A Very Candid Alexandra Billings Wants Only Screams of Laughter


Gil Kaan

Gil Kaan

Writer, Registered Critic


Transparent star Alexandra Billings' latest autobiographical performance piece S/HE & ME: A THEATRICAL CABARET will be playing at The Renberg Theatre opening this Thursday June 1, 2017. Acting since 1968, Alexandra can legitimately claim that she's the first transgender actress to perform practically every role she's taken on.

Alexandra took a moment from her busy rehearsal week to answer a few questions.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Alexandra.

You will be performing your show S/HE & ME: A THEATRICAL CABARET at The Renberg Theatre. What can audiences expect to experience?

The show is about my personal journey into my own humanness.  It's a musical autobiography that centers around my wife Chrisanne, and my marriage, and my parents' marriage.  We all met and married around the same age, as well as, the relationship between myself and my younger male self. 

You've worked with, and at, The Los Angeles LGBT Center's Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center's Renberg Theatre before. What elements of this place keeps bringing you back?

The history of it.  There is great LGBT history that lives in the walls of these buildings, and so we get to continue that by telling various queer stories. 

You've written stage shows, and have a PBS documentary on your fabulous life. Would it be safe to say your life's an open book?

No.  It's not.  I know it seems that way, but it's not.  There's a lot of stuff I keep to myself. 

Your website has admissions from yourself that's very candid. (i.e., You once spent an entire day showing your vagina to Joseph Fiennes.) Is there nothing you refuse to cop to?

No, there isn't.  I'll cop to it all.  As long as I did it. 

Who has your role model growing up? Was there a celebrity that you looked up to?

A celebrity?  There's people I admired.  I admire Judy Garland, but I certainly don't want her life. But looking back, I did lead her life; though I just moved through it a little better than she did.

Alexandra Billings performs during the 27th Annual LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards held at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on January 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

Your father Robert Billings was the musical director for the L.A. Civic Light Opera House for almost 20 years. Growing up surrounded by music and musicians, did you ever want to be anything other than in show biz?

Yes, I wanted to be a teacher, because that's what both my parents were.  And now I am. 

You earned your MFA from Cal State Long Beach. Was that in Theatre?

Well, yes, Theater Arts, but also, pedagogy.  

Did you have a 'practical' fall-back occupation?

I could say teaching, but teaching was never steady.  Prostitution... that was steady. 

When did Scott Billings become Alexandra Billings?

That's a loaded question.  There's no delineation.  There's no line.  Transitioning is not like shoe shopping.  You don't go out looking for flats one day and end up with a pair of heels. 

You started your drag career as Shanté at the now defunct Club Victoria in Chicago. What was the Drag Scene like in Chicago (your other childhood home) in the early 1980s?

It was magical and sparkly and beautiful.  And then suddenly, it wasn't. 

What were the circumstances in which you first met another transgender person? Before you started doing drag?

I stumbled into a club in Chicago called Club Victoria.  They were having a talent night, which I assumed meant "Talent," like singing and dancing.  It didn't mean that at all.  So I decided to strip. I showed up in the dressing room with ten of what I assumed were Las Vegas showgirls.  Until they started talking, and then I knew I was home.

Please excuse me if this next question is stupid or offensive - Would you say that identifying one's self as a drag queen would be a baby step for a questioning transgender boy?

It's actually kind of a great question.  I would say that it's less about whether it's a step forward or not, and more about a lack of education.  If a trans boy identified himself as a drag queen, that denotes behavior, and not spiritual movement.  So let's just be careful about how we talk about the younger trans generation.  Let's be clear.  

Would you share an experience you had that you just had to laugh, or you would start crying?

My whole life is ironic and makes me laugh. 

Was, and is it, a heavy mantle to shoulder as the first transgender female to be cast in a transgender female television role (2003's ABC-TV Movie: Romy and Michelle - A New Beginning)?

Alexandra Billings performs during the 27th Annual LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards held at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on January 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

We found out that's not true.  The real first trans person made herself aware to me when she read that I was claiming that.  She was in, like a Battlestar Galactica episode, or something like that.  I'll have to find out. 

You can currently on staff at your alma mater Cal State Long Beach as an associate professor of theatre. Do you teach Viewpoints as well there?

Yes.  That's all I teach.  And I was recently hired at USC. 

Can you describe for the uninitiated in three sentences or less, what Viewpoints principles are?

Viewpoints is the matrix of human behavior. Period. 

As an activist for transgender rights, what do you see as the next important step in achieving complete transgender rights?

What do you mean by "complete"?  In order for us to live in full equality, we're going to have to deal with each other on a much deeper level.  The trans community is going to have to be more visible, and our allies are going to have to be more vocal.  And that's true of every marginalized community.  I think.

Humor must be a major element in your daily life. Would you agree that a funny delivery gets a serious message across much easier than a serious lecturing one?

I think a truthful delivery gets the message across. You're not funny if you're trying to be funny. 

Besides the already renewed season four of Transparent, what projects does Alexandra Billings have in the immediate future?

S/HE & ME opening this weekend at The Renberg Theater.  And I start teaching at USC this Fall. 

What would be the most satisfying audience reaction to S/HE & ME: A THEATRICAL CABARET for you be?

That they don't walk out screaming.  That would be satisfying. 

Thank you again, Alexandra! I look forward to experiencing your THEATRICAL CABARET!

For ticket availability and show schedule through June 11, 2017, log onto

www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre

Gil Kaan
Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas in his career, including Ann-Margret, Diana Ross, Faye Dunaway, Carol Channing, Shirley MacLaine, Catherine Deneuve, Liza Minnelli, Sandra Bernhard, Anna Nicole Smith, Margaret Cho, and three Catwomen—Eartha Kitt, Lee Meriwether and Julie Newmar. He had the fortuitous opportunity to conduct Lily Tomlin’s coming out interview. Gil has since reviewed movies and theatre for a number of local and national outlets.
A photo montage of Gil’s Halloween Carnavale photos through the last decade was recently included in the WeHo@ 25 juried exhibition.