MY LIFE WITH DEL SHORES

LaVondaStageDel Shores and I first met in 1986 when he saw me in a play called Best Wishes by Bill Barker. He saw the play a couple of times. In 1987 he called me in to read for Daddy’s Dying Who’s Got the Will, for the part of SaraLee Turnover. I didn’t get that part but he remembered me and called me in when he wrote Daughters of the Lone Star State. Of course, he called and asked me to be Carol Cook’s understudy. I politely told him I didn’t do understudy work. As I would find out over our years together, his persistence would reign supreme. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and as Ms. Cook was going to be gone doing her one-woman show and would be away for 2 weeks, I agreed.

As I found out years later, most all of Del’s understudies go on to become the stars in his future productions.

Well, I did the two weeks as Darlene, Del got to see me in a great role and no one seemed to miss Ms. Cook, at least, that’s the way I remember it.

After that, we became friends and I was now considered part of the unofficial Del Shores White-Trash Acting Ensemble. As such, in 1995, Del called to ask if I would come to his office and read a short one-act called Nicotine Fit. Little did I know, at the time, what that phone call would mean in my life. That one-act turned into the world famous “Sordid Lives”! I was honored to originate the role of LaVonda Dupree. LaVonda’s voice is Del’s voice and I get to re-create his lovingly, supportive, real-life Aunt Rita, who gave him unconditional love and understanding for his future goals as an actor and writer.

We opened “Sordid Lives” in a 64-seat theatre on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, California in 1996. The spot where the theater was is now the Greyhound Bus terminal.

We received rave reviews and ran the play for 1 1/2 years to packed houses.

At the beginning of rehearsal, Del brought us all together to tell us that he could no longer live his life fully as a straight man and that Sordid Lives was about his journey to live his truth as an “out” gay man. By this time, we had become a real family and our love and devotion to our friends, Del and Kelly, became the most important issue to all of us. We loved Kelly and their beautiful daughters, Rebecca and Caroline.

I knew his journey would not be alone because he had all of us. The fact that we were playing out his early life on-stage every night didn’t escape our attention.

I have always known what a fine man he is, but the courage and grace he has shown in making this change was astounding.

After our very successful run ended, as all plays do, I went on with my career, didn’t think too much about what was going to happen with Sordid Lives. Then in 2000 the money was raised to do the movie!! HOORAY……but not so fast, they needed “star names” for some of the roles. Of course, Ann Walker, was, at that time, not a ‘star name’

So, Del, being the loving and loyal person that he is, created the role of Juanita Bartlett for me.

I have to say, I was not happy! In fact, to be honest, it was one of the biggest disappointments of my career. I wasn’t “right” for Juanita but, being a good soldier, I agreed to accept it and watch while Beverly de Angelo did the role of LaVonda.

Well, as Hollywood stories go, maybe mine doesn’t rank up there with finding “Scarlett O’Hara but, for me, it would change my life forever. With just three weeks before shooting started, I got the call from Del. He said, “Ann, are you sitting down?” I said, I am now. “Would you play LaVonda for me again?” I’m sure they could hear me scream, “YES” all the way to Hollywood and Vine. He had wanted me all along so when Beverly D’Angelo got a new pilot and pulled out, they (the suits) made him see lots of other stars for the role. But the big tide turned when another one of our “ensemble” had to drop out and Delta Burke came in as Noleta. Now there were the required 5 star names and I could get back into my role as LaVonda. And Del got to cast Sarah Hunley as Juanita, who is and was unforgettable in the role.

We made the movie, we were invited to many festivals and we always won the audience award. The people loved us and DEL! But, the people of Palm Springs were our biggest fans. The movie ran there almost three years.

In 2001 as I prepared to accompany my daughter to Ann Arbor, Michigan to attend medical school, I got a call from Del. Ann, I need you! I’ve lost two actresses who were going to play Odette Annette Barnett, in my new play “Southern Baptist Sissies”.

I knew he had written a new play…..but, also knew this one wasn’t to be my role. When I got the call, I explained that I was booked to go with my daughter to school. As I have said before, his powers of persuasion were in high gear. He said, just come down to the theater and read it to fill-in at rehearsal. I said okay and went in “cold” to help out just for the day.

Sissies is one of the most powerful plays ever written and by the time I finished “helping out” that day, I was hooked. The words fell out of me like I had been saying them forever. The part “fit me” like a glove and to work again with Leslie Jordan and Del…. was a dream come true.

I told my daughter what had happened and she graciously said that I must stay and do the play. Again, it was a big hit! Leslie and I won many acting honors, as did Del for his brilliant writing.

I believe Del Shores is one of the most talented, prolific playwrights we have in the world today. He’s able to capture characters with such depth and emotion, making them come alive for the audiences who love his stories and the people who live in them.

If you’re reading this you probably know that “Sordid Lives” is now a television series. What a great career Del has helped me to achieve. To be able to continue playing LaVonda is a rare and priceless gift.

As an actress, I count myself one of the lucky few who have been given the honor of bringing these rich characters to life. I hope I can continue on this journey of life with Del and that little white-trash ensemble that started out together so many years ago.