Dreaming Big and Taking Chances
by C.L. Frederick
Throughout childhood we are encouraged to follow our dreams, but as we become adults this encouragement is harder to be found. Local LGBT personality Ryan Matthew Chambers was passionate about following his dreams and never bought into the belief that adults are too old to dream. He is the man behind Genewa Stanwyck; one of Kansas City’s most endearing drag characters.
An artist and performer at heart; Chambers came to the metaphorical ‘fork in the road’ and decided to give up the safety of a conventional career to be a performer. The risk has undoubtedly paid off as his talent has become cherished piece of the Kansas City LGBT fabric.
Growing up, Chambers had a dream to be in the Worlds of Fun ‘Stax of Wax’ show.
“I’m not a vocalist so there was no chance in you-know-where that I’d get on that show,” Chambers said.
Later, he got the chance to perform at a friend’s birthday party and Genewa was born. She started out as a character named Victoria Secrets ‘original, I know!’ and then the real name came along.
While hanging out with his friend Mike, Chambers found the perfect name. They were watching the soap opera “The Young and the Restless” when Mike leaned over and told Chambers that his drag name should be Genewa.
“Genewa City, get it? The first name comes from the city in the ‘Young and the Restless.’ Stanwyck came from the movie Fletch—long story, but it also comes for the legendary Barbara,” he said.
As a performer, Chambers paid great attention to the creation of his character Genewa. Her trademark look is the era of the ’80s – from big hair to shoulder pads – it’s her homage to the decade.
Chambers grew up in the small-town of Basehor, Kan., where he was bullied throughout school.
“When I’m a boy, I can be very introverted.” he said. “I think that comes from growing up rural. In school I just thought the quieter I was the less I’d be made fun of.”
Genewa Stanwyck is the outgoing, extroverted version of Chambers.
“She’s just an extension of the real me. The one that always wanted to get out, but never felt like it was possible,” Chambers said.
He feels that if you know Genewa, then you certainly know Ryan.
Chambers has lived in Kansas City for 17 years and has always enjoyed being in the city. He appreciates the community and believes that it has many opportunities to offer LGBT individuals.
“I think we have a very strong community here. There are so many different people from all walks of life,” he said. “We work together, entertain together, raise money together, help each other.”
He believes wholeheartedly that communities need to be there for one another and that is evident in his love for his city.
“That’s what makes me like Kansas City so much. We have so much to fight for and we get it done!” Chambers said.
For 11 years, Chambers had a 9-5 career at a local theater. Initially, he enjoyed his career and got promoted quickly, but after many years doing the same thing day-in and day-out, he became burnt out.
“I come from a family of workers so my work ethic is strong. The career made me so unhappy every day and performing was the joy,” he said.
It became evident to him that he needed to make a career change and to pursue full time his passion for performing.
“It dawned on me that it was time. I crunched numbers, had a budget, and then put in my month notice,” he said.
Though it was a difficult and terrifying decision, he has not looked back since.
“I was scared, nervous, and excited to get away. Let me tell you, that final walk out of the building was the best thing ever,” Chambers said
The most difficult aspect of his career change was the uncertainty of being able to make a living. He was fully prepared to be without a job for a while, but was concerned about his nest egg drying up before conquering his new career path. During that time, he took every opportunity to perform.
“I was performing three days a week, then four, then five. I didn’t ever think that I’d be doing what I do now. The thought was there. The hope was there. I worked and worked. With hard work and putting myself out there I was able to make it a career,” Chambers said.
Chambers proves the you can achieve your dreams through passion, hard work, and self-belief.
Genewa has been called a local LGBT icon and has left a lasting impact on the community. Humor is the gift that Chambers bestows onto others and it has resonated tremendously. His mission is to make people laugh and to be a positive light during trying times. Genewa resonates with people because of her humor and uplifting nature.
“I think she has a positive impact on the community because she isn’t afraid to make a fool of herself, or just be goofy. In my mind, it humanizes the performer,” said Chambers.
Some of Chambers favorite shows have been the run of Late Night Theatre’s ‘Prison Bitches from Hell,’ ‘Remington Steele Magnolias,’ ‘KC Cares Benefit for Pulse,’ ‘Scary Carrie Prom’ for the Millennial League, and the Heartland Men’s Chorus Christmas Concert. “I get to perform with some of my best friends every day. We have helped raise $53,000 for the victims of the Pulse shooting. We get to make people laugh for hours on end. We get to do a lot of good things for a lot of people and that’s my favorite part,” said Chambers. He hopes that in the future he will still be performing and has a few other dreams to pursue. “I’d like to explore merchandise and branding opportunities. Wouldn’t you just love a Stanwyck shirt or Whore of ’84 bloomers?” said Chambers. Another one of those dreams is to make it on the Logo television show ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race.’ “It’s such a great platform and RuPaul is an LGBT icon,” said Chambers. There should be no doubt that Chambers will make these dreams reality as well.
Chambers is inspired by his mother who passed away when he was just 16. “I have a little picture of her on my nightstand. I always look at her picture before I get up for some encouragement. I know she’s looking out for me from beyond and I always want to make her happy. If she was still around, I know she’d be having the time of her life alongside me!” said Chambers. It is also important for him to be an inspiration to others. He wants to impart that if someone has a dream in life to go after it and make those dreams reality. “You can do anything in this world. Work hard, don’t rest on your laurels, and don’t expect it to be easy. Be prepared to be unhappy and happy. Just be prepared. Life is a roller coaster. The world is your oyster!” said Chambers. Chambers is a shining example that following your dreams is just as important for adults as it is for children. He has inspired an entire community and has demonstrated that with hard work you can truly achieve anything in life.