BWW Interview: Jan Sport Opens Up About Her Path from Musical Theatre to Musical Queen
Rupaul's Drag Race is feeling the Jantasy this season, as the show welcomed one of its most musical queens in its herstory. Jan Sport (known to viewers as just Jan) joined the competition for its 12th season when it premiered just weeks ago on VH1. The New York City-based triple-threat has been quick to show off her skills on the show, many of which she picked up where else, but the theatre.
Before the queens flex their acting muscles on tonight's highly-anticipated Snatch Game episode, we're checking in with Jan to hear all about her theatrical past, how Broadway has influenced her drag, and how it all began with Kris Jenner and "I Dreamed a Dream."
Before drag happened for you, how did you express yourself as a kid?
I was always a kid who wanted to sing and dance. My parents tell me that I was always singing around the house and always wanting to put on a show for my family. I was obsessed with Riverdance when I was a child as well, so my parents got me a board and tap shoes when I was like 5 years old. [Laughs] So I would tap along to Riverdance at a very young age.
I also played sports growing up, and that was also a big part of my life. My parents were like, "You love to sing, why don't you try to do a play?" So I said, "Sure!" The first show I did was Oklahoma! in 5th grade. And then I did soccer and theatre simultaneously until I was about 17.
Did you see a lot of theatre as a kid?
I grew up in New Jersey, so my parents took us [to Broadway shows] every so often. It wasn't so regular, but we definitely had access to it when we wanted to. We would go to see The Rockettes every year. I remember seeing 42nd Street, Wicked... all of the blockbusters.
When did you know that you needed to perform?
The year after I quit soccer. I think in a calendar year I did like Eleven musicals. I was in rehearsals for shows while doing shows and it was a huge cyclical thing. I met some friends who were a year above me and they were talking about how they were auditioning for musical theatre schools. I went to an all-boys Christian school and always thought I'd grow up and be an accountant or something. Then my friends told me that musical theatre was an actual degree and I was like, "Ok, well this changes everything!" There was nothing in my life that I was passionate about in academia, and I was good at theatre, so I was like, "Why not audition for some theatre schools next year?" That's when I realized that I need to be onstage and make this a career.
Then you entered the conservatory experience?
Yes, I went to Boston Conservatory in the Fall of 2011. It was an awesome experience. It was so intense, but I met some amazing people and I had some incredible teachers. It set up the foundation to where I am now.
And when did that passion shift to drag?
I graduated school and I had started to play around with the idea of doing makeup. I really loved just getting ready with my casts... they taught me tricks and we bought products together. I kept posting pictures of them online so that my friends and family could see at home. Then a friend of mine said, "You know, when you do this makeup, you kinda look like Kris Jenner!" And I was like, "Ok, great!" And they suggested that I try to do a full illusion of Kris Jenner, and I thought that could be fun.
So I put on a random season of KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS and I stumbled upon an episode called "All That Jazz." It's all about Kris trying to get into the Broadway cast of Chicago. I thought it was so funny and I knew I had to do something with this.... but I wasn't sure what it was. I now refer to that as a mix, which is something we do all the time as drag performers. It's basically a two and half minute monologue talking about Kris Jenner trying to get on Broadway. The last thing that she says is: "If being on Broadway is my dream, then it's my dream!" So my theatre brain of course goes to "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Mis.
So I made this mix and I sang the song after the spoken-word. That was the first number that I did, and honestly, I didn't even realize that I was doing drag. In my mind it was just an impersonation. I didn't even have the name Jan Sport then- I was just Charlie Mantione as Kris Jenner.
So I won the competition and everyone was like, "You should keep doing this. It's really good!" And queens like Paige Turner, Brita Filter, Alexis Michelle, Miz Cracker told me that I had to keep going with it. So I kind of melded my two passions together. At the time though, I didn't even realize it was drag. I was using my theatre background and my love for Pop culture and Broadway and fusing them together. That's when it really clicked and I realized that this was theatre, but just in a different venue, and I get to decide what I'm performing. I get to decide my point of view. That was very appetizing to me.
And if you hadn't stumbled upon that episode, who knows what you'd be doing now...
I'm always a 'right place, right time' kind of person, and when coincidences happen in your life, it just means you are supposed to be there. It's all for a reason.
Do you think that living in New York and being exposed to so much culture 24/7 has made you a better performer?
100%. Even when I was at school, just seeing my fellow classmates made me a better performer in terms of acting and singing and dancing. But when it comes to drag, New York City is such an epicenter. It's so amazing to watch performers, many of whom have theatre degrees, and to see how they infuse their theatrical training with their drag personas. You learn new things along the way. It awesome too because a lot of the people who are on Broadway love drag queens and they come out to our shows and support us. Then in turn, we can go and see their shows on Broadway and it's so inspiring. I get to see these shows and fall in love with the art form all over again. Even though I'm not doing traditional theatre, I'm still doing my own kind of theatre.
What's the last show you saw that you were inspired by?
We went back to Wicked a couple of months ago. I feel like as taboo as it is to love Wicked as a hard-core theatre person, I really do! I think it is so inspiring and one of best musicals out there. The cast had so much energy!
Also- this wasn't so recent, but I always will remember the revival of Once on This Island. That was incredible. We were so close and there was so much going on all around us. The cast was phenomenal. It was such a beautiful way to tell a story. I like to think of my numbers sometimes as mini-plays- that they have a firm beginning, middle and end; that there is a strong through-line and strong point of view. That show, throughout the entire production, really had a strong point of view.
A post shared by Jan Sport (@janjanjan) on Oct 16, 2019 at 9:55am PDT
I'd imagine that you have a lot of cast albums that you love to sing along to...
I am such a sucker for Legally Blonde. I love campy musical theatre. I know it's not under-rated, because people love it and perform it all over, but I love it. We just watched The Search for the Next Elle Woods and the full musical on MTV. I'm also a sucker for Miss Saigon. I really love Eva Noblezada and all of her performances in that. I saw her in it and she was so iconic. So yeah, thats two very different styles! [Laughs}
Is Broadway something you would consider doing if your career took you there?
Definitely! With this new season of Drag Race being out, I'm so excited to get to travel and see fans across the world when all of this is said and done. I would hope that in a few years I could do a show though, like Peppermint did in Head Over Heels. She paved the way for Drag Race girls to be on that stage and I heard she did such a fantastic job. I would love to follow in her footsteps.
What do you think theatre actors can learn from drag performers?
The one thing I was always nervous about when I was in college was that I wasn't allowing myself to be as free as I am now as a drag performer. I was always very trapped in my body. That was really hard for me to get over- feeling loose and comfortable in my body so the audience could feel comfortable as well. What I love about drag, at least in the style that I do, is that it doesn't take its self too seriously. I think that any theatre performer can go to a drag show and see a queen being absolutely loosey-goosey in their body and apply that to themselves.