Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Billy Porter's heartfelt journey
Kinky Boots star on Lauper, gay kids and forgiveness
by Chris Azzopardi
2014-04-30

This article shared 4968 times since Wed Apr 30, 2014
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


For his first solo album since becoming "Tony and Grammy Award winner Billy Porter," Broadway's kinkiest drag queen is taking off the corset and stepping out of those iconic heels. With Billy's Back on Broadway, the Pittsburgh-born crooner continues to honor his passion for musical theater, taking on songs made popular by some of the most revered legends: Liza Minnelli ( "But the World Goes 'Round" ), Judy Garland ( "Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy" ) and Barbra Streisand ( "Don't Rain On My Parade" ).

During our chat, Porter, 44, talked about his fondness for strong women, how he aspires to be Cyndi Lauper ( whom he calls "one of the godmothers of individuality" ) and the personal catharsis he's experienced while transforming into a woman for Kinky Boots.

Windy City Times: Was winning the Tony for Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical last year one of those surreal moments where you give your speech, and then walk away and it all becomes a haze and you wonder what the hell you just said?

Billy Porter: No—because I wrote it! [Laughs] I had to write it down. I have amazing people and friends, and my manager of 23 years, Bill Butler, and one of my dear friends Jordan Thaler, the casting director at Public Theater, both said to me before it happened, "Look, you have a one-in-five chance of winning. Write something down. Write it down!" And they know I'm not the kind of person who wants to come across as being cocky or anything, so they both were like, "It's not being cocky; it's honoring the moment. It's better to be prepared and to be able to look back at this time and, if it happens, have had said something intelligent." I said what I wanted to say as opposed to getting up there and fooling around, so I'm glad that they made me write it.

WCT: You're right, though: Some people think it comes off as cocky when people prepare a speech.

Billy Porter: And it's actually really not that. It's more about the moment. Lemme write something down so I don't look like Boo Boo the Clown up there.

WCT: Your first album, Untitled, was released 17 years ago. How do you reflect on that experience and compare it to recording Billy's Back on Broadway?

Billy Porter: It was a different time for me as a human being, as well as for the industry. I feel like I've always been this kind of hybrid artist that comes from a very Pentecostal church-music background, along with R&B, soul and gospel music, and I sort of fell into the theater—and fell in love with the theater!

The market couldn't support that before. They didn't know what to do with me, and I just got lost. It was also very homophobic and very misogynistic at the time. And if you were Black, you were an R&B soul artist. And if you weren't putting out that kind of energy, there wasn't a place for you, nobody was interested in seeing or hearing you, or speaking to you. So, it's interesting now because, with, ultimately, the breakdown of the industry due to the digital era, the market has opened in a way that I, Billy Porter, can show up and do a Broadway album with a full orchestra and a major record label actually wants to produce it and put it out. That's a huge difference and a huge change from what it was like when I started in the industry. And it's a welcome change for me! It's where I feel most at home.

WCT: You collaborate with Cyndi Lauper on "Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy." She, of course, wrote the Kinky Boots music, so she's a colleague of yours. But what is she like as a friend?

Billy Porter: I always say she has the biggest heart of anybody that I know. It's been such a wonderful experience, because, for me, she is one of the godmothers of individuality. She understood really early on how to embrace the totality of who she is no matter what anybody thought or said. That's a hard lesson to learn as a human being in general—and then trying to be an artist on top of that! So she's always been that person to me, but then to have her in the room and to see just how regular, normal and down to earth she is is really refreshing and encouraging. That's the kind of person I want to be, and that's the kind of artist I want to be.

WCT: Do you not feel like you're already there?

Billy Porter: Am I the kind of artist I want to be? I don't know. I think as artists we are our own worst critics, so I'm not sure that there is ever a scenario where I will feel like I have arrived or like I've made it, because that's just not in our nature. I also feel like there's always more to learn, there's always a deeper exploration, there's always a deeper growth point to reach in our consciousness, so I try to use my art and my talent to continue to explore that and to be the best version of myself I can be.

WCT: You've said that, in your own life, you could never be as bold as Lola, the character you play in Kinky Boots, and dress as a woman. So, the first time you put the heels, the corset and the wig on, what did you feel?

Billy Porter: It felt empowering. It's such an empowering thing, and Lola talks about it at the top of the second half with the song "What a Woman Wants." I think we live in a world that's so black and white sometimes that we forget that the majority of life is gray. It's the gray area that ultimately gives us our strength and our power.

Understanding and embracing your masculinity as well as your femininity gives a person balance, and until one can be balanced you're… off balance. [Laughs] I was trying to find a sparkly word, but there's no other word. You're either balanced or you're not.

WCT: On Billy's Back on Broadway you cover songs from Liza, Barbra, Jennifer Holliday and Judy Garland. Isn't it a rule that gay men can only devote themselves to one diva?

Billy Porter: Mmm, no! I don't live by those rules; don't you know that by now? [Laughs] I don't have no rules in my life. I live to break the rules.

WCT: Why are you drawn to these women?

Billy Porter: It's less about the women and more about how empowered they are, whether it's the character that's empowered or the actual person that's empowered. I was raised by strong women, I respond to strong women and I think that's what it is. I just respond to that. It's not about masculine or feminine—it's about their survival instincts.

WCT: If you could invite any one woman to dinner, whom would you take out?

Billy Porter: It's always been Oprah for me. I mean, to watch what she has done in her life is just like… I don't even know. Every time I turn on the OWN network and I watch her, I'm like, really?! Really?! OK, woman. OK, Black woman from the thick of wherever you came from, wherever it was, with your outhouse. It's like, what?! Just the fact that her whole life is about paying it forward is something that I find really inspiring. I hope to harness that energy in myself someday.

WCT: Have you met Oprah?

Billy Porter: I have met Oprah! I was on her show once about 10 years ago. But she would never remember. [Laughs]

WCT: She needs to get you back on.

Billy Porter: She's a little busy.

WCT: On this album you include "Not My Father's Son," a pivotal song from Kinky Boots. I know your relationships with your own fathers—your biological father and your stepfather—were strained, and even though it's Lola's song, what's its significance for you? Where does it take you every time you sing it?

Billy Porter: It's really interesting because it was the first song that I learned. I had seen the movie, I had fallen in love with the movie and I heard that they were doing a musical. I knew if there were any role that's right for me, it would be this. I always knew that there was a story deeper than the surface of being a drag queen, which I think very often, when you have someone like Lola, when you have a character who's larger than life, it's very easy for the humanity to get lost in the interpretation.

I was concerned and nervous going in that, as a Black gay man, as a person who has experienced marginalization from all different directions, the truth and the power of this character's journey might get lost in the character's kind of fabulousness. I walked in and they played "Not My Father's Son" and all of those fears went away. These people knew exactly where the heart of this show was.

WCT: At its heart is a story of acceptance.

Billy Porter: And forgiveness. For me, it's forgiveness. For me that song is about forgiveness, and every single time I sing it I feel a little bit more of that.

WCT: Toward your fathers?

Billy Porter: Yeah. It's been a long journey, but it's interesting because it affects me, and it's lightened my load. Both my father and stepfather are now gone. They passed on. And you know, they both passed on before there was any real closure, so I've had to deal with the closure of these strained relationships after the fact.

WCT: So Kinky Boots has really helped you work through that?

Billy Porter: Yes, very much so.

WCT: I'm betting other people have experienced a similar transcendence. What's a story that really stands out to you regarding the influence your role as Lola had on somebody?

Billy Porter: The ones that really get me are the kids, the young 8-to-14-year-old little gay boys who write me and say, "I listen to you and I follow you because you give me strength—and you let me know that it's gonna be OK. I can go to school and I can get beat up and I can get harassed now but, at the end of the day, if I hold on, it's all gonna be good." Those are the ones that really get me, because there is power in what we do as artists. We can reach people, and there is a responsibility to show up.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com .


This article shared 4968 times since Wed Apr 30, 2014
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

'Firebird' opens Reeling Chicago LGBTQ+ Internat'l Film Fest tonight 2021-09-23
--From a press release - CHICAGO, Illinois — Tonight, the 39th annual Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival invites audiences to enjoy an in-person pre-party and theater screening of 'Firebird' for Opening Night at the Music Box Theater. Director P ...


Gay News

THEATER Steppenwolf's 'Bug' running Nov. 11-Dec. 12 2021-09-22
- Steppenwolf Theatre Company will welcome audiences back for in-person performances for the first time in 20 months with its acclaimed revival of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, in the Downstairs Theater on Nov. 11-Dec. 12. ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Hot Pink, or Ready to Blow' available for download 2021-09-21
- It's Pompeii meets Heathers as New American Folk Theatre continues its "season of audio theatre" with a new studio recording of its 2018 hit comedy Hot Pink, or Ready to Blow. The production was written by ...


Gay News

Congo Square Theatre Co. announces new Artistic Director Ericka Ratcliff 2021-09-20
- Congo Square Theatre Company, an African American theater company, announced that longtime company member Ericka Ratcliff will serve as its new artistic director, effective immediately. Ratcliff becomes only the fourth ...


Gay News

THEATER Steppenwolf presenting three Tracy Letts virtual works Sept. 29-Oct. 24 2021-09-18
- Leading up to ensemble member Tracy Letts' production Bug returning this November to Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theater, the company is bringing audiences a sampler of the playwright's voice to their homes with a trio of new virtual ...


Gay News

Frank Ferrante to return as 'Groucho' for one night 2021-09-15
- Actor/director Frank Ferrante returns to his internationally heralded stage performance for one night only in "An Evening With Groucho" on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the Spiegeltent ZaZou, on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel Chicago ...


Gay News

THEATER Out actor Dan Butler to be in 'When Harry Met Rehab' 2021-09-15
- Don Clark, a Chicago-based film/theater producer as well as co-owner of the Chicago Magic Lounge, will present the world premiere of When Harry Met Rehab—a comedy that takes sobriety seriously and is based loosely on the ...


Gay News

Students urged to apply for Musical Theatre Awards 2021-09-14
- Broadway in Chicago is inviting high schools across Illinois to participate in the 11th Annual Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards. These awards celebrate excellence in high school theater throughout the state. Beginning Thursday, Sept. 16, ...


Gay News

First Floor Theater announces 2021-22 season 2021-09-13
--From a press release - CHICAGO, IL (Sept. 13, 2021) — First Floor Theater is excited to announce their ninth live-production season, featuring one world premiere and one Chicago premiere, along with a second round of The Blueprint Commission, it' new ...


Gay News

AstonRep Theatre Company announces 2021-22 season: 2021-09-13
--From a press release - CHICAGO (Sept. 13, 2021) — AstonRep Theatre Company is pleased to welcome back live audiences this fall, kicking off with a revival of Yasmina Reza's frenetic dark comedy God of Carnage, translated by Christopher Hampton and ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Dear Mom, I'm Gay!' on Oct. 1-2 2021-09-11
- Dear Mom, I'm Gay!—a workshop of a new musical by David Dilsizian—is running at The Jarvis Square Theater, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. It will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 1; and 2 and ...


Gay News

Saint Sebastian Players to perform four shows during 40th season 2021-09-10
--From a press release - The Saint Sebastian Players (SSP) announce the company is resuming live, in-person production with an expanded 40th Anniversary Season. The four-play lineup celebrates genres that have been popular with SSP ...


Gay News

Victory Gardens Theater announces plans for 2021-22 season 2021-09-10
--From a press release - Chicago, IL— Victory Gardens Theater announces their 2021/2022 Season, which will be presented in-person at the Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park. The season will feature three mainstage productions: Queen of the Night by travis tate, the ...


Gay News

Broken Nose Theatre presenting Black LGBTQ drama 'Kingdom' Oct. 4-24 2021-09-10
- Broken Nose Theatre is launching its tenth season with an audio adaptation of its hit 2018 play Kingdom, written by resident playwright Michael Allen Harris and directed by Manny Buckley. Kingdom features ensemble members RjW Mays ...


Gay News

DANCE Ensemble Espanol to open Auditorium Theatre season Oct. 16 2021-09-10
- Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater, in residence at Northeastern Illinois University, will return to the Auditorium Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m. The company will mark the finale performance of its 45th-anniversary "Zafiro Flamenco ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.