Firedancer: Our Interview With Tonya Kay

When I first heard about Atom's Video Game Reunion, I was pretty stoked. A live action web series about a 25-year reunion of video game stars that have gone to pot? Sign me up!

I tracked down Tonya Kay, who plays Princess Peach in the series. She was nice enough to talk about Video Game Reunion, Glee, Kenny Rogers, burlesque, and elephants. Below is a transcript of the interview.

How are you doing today?
I'm good. How are you?

I'm great. I've watched the first three episodes of Video Game Reunion. I thought they were hilarious.

I think it's a great mix of humor, references to video games, the '80s, and the '90s. What attracted you to the role?
What attracted me to the role is that Princess Peach is just so fricking nasty. I really wanted to play Princess Peach because I felt like I empathized with her. She doesn't have a lot of friends. It's just because she's so authentic. She's so genuine and so self-expressed and I relate to a lot of that, so I thought I could bring a little bit of heart to what would otherwise be a flat, two-dimensional, just nasty character. Instead, I would like to think she's kind of a real human being. Almost lovable, in her own way.

I think so. I think you're doing a great job with her.
Thank you.

What have people been saying about the show?
People have been saying that it's funny, that it's really well done. They can't believe that it's a web series. It looks way better than most web series.

I agree.
Me too. We had probably more funding than the usual web series.

Overall, people have just loved it and they want to see more. I'm excited that there's thirteen episodes and only three are live right now, so there's plenty more coming. My role keeps getting bigger and nastier.

Did you play video games growing up?
Yeah, I played Frogger and those fun Nintendo games. Or Atari games. I had a Commodore 64 back in the day so I played text adventure games. And Space Invaders. And really early gaming.

You filmed the episodes at the Rumor Hotel and Artisan Hotel in Vegas, right? How did that work? How did you get to film in Vegas? I didn't think they ever shut down.
The Rumor Hotel was brand new and perfectly pristine and hadn't even had their grand opening so they didn't have to shut down much clientele because they hadn't advertised yet. They weren't officially open so we kind of got into this really neat situation where the hotel was our domain. It was kind of like summer camp, honestly. We all stayed together. We woke up, we didn't have to go off campus. We just walked down the hallway to get our hair and makeup done and then walked two more doors down and that's where everyone's filming, so that encouraged this really kiddish hangout slumber party vibe. And at the same time, artistically it encouraged us to watch everybody else work. Everybody was always on set laughing when a fellow actor was improvising.

I think you mentioned this just a second ago, but I noticed some of the bloopers at the end of the episodes, like the one where they showed all the unaired insults Luigi threw at you. Was a bunch of this improvised?
Yeah. Luigi and actually went back and forth several times. I noticed in the episode that they cut out all my insults and just had Luigi's and at first my ego was insulted. I was like, "Wait a second! I had a bunch of smacks in there!" I'm glad that in the bloopers they showed a few of my slaps back at him.

You've been on a few episodes of Glee as well. What was that like?
Glee was really great. I think Glee is one of the best cases of television programming out there right now. I have roots in musical theater and I know how hard it is to put together a dance number and TV is fast and furious, there's a new episode every week. I'm looking at Glee and I'm seeing six new dance numbers every week. Yeah, they auto-tune all the vocalists out of control, but I feel that's just how you've got to do it to get it done in a week.

It's really impressive. Being on Glee was fun because it's such a big production. You've got these episodics that are hiring twelve actors per episode, period. But on Glee, they hired over twenty people just for that particular production number I was in. In the Madonna episode, that was only one of nine production numbers.

It's always fun to hear people's response. "Oh, I saw you on Glee and it was really neat. You did your fire whip and the stilts." Everybody remembers the things I do.

Your bio also says that you were a rapper on Kenny Rogers' Christmas Tour.
Oh my gosh! You pulled that out!

Is there much work for that? How much rapping do you do on a Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour?
This was back in my young days of performing. It was awhile ago. I was happy to get to do the cool part with Kenny Rogers because so often when you're going out on tour with Kenny Rogers, you're going to be a backup singer or a backup dancer. But instead, he wrote a partial-length Christmas show in his concert. We got to come out and tell a story. And the rapper was the coolest part of the story in an otherwise country musical theater-style concert. I got to do the hip-hop dancing and the funky stuff.

Keny Rogers is an amazing human being. He was one of my favorite people of all time to have worked with. He was so kind. He was a real person. He invited us to his ranch for Thanksgiving.

You've also toured with Rugrats and Stomp!, appeared on episodes of House, Criminal Minds, and Numb3rs, been seen in Rob Zombie and Trace Adkins music videos, and been in numerous movies. What's been your favorite role?
Princess Peach in Video Game Reunion is a big favorite of mine for all the reasons we discussed earlier. I also really enjoyed playing I Rock in the film Bold Native because I Rock is a lot like me, too. At the end of Bold Native, I didn't want to put I Rock away. It was kind of like saying goodbye to a really close friend.

The reason I related to I Rock like I did is because I Rock represents the chaotic force in the film Bold Native. I Rock is the method by which somebody finds themselves. It's not what they find, it's how they find it. So I Rock is just there to shake things up a bit, to keep you on your toes, to make you question, "Oh, everything I thought about myself all this time might not have been true after all. So now what am I left with?"

What's the strangest thing you've ever done on stage or screen?
There's been some strange roles. I do a lot of live burlesque in Los Angeles. I take it upon myself to create really strange burlesque roles. I like to stick with the classic theme of burlesque, meaning burlesque is a highly-trained, very sexy, fit, athletic professional dance woman. Could be a man, but woman up on stage telling a story, creating a character, and not taking herself too seriously. There's some humor to good burlesque as well.

I like to stick with that theme, but I also like to work in these skilled danger arts. That's my character. I look at it like geisha work. Some of my burlesque acts, while I'm disrobing or doing reveals, I'm also grinding sparks off of a metal bikini, a metal codpiece. The paradox is here's this feminine, sexy, sensual burlesque dancer doing the most dangerous, stupid, deadly thing she can do to herself and not taking it very seriously. I whip flowers out of people's mouths. I swallow animal balloons whole.

I also did a music video for Death Angel. That one was kind of strange because I was completely naked, airbrushed from head to toe, with prosthetics on my face to look like a snake. I was the Snake Lady. I writhed and I snake-danced around but the hardest part of that shoot was that it was in thirty degree weather and while the DP and the director and all the PAs were standing around, shivering in their long pants, boots, stocking caps, and winter coats, I was literally naked on a piece of glass.

Can you tell me about poi?
Poi is one of the fire tools I use when I spin fire or fire dance. I also use fire snakes, fire fingers, and the fire whip. You can see my fire dancing on this most recent episode of Glee. Poi, the tool, is basically juggling wick at the bottom of some chains. The handles will be different for everybody, but you swing it around in choreographed circles around your body. It's really beautiful. It's kind of addicting. If you're into it, you love the way it sounds. You end up being in this acoustic circular geometric shape of fire.

How often do you burn yourself?
I burn the hair off my arms every single time I spin.

How did you get involved with Thailand's Elephant Nature Park?
Thanks for asking! A viral video gets passed to me of an elephant painting a picture. I saw this elephant paint a self-portrait and I wept. I cried because I had no idea how coordinated and how intelligent and how artistic the elephant was. I had never seen a real elephant in real life. It only took me five months to go from that initial "Wow" factor to being in Thailand and volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park. I'm so glad that I did my research and ended up there because the Elephant Nature Park is pretty much the only endangered species conservation center in Thailand.

Ironically, what I learned when I got to the Elephant Nature Park was that the training these elephants have to go through to paint pictures, like the one that changed my life, is so violent and so abusive that only forty percent of the baby elephants put through the training even survive. I didn't know! I know there's a lot of people out there who love elephants and want to do good and they buy an elephant painting, not realizing that they're contributing to the extinction of this blessed species.

Is there anything else you're working on right now?
I just danced in the Electrolytes' music video, my grinding routine. I just did a weapons expert demonstration on Spike's Auction Hunters. That should come out next month. Doing some more danger arts, but this time in slow motion as a weapons expert. I just danced in the Muppets movie so I expect that we would see that in 2012.

Is that the one with the guy from How I Met Your Mother?
Jason Segel? Yeah, that's him. I am starring in a sci-fi horror film called Off World. For some reason, in every film that I get, if there's special effects, fights scenes, or stunts, I get the big stunt, the big action scenes. I was just in a film called Creep Van, it's a horror film and I get the big special effect of that show, too. In Video Game Reunion, I'm in the huge stunt/special effect that we have. Something about me just says badass.

I'm going to ask you our Culture Brats 3. Tiffany or Debbie Gibson?
Debbie Gibson.

Thriller or Purple Rain?

16 Candles or Pretty In Pink?
Ooh. Pretty In Pink.

Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us today.
Thank you!

New episodes of Video Game Reunion debut every Tuesday on Atom.

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