From nine to five they answer phones, analyze, sell or litigate — but after hours they light up the stage, collecting applause the way a good accounts-receivable clerk nets due funds.
Bryan Campbell, aka
Growing up in the countryside outside Gainesville, young Bryan Campbell had to make his own fun.
“You imagine what the city kids are doing, so you try to emulate that, but you end up being crazier than they are,” he says. “When you’re little it’s great because you can just go outside and play, but as you get older, you just want to get out.”
So he arrived at the University of Houston in the early ’90s and realized quickly how country he really was. He tried to fit in, and when he did, he looked for ways to not fit in.
Since U of H didn’t have much of an art program or film classes at the time, he transferred to the University of North Texas.
“The space art scene, the Good/Bad Art Collective, which I ended up joining. It was a pretty good time to be there,” he says.
Denton is where his artistic energies found their outlet, and he eventually became the musician and artist known as George Quartz.
Quartz recently completed a residency at Centraltrak, where among other projects, he produced an overtly awkward Dick Cavett-style talk show called “After Hours with George Quartz.”
More recently, George Quartz has been making music with his band, which improvises all of its songs. Choreographer Danielle Georgiou adds dance to the performance.
Quartz also has several DJ residencies, including “Musk” at Ten Bells Tavern on Tuesday nights. He plays yacht rock, ’80s power ballads, action-movie theme songs and “that sort of over-produced music that’s in between pop and hard rock.”
He started working at the Texas Theatre a few years back as a bartender and quickly learned he is not cut out for service.
“He hated it,” says pal Susie Angeles, who is a fantastic bartender. “He’s sort of like a vaudevillian to me, but a dark and twisted one. He’s very engaging and can really draw in a crowd, but that’s a character.”
He hung in there until the Texas Theatre hired him for a day job. Now he books bands, builds print ads, makes graphics, updates the website and does some social media. He also sometimes DJs at the theater and suggests films.
He also has worked in an advertising agency, at American Apparel and at Starbucks.
Now he is focused on producing an album based on recordings from his live shows. He recently moved to a house on Hampton Road and set up his sculpture table, so we may be seeing some visual art from George Quartz, too.
When Malissa Calaway moved to Dallas from Little Rock at 19, she found her community in the burlesque scene here.
Back in Arkansas, Calaway had done some pin-up modeling, hiring portrait photographers to shoot her inside the untouched 1930s house she rented. But there was no burlesque scene in Little Rock.
“At the time, it was kind of scandalous,” she says of modeling. “I got a lot of heat for it, actually. But here in Dallas, it’s a huge scene.”
Here she met photographers who specialize in pin-up styling, and she attended shows put on by Ruby Revue and the Dallas Burlesque Festival, among others.
Burlesque performer Kris Waters asked Calaway to appear on stage with her because they are about the same size and have similar looks — blue eyes, dark hair, Bettie Page bangs.
Her role in that act kept growing until Calaway and Waters, who is known as the Black Sparrow, formed a new act, the Lauras.
“I got really lucky,” she says. “I don’t consider myself a great performer.”
Calaway, who is a bartender at the Belmont Hotel, says she doesn’t sing. She doesn’t have a dance background. She’s not crafty and doesn’t make costumes. What she has is personality, cuteness and a self-deprecating sense of humor.
“I give a lot of face,” she says. “Big movements. My niche is that I’m this sweet and innocent little girl, but clumsy and awkward … and who also takes her clothes off.”
Calaway’s partner recently moved out of state, so she is working up a new act. She also has reconnected with friends in Little Rock, where a burlesque scene now is beginning to blossom.
A friend in Little Rock started a club called Blood and Rhinestones, and Calaway is working to help them expand and perhaps form a troop of performers from Arkansas, Oklahoma and anyplace where there are burlesquers looking for an outlet.
“It’s refreshing to be somewhere where there really isn’t a scene,” she says. “I get to bring a little of this world into my old world.”
Calaway co-produces an occasional burlesque show, the Grind and the Punk Rock Prom. She also is part of the Black Sheep Revue.
“I’m really grateful just to be sharing a dressing room with some of these women,” she says. “There are some performers that I would’ve considered myself lucky just to meet, and now I consider them some of my closest friends. It’s been so much fun, and everyone’s been so sweet and open-minded.”
Trigger Mortis, aka
Corporate marketing professional/drag king
When filmmaker John Waters appeared at the Kessler Theater this past spring, he told the crowd that he predicted drag kings would be the next big thing.
Trigger Mortis was thrilled.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m early!’ ”
The 38-year-old, who works in the corporate office of a major retailer, dedicated seven years to roller derby. She was a star player and the marketing director for Assassination City Roller Derby.
About a year and a half ago, she organized a fundraiser for the derby’s traveling team, and a drag king troupe, Mustache Envy, provided the entertainment.
“I loved doing it so much that I was asked to come back and perform on a Tuesday night,” she says. “I had no idea what I was doing, and they said, ‘Don’t worry about it. It will come together.’”
Now Trigger (that’s her derby name) performs at Sue Ellen’s every Tuesday night as her drag persona, Buck Wylde.
She refers to mentors Stefani Mikyles and Jimmy D’Stone as her drag mom and dad, and she says they taught her everything she needed to know about makeup, hair, costumes and performing. Her boyfriend, Keith Kundak, is her “man-tor,” and helps her “square up,” perfect her facial expressions and other masculine gestures.
“I’ve studied a lot of Elvis,” she says, rattling off a list of things that inspire Buck Wylde: the 1985 movie “Just One of the Guys,” actor John Paragon, David Lee Roth, Ritchie Valens, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson and “anything Vegas.”
The Tuesday-night drag king performances at Sue Ellen’s (which are free, by the way) start at 10 p.m., and sometimes she drives straight from her day job to get ready at the venue. The transformation takes about two hours. Just the facial hair, which Trigger makes out of the clippings from her own haircuts, takes 30-45 minutes to apply.
Her corporate co-workers have no idea.
“I don’t let it affect my job, but I’m just really tired on Wednesday mornings,” she says.
Sometimes, if she doesn’t want to disassemble Buck’s full pompadour before bed, she rolls into work with the front half up and the back of her hair curled, a look that co-workers often compliment. Once, she got through most of the day before she noticed a big smudge of black makeup on her ear.
It’s not that she thinks her boss or co-workers would mind, but she likes keeping those worlds separate. After all, Buck doesn’t work in a corporate office — she does.
Buck Wylde recently took home the top prize in a pageant at Sue Ellen’s, and Trigger now co-hosts the Tuesday-night events. She’s working on a Mötley Crüe look for Buck for an upcoming ’80s night.
Since portraying Buck requires her to get in touch with her masculine side, Trigger says she is more likely to wear skirts and dresses when not in costume.
“I’m really a pretty girly girl,” she says. “I like pin curls and bright red lipstick. It’s all about balance.”
Not long ago, Opalina Salas’s life was like a country song, and not in a good way.
Her husband, Carlos, hurt himself and couldn’t work. They had to close their bookstore, Cliff Notes. They could no longer afford their Winnetka Heights rent and had to move into a one-bedroom apartment with their teenage daughter, Paloma. Then their cat, Mario, got run over by a car.
“We were having a hard time there for a while,” she says. “But we got through it.”
After two years in that tiny apartment, the Salas family now rents a three-bedroom house in Kings Highway. Opalina, 41, has a job as a teller at Bank of Texas, and Carlos is back at work for DART. They’re thankful for the work, but their jobs are not their passion.
Opalina and Carlos are poets, and they’re part of a community that keeps the performance poetry scene alive in Dallas.
The two met at a poetry reading in 1995. At the time, there were poetry events almost every night in Deep Ellum. When Paloma was born, Opalina took a couple of years off. But then Paul Sexton organized a weekly reading at Suenos Sabrosos, the bygone ice cream shop in Bishop Arts.
“That would be our big Saturday night,” she says, and that lasted for about 12 years.
After the Salases opened Cliff Notes in 2009, they started Poets on X+, a regular poetry night inside their shop or in the Mighty Fine Arts Gallery.
Now they are bringing Poets on X+ back thanks to Wordspace and Lucky Dog Books. Opalina has been hosting the summer series at Lucky Dog — the August installment is Saturday, Aug. 16, from 7-9 p.m. with Kymberly Miesha and Dionne Keaton. When the summer series ends, Opalina says, she wants to keep it going, even if she has to host it on her front porch.
The Salases also are a big part of Mad Swirl, a monthly performance poetry night at Absinthe Lounge. She gets excited when she talks about it and says she can’t wait for the next one.
“The poets who perform are so good,” she says. “There’s such a receptive crowd, and we push each other. You’ve got to bring your A-game to Mad Swirl.”
The commute from Oak Cliff to her job in Richardson by train and bus is what inspires Opalina’s work lately, she says. The movement of people, the rhythms and sights, the shared human experience of public transportation are what she writes about at night.
Even though it was heartbreaking to have to close their bookstore after less than three years in business, they’re still touched by the experience every day, she says. Through Cliff Notes, they met Jeff Liles of the Kessler Theater, a place they say feels like home to them.
“It wasn’t about selling books; it was about community,” she says. “It wasn’t financially profitable for us, but it was profitable in so many other ways. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without it. I wouldn’t be as happy or fulfilled as I am.”
She feels much the same way about having lived in the small apartment, because it made the family extremely close. Anything seems possible now. A big dining room and a front porch are luxurious.
Opalina has applied for a job as a banker with her company, which would pay more. And that’s good because the rent in Oak Cliff — home — keeps going up.
“I’m really happy with my job because I think it’s going to allow us to stay here,” she says.
At a house across the street from her porch on Edgefield, Opalina spies a kitten, playfully attempting to engage a mother cat by pouncing on her.
“Oh, I’m going to have to show Carlos that kitten,” she says. “He said we could get another kitten when we moved.”
Life is pretty good.