Love in the Arts

Nicole Hays and A.J. Vaughan's
Creative Partnership

. . .

A.J. Vaughan and I are both full-time entertainers living in St. Pete. Although we both studied at USF Tampa at the same time, we didn’t meet until the spring of 2016, in a production of the musical Big Fish at The Cuban Club in Ybor City.

He played Will Bloom and I played his pregnant wife, Josephine. Our first kiss was onstage. We ignored the “rule” about dating co-stars, but after more than 7 and a half years together, we think it worked out pretty well for us.

Big Fish – photo by Rick Tauceda

Our business relationship began shortly after our romantic relationship started. I’d been commissioned to create a circus production called Lumiere: Finding Your Light, by the city of Rosemary Beach FL. A.J. traveled up and performed electric violin before one of the performances, and after this we began to ponder how we could combine our talents.

Both of us had solo careers as performers when we met, but when we began to collaborate, we discovered our skills complemented each other nicely.

A.J.’s background in music performance, composition and sound engineering, combined with my background in show creation, gymnastics, dance and visual arts, covered the bases for an entire production.

Tank and Tilly – photo courtesy of Steampunk Adventurer’s Weekend

Our shared talents of acting, improvisational comedy, and our newfound love of partner acrobatics laid the groundwork for what would become our first original show as a duo – Tank and Tilly’s Clockwork Cabaret.

We’ve created several original shows together since then, performing regularly in St. Pete and the surrounding area. Our company, The Curiositorium, provides acrobats, aerialists, stilt walkers, singing telegrams, bodypainting, live music and more.

As our business evolves, we have begun to utilize more tech in our acts, including LED costuming and props.

As a working artist, it is always important to put time aside to refine your craft. This past July, A.J. and I had the opportunity to travel to Portugal and participate in the Córtex Frontal artist residency.

During the residency, we lived in a beautiful house in the small village of Arraiolos with 8 other artists. It was a chance for us to spend an entire month reworking Tank and Tilly’s Clockwork Cabaret, in anticipation of future traveling performances.

We set particular goals for the residency, and having our own studio space connected to our bedroom allowed us to really focus on those goals.

photo by Meryl Prendergast

At the end of the residency, we got the chance to put on our first international performance of Clockwork Cabaret. We also were able to film the acrobatic tango act from our show in a castle ruin with the help of a videographer who happened to be at the residency with us.

We were very ambitious with our international travel, and wanted to get the most out of our time overseas. Shortly after our artist residency, we traveled to Klagenfurt, Austria to compete in the World Bodypainting Festival.

It was my third time competing at the festival, and I decided to enter two categories.

There was an interesting situation where I was not provided a model for one of the concepts. Though the makeup concept was meant for a female model, A.J. stepped in and absolutely knocked it out of the park.

A.J. also was my assistant for the main competition day, where we painted for 6 hours straight.

A.J. Vaughan sharing Nicole Hays’ creations at the 2023 World Bodypainting Festival in Austria

As our careers evolve, we have begun to book more domestic and international travel gigs. A.J. is excited to book a couple of fiddle performances in Ecuador and Peru this summer, and we are hoping to return to Europe soon.

Even though our travel gigs are becoming more frequent, it’s nice to be able to return to where it all began and perform together in St. Pete.

You can see us next in Dewey Davis-Thompson’s recurring production, Pirates and Angels Variety Show, on Saturday, January 27 at 7 pm at freeFall Theatre in St. Pete. A.J. and I will be the hosts, as well as performers in the show. This high-brow variety show is an all-around fun and unusual evening celebrating local talent, featuring a chamber trio as the house band.

We are also very excited to premiere our new show, Duos of the ‘70s: A Tribute to Sonny & Cher, Captain & Tennille, and Donny & Marie on Sunday, February 11 at 2 pm at the Catherine A Hickman Theater in Gulfport.

Duos of the ’70s

A.J. and I can’t imagine our lives without being professional creatives. Creating art is integral to who we are as people, and we are incredibly lucky to be able to make a living doing it.

Sharing this lifestyle with each other, in such a wonderful city, is truly a dream come true.

Acrobatics in Venice – photo by Vicki Mangili 

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