consider myself a trained dancer,” she says with self-deprecation.
“The guiding philosophy of Skill Focus is ‘Do shows, have fun’, that’s pretty much our mantra. We have Rule #1, which is ‘Put glitter on it’. And also Rule #1 is, ‘Be nice’.”
These days, SF:B gets their glittery nice on at The Venue, at 511 Virginia Avenue, Orlando, a performance space and hall for rent that hosts a number of local artists, and SF:B isn’t the only burlesque group there. Darling says that The Venue is on its way to becoming “the Orlando House de Burlesque”.
On July 19th, The Venue will host, “Skill Focus: Burlesque Presents A Computer Crash Course”. Ms. Darling says, “It will be all things delightfully PC. We’ve got internet memes, we’ve got old school PC games…” She promises that there will be an Oregon Trail number, but she didn’t say how much dysentery would be on stage.
Ms. Darling is nerded up from the ground up, one and a half geek chicks all by herself. “I love being both a girl and a geek. These are both things that are very fun to me.”
She’s a tabletop roleplaying fan, board game enthusiast, and traveler to GenCon who was raised in an experiment designed to produce the superlative nerd. She says, “I started playing D&D when I was four, with my dad.” Her family would play Hero Quest together after dinner. “I come from nerd stock.” She started on D&D 3.5, and moved on to Pathfinder, among a “wealth of other, like really awesome independent tabletop roleplaying games”; she cites Apocalypse World, by D. Vincent Baker, as a special favorite.
Discussing wrong turns in her personal life, she says, “Sometimes you roll a one on a Sense Motive check. Because I’m a bard, and Wisdom is my dump stat.”
She’s also an advanced cosplayer, something else that began in the nerd lab of her childhood. When she was a little girl and they asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, she answered Indiana Jones, and drew them a concept sketch of herself with a hat and a whip. Grown up now, she still loves playing dress-up, and using her craftsmanship skills to puzzle together new costumes and take them public at conventions. “It’s kind of like getting to wear a big sign that says, ‘Hey, I really love this thing’”, she says, which attracts other people with the same passion, and so new friends are made. “For me, personally, I just always really, really liked playing dress-up. I mean I think that’s one of the reasons why I do burlesque and why I was so drawn to it.”
Another way you can get more of Ms. Darling on stage is through her involvement in Live Lewd Girls, a monthly spoken word event at the Peacock Room at 1321 N. Mills Avenue, Orlando. Local porn stars, burlesques performers, roller derby girls and other night creatures mount the stage to coo erotica into a microphone.
Summarizing her opinions about sexuality in our culture, she says, “Be nice, and don’t play fast and loose with other people’s feelings, and other than that, just do what makes you happy. And don’t be a dick.”
She responds to anti-sex criticism with the following: “There have been some women who are really upset that I bring this sexuality to the fandom, and they feel like that kind of contributes to the sexism, but the whole point of feminism is that you should be able to do what you want…and if that entails getting up on stage dressed like a superhero taking your clothes off, then that should be totally cool.”
If you want to be cool with Ruby Darling taking her clothes off under hot lights, you should buy a ticket to the next Skill Focus: Burlesque presentation.