Linda Raya says it takes three things to make a star: talent, drive, and the tenacity to stick with your dream. The longtime Highland Park High School teacher saw all of these characteristics, and so much more, in Stark Sands.
Her former student has appeared on a prestigious HBO drama, has twice been nominated for a Tony, and will appear in the next Coen Brothers film this fall.
After attending St. Mark’s for middle school, Sands transferred to Highland Park in 1993 and auditioned for Raya’s TAG theater class.
“I did a few plays before, but my mom recognized something there, a natural talent,” Sands said. “I had to audition for the class, and I was supposed to bring a monologue. I didn’t know what to bring, so I brought in the side of a cereal box thinking it would be clever and I would impress the teacher.”
Sands’ creativity did impress Raya, and he was accepted into the class. TAG theater was just the beginning of his on-stage career at Highland Park; he performed in seven shows there.
“I remember being nervous until stepping on stage,” Sands said. “The moment I stepped on stage for the first time, all the butterflies went away, and I felt more relaxed than I do when I’m off the stage.”
By his senior year, Sands was cast in leading roles for Highland Park musicals, and he was president of the choral group Lads and Lassies.
“Stark played Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls,” Raya said. “I remember when he sang ‘Sue Me.’ It’s still one of my favorite moments in our musical theater history.”
Shortly after earning his degree from the University of Southern California, Sands got his first paid acting gig on HBO’s Six Feet Under. After that, the television and film roles started rolling in.
“I was in six or seven movies, had big roles in small movies, and small roles in big movies, but I worked, which was really good,” Sands said.
After he played a soldier in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, a casting director from New York called about Journey’s End. The Broadway revival was Sands’ first professional theater role, and he’s been living in the Big Apple ever since, playing Tunny in American Idiot and Sebastian in Twelfth Night.
Last year, Sands was cast in his favorite role, Charlie Price in Cyndi Lauper’s musical Kinky Boots. Sands received a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Charlie, a dreamer who unwillingly inherits his family business and is forced to come up with a creative solution to save it.
While Kinky Boots is a comedy, its underlying message goes beyond just laughs.
“The musical is about these two groups of different people, learning to work together to serve a common goal,” Sands said. “In the process, they accept each other for their differences, as well as themselves.”
Sands will be starring as Charlie through the end of the year. If you can’t make it up to New York, he’ll soon be on the silver screen in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. Sands’ character, Troy Nelson, is a sensitive soldier, and he will be singing and playing guitar in the movie, which comes out in December.
“The film pays homage to all of the incredibly talented people out there who never made it,” Sands said. “There isn’t enough room for everybody to be successful and famous.”