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Lesbians, Theatre, and TikTok with Aria Velz

Aria Velz is a director, TikToker, and Lesbian Media Enthusiast based in the D.C. area. On November 2nd, she sat down with me to talk about it all, from her latest production at Olney Theatre Center to the things that lead to her little corner on TikTok.

On October 29th, Olney Theatre Center wrapped its run of Prince Gomolvilas’ ‘The Brothers Paranormal.’ The disconcerting, borderline terrifying production was co-directed by Olney’s Senior Associate Artistic Director, Hallie Gordon, and Velz herself. The show was one of the spookiest times I have had in a theatre in quite some time. It was evident that the show was a well researched labor of love.

Aria Velz and Hallie Gordon holding a copy of 'The Brothers Paranormal' Script in front of Olney Theatre Center.
Aria Velz and Hallie Gordon, Co-Directors of 'The Brothers Paranormal' - photo taken and provided by Aria Velz.

“Halle is just so gracious. She asked me to come onto the production, very clearly laying out that she knows I am still pretty early in my career as a director, and still trying to very much cultivate a sense of creative advocacy for myself and trusting my artistic choices,” Velz said of the production.

“I was just immediately met with a lot of warmth and generosity. We were able to bounce a lot of ideas off of each other, and we had a lot of similar ideas. Even when we disagreed, we never had a conflict that didn’t end with ‘okay, great, we’ll just do this then’. I was nervous because she’s the senior artistic director at Olney, and she has so much more experience than I do, but she never let that be a wedge or anything. We were both very open with each other. And! We both have a love of horror. It was really great to share our unique interest in the genre for theatre. I had a blast collaborating with her.”

The show was clearly created by people with a love and affinity for the genre, which made it a delight to watch as a fellow fan. About the influences that had on the production, Velz talked about a few sources she and Gordon drew from; “Very early on, we looked at Shudder, which is a Thai horror movie. That really informed how we thought about the ghost in this story. It shared a lot of themes. A lot of Thai horror films, and Asian horror films, are about revenge and about seeking some kind of justice. Of course, The Ring was also there. The Grudge – that was also there. We spent a lot of time looking at how she moves. In my mind, The Brothers Paranormal is an homage to the Asian ghost, and a reversion of the Asian ghost archetype. And so, how can we draw from these and also expand upon them to fool the audience about what kind of play this is going to be. [About the Japanese The Grudge] There’s a scene where she moves down the stairs in a very disconcerting way. Our fight choreographer, Ryan, he used those inspirations to inform the movement he came up with.”

Theatre has always been a team sport. Without designers, crews, or casts, a show would be nothing. The way that Velz talked about the people she worked with on all the shows we talked about heralded a certain reverence within her. She clearly understands and respects the people that she has the joy of collaborating with. When talking about The Brothers Paranormal, I mentioned that, as someone from New Orleans, I appreciated the effort that went into making the environment that two of the characters who are also from the area feel all the more real. Velz was quick to bring the attention away from herself, and instead turned it onto her team. “That goes to the talented props department. I haven’t worked with a props department that is that detail oriented as Olney’s. The props department was great at finding those pieces to show how these people lived,” she praised.

From left to right, Terrista Edwards, Aria Velz, and Tommy Bo on the set of 'The Brothers Paranormal.'
Aria Velz directing Terrista Edwards (Delia) and Tommy Bo (Felix) on the set of Olney Theatre Center's production of 'The Brothers Paranormal' - photo taken by Justine "Iy" Moral and provided by Aria Velz

While this production at Olney Theatre Center was her biggest production thus far, and a huge step in her career, it is far from the only one she had worked on. We talked a bit about a few of her other productions. One that was of note to me was a show she did with She NYC, a theatre festival that works to create a safe space for women and nonbinary individuals to showcase their art without the influence of men. Velz directed a one woman musical written and starring her friend Alex Palting.

About the experience, she said, “It is just very lovely to be in an environment that is mostly women, and surrounded by women. There is a sense of strong collaboration… Everyone was so supportive of all the shows and each other’s work. And I really appreciate that. Not to say that I can’t feel that peace around men, but there’s a level of something you don’t have to worry about. There’s less of a fight with people when there aren’t men. No one is going to punish you because you don’t know something. We’re all just trying to work on this thing together, and not have giant egos about it.”

If you do not recognize Velz from her work in the theatre scene, you may recognize her from her TikTok page. With 182.6 thousand followers and over 14.5 million likes on the app, she is far from unknown. She launched her page in 2019 while working on a show in St. Louis. When the theatre industry shut down with the pandemic, that was really when her page blew up. I assumed that her presence on social media would bring her attention in the theatre industry, and asked about how that has impacted her career now that the theatre industry is waking up again.

“Maybe?” Velz said. She paused before continuing. “I do think that certainly regional theatre industries underutilize social media as a community and as a marketing tool. So, I do think there is something, as someone with a social media presence who uses it to try to uplift the DC theatre scene when I get a chance, and when it makes sense. I did a video as part of my lesbian theatre month where a play was in DC, and the marketing people from that theatre company were thanking me because it did something and got sales as a result. I think people in the DC theatre community know my name a little bit more, but I don’t think that translates to more artistic opportunities.”

Velz made it clear that personal exposure was not why she made videos, though. She was not trying to make a bigger name for herself in the industry through her content. “I do want to be known as an evangelist for theatre – even more than being known as an artist,” Velz assured. “I just want people to see theatre, and see that it is so, so good. I know that my videos have made people watch movies and TV shows that they otherwise would not have, and I want to start doing that for plays.”

If you are unfamiliar with Velz content, she makes videos about sapphic media. “I started getting really annoyed because I saw videos of the same 10 movies getting recommended over and over again,” Velz mentioned. “What these people don’t know is that my hobby, since high school, is watching lesbian films. I was in St. Louis, I turned this list I’ve had since high school into a spreadsheet and I was so annoyed that there are 15 year olds today who don’t know about all these great movies, so let’s show them these movies!

A headshot of Aria Velz, wearing a blue button down.
Aria Velz - headshot taken and provided by Aria Velz

As a lesbian, her content has been transformative for me. It has opened my eyes to so many great films, and I have completely transformed my knowledge of the sapphic film catalog. Her message of sharing all kinds of sapphic art, from movies to theatre, is one that I cannot help but champion. I encourage you to check out her content, watch her reviews, and see so much more of her. The way that Velz interacts with media is with a careful consciousness, full of fun and insightful opinions. To give you a taste, I leave you with her recommendation of her current favorite film.

“This is such a hot take, but my favorite is The World To Come (2020). A lot of queer women will say it is a stereotypical lesbian movie because it is very sad and muted; it’s a period drama. I find it to be such a beautiful love story, and a very powerful story about sensing that the world is about to change and the time is not ready for the change it really needs,” Velz said. I could not help but think about how applicable that is. “And the language is so beautiful and poetic. And I know that a lot of queer women are sick of sad lesbian movies. I love sad lesbian movies! The World To Come is gorgeous, but I do have to give a million caveats. A lot of people want more Saving Faces (2004), and I love Saving Face, but we aren’t at a point where we can have a thousand saving faces.”

Percy Sampson headshot for Alchemical Records

Percy Sampson

Percy Sampson, New Orleans born and Virginia bred, is finishing up their time at University of Mary Washington, where they are double majoring in English and Theatre. A passionate writer, they spend most of their free time working on (mostly horror) scripts and short stories.

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