Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

"Do something": An interview with Dina Martina

Share this Post:
Photo by David Belisle
Photo by David Belisle

For years the enigmatic, surreal, and chaotic Dina Martina has graced Seattle's stages during the holiday season to the delight and bewilderment of theatergoers. Her annual Christmas show, a whirlwind of wordplay, pageantry, song, and yuletide pandemonium, has become a world-renowned phenomenon.

Photo by David Belisle  

Martina agreed to a quick Q&A with the Seattle Gay News for our 2021 Holiday Special Issue.

Editor's note: This interview is presented in its truest form, showcasing Ms. Martina's inimitable style. Any errors you may perceive are either intentional or caused by motion sickness.

SGN: Dina, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I understand you're very busy with your Christmas show coming up.

Dina Martina: Well I'm certainly pleasured, Gay!

SGN: You've been on the scene in Seattle for a long time. If I'm not mistaken, you started performing at Re-bar in the '80s. Would you mind talking a little about that? What was it like?

DM: I did make my Seattle debut in January 1989, but that was at CoCA [Seattle's Center on Contemporary Art], one year before Re-bar even opened. The show was called Pearls before Swine, and it was the brainchild of Steve Wells, who would later be one of the two original owners of Re-bar.

Pearls before Swine was a cabaret every Saturday in January, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and it featured a rotating lineup of performers doing everything from traditional cabaret singing and dancing, to reverse striptease, to legs being shaved, to voodoo dancing and tribal music, to vacuuming the stage to Birgit Nilsson arias.

At that time, CoCA was located on First Avenue, near where the Harbor Steps are today, and Steve wanted to bridge the gap between the voyeuristic atmosphere of next-door neighbor The Lusty Lady and the high-falutin', "artsy" atmosphere of the newly built Seattle Art Museum, located directly across the street. To accomplish this, Steve built a wall between the stage and the audience; next, he painted the wall to look like a white picket fence, then bored several peepholes into the wall, through which the audience would view the show.

People would line up behind the peepholes and wait their turn to see the show for a while — either until they'd seen enough, or until it was time to give the other people in line a turn to watch. The only thing we could see from the stage was a blank wall with all these eyes peering at us through the holes. At times, it was packed on the audience side of the wall, and sometimes there was absolutely no one, but we kept performing either way. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen, before or since.

SGN: How have things changed since then? Would you have done anything differently?

DM: Since then, I've learned the value of brevity and.

In the first several years, there was more dead air in my shows than you could shake a stick at, but I've worked really hard to try to squeegee that out. You know, "separate the wheat from the chafe."

Photo by David Belisle  

SGN: Do you have any advice for young performers trying to break into the limelight in Seattle?

DM: Yes. Do something.

SGN: Could you elaborate on that?

DM: Having a great look isn't enough. I mean it's lovely to see — for a couple of minutes — but if you're going to charge admission to strangers and try to hold their attention for an hour or so, you'd better have more than just a "look." Sing! Dance! Tell stories! Make 'em laugh or cry or feel awkward! Bake, for Christ's sake — I don't care what you do, but please don't think it's okay to charge strangers to just sit and bask in your "look" for 60 minutes while you just... talk about stuff.

SGN: Let's talk about your Christmas show. How'd that get started?

DM: My first Christmas show was at Re-bar in 1997, though I had done non-holiday solo shows before then. It was successful, but I didn't do one in 1998, just because I thought people expected it, and I don't like being predictable. But of course, the holiday season is my favorite time of the year, and when Christmas '98 rolled around, I really wished I had done a show, so I've done one pretty much every year since. Doing a Christmas show has become the way I celebrate, and it means the world to me that people have made a tradition out of it.

SGN: Is it true that you're not doing in-person performances this year? Does that change a lot of things for you?

DM: No, that's a big fat lie. I'm doing a Christmas show here in Seattle at the Moore Theatre, December 10th and 11th, and then I'm bringing my Christmas show to London's Soho Theatre, 14—30 December. Notice how I put the dates before the month for the London show? They do that there. Oh, and I'm also re-streaming my online Christmas show from last year, because lots of peeps said they missed it or they just wanted to see it again.

SGN: I've seen your show a few times. Always a delight, and it's clear you really love the holidays. Now, I'm not really a "Christmas person." Do you have any pointers for grinches like me to get into the holiday spirit?

DM: Yes I do. Eat a big bowl of Lipton California onion dip and snort some fat nutmeg rails. It's sure to get you in the mood. Or, just... a mood.

SGN: I'll do my best. Well, Dina, that about wraps it up for us. Thank you again for joining me today. Any final words you have for readers at home?

DM: Yes, I'd like to leave your readers with one of my grandmother's favorite sayings: "Funerals are for the living, and marriage is for the dead." I'm pretty sure she just meant dead inside. Merry Christmas!

Information on Dina Martina's upcoming shows and where to buy tickets can be found at https://dinamartina.com/calendar/. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter @dinamartina https://twitter.com/dinamartina.