Shane German, local WYCE music director and actor, moved to Grand Rapids three years ago. Since then, he has been in 14 shows, including Jewish Theatre’s Torch Song Trilogy Act III: Women and Children First, in which he just won the Grand Award this year for outstanding lead actor in a play. The play went on to win outstanding play, and other cast members took home awards as well. Coming off of the hype, German is both inspired and exhausted from the experience.
What was it like to play your role in Torch Song Trilogy?
I played a character called Arnold Beckoff, who is a female impersonator slash drag queen entertainer in the late ’70s, early ’80s in New York City. He had just lost his life partner who was gay-bashed and beaten to death, and he’s grieving the loss of his lover. The New York Foster System places a gay runaway teen in his care thinking that might help this kid stay in school and quit running the streets. … He’s got his ex-partner living in his house on the couch and then on top of all of that, his overbearing Jewish mother comes to visit for the weekend from Florida, and they have a very contentious relationship.
Do you see yourself in that at all?
That hit close to home with me as well. When I came out of the closet, when I was a teenager, it wasn’t the best situation for me. It took me and my mother years to get to a point where we could love and accept each other. We had to work really hard on that relationship because this was a different time; this was 1993.
What made you decide to move to Grand Rapids?
I was in New York City for a couple years working in the music industry and I just needed to slow down. And I wanted to reconnect with my mom, who was here. I would come to Grand Rapids to visit for Christmas and Thanksgiving and stuff, but I never thought to live here. And then I decided to start a whole new chapter.
Have you always been an actor?
I’ve done drag. I’ve been in rock bands. I’ve always been a performer, but more in the music scene. I didn’t really start doing theater until I moved to Grand Rapids.
I went to a performing arts high school in California, the Orange County School of the Arts. I just kind of gave it up in my 20s, because my life went in more of a music direction. But as a musician, I was still a performer. Through drag, I got cast in Dawson’s Creek. That was the first time that I was paid as an actor.
My band, they were all straight guys, and I sang in drag. And we would get in a van and play in rock clubs. Then I’d go in the bathroom, put my drag makeup on and come out and we’d play punk rock music. That was our thing. It was called Trixie Delicious. … I have 20 years of music industry experience. I’m a Grammy voter.
Why do you like performing?
It’s given me confidence. It’s hard to believe but I’m kind of an introvert and it’s given me ways to come out of my shell and be more confident. I’m humbled and honored that my work as an actor has been recognized.
What’s keeping you happy staying here in Grand Rapids? Future plans?
I like it here. It’s been good for my mental health. It’s been good for my profession. It’s been good for relationships and finding a community. I’m humbled and honored that I get to have this dream job at a radio station in Grand Rapids, a city that’s growing as fast as it is. And I’m here to mentor and support and listen and guide anyone that might need assistance. Especially, there are teenagers, kids in the theater community, you can tell that they’re coming out of the closet or maybe struggling at home, and if you can provide a support system for these up-and-coming kids so that they can recognize and see somebody in themselves.
How do you handle that?
I really like to encourage the kids to be themselves and not accept bullying. And it’s really been a joy to watch these kids come up through the theater program and gain the tools that they need to be confident. I try to just live my life in a very positive way and hope that it impacts someone in a positive way. I don’t really think about it, I just go forth and do it, and just hope for the best. But I’m certainly very honored and humbled that I have the opportunities I’ve been given and have been recognized for them.