Singer, actress, dancer - Sarah McKenzie-Duckworth is the total package
by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Sarah McKenzie-Duckworth, 24, is well known for being... Sarah. That's not something many people achieve in life. She has had more than one stage name (given to her by drag queens, naturally), has performed as a good number of recognizable movie and cartoon characters, and is an accomplished singer, dancer, actress, and model. When nightclub promoters in Seattle need an entertainer who can do it all, Sarah is the one they call. And Sarah, more often than not, accepts, performs, and delivers in the way that only she can. But it is her over-the-top costuming, party-girl lifestyle, and - at times - vulnerable, authentic self that her friends and fans recognize. With Sarah, what you see is what you get. And what you get is a fiery, multitalented - albeit somewhat crazy - star. And folks just can't seem to get enough.
Some people are meant to be famous. Sarah is one of them.
'Entertaining is really all I've ever known,' Sarah told me as we discussed all things Little Miss McKenzie-Duckworth on a sunlit afternoon on Capitol Hill. 'There's never been a time I can remember that I wasn't performing or training.'
Sarah has moxie that someone her age ought not to have. She has an old soul, cut from the ilk of a troubled yet talented jazz singer who romanticizes the ghetto. And that's not a bad thing, either. Any artist who has ever been worth anything is a tortured soul. But inside her also beats the heart of an optimistic flower child who doesn't want to be bothered by serious people who wander around doing serious things. Instead, Sarah wants to sing and dance and play dress-up for the rest of her life. The love of a man is even secondary to this because, you see, she's already found her lover - the stage.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Sarah McKenzie-Duckworth was born in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. When she was three, the family relocated to Florida and her parents separated not long afterward. She told me that although the divorce occurred while she was young, the split played a predominant role in shaping her adolescence.
She was enrolled in dance lessons, and even at age three, Sarah maintains, 'I was always the sassy showoff.'
In old Hollywood an actor wasn't just an actor. And actress wasn't allowed to simply act. The studios and their adoring fans demanded they sing and dance as well - and, then as now, it didn't hurt if you were easy on the eyes. Sarah identifies with those stars - the Golden Age of Hollywood, as they say.
'I studied dance intensely for over 18 years. I trained in everything from ballet and jazz, to gymnastics and cheerleading,' she recalls. 'I began private acting lessons prior to middle school. Entering sixth grade, I auditioned and was accepted into the prestigious Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach as a theater major, where my daily education consisted of a well-rounded intensive curriculum that focused on all aspects of the theater.'
During those formative years, Sarah learned improvisation, theater history, audition techniques, costume construction and design, lighting and technical skills, stage design, building and painting and more. She then re-auditioned and was accepted into the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, also majoring in theater. Here the curriculum was even more rigorous.
Sarah didn't stop there. She attended private voice lessons, weekly musical theater workshops, and performances. All of the hard work paid off when she was awarded a full-ride talent scholarship for musical theater to Florida School of the Arts in Palatka.
It was there that Sarah truly refined her vocal ability.
'In a way I double-majored because when I auditioned it was for both the musical theater and dance program,' she admits. 'Due to my skill level they allowed me to take dance lessons with the majors. I was the only first-year, let alone musical theater major, in the graduating class's end-of-the-year dance recitals.'
Palatka is also where Sarah began to see signs of the bombshell she would become today. 'I had the privilege of being a muse to many incredible artists, photographers, and choreographers,' she says. 'College brought me the closest I've been to artistic method and really questioning the fine line between brilliance and insanity. '
THE BIO QUEEN COMETH
On January 1, 2010, without ever having visited the West Coast, Sarah arrived in Seattle with her three-legged cat, Pirate, who accompanied her all the way from Florida. 'Pirate,' she explains, 'was ironically named Pirate prior to having a leg amputated due to an injury.'
'I reside in lower Leschi but basically live on the Hill,' Sarah says, referring to Capitol Hill, Seattle's LGBTQ cultural center, known for its vibrant nightlife and accepting attitude of its residents.
'I live in a quaint, girly-decorated cottage in an abundant garden complete with a lily pond, fruits, flowers, veggies, and berries,' she says, adding, 'I often joke with people that I live like Snow White.'
'My whole life seems to take place on the Hill,' she continues. 'Capitol Hill provides a level of freedom for its inhabitants. We can get away with a lot. The Hill is home to scenesters, the LGBTQ community, hippies, hipsters, and whoever else wants to plant their roots here.'
Because individual expression, something that is near and dear to Sarah, is welcomed and is the norm on Capitol Hill, Sarah says she 'finds it so arrogant when outsiders have the audacity to make ignorant comments about how outlandish lovely Hill residents are.'
'They should realize where they are and respect it,' she says.
Within two weeks of moving to Seattle, Sarah was offered a job in Le Faux, a female- and celebrity-impersonation show at Julia's on Broadway. As she tells it, 'I saw the show on a Saturday and got the job the following Monday.'
She joined the cast as a dancer but would soon come to look at the Le Faux troupe as family. 'Le Faux,' she recalls, 'was my home away from home.'
During Seattle Pride 2010, local entertainer and Capitol Hill icon Robbie Turner (principal performer and longest running cast member at Le Faux) asked Sarah to sing an impromptu version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' onstage at PrideFest, held in Seattle Center.
She accepted and belted out the words to the Judy Garland anthem. 'I've never been in the background,' says Sarah. 'I don't belong there.'
It was at that very moment, Sarah says, she realized she doesn't belong in the world of drag queens. Although she would not expound on the topic any further, she did say, 'I learned the complications that come from being both a biological female and a live singer.'
Sarah developed local notoriety for her portrayal of Jessica Rabbit from the 1988 American comedy/mystery/noir film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 'Le Faux was a beneficial learning experience and helped me to progress to the next level, both professionally and personally.'
KITTY HAS ARRIVED
After Sarah left Le Faux she began performing at different venues on the Hill. But despite having an aversion to a stage name, she decided it was necessary in order to compete with the fun and creative drag queen names that always seemed to get top billing on promotional posters. Brainstorming with Brian Daniel Peters, the man behind the drag sensation known as Mama Tits, the two agreed that 'Kitty' was perfect.
'My original name was Kitty Corset, but during Pride Idol 2010, while serving on the panel of judges, the lovely hostess Gaysha Starr nicknamed me 'Kitty Kitty Bang Bang' and in turn renamed me,' Sarah says. 'It felt more genuine. I identified with it more. I thought it encompassed sexy and sassy. I'm a big stickler about nicknames coming to fruition naturally, and that was the case with Kitty.'
Sarah, turned Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, still lightheartedly jokes about being a biological woman in a man's - as in drag queens - world. 'I'm a bio queen,' she proclaims. 'A bio queen is a biological girl who dresses as big, fierce, glittery, wigged out, lashed, and conceptualized as an actual drag queen.'
'When I began doing celebrity impersonation I realized how hand-in-hand it came with the drag world,' says Sarah. 'I've actually been a drag queen since I could play dress-up and Pretty Pretty Princess. I had an amazing costume box treasure chest by the age of six. For my elementary school graduation I insisted on Britney Spears' bumped hair style from her 'Oops ... I Did It Again' video.' At that time I didn't understand the concept of teasing and hairspray. I remember being very disappointed that I couldn't get my bump as big as Britney's.'
'Early signs of a Queen,' she says, smiling.
'FAME HAS A NEGATIVE CONNOTATION THESE DAYS'
When Sarah was four years old, she discovered Michael Jackson and was mesmerized. 'My babysitter put on a video of his full-length live concert from the 'Past, Present, Future' tour. I had never seen anything like it before, let alone of that caliber,' she recalls. 'His performance level is still unmatched by anyone. He was perhaps [my] favorite growing up, along with Celine Dion.'
While watching a VH1 Divas Live show, pre-school-aged Sarah learned the word 'Diva.'
'I was watching a show with all the best female vocalists like Donna Summer and Aretha Franklin,' she says. 'And the host kept calling them 'Divas.' I didn't know what that meant yet, but I turned to my mother and declared, 'When I grew up I want to be a Diva!'
Like most performers of her generation, Sarah was influenced by Whitney Houston, Madonna, Prince, and Janet Jackson. Britney Spears, however, was 'very influential,' Sarah says.
Britney's debut album, ... Baby One More Time, was the first CD Sarah bought.
On some level, Sarah always knew that she was destined to be a known performer. On what level that ultimately manifests remains to be seen - but at the moment, no one can deny that Kitty Kitty Bang Bang is a Capitol Hill celebrity and sought-after personality for any talent show, party, or event.
But don't tell Sarah she has achieved fame status. She is far too intelligent for that kind of hot air.
'I think the word 'fame' has a negative connotation these days,' she says. 'Many are quick to chase fame rather than artistic perfection. I believe true fame is earned by those who are the best at what they do.'
According to Sarah, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga have all achieved the highest levels of fame 'because they are the best.'
'Yes, I have sought world domination in all my artistic pursuits and essentially the word 'fame' my whole life,' Sarah admits in a moment of introspection. 'However, I remind myself frequently of my artistic process. It's more important to concentrate on achieving the highest quality of artistic excellence and the fame will come on its own.'
'I do believe in local celebrities,' she adds. 'Depending on your 'scene' I'm sure everyone would have a different opinion of who those celebrities are. I wouldn't be quick to say 'Sarah's' one, but Kitty certainly has a fabulous and supportive little fan base growing!'
She says it's humbling to overhear a stranger whisper, 'That's Kitty Kitty Bang Bang.'
'But there is a point where Kitty stops and Sarah begins,' she explains. 'They are not the same. I don't always want to be 'on' or entertaining, which is expected when you are a public persona in this business.'
' A lot of times I actually prefer being alone,' she says, but quickly realizing you can't have your cake and eat it too, she adds, 'However, people think they have access to you, whether it be a positive or negative. It is part of the job to self-promote and to be accessible.'
One thing Sarah is known for is her amazing wardrobe. 'I dress how I feel,' she proclaims. 'I swear by thrifting! Fashion really has nothing to do with designer brands, rules, or money. [No] amount of clothing or makeup could ever be as fashionable as exuding confidence. It's the sexiest accessory. Completes any outfit. And trust me, people can see confidence. They can feel it.'
She is a collector and huge fan of vintage clothing, accessories, and culture. Hats, shoes, dresses, and earrings are among her favorite pieces to purchase. 'I'm particularly a fan of the classic and feminine flattering fashions of the 1950s and 1960s,' she says. 'Jackie Kennedy has always been a big fashion icon of mine.'
With local celebrity, Sarah has found that while there may be some perks, there is also plenty of criticism. 'I think people assume a lot about me from my persona, or what they see on Facebook,' she says. 'It's easier to take a blow or be quick to verbally hurt or judge someone who's on display or larger than life.'
'As much as I enjoy what I do, at the end of the day it is a business, an image, a market,' explains Sarah. 'I'm trying to be as successful of a businesswoman as possible.'
Sarah admits she does not appreciate the assumptions and judgment of her private life that sometimes get back to her. 'I cannot allow such petty behavior to sway me,' she says defiantly. 'At the end of the day, haters do not know me - they know Kitty.'
'TRUE LOVE SURPASSES TITLES'
As a young adult Sarah was romantically obsessed with the idea of her wedding day and being a domestic, Southern, pin-up housewife and mother. But over time, she stopped believing in the institution of marriage.
'Time and circumstances may change that again,' she says, adding, 'in fact I hope it does.'
'I believe true love surpasses titles, ceremonies, and paperwork,' Sarah explains. 'The divorce rates speak for themselves. Heterosexual culture has ruined the sanctity of marriage on its own, yet conservatives insist that allowing homosexuals to wed will do just that. I appreciate the LGBTQ community for putting passion and fire back into what marriage could stand for.'
More predominant then her personal plan to marry or not, is Sarah's belief in equal rights for all people.
'I certainly support marriage equality and have every intention of voting to Approve Referendum 74,' she proclaims. 'It's frightening to think a government has boundaries and regulations on love. It just seems absurd to me.'
'I've always had some mystic way of manifesting extreme similarities in my guys,' Sarah tells me as we delve into the deep waters of sexuality and likes and dislikes of men. 'My type is rather specific. It's hard to find guys who are an equal mix of pretty boy and dominant man. From early on I had a thing for pretty, endogenous, feminine boys.'
'The first boy I ever had a crush on had beautiful long ginger hair,' she recalls. 'My fetish for long hair has never left me since.'
When asked about her luck on the dating scene, Sarah smiles demurely. 'Let's just say that in the past year I consecutively dated three guys with the same exact birthday, shoulder-length hair, each tatted, in a band, and an avid consumer of whiskey and good marijuana.'
'More importantly,' Sarah says in a serious tone, 'they all had swagger.'
'Swagger and personality trump all that superficial shit,' she continues. 'I've experienced how gorgeous someone becomes in my eyes when their humor and personalities take hold. I don't use the word 'man' lightly. I use to date boys. Bad boys. And they're every bit as dangerous and exciting as warned. But boys give you feelings - men show you actions. Now that I've dated a gentleman I'm never going back.'
Sarah has found that, aside from her love of fashion and men, she's got a few more things in common with the LGBTQ community as well. 'I have a very big and outgoing personality, along with an overt and expressive sexuality,' she says. 'Big is embraced in the LGBTQ community. Sexuality is especially.'
'I was aware of my extreme sexual nature as early as six,' Sarah recalls. 'I remember finding it naughty to watch sexually scandalous Prince and Madonna music videos. I'd change the station when someone would enter the room.'
'It's not wrong to be sexy,' she says. 'As a woman, that's my right. I take full ownership of it now while still trying to sexually liberate myself from society's opinions. There's a drastic difference in being sexual and being promiscuous. There's a difference in being a freak versus being a slut. I am a fan and big believer of monogamy.'
'Sex, sexy, sexuality is such an inescapable aspect of both my career and personal life,' Sarah explains. 'There'd be no Jessica Rabbit, Marilyn Monroe, or Kitty Kitty without the presence of 'sex.' Interestingly enough, it seems Lady Gaga, the LGBTQ community and Jessica Rabbit have all expressed the same idea. I was born/drawn this way!'
THE CAT WHISPERER
To keep her feet on the ground, Sarah tells me she repeats the phrase 'one day at a time' frequently. 'It keeps me from getting overwhelmed with the tribulations of everyday life,' she says. 'As long as I'm taking action, evolving and progressing daily, that is all I can ask of myself.'
Sarah says she finds it necessary that humanity begin being honest, supportive, and uplifting of one another. 'I am a firm believer in taking ownership for all you are,' she says. 'When you do, no one can touch you. Chin up, kittens. There is hope and health in tomorrow.'
'I've struggled with emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, extreme depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and plenty of insecurities,' she admits. 'I have learned that it is hard work but very possible to transcend and recover from your past or current circumstances.'
'Progress is essential,' says Sarah. 'When you cease to create as an artist, you die.'
At the end of the day, Sarah McKenzie-Duckworth - the woman and artist behind Kitty Kitty Bang Bang - lives her life unapologetically.
'I prefer top shelf whiskey and tend to have a mouth on me like a sailor, as any lady should,' she says, as if she is standing at a podium addressing her detractors. 'I am a big conspiracy theorist and fan of history. I'm fascinated by religion and science. I'm obsessed with the stars and take an interest in astronomy.'
'I've never had a tattoo or dyed my hair,' she continues. 'When I was younger I insisted on my parents calling me Ariel, as in The Little Mermaid, for a week. And what a lot of people don't know is that I'm a pretty sick rapper!'
Also, 'I'm sort of a secret cat whisperer,' Sarah tells me. 'They're just drawn to me. I joke that I will die a crazy cat lady. I can see the headlines now: 'Kitty with all her kitties!' I'm already pretty close to Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, so I'm already on my way.'
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