Stuart Sanks, known professionally as Shirley Delta Blow, is a schoolteacher by day and a drag queen by night, but as far as his performance style goes, he does a lot more than strut around in women’s clothing. Sanks’s alter-ego is a storyteller, historian, comedian, costume-change expert and an unforgettable stage presence, who’s been seen on stages all over town, most notably in Off-Center productions with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. In a moment of downtime, Sanks took off the makeup and gave us a closer look at the man behind Shirley’s powerhouse persona. His answers to the 100CC questionnaire follow.
Stuart Sanks: Shakespeare: He invented drag, right? And in doing so, created some more meatier roles for women. I'd encourage him to think more long-term. One day, Will, women will be playing these parts, real women, so please give them great words to say. I'd also have him help me sharpen my insult skills. I need to be ready when the library opens, because reading is what, my drag kittens? Fundamental! I'd bring Dolly Parton along, just because she dresses like a drag queen.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
The Black Box series at the Arvada Center. The team there is doing such interesting work, creating an ensemble company and putting on an old-fashioned repertory. It's brilliant. This concept puts collaboration in a different league. Designers working on two shows in the same space simultaneously, sharing actors — I love it. Wonderbound is always doing new and unique collaborations. I love seeing what they will come up with next. Shirley would be available.
What's your day job?
I teach third-graders at an arts-integration magnet school in Northglenn. Snaps for the Studio School. I'm a classroom teacher, so I do a little of everything: reading, writing, math, science, social studies, spelling, keyboarding, differentiation and intervention. We tend to giggle a lot in my room, and there is always glitter, much to the chagrin of some parents. But, hey, a drag queen is your child's teacher. This is what you signed up for.
This year, our grade is taking on A Midsummer Night's Dream for our class play. The students spent a couple months in the winter rewriting the play, and now we are in the throes of rehearsal. It's exciting and always a little daunting to bring any idea to life. It is so much fun to see these young actors take on a classic. So fearless. And to watch them absolutely come alive around the production is the only argument I will ever need for the inclusion of arts at every level of education.
Take Drag Machine to the world. I wrote a show with my friend Emily Tarquin for Off-Center about the history of drag, its performers and how they have impacted human history. When you say it like that, it sounds so stuffy, like a dry college lecture. It's really a drag-queen time machine — a big, pink, sparkly TARDIS. The show takes a glance at world and national events, looks at the gay-rights movement during that time, and explores how drag performers impacted these historical events. For example, we spend some time in 1969 for the Stonewall Riots. Initially, it was drag queens and street kids who started the fight that night and were standing up for all of us. Their courage sparked the riots that led to a movement demanding equality.
I feel it is important to know our history and draw strength from the brave ones who have come before us. Drag Machine has a message, an edge and a bite to it. We also look at those whom we have lost along the way. So there might be a few tears, too. Not to say that it isn't hilarious fun and filled with glittery costumes and gorgeous performances. While it is a history lesson, it is also a drag show. So when that patron throws some cash my way, I want to take this show on the road. There are kids out on farms in Kansas who have never met a drag queen, who think there is no one else like them in the world.
Maybe it's ambitious, but I think a drag show can enlighten and open minds. So I'd take Drag Machine to big cities and small towns, and maybe I'd even kick Celine out of the Colosseum in Vegas for a residency. Why tour when the people will come to me? I can just imagine what that might look like. Glitter and confetti cannons and fog and dancers! Ahhh. Glorious.
Love it. I can't imagine living anywhere else. I just wish I could afford to buy a house! I love the openness of the community in Denver that supports the arts. There are so many vibrant performance companies and all kinds of makers out here doing their thing. That doesn't just happen. Individuals make up the audience and serve as patrons for the arts. Maybe there is some critical mass for art that saturates everything. But, developers, please stop tearing down all the old homes and putting up cookie-cutter box apartments.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Keep encouraging artists. Providing spaces for artists to create and show their work. Connecting collaborators and resources. Cultivating the ground for future generations. Educating the audience. Funding projects. And then getting out of the way and letting the artists do their thing. Keep the SCFD strong and diverse.
Ink Lounge Creative. Stu and Nicky Alden are amazing screen printers. I love working with them.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Hold on to your sequins, girl — there's a ton. First off, let's finish the school year. And then we are off to the drag races. In June, DragOn!, with Off-Center at the DCPA. (Drag queens and Comic Con mashed up. A young drag queen embarks on an epic journey and must use the FIERCE to reclaim the glitter throne and restore order in the Diva-verse.) My upcoming shows, Drag Decades, Summer Fling and Flirt at the Clocktower Cabaret. I will be performing at PrideFest, teaching Drag Academy on Saturday afternoon. Then I'm thrilled to be part of Mixed Taste with MCA Denver and Off-Center in August. Then it's back to school, and I get to walk in men's shoes for a while.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Hopefully it's Vivian LeCher and her work with breast cancer warriors and survivors. She is bringing her Living Pink Breast Cancer Pageant to Denver for the first time this August. I hope she gets loads of attention. And, of course, poodles, I adore whatever Off-Center is doing. Unusual performances in unusual spaces collaborating with interesting artists. And they don't limit themselves to traditional theater. Sweet and Lucky, did you see it? Stunning.
Shirley Delta Blow and Dixie Crystals will lead tours through the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum during a joint session of the DAM’s monthly Untitled series from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, April 28. Visit the DAM online for details. Shirley’s next Drag Decades show, with a ’70s theme and Grease sing-along, is May 5 at the Clocktower Cabaret; admission is $25. DragOn! opens June 1 and runs through June 25 in the Garner Galleria at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Tickets start at $25 to $30. Learn more about Shirley Delta Blow and keep up with her performance schedule online.