#WHYoming: Kenny Starling McCormack

#WHYoming: Kenny Starling McCormack

Photo by Carrie Anne's Candid Photography

Welcome to our series, #WHYoming, brought to you in partnership with Commerce Bank of Wyoming.

We are highlighting people throughout our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?

For this month’s #WHYoming, I had a chance to talk with Kenny Starling McCormack (they/she/he), drag performer, musician, and owner of the Starling Company. Kenny moved to Rock Springs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and began working as the theatre and events coordinator at Rock Springs Main Street/URA in 2021. In 2022, Kenny started the Starling Co., Wyoming’s first drag and theatre production company, and less than two years later, they are making the decision to be a full-time performer. In fact, Kenny turned in his two weeks notice just five days after we spoke for this interview.

Kenny, also known by her drag name, Starling, My Darling, has introduced a safe space for marginalized voices within the community. It’s important to Kenny to ensure everyone feels welcome in Rock Springs, Sweetwater County, and Wyoming as a whole, no matter your gender identity, sexual orientation, or race. Growing up in the ‘Swamps’ of South Carolina, Kenny understands the importance of visibility and spaces for all individuals in small communities, and he takes great pride in being able to contribute to the growing queer culture in Wyoming.

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If you don’t know Kenny from one of the Starling Co. productions (you can catch the We Are Family Drag Brunch at Eve’s this Sunday), you may know them as the lead singer of local rock band, Atlas Falls. In the few years that Kenny has been part of our community, he has become a notable figure, inspiring and uplifting others with every performance. He loves our community and feels grateful to have found a home here, and now he can’t imagine leaving Wyoming. It was a blast talking to Kenny and getting to know them better off the stage, and after our conversation, I can’t imagine Wyoming without the beautiful Starling, My Darling.

Kenny, how did you get into drag?

I started theatre when I was eight, just building sets for my mom’s shows and helping out with the paint rolling and whatnot. She did theatre, drag, she used to judge drag competitions at the local small town swampy bar that I grew up around. That was my gateway into it for sure. And then I eventually got on the stage at the age of 13. I grew up around drag artists so I kind of knew I always wanted to do it. My first venture into it was when I was 16, I did Rocky Horror for the first time and played Frank-N-Furter. And then my first traditional drag performance was three years ago in April with Drag for a Cause.

Photo by Tommy Culkin

What was it like growing up around the drag scene?

Really crazy. A lot of them did theatre, they were my mom’s friends growing up. I called them all auntie or uncle, depending on whatever they identified as, and this was the early to mid 2000s. And it was in the south as well, where things were pretty rough at the time for queer people. But there was an established culture. I knew it was something I wanted to do, I just finally pulled the trigger a couple years ago. 

Where does the name ‘Starling, My Darling’ come from?

Starling is actually my middle name. My mom said she stole it from, and this is a direct quote, ‘one of my dad’s crackhead friends in high school’, which was the time I was born, while they were in high school. But I’m not named after him, she just liked the name. Starling, My Darling actually comes from some of the girls that had crushes on me in middle school, that’s what they would call me. So that’s actually been my Instagram handle since middle school. I picked it up and it felt apropos as a brand. 

Can you tell us a bit about the Starling Company?

We announced our first set of auditions for another run of Rocky Horror in August of 2022, so it’s coming up on three years now since we started, which is really cool. I was actually ready to leave Rock Springs. The former partner that I moved here with, chasing love out west, that didn’t work out and I was ready to hightail it out of here. But, that was not possible in this state of capitalism. So I was like, ok, I’ll make the best of my time here, and there’s no market really for drag and there wasn’t really for theatre either in the area, so I decided to take what I knew and put it out there and create opportunities for other people. That’s kind of my big mission with it all, to amplify marginalized voices and give a platform for those voices to speak as well. So a lot of the shows we’ve done have been with subject matter that’s pretty sensitive and that people otherwise wouldn’t get to be exposed to in Wyoming, culture and stories that they wouldn’t be exposed to in Wyoming. And it’s been received really well I think. I mean, there’s the vocal minority, of course, but that’s with anything. 

How has the company grown?

We do a wide range of things from family friendly through pretty adult. Our pride show that we did part of the month, Freak Show, which was 18+, I say rated R and then I make it if you have a parent or guardian with you, and they want to have a conversation with you after the show, then that’s totally their right, that’s how I feel. And then we’re doing a family-friendly drag brunch at the end of the month. It’s our second brunch, it’s at Eve’s. We run the gamut there with the type of events, so we really get to catch a lot of people, it’s really beautiful. I see people all the time, just sitting in the audience of shows, and you can tell that sometimes its the first time that they’ve had a chance to take down that mask, that guard, that they put up for society and just be themselves for a night and feel safe amongst people that they’re safe with and feel loved by. That’s for young people, elderly people, disabled people, people of color, people of different countries of origin, I’ve met so many people because of this. It feels like we’ve been able to touch a lot of people, and it’s really cool. 

Our performers are from all over. The furthest I’ve gotten is southern Utah currently. We shoot for Wyoming as much as we can. There’s production companies in all four corners of Wyoming now that are doing drag and theatre, and we’re all kind of interconnected now. I’m really trying to help instill a mindset of ‘there’s no reason we should be competition’. There’s only 500,000 people in the state like, we’re serving the same community here, let’s elevate and uplift each other. And then we can create an industry where we’re trading performers and trading technicians and all kinds of stuff. For this brunch I actually have a queen coming from Casper, and my drag sister Porcelain [Hughes], who’s doing drag shows in Casper, says they’re great, so I’m gonna trust her. We get quite a few performers from Salt Lake and the surrounding area, but we do get a lot of locals, a lot of people who just want to try it one time, and that I will say was inspired by Drag for a Cause. They try and keep the floor open during the shows, like, ‘hey, does anyone want to get up here and perform?’ And that’s how we get a lot of our performers; that was my first performance.

You’re also the lead singer of Atlas Falls. How did you get involved with the band?

I joined the band and they were already pretty well established as a five-piece. They were really good, they’re all incredibly talented, they all play multiple instruments, they pretty much all sing, they’re all so good. Our bassist is a graduate of Berkeley so there’s a lot of training there too. But yeah, I got connected with them through our former drummer, Alex, who did my first production of Rocky [Horror Picture Show], he was the drummer for that show. And Amy, our bassist, was the guitar player for that show. And I asked them if they wanted to come do Hedwig and the Angry Inch last year for April and May, that was our show, and they said well we have a whole band now. Back during the Rocky days, they weren’t part of this band. And I was like, ok, tell me more. So we just rehearsed in this little band shed for two months preparing for the show, and they made me feel like a rockstar. It was so cool. They were so much fun to work with and we were able to listen to the original soundtracks for Hedwig and come up with ways to make it our own. But then the show ended and I’m like, so this was fun. And they were like, ‘yeah, it was a lot of fun, do you want to just hang around?’ And I’m like ‘I’m glad you asked, because, yes. I don’t want to leave this alone now’. And now it just seems like we continue to grow, like our reach. We just did the RV Rally for the Escapees, and they offered us two out of state gigs in Arizona next year, so there’s a little incline there. 

How did you end up in Rock Springs?

I’m originally from South Carolina, the swamps. Grew up Southern Baptist, the whole nine yards. And then I moved to Utah, I was either freshly 20 or about to turn 20, chasing love in the west, as you do. And that lasted about a month. And I didn’t learn my lesson, and I ended up getting with another guy and we were together for almost five years and then moved out here. And he had been here, he went to college at Western for theatre. His best friend still lived here, and he essentially had a job lined up here, so during the pandemic we moved here in search of cheaper and quieter living. 

You’re a pretty visible person in the local queer community, does that come naturally for you? And are there any challenges that come with that?

Yeah, it’s a pretty natural thing. I’ve always been pretty visible in smaller communities because I’ve always been able to see the value of it, which is a great thing for the community. I have kids from growing up that message me and tell me that I was their first representation of somebody who was out and proud and happy to be themselves and happy to be there, and it kind of gave them a step to be able to do that. Which is insane. But sometimes, it’s a little exhausting. I love it, but I also can be a bit of an introvert at heart if you can believe it, so my social battery gets drained pretty quickly. And when you put your soul on stage for people, they feel like they know you intimately and feel that they can have these, essentially, conversations that should be dedicated for a therapist. Which I don’t mind, I’m in a privileged enough place to be able to handle those conversations with care and be a sounding board for a lot of conversations, but sometimes it can be exhausting.

The other people, the vocal minority, they don’t even bother me. I get frustrated more than anything, particularly when some of my other performers or my friends or my family get roped into the situation. That pisses me off more than when they say nonsense about me. 

Photo by Carl Cote

What is something unique about you?

Both of my great grandfathers were blue grass artists in the early days of blue grass, actually. That’s where my arts comes from, I guess. 

What do you appreciate most about our community?

Wow… the people. It’s just the community in general. I mean, I hardly ever have to fight the Facebook fights on Sweetwater County Rants and Raves because the folks in the community show up for us and speak on our behalves. And a lot of them are just allies at the end of the day. And some people have never even come to see our shows but they see that people are being awful and they decide they’re going to address that. And that’s really cool. And the fact that our pride show this year had just short of 200 people, like people are showing up and showing out for us. They’re going to make this full time performer gig a reality for me. 

What are some of your hobbies?

Drag and theatre, and every aspect of those I really love. It ends up taking a lot of my time. I also really enjoy the actual crafting of costumes and props and things like that. I’ll get in a moment of mania and build a prop out of paper mache that’s huge. I built a guitar for a drag performance that I smashed on stage, I did the Hex Girls from the Scooby Doo movie way back in the day, and yeah, smashed that guitar on stage and it was just all paper mache. I love doing things like that and just disconnect from the world a little bit. 

If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?

Never stop searching for the joy in everything you do. That’s kind of how I’ve lived my life and that’s how I’ve ended up where I am now. It’s when I’ve allowed other people to affect me and my joy that I’ve struggled in this life. Yeah, keep searching for that joy, whether it be in yourself, or your work situations, your hobbies, whatever can get you through this capitalist hellscape we live in. 

Photo by Tommy Culkin

What is one, or a few, of your proudest accomplishments?

Just starting this company in general. Being able to connect with our beautiful community and be part of the movement to make it even better and continue brining it into the 21st century, and making it a community for all its members, not just the good ol’ boys club. 

Doing Hedwig and the Angry Inch last year was insane. I first got to see that show on Broadway in previews with Neil Patrick Harris with my very first queer partner at the age of 16, which was crazy. And that was the moment that I was like, ok, I’m not totally a dude, something is going on different there, and there are other ways to explore that in the world. So to be able to bring that full circle and perform it here and have it be received so well was so cool. And I felt like a rockstar, too. 

Photo by Daniel James Bendtsen

And then the other one was this past New Years Eve drag show. Matthew Shepard’s parents came to the show. Wyoming Equality brought them, and they don’t typically do events in Wyoming, they’re traveling and they’re important people at this point in time in history. So the fact that they came and they were able to shuck all the outside world away and just be there and have fun and enjoy a drag show for the night was so—When I first moved here, Matthew Shepard was the only thing I knew about Wyoming, aside from it’s the Wild West. And I knew that was essentially the queer history that’s broadly known about the state, and so I told myself, I’m gonna change that. So to have them present was also a full circle moment. That night, and what I’ve said at most of our shows since, is: ‘that is the queer history of Wyoming that is broadly known, but there is so much that has happened before and that’s not where it has to stop. We can keep getting better and being known for better things’. 

Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?

My house. Also our band shed, just so much fun, I just get to hang out with my friends and make music. And then the Broadway Theatre downtown. Anytime I get to be there with people or by myself, it feels like home. 

If you had all the time and resources necessary, what’s a skill you would want to learn?

To do a split, first of all. It’s kind of a requisite for being a drag artist nowadays and I can’t do one. Also a cartwheel, and I can’t do a cartwheel to save my life. Something a little more practical though… I really want to learn how to play the harmonica. Both of my great granddads played a ton of instruments but they didn’t sing, whereas I sing and I don’t play any instruments, so to pick up the harmonica would be cool. 

Photo by Julia Rhiannon

I usually ask what you would sing at karaoke night, but in your case, what’s your favorite cover to perform with your band?

So we do two that are tops for me right now because they really dig into the soulful Southern Baptist roots that I have. The first is Beggin’ by Måneskin. So good. And then that song I Don’t Want to Be by Gavin DeGraw. Also good. They kind of have similar tones to them. 

Photo by Mark Pedri

How would your friends describe you?

At this stage in my life, grandmotherly. I’ve always been a little old southern lady inside. I try to make sure everybody is taken care of, make sure that they ate, make sure that they’re drinking enough water, that they showered—that one’s mainly for everybody else’s benefit. Making sure that people have got rides to places, taken care of emotionally, that they have an outlet and they don’t feel alone. So definitely grandmotherly. 

Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?

Who is the nonbinary individual from House of the Dragon? Emma D’arcy. So good. They’ve got the cheek bones, they’ve got the eyes, I think they’d do well. Give them more roles!

Photo by Carrie Anne’s Candid Photography

What are your goals for the future? Do you want to stay here?

I think the roots are too strong in Wyoming now, I don’t think I could ever leave. I feel like I’ve given the community and the people something to look forward to, and hope, and I want to continue feeding into that, because this is where we lose people at the end of the day, right? The cities are covered, there’s enough access to spaces, so I don’t feel it would be totally right for me to leave Wyoming. Plus it’s been kind to me. But, in the same breath, I don’t have another full winter in me. My southern blood can’t handle it, so I would love to have this as a home base and travel around. My boyfriend lives in South Carolina, actually, I met him the last time we went down. And there was nobody here so I figured let’s try a long distance thing, so it would be cool to have that as the winter home and this as the summer home. And I’m getting into the drag community out there too, I got to perform with some of the queens I grew up around at the end of last year which was insane. Another full circle moment.

SweetwaterNOW photo by Kaylee Hughes

Why do you choose to live in Wyoming?

I do appreciate the slower, quieter lifestyle at the end of the day. I really do. I’m from a small town so it’s a kind of crazy that I understand to a certain degree. There’s also just so much opportunity here, and we’re really only starting to scratch the surface of it. As more people get accustomed to it and it becomes more normalized, the different areas of performance that I’m involved in and that are also going on in other places, this place is just going to continue to elevate and become even more beautiful. I see all the potential and I want to be a part of it.

Correction: The photos used in this article were given to SweetwaterNOW by Kenny McCormack. This article has been edited to include photo credit.

This community series is brought to you by our great sponsors at Commerce Bank of Wyoming.