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"...if you're going to ask me what the most important thing is,
what I couldn't live without, I couldn't live without [Chrisanne]..."
-- A. Billings (excerpt from Gregg Shapiro's interview)
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 novice years included shows with such luminaries as 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.
Alexandra, discovering her Transgenderism (didn’t know that word could be conjugated, did you?) began work in the only place she thought she was able: 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 (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.
an actress to be a success she must have the face of Venus, the brains
of Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of Macaulay, the figure
of Juno……and the hide of a rhinoceros.”
Alexandra’s first play in Chicago was in 1987, after she left The Baton. 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. This ran at Strawdog Theatre 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, (what a guy) and with the help of Mary Beidler Gearen, her one woman autobiographical piece “Before I Disappear” was produced, and eventually toured to Boston, and to The Producer’s Club Off-Broadway. 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; “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 cheeseburgers.
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. She then appeared in the Spotlight section of Entertainment Tonight.
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.
In late fall of 2003, she filmed her first Television Movie for ABC- TV: “Romy and Michelle-A New Beginning.” She has now made Television history by being the first Transgendered Female to play a Transgendered Female character on Television. Recently she finished filming an episode of the now defunct ABC show “Karen Sisco”, which has since been rerun on TBS. Every five or ten minutes, actually.
Alexandra has recently finished portraying Queen Evermean in Rick Boyton’s original musical version of “The Princess and the Pea” at The Marriott Lincolnshire.
be a first rate version of yourself, instead of a second rate version
of somebody else.”
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. She’s shared the stage with Amanda McBroom, David Friedman, Stephen Shwartz, 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”. Her first 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 that year.
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.
rose, is a rose, is a rose, is a rose….”
Alexandra is a Viewpoints Associate at the Steppenwolf Theater, as well as an Artistic Associate at the Bailiwick Theatre. Most summers, since 1999, she has been fortunate enough to teach Viewpoints alongside Tina Landau and Kim Rubenstien at the Steppenwolf School. She has 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. Living with AIDS for many years, she sits on the Board of Directors of Season of Concern, and works extensively with Healthworks Theatre (and AIDS educational Theatre geared towards Teens) and the over worked, multi gifted Stephen Rader. She lives on the North side of Chicago with her wife Chrisanne and their three cats.
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.