is wasted on the young.”
Born in Inglewood
California, since the age of 5, Alexandra has been involved with
the theatre. Her Father, Robert Billings, was a music teacher
at Harbor College in Los Angeles, and was the musical director
for the L.A. Civic Light Opera House for almost 20 years. During
this time, Alexandra’s
summers were filled with big, splashy musicals and loud, raucous
cast parties. By the age of 10, she was not only convinced theatre
was in her blood, she knew how to make a dry martini for anyone
on the block. Her mother, a teacher for all of her adult life,
eventually re-married and with her brother in tow, took the kids
and her husband to Chicago Illinois where the winter is 10 months
long and nobody surfs. Her summers though from the age of 10,
consisted of flying back and forth to California to be with her
father and the various luminaries and occasional musical theatre
queens that made up her youth.
years included shows with Carol Burnette (Once Upon A Mattress),
Yul Brynner (The King and I), Sandy Duncan (Peter Pan), and appearances
in everything from “The Fantasticks” to “Roar
of the Greasepaint, Smell of The Crowd”. Working backstage
as well as on stage gave Alexandra the notion of what theatre really
was: Hard work, Dedication, and lots of eyeliner.
rather be Black then Gay, because when you’re Black
you don’t have to tell your mother.”
discovered the Drag Scene in the early 80’s. She started
her career out as Shanté at the now defunct Club Victoria
in Chicago. She also worked at: Club 219 (Milwaukee Wisconsin),
La Cage (Chicago), The Inn, located in beautiful downtown Pal Waukee…where
the cows don’t ever come home, and eventually landed a job
at the famed Baton Show Lounge. She was a Baton Girl for almost
5 years. During these years, Shanté went on to win Miss
Wisconsin, Miss New York, Miss Chicago, Miss Illinois, and was
the first Chicago performer in the history of the pageant to win
the coveted Miss Florida contest. She entered the legendary Miss
Continental pageant four times, and lost them all. She became known
as the Eternal First Runner Up. Since that time, Mr. Jim Flint
(owner and proprietor of the pageant) has asked her to be a judge
for Miss Continental since 2002. She has been honored to do so
when her schedule permits.
wonder and insight, acting is just a trade.
With it, it becomes
Ms. Billings’ first professional play in Chicago was in
1987. She starred in Charles Busch’s “Vampire Lesbians
of Sodom”, which premiered at the Royal George Theatre, and
won her an After Dark Award for Best Actress in a comedy. Afterward,
she made a string of comedies including “Hamlet- The Musical” (which
would run forever, over and over, and over, and became known as
the Musical That Wouldn’t Die), and “Cannibal Cheerleaders
on Crack” at Torso Theatre, which she starred in for almost
5 years. Then, in 1993 she offered a play to director Chrisanne
Blankenship called “Gertrude Stein and a Companion. David
Zak, Artistic Director of the Bailiwick Theatre, then asked her
be a part of a new musical called “Son Of Fire” written
by Christopher Moore, playing Chieko Shima. She then performed
in “Death Defying Acts” (After Dark Award for Best
Ensemble) and, prompted by a suggestion of Mr. Zak’s, and
with the help of brilliant director Mary Beidler Gearen, her one
woman autobiographical piece “Before I Disappear” was
produced, and eventually toured to Boston, to The Producer’s
Club Off-Broadway and eventually to The Avery Schrieber Theater
in North Hollywood California in 2006.
She went on
to star as Joy in “Shadowlands” (again,
directed by Ms. Blankenship), Marion in “I Came To New York
To Write” at the Organic, The Mother Abbess in “The
Adventures of Herculina”, at Next and Frederico Lorca’s “The
Public” for Streetsigns at The Chopin. She also appeared
in “Tour De Farce” at both Wisdom Bridge and The Apollo,
and one of her favorite roles; a live stage version of “101
Dalmatians”, as villainess Cruella DeVille.
In late 1996,
she landed a pivotal role in Charles Mee’s “Time
to Burn” at the Steppenwolf Theatre. She was also cast in “Space” and “Berlin
Circle”. All three shows were directed by acclaimed Broadway
director Tina Landau. In 1997, along with her fellow cast of “Time
To Burn”, she received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best
Ensemble. All 3 shows went on to appear in Time magazine’s
Top 10 Shows of the Year. She then landed the role of Mrs. Lynde
in Ingmar Bergman’s version of “A Dolls’ House” called “Nora” which
co starred Kate Collins and ran at The Court Theatre. In 1999 she
was cast in Larry Kramer’s pivotal AIDS piece, “Just
Say No” playing Nancy Regan to Gregg Louganis’ “Jr”.
Larry and Alexandra shared a great love and admiration for each
other, and an even greater love and admiration for medium rare
year she shared the cover of The Advocate with Mr. Louganis,
she had a feature in POZ magazine, and she was chosen as one
of the Chicago Tribune’s
Top 10 People of the Year.
In 2000, Ms.
Billings starred in a live stage version of “Xena” called “Xena!
Live!” at the About Face Theatre in Chicago. She then lived
out a childhood fantasy, and was cast as Rose in “Gypsy” directed
by her old pal David Zak, and performed at the Bailiwick Theatre.
In 2001 she played misunderstood and fabulously dressed Margot
Channing in “Applause” for Healthworks Theatre at The
Apollo, and received another After Dark Award for Best Actress.
She then portrayed Perry in Jamie Pachino’s world premiere: “Waving
Goodbye” for Naked Eye and produced at the Steppenwolf Studio.
Directly after, she was asked to tag along with Michael Thomas
and Jeff Richmond in a remount of “Hamlet-The Musical” (see:
The Musical That Wouldn’t Die) to play at the Ars Nova Theatre
for a 3 month Off Broadway run. She then returned to Chicago, to
portray Ruth in “Pirates of Penzance” for Light Opera
Works, directed by Tony Award winning actor Lara Teeter.
to LA, Alexandra was thrilled to have the unofficial “Summer
of Alex” at Shakespeare Theater in Chicago where she starred
in “The Princess and The Pea” playing evil Queen Evermean,
while at the same time portraying another Nun in Shakespeare’s “Comedy
of Errors.” Having made the move to La La Land, she found
the producers nice enough to ask her back for the next summer as “The
Amazing Maizie’ in “Seussical The Musical”.
In 2006, she
finished a brief run of “Stilettos, Circus,
and Soul” at The Northlight Theater alongside The Midnight
Circus, Grammy winning recording artist Mars Williams, piano virtuoso
Russ Long, and insanely gifted nut burger Mitchell Fain.
know what? You got spunk. I HATE spunk!”
In late fall
of 2003 Alexandra filmed her first Television Movie for ABC-
TV: “Romy and Michelle-A New Beginning.” She
then made Television history by being the first Transgendered Female
to play a Transgendered Female character on Television.
she was cast as the nasty Transsexual with a heart of gold on
the now defunct “Karen Sisco.” which has
since been rerun on TBS. Every five or ten minutes, actually. In
2004 she filmed an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” which
won a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Episode. She’s also appeared
on “E.R.”, and filmed the pilot “Nurses” for
ABC playing opposite one of her childhood idols, Lynn Redgrave.
In 2007 she completed her first film “Socket” directed
by her old Chicago pal Sean Abley and completed a pilot for F/X
directed by gorgeous Ryan Murphy and co starring Joseph Fiennes
and Blythe Danner called “Pretty/Handsome”.
you want a bourgeois existence, you shouldn't be an actor.
You're in the wrong profession.”
in Los Angeles since 2004, Ms. Billings has still found time
for stage work between close ups. Luckily, getting older doesn’t reflect as harshly from 50 feet away. She has portrayed
Princess Puffer in a production of “The Mystery of Edwin
Drood” at Sacred Fools Theater, Fagin in a new rock version
of Oliver Twist simply called “Twist” at The Avery
Schreiber, and in 2007 she portrayed Whore Clown in a live version
of a Felini classic called “Il Bidone” at The Bootleg
In 2008, Alexandra found herself once again in the “Vampire Lesbians of
Sodom” driver’s seat with a special two evening performance at The
Bootleg. Everything comes full circle.
be a first rate version of yourself, instead of a second rate
version of somebody else.”
- Judy Garland
Alexandra’s nightclub act has traveled from Chicago to New
York, to Santa Fe New Mexico, to Palm Springs. Sometimes all in
one evening. In her hometown she has sung at the Park West, The
Cultural Center, Pops For Champagne, The Gentry (on Rush, State,
and Halsted Streets), Piano Man, The Royal George Cabaret, Toulouse
on the Park, Davenports, Andy’s, and at The Empire Room for
the Chicago leg of Donald Smith’s Cabaret Convention.
shared the stage with Amanda McBroom, David Friedman, Stephen Schwartz,
Hollis Resnik, Sue Conaway, Nan Mason, the vivacious Honey West,
John Herrera, Julie Wilson, Audrey Morris, and the groovy, hip,
and swingin’ Karen Mason. In 2000, she won the After Dark
Award for Outstanding Cabaret Artist of the Year. In New York she
could be seen at Eighty Eights, Don’t Tell Mama’s,
and at Arci’s Place for Cabaret on the Record. In 2002, she
received the New York MAC Hanson Award, for New Cabaret Artist.
She was thrilled to be over 40, and be called “new”.
CD; Being Alive, was produced by Lampkin Music, and recorded
at Southport Records in Chicago. It was on the top ten on Amazon.com
for a record 10 weeks, and was up for Grammy consideration for
In 2003, she recorded her second CD live at The Theatre Building
Chicago. This was prompted by her producer, and friend of 120 years,
the unstoppable Ralph Lampkin. The CD is titled “The Story Goes On” and
is again produced by Lampkin Music, with musical direction by Russ
Long. The CD is now available.
“A rose, is a rose, is a rose, is a rose….”
- Gertrude Stein
Alexandra is a Viewpoints
Associate at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, as well as an
Artistic Associate at the Bailiwick Theatre and About Face company
member. Most summers, since 1999, she has been fortunate enough to teach Viewpoints
alongside Tina Landau and Kim Rubenstien at the Steppenwolf School. She has also
taught Viewpoints at Louis University, The University of Chicago, Illinois University,
for the Illinois Theatre Convention, as well as at Act One, and various Master
classes and workshops around the Chicago area.
In 2008 she
finished a Viewpoints workshop for The University of California.
Since 2003 Alexandra has taught Viewpoints in Los Angeles with
The Steppenwolf West, along with Tom Irwin, Shannon Cochran,
Jeff Perry, Laurie Metcalf, and Emmy Award winning casting director
you have 6,000 possibilities, 3 of them are going to work.
I guarantee it.”
an interesting side note, it is thought that almost every role played
by her on stage, has been the only time they’ve ever been
recreated by a Transgendered actress in the history of theatre.