As Drag Machine's Shirley Delta Blow, actor Stuart Sanks tells drag's vibrant history
As Shirley Delta Blow, actor Stuart Sanks has been entertaining audiences through his charity-supporting drag shows at Hamburger Mary's. But his performances blow away standard drag routines -- the trained actor is known for his comedic timing and infamous retelling of Steel Magnolias using Barbie dolls, a feat that won him the "Queen of Aces" drag title in 2011. Emily Tarquin, co-curator of Off-Center, the versatile programming component of the Jones Theatre, caught wind of his work, and, after Sank did a few hosting stints at the venue, she asked him to turn the Shirley Delta Blow show into a full-on performance for the 2012 season.
Brian Landis Folkins Miss Shirley Delta Blow
And so Drag Machine was born. This Friday, November 2, Blow & Co. will travel through time in a tricked-out time machine (also known as the Jones Theatre covered in glitter gussied up to look like an airplane cockpit) to tell the story of drag and GLBTQ civil rights history. In advance of the three-show run, Sanks spoke with Westword about Drag Machine's creation, and what brought the actor to drag in the first place.
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Westword: Can you give a little background on how you got into performing?
Amy Clifford Stuart Sanks and/as Shirley Delta Blow
Stuart Sanks: I graduated from college in 1990 with a degree in theater. I wasn't really thinking I was going to have a life as an actor; I wanted to be a missionary. But because I was gay I got denied -- the spring semester of my senior year. So I didn't know what else do.
They turned you down because you were gay?
Yes. My plan was to go on a one-year project with a para-church organization, and through my interview it came out that I was gay. They said, well, because of this, we're not going to accept you into this year-long program. That was going to be the first step to what would come next, life in the field as a missionary.
I was a competitive volleyball player in college as well, so I accepted to go on a project with the same organization in the Philippines. I came back and didn't know what do to, so I did what anybody else does who doesn't know what they want to do does -- I moved to Boulder. (Laughs.)
I'm from Kansas, but I ended up in Boulder, kind of finding my way around -- I was there for six or eight months and I moved down to Denver. I found a job waiting tables at Chili's and a job acting in a show at Theater On Broadway in the same weekend. That was 1991. For the next fifteen years I found myself calling myself an actor. I did lots of small local productions -- mostly plays, musicals, a commercial here and there. A little film, stuff like that.
Then I was like, wait a second: I was the one kid in my acting class who didn't really want to do this and now I'm finding myself being an actor. Up until about 2006, I was making my living being an actor -- that was the only job I had. It was pretty cool story that way.
Do you consider yourself a drag queen?
A couple of my loves have always been theater, volleyball and people. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine -- Todd (Peckham, also known as queen Daniella DeCoteau and a player in Drag Machine) -- approached me from the Colorado Gay Volleyball Association and said, hey, we do this fundraiser every year. It's a pageant where people dress in drag and we give the title of "Miss Queen of Aces."
Daniella had won the pageant the year before and was like, you should do this. I had never done drag -- I was in a play once where I had to play a bunch of different women. But I was kind of resistant -- and he talked me into it. It was this natural fit, you know, you put on some heels and a dress and all of a sudden there is this other character living inside your body.
It's really no different than acting, obviously -- you put on a different pair of pants and you're a different character than if you're wearing a cowboy hat. I entered the pageant and won. So for the next year, I thought I would see where this thing went -- I produced some of my own shows down at Hamburger Mary's (with) some of the performers you'll see in Drag Machine. I've done that ever since.
So, yes, I do consider myself a drag queen.
Not that drag queen is a negative label by any means -- I just ask because don't like to make any assumptions.
I mean, yeah. I'm a drag queen. I'm a man in a dress who does it for entertainment value.