Op-ed: How I Healed My Crippled Spirit
In 2009, my life went into chaos. I had just come off of one of the biggest highs of my career — I had the number one show on Logo, Sordid Lives: The Series. Having spent four years developing and putting together the financing for the show, I had turned down many lucrative television opportunities because of my passion for my own sordid Texas tale. I had wanted my own show, and hard work and perseverance finally paid off! I had a series on the air with Rue McClanahan, Caroline Rhea, Bonnie Bedelia, Leslie Jordan, Beth Grant, Olivia Newton-John, and many of my favorite actors from the film and my stage work.
But I chose the wrong producing partner. My gut warned me, but I took the advice of my agents at the time who also represented the producer. After the series hit, that producer decided to not pay the actors and myself our residuals. We had worked so hard for a fraction of our fees, knowing the show would run on a loop on Logo and banking on our residuals to make up the difference. Logo had already ordered a second season at this point, but when the guilds stepped in, attempting to collect our residuals, the legal problems sent the series into limbo.
A two-year battle ensued, and we won every arbitration. The producer was ordered to pay myself and the actors more than $2.3 million dollars. His response? To file bankruptcy. We got nothing and Sordid Lives: The Series was over.
I lost my home, was close to bankruptcy myself — and became very, very depressed.
Jason Dottley, my soon-to-be-ex-husband and one of the stars of the series, then suggested that I write a one-man show based on all the stories I told around our dinner table. “Are you kidding me? I’m not Leslie Jordan, Kathy Griffin, Caroline Rhea, or Margaret Cho. I’m Del Shores, the writer-director, the storyteller.” “Exactly!” was his response.
So, reluctantly, I wrote a show called Del Shores: The Storyteller which quickly was rechristened Del Shores: My Sordid Life. Hey, if you have a brand, milk it, right?
At first the show was just a series of my stories. I would have a board on an easel on stage and would give each story a name. “Aunt Sissy’s five marriages,” “Cousin Dwaine shoots a policeman,” “Mama compares her gay son to a paraplegic,” “Family funerals”… you get the picture. I would check each story off as I told it and go down the list. I would dish on celebrities, call out the assholes I’d worked with, tell about Rosemary Alexander (“Dr. Eve”) not wearing panties in the final stage show of Sordid Lives, playing the best trick ever on Leslie Jordan. I would even preach — performing a missing monologue from my play Southern Baptist Sissies.
My fans came. They laughed. They stood up. And they healed my crippled spirit.
The show evolved. I used my writing skills to hone it and structure it. The final result was captured on film at the Renberg Theatre at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood in January 2011. The reviews have been glowing and all my fans now get to see that yes, Del Shores is not really a writer, he is a thief! The wooden legs, Aunt Sissy shooting a goat, “Ty” coming out to “Latrelle,” the entire play and movie of Daddy’s Dyin’… Who’s Got The Will? were basically just lifted from the fabric of my sordid world. My Texas family is exposed once again, as is my crazy, twisted, fucked-up life.
I’m once again addicted to performing. I have now performed more than 100 shows nationwide with Del Shores: My Sordid Life and my more recent stand-up show Del Shores: Sordid Confessions, which I recently filmed at The Rose Room in Dallas, Texas.
I have to thank Caroline Rhea for mentoring me, encouraging me, and allowing me to open for her so many times. I have to thank Leslie Jordan, who is the most brilliant storyteller ever, who also encouraged me and shared with me all his precious, precious, precious secrets. I have to thank the late, great Rue McClanahan, who shared my stage many times, laughed at my stories, telling me over and over, “You’re a natural, Del!” And I have to thank Jason, my ex, for being the first person to encourage me to step on stage and reclaim my power as a performer.
I am going through a pretty painful divorce right now. And whenever I get angry, whenever I wake up depressed, I think of this show. I think of the laughter, the applause and the love I feel and felt every time I step back on stage. No, nothing erases all the damage, the anger, the words that echo in my head – not yet at least. But the memory of that dark time being given illumination by so much support helps me know that this more recent dark time has already once again allowed me to turn to my pen, my writing, my stories, and back to the stage. And I see the light again.
Know this, my friends, it is very possible that if you are going through a hard time right now, a time where you feel lost and defeated, that you may just look back one day and realize that that dark period is your blessing. It happened to me once and I’m counting on it — again.
Now if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got a show to do!