When Amy Warnke was growing up in New York, going to Broadway shows, taking modern dance in high school and obsessed with Gypsy Rose Lee, she never imagined that it would all add up to founding her own touring burlesque and sideshow troupe.
“I went to NYU for theatrical design,” says Warnke, who goes by Go-Go Amy professionally. “For extra cash, I got a job as a cigarette girl and then from that I got a job go-go dancing, which is where I got the name. I used to see a lot of Broadway shows, and a lot of them are about old-timey vaudeville. I wanted to do vaudeville and didn’t realize it had been dead for 100 years. When I realized it wasn’t around, I just thought I’d make my own.”
“It’s a combination between my daytime life, which was proper theater, with my nighttime life, being in night clubs in my underpants,” says the one-time Broadway costume designer.
In 2009, after stints touring on Ozzfest and Warped Tour with the Brothers Grim Side Show, Go-Go Amy wanted to create a show to tour smaller, more-intimate venues. The owner of the Grim show didn’t want to tackle a club tour, but suggested she do it herself. Since then, she and her small troupe – which always includes emcee Mr. Donny V. and two featured performers – have performed more than 700 shows.
The Pretty Things Peep Show returns to Chop Shop Wednesday with burlesque performer Frankie Sin (of TNT’s recently canceled “Mob City”) and Vegas sword swallower Brianna Belladonna, who are both new to the show.
Go-Go Amy didn’t anticipate how popular the show would be.
“I bought a little SUV. I thought, ‘I’m going to put everybody in this little car and do a week here and a week there,’ ” she recalls. “During the first tour, I was already on year six of my business plan. We couldn’t take the car out. We had to take a bus because of the venues we were getting. People actually liked it. I thought we were going to do a week in California, and we did a whole national tour.”
Go-Go Amy isn’t just a performer. She handles the business side, including press and publicity, runs sound, sews costumes, and designs and builds sets. The stage she’s designed enables Pretty Things to morph from a venue as small as The Milestone Club, where they first performed in Charlotte, to large theaters. She prides herself on the team’s adaptability.
“When we started, clubs would ask ‘What are your requirements?’ ” she recalls. Her response: “If you send us a check, we’ll make it work.”
“I built a stage out of expandable pipe and drape and a lot of soft goods. In the same week, we’ve played a dive-y metal bar and an opera house. I have a big enough set and we have enough pieces we can do it in a smaller venue or we can do it in an opera house or the Neighborhood Theater or Chop Shop. A lot of people would be divas and say, ‘Oh I could only play a giant theater.’ That’s not how I work. I want to work every night.”
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