He may be known to the world as Courtney Act, a runner-up on RuPaul’s Drag Race earlier this year. But Shane Jenek had no intention of making drag his career. In fact, the gay Australian native had never done drag until after high school at age 18, when he wore it as a costume for a New Year’s Eve party in Melbourne — and only at the request of a friend. “I think she thought that if I dress up in drag and look like a woman — since she was a lesbian — that there was some sort-of mathematical equation that would occur,” he explains, laughing. “But I think she forgot to carry the one.”
Nothing happened with Jenek’s lesbian friend, but he had an “amazing night.” So amazing that he returned to Sydney, did drag the next night and “never was able to put it down.” And Jenek had plenty of people telling him to put it down. “People told me that I should stop, that if I wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, I should not be doing drag. I’m glad that I didn’t listen to anybody else and I listened to myself and what it was that I really wanted.”
In fact, Jenek’s first big break as Courtney Act — pronounced with an Australian accent to become the play-on-words “caught in the act” — might not have happened had Australian Idol judges accepted him when he auditioned as a boy. Instead, he returned in disguise, without telling them it was the boy they rejected the day before. “I walked into the room and said, ‘I’m a drag queen, not a flight attendant’ — because I had a really bad airline cabin bag.” That engaged the judges, to the point that the Simon Cowell-esque judge became Courtney Act’s biggest champion, helping enough “middle-Australian men” accept her in the process that she made it all the way through to the semi-finals.
Since RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Los Angeles-based performer has been on a whirlwind world tour, most recently dressing up for a performance during Folsom in Berlin. When asked if she gave a dominatrix look, Jenek laughs, “I think calling Courtney a dominatrix is always going to be a stretch. A little bit of latex and leather do not make a dominatrix.”
Next weekend Courtney Act returns to D.C. after this year’s Capital Pride and an earlier 2010 gig at Town. “I’ll be doing my thing — singing some songs, having some fun with the audience, enjoying all that Washington has to offer,” Jenek says.
Maybe on a future visit to D.C. Courtney Act can perform Boys Like Me, the “one-woman show” he just did a monthly run of in New York. “It actually examines my life on the gender divide,” he says. “Sometimes as a girl, sometimes as a boy — and how that manifests itself in the people that I have sex with.”
Courtney Act performs Saturday, Sept. 27, during the 10:30 p.m. drag show at Town Danceboutique, 2009 8th NW. Cover is $8 before 11 p.m., or $20 for a ticket including a “meet & greet” at 9 p.m. Call 202-234-TOWN or visit towndc.com.
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