If you've ever met Brock Ireland or seen him perform onstage, it's hard not to be won over by his openness and his warmth.
Ireland grew up in Wabash, a town of fewer than 10,000 people. Although he says he was a born performer, he also says he "was not one of those stereotypical theater kids who put on productions for their family and was always singing some sort of show tune."
Nevertheless, he was drawn to performing, which he says came naturally to him.
"Performing helped me grow into the sociable and outgoing person that most people know today," he says.
Even as a child, he was drawn to the stage and to the applause of an audience.
"It is such a reward that makes all the hard work worthwhile," he says.
Although Ireland's parents have always enjoyed the arts (they met doing high school theater) they no longer perform. He says his sister has never been interested in theater.
"So I am the family performer," he says, "but I would love for them to be influenced and maybe do a show one day."
He made his stage debut at the age of five, appearing in a musical production of The Messiah at his church.
"I did not have any lines, but as soon as I made my entrance, I was immediately in love with performing," he says. "I was also involved in a children's choir and was always auditioning for solos and featured spots in school concerts and reenactments."
When Ireland was in 8th grade, he participated in the high school's production of Kids Say the Darnedest Things, a musical adaptation of the TV show.
"I was so excited to be in a high school show," he says. "I had a wonderful time with rehearsals, and it was everything I had expected it to be. It was inspiring to watch others bring their characters to life."
When he was around 12 or 13 years old, his grandmother took him to see a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
"I remember being completely mesmerized by what was happening onstage," he says. "We hadn't researched the show and knew nothing about it, so we were taken for a spin. But we were joyfully surprised by the comedic take on the classic Bible story. It was a wonderful time and is one of my most cherished memories."
He attended Wabash High School and graduated in the top 10 in his class of just over 100. His school didn't have a large theater program, but he did participate in productions. Performers were generally recruited by the director rather than undergoing auditions.
Although he didn't have formal audition experience, he didn't hesitate to try out for a production of The Music Man with the Wabash Area Community Theatre. "I was hoping to be Marcellus and went in fearless as ever," he says.
His "Let It Go" attitude, as he calls it now, helped him relax, and he won the role. "Whatever happens during the audition, happens," he explains. "So why not make big choices and show them what I have to offer?"
After he graduated high school, he spent three years in the IPFW theater program.
"My time at IPFW was nothing short of amazing," he says. "I learned so much and was given so many wonderful performance opportunities. I refined my craft and pushed myself past what I thought I was capable of. I was able to show off my comedic chops and develop some serious acting techniques that I still utilize to this day."
His time at IPFW also afforded him the opportunity to work with a variety of directors and actors, both from the university and from the community.
"There is nothing more valuable to me than being able to watch people you look up to rehearse and to watch their process," he says.
He continues to work in local theater, earning awards as well as audience accolades. He has appeared in dozens of shows, "from serious plays to comedic musicals and everything in between," he says. "I have had wonderful opportunities and look forward to what comes next."
His latest opportunity has been as one of Fort Wayne's most beloved drag performers.
"I turned 21 in December of 2013, and of course I had to go to the gay bar, After Dark," he says. "That weekend I met my drag mother, Della Licious. We chatted about me doing drag, but it sort of fizzled out from there."
Two years later, he dressed in drag for the first time at After Dark, using Halloween as his inroad.
"I swear every drag queen I've met has started on Halloween!" he laughs. "I started to go out more and officially started performing there [as Dixxxie Licious] in December of 2016. So I have been in the scene a little over a year now."
Ireland relishes this new opportunity.
"I love performing, and if I can bring happiness to people, I will do it," he says. "I think audiences appreciate my energy and comedic elements. They can tell that I enjoy what I do, so they enjoy it as well. And there is definitely a sense that no one knows what I will do next!"
Part of Dixxxie's appeal is her connection to the audience. "I take the time to meet new people and talk with them so they feel connected with me both on and off stage," Ireland says. "I've met a lot of wonderful people who support my drag career, and for that I am forever grateful."
In fact, Dixxxie has already won two local pageants: Miss Gay Allen County and Miss Fort Wayne Pride.
"Just like Miss USA or Miss America, we competed in several different categories for the crown," says Ireland. "Presentation is usually themed and is a chance to be creative and introduce yourself to the judges. Evening Gown is your chance to be glamorous and show off your best red carpet style look. Onstage Question is a chance for you to show off your personality as well as your ability to speak. And Talent is where you show them what you got!"
Although pageants can get competitive, he says, "they are usually a fun time between fellow entertainers."
His experience made him a natural fit for his latest community theater stage role: Albin, the father and drag performer, in La Cage aux Folles. The story of two fathers of a son who is engaged to a young woman with strict conservative parents rings as true today as it did in the 1970s when it was written.
"I thought a lot about what it meant to be a drag performer in the late '70s," Ireland says. "We have so much freedom today to be ourselves and be creative in certain safe spaces that we forget what those who came before us had to fight for."
Gay bars were raided and drag queens were targeted. "Queens would keep all of their things packed backstage just in case there was a raid, and they would have to make a quick exit," he says. "So that adds to the bravery of the performers back then, and I wanted to specifically include that quiet strength in my performance."
The strength of the subject matter, added to the talent of the cast, has made this a role Ireland will cherish.
"We've bonded and created a family, which is amazing," he says. "It's been so rewarding to tell this moving and charming story. It really was a show that was way ahead of its time, and I believe the story is more relevant now than ever."