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Dame Peaches Von Killingsworth Oral History Interview, August 25, 2021

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LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is August 25, 202. My name is Laurie Kurutz, pronouns she/hers. Would you please introduce yourself, tell us your pronouns, if you care to, and tell us all the things you do?

DAME PEACHES VON KILLINGSWORTH: Hi there. My name is Betty Jaeger. My stage name is Dame Peaches Von Killingsworth. My pronouns are she/hers and I am a Burlesque performer, producer of my own small little troupe, and a vocalist for various musical projects in Oregon.

LK: What is Burlesque?

DPVK: I suppose that is sort of a subjective question. But Burlesque, by my 00:01:00definition, would be a performance art that is built around human sexuality and absurdism and humor and the avant-garde. But overall the art of tease also. So we're using the art of tease to tell our story as performers.

LK: How to you describe the kind of Burlesque you do?

DPVK: The kind of Burlesque that I do generally is rather avant-garde. I don't consider myself a classic performer although my style has sort of evolved and changed over the years accordingly. Just as I gain more experience and learn more about the art form.

LK: Explain what classic Burlesque is?

DPVK: I suppose the way that I would explain it is... as a specific set of 00:02:00movements and costume styles that have more to do with tradition and then as opposed to what I do. Usually I don't use traditional costuming as much as I use costuming for a general art piece. When I see classic performers or neo-classic performers, it's very, very different from what I do. It's very... a formula to it almost. Where that's not really how I choreograph my pieces specifically.

LK: What would be examples of traditional costume pieces?

DPVK: I suppose the corset and rhinestoning and and cage panties and gloves. You 00:03:00know, the long gloves and I mean... I think lots of Burlesque performers base their ideas off of the classic image, but kind of make it their own identity, through their own experiences and their own creative process.

LK: What kind of avant-garde costuming do you do?

DPVK: I am not very educated in sewing. I can crudely sew. So what I tend to do with costuming is find a base that I find to be rather unique or can be used as 00:04:00a Burlesque piece. There's a few components that make that what I would consider usable. And the major one is it has to, you have to be able to get it off! So I'll usually purchase a piece and then build off of it, whether that be with rhinestoning, or sewing something on it, or creating a prop that goes with it. But I am not a fashion designer. I tend to use a lot of very dark colors. My acts are on the darker side, so they're a little bit different than a lot of people's.

LK: Why do you do Burlesque? Of all the different creative art forms, what does it give you?

DPVK: I was trained in dance for the majority of my childhood. I was classically 00:05:00trained in Russian ballet from about age 3 to about 17. Then I quit to predominantly focus on music, which was kind of just my entire career after that. I remember the feeling of being on stage and always really, really missing that and wanting that in a performance art aspect. Burlesque gave me that opportunity without the rigidity of classic ballet. Another opportunity to also convey my background in visual art. So I consider music my first love of my life and Burlesque my second, and I never really want to live without one or the other.

LK: Where were you born and where did you grow up?


DPVK: In Kalispell, Montana. I grew up a little outside Kalispell, in a town called Bigfork. It's right on the Flathead Lake. My mother lives in Kalispell in town and then my dad lived out in the country on the lake. Gorgeous place to grow up! Unfortunately, it's also very conservative and not as progressive as Oregon, so I do love where I live now for that reason.

LK: What brought you to Oregon?

DPVK: My ex husband brought me to Oregon. Him and I were in a music duo together and he had a son who lived here, so he wanted to be closer. We also wanted to continue pursuing our music in a larger city. I didn't really want to live in 00:07:00Portland so we ended up in Eugene. I've been here for 10 or 11 years now and I love it.

LK: You already mentioned Russian ballet, but you said you're a music performer too. So what did you do in your formative years with those aspects of performance?

DPVK: I started as a singer songwriter with just a focus on guitar. And then when I met my ex-husband, he played banjo and mandolin, and was kind of a multi-instrumentalist. We had quite a bit of success performing in Montana. We moved to Oregon to pursue it here and then started a band here called Betty and The Boy. We toured internationally and all over the country really, and then 00:08:00broke up. At the time I was kind of dabbling in... also doing vocals for electronic music projects. So that was kind of the beginning of when I shifted gears from being predominantly a folk singer to a more versatile vocalist. Then I continued doing folk music for a bit like on the side. Once Betty and The Boy was laid to rest, I continued with some of my band mates as Baroque Betty. We produced an album that we released last year and now we're on an indefinite hiatus.

LK: Because of the pandemic?

DPVK: Because of the pandemic, and also just growing separate ways creatively for the most part. Yeah, my band-mates were quite a bit older than me and are 00:09:00generally settling down in life. And I'm still in the realm of pursuing music professionally, so I'm moving and a-groovin' still. Still in my 30s, still ready to take it up full force.

LK: You mentioned traveling internationally to perform?

DPVK: What was the question?

LK: Where did you travel internationally to perform?

DPVK: Oh sure. Yeah, so Betty and The Boy did a tour in the UK. I think in 2015. I honestly don't remember a lot about that. I was in the midst of my divorce. And then we did a performance on a cruise to the Bahamas once; it was a bluegrass cruise. We were competing in a band contest. It was all very wild, but 00:10:00yes, some good, fun memories with that project.

LK: What formal training or education, college or other, do you have, if any?

DPVK: I don't have any formal training in music or dance necessarily. I do have a degree that I got from the University of Oregon in Humanities, which is very, very broad. But my focus was gender studies, so that's where my education is kind of around.

LK: Did you have any workshops or training in the realm of Burlesque? Ever go to BurlyCon, or join a troupe and take classes that way?


DPVK: Nope.

LK: It's all you.

DPVK: Yep, I walked into an audition and... believe it or not! yeah.

LK: When, and in what year, and how did you get started in Burlesque?

DPVK: I believe it was 2016 and as the story goes: I had just left my ex-husband. He was a very abusive individual. I don't remember a lot of how I got from point A to point B. I was homeless for about a year and a half. I had basically one costume in my car. A friend was performing with this Burlesque troupe here in town. I just happened to ask "how did you get involved in that and how could I potentially get involved in that?" She said to email this email 00:12:00and eventually I had a scheduled audition. I walked into the audition, did it, apparently the troupe thought I looked too polished, so I had to do a series of different auditions. One of them was in front of a live audience. And then I was accepted into the troupe after those performances. Really I had no background or knowledge of how or what to do. I always knew I wanted to but I just wasn't allowed to, in the relationship that I was in. And I am so grateful that I did, because it became a huge chosen family that I love and adore.

LK: Your stage name is Dame Peaches Von Killingsworth. How did you pick that name?


DPVK: I didn't pick it! The night of my audition, I didn't have a name even, and I go by Betty. I was like "can't I just use Betty?" And they said "no! You can't just use Betty." So the host that evening, whose name was Bayou Betty, put some slips of paper in a hat and passed it to the audience. She told them to "write some names on the slips and at the end we're gonna pull them out and pick her name!" And it ended up being Dame Peaches Von Killingsworth and that's been my name forever. I've kept it. It means a lot to me. I've considered changing it, but then I just can't, because after that I was Peach or Peaches and then it's kind of just became my identity.

LK: How did you develop your performance career, Burlesque performance career? 00:14:00Did you stick with that troupe? How did you develop that aspect?

DPVK: Something unique about that troupe was that it was a weekly production, so we had a show every Sunday. I performed basically every Sunday for four years. I can't believe it... I don't know how I did it, but I very, very quickly established an identity that way. I learned very, very quickly what works and what doesn't, and about the odds and ends of production. I just fell in love with it and that was the Broadway Revue. That's where I can pay all my homage to.


LK: Aren't they one of the longest running Burlesque shows in Eugene?

DPVK: I can't remember if it's fifteen years now or something? Originally [they were] at John Henry's and now our home is Lucky's.

LK: Outside of performing Burlesque, what do you do to support that art? A day job...?

DPVK: I used to have a day job, pre-Covid. That was what I preferred to do for many years. Now, after learning how to live without a job, and learning that it is possible to live off of art to some degree. It's been difficult to gauge with the pandemic ruining everybody's plans but I've kind of decided to do it 00:16:00full-time. But before the pandemic I worked in a little office. I was an advocate for the OMMP program, which is the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. I did that part-time and then was off on the weekends performing. They were very flexible with my performance schedule, but unfortunately they went out of business when the pandemic hit, so there's that.

LK: Yeah, there's that. So before March 2020, when the pandemic shut down Oregon, what was the [Burlesque] community like in the Eugene-Corvallis area?

DPVK: You know I don't know much about the Corvallis area, but I do know that Eugene was thriving with Burlesque. You could basically go to a show any given 00:17:00weekend between the Broadway Revue, Unveiled Queer Burlesque, Scrumptious Scoundrals, there is usually a regular at least monthly show at Sam Bond's. We had a pretty wide community of people to contribute to all those shows, between all of us. And then during the pandemic a lot of people had to move away. A lot of productions just kind of crumbled. Venues crumbled, so now it looks a little bit different. It's a little bit more constricted between performers that are still wanting to do this... Something I've noticed through the pandemic is many people realized that they don't want to do the hustle anymore of doing shows, and rehearsals, and things like that. They're moving on to different things. But 00:18:00there's still something, we're still kind of trying to revive what we had.

LK: Earlier you mentioned you were a producer. Is that the Wax Poetry?

DPVK: Yeah, the Wax Poetry Review.

LK: How did that come about? Tell us about that.

DPVK: While I was with the Broadway Revue, it seemed to me that there was kind of a slight division in the way that people stylistically performed. And I developed some really tight-knit relationships with people who were on the more avant-garde side of Burlesque performances. We decided with the Wax Poetry 00:19:00Revue, originally what I really wanted was for it to be a multi-media troupe of people, to put on shows with them with greater intent for themes and stories and things like that. But that was a little bit...those shoes were a little bit big for me to fill at that time. I am still really learning the ins and outs of producing, which is actually incredibly difficult. So I've kept it pretty secluded to Burlesque for now, just to keep learning and figuring out how production works. Part of that is basically to keep people safe, and paid, and respected. So the Wax Poetry Revue, at this point, is predominantly Burlesque for now. Hopefully in the future, we can branch out and include different forms of art into our productions, but it's Burlesque for now.


LK: Speaking of the pandemic, and you mentioned earlier that you did a show a week for four years. How has the pandemic affected your creativity or your ability to create?

DPVK: The pandemic, in a way, really put me back into a feeling of survival mode. I don't feel particularly creative when I am trying to survive. It's like a switch goes off to focus on taking care of myself. There are moments within the pandemic that things started to feel better or feel worse. And the time is it stress was sort of relieving and I would get like a show here or a show 00:21:00there. So there's a little thing to look forward to. I would have these bursts of creativity to do costuming or some choreography. But in general, I was very uninspired by this whole situation. I think one of the things that I really try to force myself to do, when I'm not feeling creative through this, is trying to do rhinestoning. It's actually very meditative for my brain to do tedious hand tasks, so I have been making things very sparkly these days. But overall this has just been a very challenging experience to stay creative. It's been tough.

LK: We had a little bit of a break [from covid] when the masks came off and we had about five or six weeks of coming out of this [pandemic.] I'm talking about 00:22:00mid May to June 2021. Then the Delta Variant reared its head and started sweeping through. Had you been performing somewhat, here in the summer of 2021?

DPVK: Yes I perform with a group called High Step Society as their vocalist. Starting about May-ish, we started traveling out of state to do some performances. All of July we were out touring. We did a national tour for the whole month and some change. And then basically at the minute we arrived in Oregon, things started hitting the fan again. This month [August] has been really challenging, watching all of our work disappear again. But we got a couple months there, that we had a job and hopefully things will pick up again. 00:23:00I'm concerned, but still keeping some optimism as we don't get shut down. But yeah it's very, it's very up and down right now.

LK: Shifting to more social justice issues. On the topic of cultural appropriation, what are your considerations when putting together a routine? What's the conversation in the Burlesque Troupe where you perform the most about cultural appropriation?

DPVK: You know the way that I feel... I think I'm a person who is pretty good at thinking critically. If there's something that feels like it's not appropriate, I usually stay very far away from it. Even with music selections and in 00:24:00particular with costuming, if there's any kind of culture that I'm trying to convey that I am not from or that I don't know much about... it just doesn't seem right or appropriate or cool. I guess that's how I gauge it personally.

LK: And then diversity in Burlesque... in your region of Oregon, in Eugene. How do you, as a producer, introduce diversity into Burlesque?

DPVK: It's a difficult thing in this region specifically. We are a very, very white part of the country. I feel like trying to produce shows, it's a constant 00:25:00learning process of how to be more inclusive and how to be more diverse. I guess one of my big rules for myself when trying to cast roles is to prioritize People of Color and Queer people, Queer-identifying people. Then kind of like over arching over that is my particular style with booking performers is to not consider experience as the criteria. To enter them and what I find to be the most important, is that they are creatively-driven people. I could potentially give them a place to flourish and grow into one of our community members. So I 00:26:00don't fear bringing very new people into our group and try not to...that's kind of my personal philosophy

LK: Other people I've interviewed talk about how Burlesque can be a force for social change. What's your take on that?

DPVK: I think that's very true. I know that just from participating in Burlesque for as long as I have, it is a very safe, welcoming community. I've been able to find a family where I normally wasn't always able to. People look out for each other. I think that is progressive and especially in such a... vulnerable... we're all being very, very vulnerable with each other. We're also all looking 00:27:00out for each other and each other's vulnerability. So yeah I believe it is a force of social change. It's also a force of social change in the way that we're promoting and supporting outward acts, like our own sexuality, and not feeling ashamed about it. Making other people who view it not feel ashamed about it because they see us doing it, which is one of my favorite parts about it.

LK: You've already touched on some of the challenges facing Burlesque today, Covid pandemic. Anything else about...? Some people have mentioned constriction in social media. What challenges do you see facing Burlesque?

DPVK: Well, one of the challenges obviously right now, is it is such a live art that we really need audiences in front of us. Like I know many troupes have been 00:28:00able to do virtual shows, but that is just really not the soul of this art form. Not having that [live audience] has flatlined some of our communities. But there are a few other issues that I've noticed. One of them is being, at least in Eugene, being able to maintain standards of fair pay and compensation. In recent days, I've met with a couple different producers here in town to talk about how we hold the standards between each production. As a kind of a baseline, so that we don't end up undercutting each other and people don't get paid. Or it's a 00:29:00process, and I hope it's a process, that we can look further into the post pandemic just kind of as a fresh start.

LK: Then final question: what do you wish the general public would understand about Burlesque?

DPVK: That's an interesting question. I personally...Burlesque as an art form... for me, once I started doing it, I made this agreement to myself that I wasn't going to worry myself with what other people perceived. Because people can really only perceive a certain thing from their own level of perception. I guess if I could say I wanted something, even though I don't really care what people 00:30:00think, but I do it because it's so important to me, is to know that it is an expression of myself that you would never, ever see just by sitting in front of me and talking to me or seeing me sing and play music. It's a very, very unique format of who I am. I think it goes to say the same thing for many other Burlesque dancers and performers. That it's truly a very well thought out artform. It's not just people getting on stage to get attention, get naked for no reason. It's a very deep form of expression for many people.

LK: Betty, thank you so very much for this.

DPVK: Yeah, you're welcome.