A few years ago, burlesque entertainer and drag king Allix Mortis was in the midst of the city grind. They were stretched thin, trying to make it work between two jobs and freelance gigs. Seeking an outlet, they found the burlesque community. Now, Mortis balances a more daytime vanilla work life with performing and coordinating shows by night.
So tell me about Allix?
Allix is my stage name. They’re kind of my alter ego or brand. It’s interesting because I do a lot of character work, and I guess when I originally started out I was like, “Well, I don’t know if I really want to have a stage name.” But I quickly found out that it became the kind of thing that I had to keep my real name out of it, because it became too much of a distraction for people. It’s not like I’m ashamed if someone finds out I’m Allix Mortis, but I want them to be focused on me and the work I’m doing.
When you got involved with burlesque, you were sort of behind the scenes and you were still like, “People can know that I’m involved with this.” Did things change when you started performing?
Yeah. I had some weird incidents. I had a woman come to a show and find out my real name and apply for a job at my company and try to blackmail me. She said, “If you don’t help me get this job, I’m telling everyone what you do.” And I was like, “Well, they already know, and they don’t really care.” So that was sort of a wake up call. And I had sort of a weird run-in with someone at a professional event where they were being kind of gross and—wink wink, nudge nudge. And it was like, you should be embarrassed of this. I’m not embarrassed, you should be embarrassed that you’re being so terrible and creepy.
Aside from being a video game designer, I used to also write a lot for progressive outlets, and I would tackle topics like misogyny in fandom and misogyny in the nerd community. And a lot of ire would get directed towards me. I had a guy go off the rails and contact my brother and rant at him. At the time, my brother was deployed in Afghanistan. So it was kind of like, “Okay, there are people out there who want to chase this stuff down the rabbit hole.”
When I’m in my space, I want to think about art. I want there to be a buffer away from my day job and away from the industry that I work in and some of the weirdness and complications that come with that. I just want it to be a separate place where it’s just something that’s mine that I own, outright. So that’s been a real motivation for keeping the stage name. I keep it very, very separate. At my current job, nobody knows, and I don’t think I’d ever bring it up.
Is it more conservative than your previous job?
Yeah. Like, I cover my tattoos at work. And everyone there is delightful and nice, but again, it’s the thing, I don’t want it to be a distraction … But there’s also something powerful and awesome about knowing that this part of my life is just mine. No one else can lay claim to it. It’s nice to have a secret sometimes. In my old day job, it’d be nice sometimes, like, I’d be sitting there in a long, drawn out, boring, terrible meeting going around in circles, and I’d be like—as soon as I’m done with this, I get to go play. I get to go scream and yell on stage or conduct a show full of amazing people.
And then there were parts too, where I had one project I was working on [for my day job]—we were working with an outside party that was very difficult to work with. Our office was contracted by a much larger, kind of monolithic entertainment entity, and it was massively difficult. It was like working with people stuck in the 1950s who wanted to make a progressive thing. And it was so hard coming out with all this creative output, and watching over and over again, things being stripped away or sanitized, or watching this great female character I’d been working on, watching them be like, “No, we don’t like women having roles like that,” and seeing all of her dialogue handed off to a male character. And it was a little bit soul crushing. But at the time, I was financing my first show and I was like, “The money I am making doing this, I can pay everybody for my first show. Even if nobody shows up. I can pay people to make art.”
In some ways, that goes against a more traditional understanding of your identity where you go to work and that is “you.” For you, you go to work, sometimes you like it, sometimes you don’t, and then after work you get back to “you.”
For the bulk of my professional career, I’ve been lucky enough to feel like, in some way both these parts are reconcilable. My identity is not, “Oh, I’m so and so and I’m a video game designer.” It’s, I’m me, and I’m a creative person. And I get to be creative at my day job—with a lot of constraints—and then I get to be creative and batshit crazy and a total weirdo on the outside. And the other nice thing about performing is, through performance, I’ve gotten to be every single thing I’ve wanted to be as a little kid. You know, like everything I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t even, as an adult, know that I’d fall into the career paths I’d fallen into. But with producing shows, I’ve gotten to be the Karate Kid! I’ve gotten to be a scientist, I’ve gotten to be a crazy housewife and mom of 12 men. I’ve gotten to be a robot.
With working and then, really, having another job, it must be exhausting. What keeps you going?
Intentional breaks. And it’s like, opportunities will always be there. And if they’re not, fuck it, you make them. You find a venue, you find some friends, you scrimp and save and put some money away, and off you go.