Meet the performer who collects new skills like stamps and fought for a creative life.
Aerial Burlesque. Roller Skating. Greyhound Buses.
From left to right:
-Photo by Mike Williams
-Photo by Bethany Summersizzle
-Photo by Rod Nunley
-Photo by Dallas Pinups / Hair and Makeup by LaDonna Stein
supposed to be her big break had spiraled into nothing but a mess of pervy producers and a wasted Greyhound ticket from Killeen, Texas. All of the pain she could see in her young reflection mattered to her in a way she couldn’t quite explain. So, she snapped a picture, if nothing else because she wanted to learn from this stranded week in a strange city to know the difference between a scam and an opportunity. But more than that, she photographed the moment because she knew this horrible week didn’t change anything. She was going to make a life for herself. Ten years later, I snap a picture of the same girl in front of a coffee shop in downtown Austin. But she’s not that confused teen anymore. She’s confident, a performer on a completely different path than the one she
had set for herself all of those years ago. The rest of Bethany’s “making of” story has more bumps.
Another Greyhound trip to Glendale, Arizona to visit an online friend who was a “model” in the time of MySpace – a model whose mother was convinced that the petite teen was a literal demon sent to corrupt her daughter. Weekends of bus trips to Austin on the weekends for whatever gigs came up on Craig’s list and couchsurfing from one place to another. Walking in on a bloody crime scene at one of the apartments she was crashing in at the time. Sitting across from this small, pixie-like woman, my jaw can’t help but drop open when she tells me all of the battles she’s had in the process of being a performer. She radiates strength and a no-bullshit attitude that can only be learned from letting naivete steer the ship for too long.
I think about how much easier it would have been to walk away from all of this. Bethany’s parents are pretty well-off people in Killeen. A normal life wouldn’t have been too hard to go back to, she had a boring, but
steady job as a hostess at Egg Town. It would have been easier to give up on her dreams – I imagine she was probably told to often enough. But instead, between a job at Jamba Juice and a few modeling gigs, Bethany found a circus school. A circus school where she met a friend that would open an aerial school. Aerial
classes that would turn into burlesque troupe performances. And then, a friend had to give a gig to Bethany and as usually happens, circumstance gave birth to something new.
“She said, why don’t you do aerial burlesque. And I said ‘aerial burlesque?’ What even is that.. So I just showed up in something like yoga shorts and a sports bra and jazz shoes and leg warmers and just did the show in an aerial hoop. When I saw all the other performers in these sparkly outfits I felt really out of place. It was kind of a disaster.”
But the disaster turned into more bookings for her accidentally created aerial burlesque skills, and Bethany Summersizzle stepped into a new realm of performing. Listening to her talk, I can’t help but smile with the casual way she talks about adding skills to her sets just because she can. After a rough breakup, a drunken night at a roller rink led to her entire body being covered in bruises and a new hobby she now adds into her shows. Because most
venues don’t have the space for an aerial rig, she taught herself contortion for a ground skill. She still doesn’t drive – leading to missed planes and buses and getting stranded at out of town gigs more than once. But she always goes.
She always pushes herself. More than once she’s had to completely change her set because the convention or booking didn’t have the setup for her aerial hoops or her roller skates. As is typical in any type of entertainment environment, there are supportive performers and toxic environments. But as I watch her shrug her
shoulders and give a small smile after describing a particularly stressful conference setup, the word that comes to mind is resilience.
Because an easy life doing something you don’t want to do doesn’t require grit. Following the little voice inside that says, “No matter what happens, this is right” takes everything. Although Bethany works a full time job at Hilton, her life isn’t what you would call “normal.” I think the steampunk costumes and the mid-air backbends are enough to prove that statement. But just like any invalid life, her life as a performer comes from a place deeply rooted outside of mainstream opinions on what constitutes a successful life.
We talk about whether or not to be a “real person” on Instagram when you’re trying to promote your creative self. We talk about the importance of hobbies. We talk about fan websites and how easy it is to get caught up in a fantasy instead of reality. We talk about some MySpace dating horror stories and all of the other things that happen when Bethany’s not on stage. As we sit, I think to myself how many times Bethany could have given up
but didn’t. She smiles gently as she finishes the story, “Everyone at some point in their life has felt like it was falling apart, but I’m still here.”