Del Shores is a busy man, and his long list of credits includes an impressive range of roles across an equally-impressive range of mediums. In a recent conversation, however, he sums it all up with a single word. "I like to describe myself as a storyteller," he says. "That actually encompasses everything. As an actor, as a writer, as a director, even as a producer. I tell stories; that's what I do."
What he's done, over the course of his career in show business, is a lot. Among his credits are seven full-length stage plays, including Daddy's Dyin'... Who's Got The Will?, Southern Baptist Sissies, and Sordid Lives (all of which have been adapted into feature films); work on multiple television series including Dharma & Greg and Queer as Folk; and international tours of his stand-up shows My Sordid Life, Sordid Confessions, and Naked.Sordid.Reality.
His Charleston performance of My Sordid Best — it's a fundraiser for What If? Productions — is one more opportunity to strip his craft down to its essentials. "When I'm on stage," he says, "And it's just me and a mic, talking to an audience, it's like me holding court in my living room." The stage is a comfortable place for Shores to be, and a setting he clearly relishes. Raised by a mother who taught high school drama, Shores says, "I had two homes growing up: the theater and the church."
With My Sordid Best, Shores has the chance to cherry-pick bits from his growing repertoire, interspersed with background vignettes and autobiographical stories. Audiences can expect to see a show that will include elements from his previous work, such as his experience coming out to his mother. "My mother was so supportive but in a very crazy way," he says. "She decided she wanted to know everything about having a gay son, and it became part of Sordid Lives. I'll probably do that piece in this new show. It's sort of a best-of, and it can be anything I want it to be."
Shores custom-tailors the material for each date based on what he expects the audience will respond to. "Since this is in a theater, I talk a lot about the stories [from my life] that influence the stories that are in my plays," he says. Since his appearance is scheduled to coincide with What If? Productions' staging of The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, he's planning to include material that relates to that show. "Any time I do a show at a theater, I look at the play [being staged] again, and I talk about anything that influenced the story there," he says. But that doesn't keep him from throwing in whatever else he feels moved to include. "I just collect things all the time that I find amusing, and that I hope the audience finds amusing, as well."
And while Shores' content can include racier moments, he says he chooses his material, in part, depending on the venue. "I can perform in a gay club, and it's 70 percent gay men, 20 percent straight women, and the lesbians and straight men kind of round out the crowd," he says. "Because [the Charleston show] is theater, I won't do the club stuff. I mean, I'm not going to censor myself, but there are selections of stories that are more appropriate for the audiences I'm performing for. I find that when I do these theaters, it's more of a mixed crowd."
Unlike many well-known comedians who found their way to narrative storytelling through stand-up, Shores' career took the opposite trajectory. He had already written multiple plays, and won multiple awards for his writing, when he first took the professional stage as a solo performer. "When I started doing stand-up it just developed at my dinner table over glasses of wine and friends listening," he says. "My husband said 'You should just do a one-man show,' and it's the best thing that came out of that marriage." (Recently divorced, Shores is currently at work on a new show, Singularly Sordid, which tackles the topic.)
Shores admits that audiences are sometimes caught off-guard when they're familiar only with his earlier work. "I've had such an eclectic career," he says. "And it started so long ago. When I was 28, I wrote a play (Daddy's Dyin' ... Who's Got the Will?) which was written way before I came out. So that play, and that movie, became so mainstream in so many theaters, especially community theaters. So there's a group of people who know me from that part of my life." And the reception of audiences who know him for his past work and see him now is mixed. "It's a little bit confusing to people, because somebody who's a big fan of Daddy's Dyin' will come see Sordid Lives, and they're going, 'Whoa! I didn't expect this!'" He adds that most theater-goers are accepting, but admits it isn't always the case.
Shores tells a story of a woman in Conway, S.C. who "wrote me the meanest letter telling me how horrible I'd become." But he isn't about to change himself to suit his audience. "Her biggest problem, she said, was that I used the Lord's name in vain on stage," he says, although he's not so sure her reasons didn't have more to do with his honest depiction of life as a gay man. His advice to anyone questioning whether the play will offend? "Here's a hint: any time the word 'sordid' is in the title, you might want to Google it first."
That same advice holds true for anyone of a prudish bent considering seeing The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, which opens at Threshold Repertory Theatre on Dec. 5. But Shores is quick to point out the show is about more than just camp or cheap laughs. "It's a very special play for me," he says. In fact, the show won him the L.A. Drama Critics Award for World Premiere and Best Production. "It's not light and funny all the time," he adds. "When I wrote this play people were shocked. It was received very well, but people were stunned that it was mine, because it was so dark."
Asked if any of his plays was more difficult to write, or came less naturally, than others, Shores says, "I've never written anything that felt foreign to me. I feel like I gravitate towards story and character. Once I discover a character, that leads me into a story. Once I have a character and I start writing, they sort of take me on a journey. I never judge the journey. Other people will judge it."
Charleston theater-goers will have a chance to judge Del Shores on Dec. 10 at the American Theater, and if his successful track record as a writer and performer is any indication, the verdict's going to be in his favor.