Orlando’s art community is supported by a number of live performance facilities, and among the latest additions is The Venue, located in the growing Ivanhoe Village district. The space was founded by local entertainer Blue Starr, 2000 Recording Arts graduate, and is the culmination of her nearly 15 years in the Central Florida creative arts scene.
A classically-trained ballerina, Blue remained in Orlando after graduation and slowly grew her reputation in the community as a DJ, emcee, dancer, and performance artist. This has included a close association with annual Fringe Festival, over five years running the Peek-a-Boo Lounge revue, and her signature art piece, VarieTease – the success of which allowed her to create a private space to practice and perform.
“There comes a point in time where you know you can do something, and just need to do it, so I started diligently looking for a place,” Blue says. “I always loved this building, I’d looked at it for 13 years, and one day I drove by and it had a for lease sign outside.”
Blue along with close friends and colleagues would spend the next five months renovating The Venue themselves. A group of dancers and artists hanging drywall, laying concrete, and digging sidewalks? It was an obvious labor of love, and a sign of the community’s belief in her work.
“We look back now and wonder how we ever did it,” she says. “Thankfully we were surrounded by people who wanted to help so much. When we had the soft opening I invited everyone and for three days we gave them a showcase for what we’re trying to do here. I think that moment, being surrounded by all those people, was better than anything. I was on my stage in front of people who had supported us.”
The staple of Blue’s own work at The Venue is VarieTease, a series she founded in 2003 combining elements of dance, music, lighting, and more into continually changing and provocative story lines. Shows typically run for three weeks, and have covered a range of narratives, with titles like Carnivale, Hammers and Lambs, and Nouvelle Luna.
“I’m on my 48th version of VarieTease, and no show is ever the same,” Blue explains. “The longevity is nice, but does it mean it’s successful to me? It can always be better. What I look for now is innovation, uniqueness, wow factor. I’m trying a lot more character development now, a lot more story, because I always want to be one step ahead of the audience.”
The Venue isn’t just about her own work, however, which is one of the philosophies the space was founded on. As a rental facility, it has held a range of events including corporate gatherings, wedding receptions, holiday parties, CD releases, and photo sessions. Blue is also a supporter of up and coming artists in the area, and hosts younger dancers and musicians trying to develop their own craft. For someone who has spent so many years growing and supporting Orlando’s arts scene, that may be Blue’s proudest achievement with the building.
“One of the coolest things about having your own space is that I get to see other artists do what they like to do, in my place,” she says. “There’s no pressure here, and that can be hard for emerging artists to find. We also have the opera coming in April, then the Fringe Festival in May. To be at the forefront of the arts culture growing is such a cool thing for me, so rewarding.”