by Victor De Los Santos
What started out as merely a crush at a gay disco in the ’80s evolved into a dynamic duo called Phoenicia & Vic, that shared their musical talents, comedy, and wit with Seattle’s nightlife.
Although it has been more than a decade since their last time together on stage, it was obvious when I walked into the local Gaybucks that Victor Janusz and Wade Madsen were old allies. They only get the opportunity to see each other about once a year now, but still, it was like no time had elapsed. They still have that main ingredient of a successful dynamic duo: chemistry. It instantly made sense why our publisher, insisted that these two be featured in our “Dynamic Duo” issue.
VDS: How did the two of you meet, and what was your first impression of each other?
Wade Madsen: I met Victor at Neighbours—literally a few days after his father had passed on a Tuesday night as I recall, in July 1987. He’s very sexy, gorgeous fellow. I was actually like, wow, this guy is gorgeous, and he seemed vaguely into me, and that seemed unusual. I’ve never experienced—or rarely experienced—good-looking guys being into me. And I thought he was a good dancer.
Victor Janusz: You thought I was a good dancer…you thought I was great!
VDS: Think back to when you were a teenager. What dynamic duo did you admire or look up to?
WM: Sonny and Cher was mine. And then of course Carol Burnett…it’s not a duo, but Carol Burnett and every other fellow.
VJ: I think we were both Carol Burnett fanatics. And so that comedy really rubbed off on us. I’ve always been a big fan of Lily Tomlin. I do a one-man show in the theater about my life as a piano player, and people have told me—critics and otherwise—that I’ve obviously been influenced by her, because I do a lot of different characters.
VDS: You’re well known as a piano player, Victor. Wasn’t acting originally what you wanted to do, when you started? Wade, did you always want to be a choreographer?
VJ: Yeah, I had the theater. I came here from New York with The Normal Heart for six months. That’s what brought me to Seattle. And my family lived here, so I pursued that [theater] for a while. But you know, by the time I was 39 music was full-time for me, because people kept calling and saying, “We want you to sing or play the piano here” or “We’re wanting to put this together.” Now I kind of do a lot of cabaret shows, because it combines theater with music.
WM: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an actor and a director, and then while I was in college, I took some dance classes, and that’s when I switched to choreography.
VDS: So when the two of you started out, what was the Seattle arts culture like at that time?
VJ: There were fewer theater companies, so people were more aware of them. There was Alice B. Theater, which was the gay and lesbian theater. There was a Triad, my company, but there weren’t too many fringe theaters at that time.
VBD: Was there anything politically going on at that time?
VJ: There was the AIDS epidemic. There were some plays about AIDS.
VDS: What nonprofits have you chosen to unite with, and what can you tell our readers about how they can support that particular nonprofit?
VJ: For the last 10 years I’ve been doing a fundraiser every other month over at Salty’s on Alki, where I’m a weekend brunch piano player. I’ve had that job for 14 years, but for 10 years, I’ve been doing a fundraiser for a different nonprofit every other month. Camp Victory is a camp for kids—it’s their 25th year—and they help kids ages 5 to 15 who are survivors of sexual abuse. I ask people to follow me on Facebook or just come to the party, and it’s a really fun way to get to know a nonprofit and to help its mission.
WM: For the past number of years, I’ve contributed to the World Ark or Heifer International; that’s where you donate to buy a goat or 20 chickens, for example. I recently went to a talk by Rick Steves about going to other countries—if you really want to make a difference and have an impact, look at what the village needs, what the people need.
VDS: What do you think is the number one issue on the Seattle scene today?
WM: Well, because I’m at Cornish and also in the dance world, there are a lot of issues…about gender, race, and class… the whole fluidity of nonconforming gender, and also just a discrepancy in who’s valued or not valued represented or underrepresented in dance fields. So that seems to be a huge thing.
VJ: Accessibility for all artists has become a real issue. That’s one that just keeps kind of leaping out at me, there’s more and more pressure on artists to come up with a certain amount of capital to co-produce with the venue. I’m trying to put a show together for the first quarter of next year at a small venue in Fremont, and they want me to, like, raise X thousands of dollars to use it just one or two weekends.