Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, May 6, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
David DeBlieck dances his way through a
one-man show about his life and art.

Who you calling sissy?
By Nadine Kam
Features Editor


Like other schoolboys, David DeBlieck was in awe of the Sugar Bears, the high school dance squad, the babes of Byron, Minn.

Unlike the other boys, who may have wanted to date the Sugar Bears, DeBlieck wanted to be one of them.

"I'd sit and watch them rehearse every day," he said. "One day one girl got sick and they asked me to fill in."

He doesn't remember whether he flubbed the dance or showed the girls up, but the golden moment nevertheless turns up in his semi-autobiographical one-person revue, "Portrait of a Sissy," a celebration of dance, desire, drama, divadom and divinity.

"It's grown to be a full-on dance number, and I'm the star," says DeBlieck. "I started with my memories of growing up, but the stories have really taken on a life of their own. They've burst into fantasies in which I'm living the dreams I never could as a kid.

"Most of the stories deal with being a creative, alternative type of person in a small farming community in the Midwest.

In the piece, directed and designed by DeBlieck's life partner, Dack Quigley, lighter stories are interspersed with more intense scenes involving sexual abuse, gender exploration and conflict with Catholic doctrine.

The "S"-word was one that shocked DeBlieck when it popped into his head because it was one he associated with some of most painful memories. "It is not a word I use, and certainly not one I use to describe myself.

"It's one of the first things I talk about in the piece, how the other kids knew I was a sissy before I did. I heard the word long before I had any knowledge of its meaning.

"Gradually, it came to mean to me that I was different. I was the last one picked by the team captain in games, I never saw the note passed around the room that people were laughing about. In the system of boys vs. girls, I was somehow in between. I did things in the manly world, but my spirit was elsewhere.

"I wanted to take the word that had been used against me, reclaim it and make it celebratory, rather than derogatory, assaultive or offensive."

Although DeBlieck started collecting ideas for "Sissy" about two years ago, it wasn't until last fall - after the state voted against domestic partnerships - that he began to pursue the possibility of staging it.

"I was really hurt by (the vote). It was like a statement from the community saying, 'You're not as important as everybody else; what you are is not valid or celebrated.'

"I felt, as an artist who's done and supported many community events, that it was a slap in the face. But ... we are where we are and this is my response to that sort of thing, to say, 'OK, maybe you need to know more about me.' "

To know more is to know that DeBlieck was born for the stage. Working in his father's lumberyard and hardware store, he was able to convince no-nonsense do-it-yourselfers that he actually knew what he was talking about in recommending certain hammers or nails.

"I eventually learned a lot about it," he said.

More importantly, he honed his dramatic ability by acting out episodes of "Charlie's Angels" wherever he could find an audience.

" 'Charlie's Angels' was a big part of my life. I was Kelly (the part played by Jacklyn Smith), my friend Vince was always Farrah. We watched that show religiously, putting our tape recorder up to the TV - this was before VCRs. We'd transcribe lines and reenact scenes in the back yard, shopping malls, restaurants, acting out pretend fights. Some people thought it was real at first.

"I don't know why I found that show so attractive. I think it was because these were women who could be glamorous and strong at the same time. Obviously, they're not the best role models, but this was the '70s, and they used timing and street smarts to get out of predicaments. For us, in a small town, it also represented a world of glamour. We both wanted to be stars."

In "Sissy," DeBlieck will get to play all three angels in a video segment that will screen during one of his costume changes.

After spending his graduation summer working in his dad's store, he escaped to college in Minneapolis, where he spent most of his early dance and theater career.

He also spent a year in San Francisco, before moving to Hawaii five years ago to attend graduate school. Here, he hooked up with the Iona Pear Dance Theatre, which he now calls his family. "Sissy" will mark his first solo attempt at holding an audience's attention for two hours.

"It's going to be hard to be vulnerable on stage. One moment is very rageful, and that's not an emotion I jump to quickly. It's one of the hardest to access on stage. But it's part of human nature, so I thought it was important to examine that."

Off stage, he feels more sadness than rage when he thinks about Matthew Shepard, the gay college student brutally killed in Wyoming, and now, the Columbine High School tragedy.

"These thoughts have been very close to the surface for me in working on this show. I'm remembering my own painful experiences, and it's just as painful to see our youths growing up in a time when they can be killed for being different.

"Is the pain so great and suppressed in our children that they come out in these acts of violence? I didn't feel that danger when I was growing up."

Last fall, DeBlieck went back to Byron, which has grown from a population of 1,700 when he graduated in 1984, to a town of 3,000.

"I enjoyed going to my hometown. I don't have any animosity toward the town, although there are some people, who, when I see them I think, 'You did some crummy things to a small kid.'

"I could see it is a pleasant town that protected its children, but it could also be oppressive for someone living outside the boundaries."

Portrait of a Sissy

Bullet Starring: David DeBlieck
Bullet On stage: 8 p.m. May 7 and 8
Bullet The venue: Honolulu Academy of Arts Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $10 general; $8 seniors and students
Bullet Call: 532-8700

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