Monday 1 July 2013

Interview with Aleshia Brevard: Part 5

Monika: Apart from acting, you directed over 20 theatre plays. How did you find theatre directing?
Aleshia: Directing seemed a natural extension of my years spent touring in dinner theatre. As with most things that occurred in my life, it just sorta happened as a matter of course. The opportunity presented itself and I took it. There had, of course, been courses in directing as part of the curriculum in both undergraduate and graduate school.
Once out in the real world, I gradually began expressing my desire to direct, then negotiating this as part of my contractual acting agreement with several theatres. Nothing ventured; nothing gained. It worked out nicely. I truly love directing, perhaps more than I adore being on stage. Later, when I became a professor of university theatre, the foundation for directing main stage productions was already in place. From time to time, things do just seem to fall naturally into place.
Monika: Which play was the most challenging experience?
Aleshia: That’s a hard question to answer. Every production comes with particular challenges. Sometimes the challenge is in doing justice to the playwright by projecting the play’s ideas into a three-dimensional space peopled with actors. In other productions the initial challenge is in the analysis of the script, finding its subject, structure, and style. A director must let a work speak to the heart as well as the head.
There are other times when blocking the play, maneuvering characters (especially crowds) around the stage in a logical pattern, becomes the director’s primary headache. Ah, but from time to time a director’s most fearsome challenge comes from having cast a willful, self-indulgent actor in the play.
As an actor (who from time to time has seriously disagreed with her director) I can testify that strong-willed actors do exist. I like to think, however, that having first been an actor better equipped to understand the performer’s fears, frustrations, and fits of a creative temperament. I believe this ultimately made me a better director.

Aleshia in full teacher mode.

Monika: In addition, to the theatre works, you were quite a prolific author. In 1990 you wrote a stageplay titled “My Dearly Departed... Your Credit Cards Have Been Cancelled” …
Aleshia: This tongue-in-cheek comedy came about after driving past Kallemback Funeral Home in Chicago. I turned to my companion, the actor who would become my writing partner, and smirked, “Don’t care how long they call ‘em – I don’t think they’re gonna come!” That statement led to our play about a stodgy, unhappily married funeral home director who’s hopelessly attracted to his bizarrely eccentric make-up artist for the ‘dearly departed’.
Monika: 1992 witnessed your next stageplay titled “Crazy: The Musical”. Why musical?
Aleshia: It’s another of those happy flukes. The prospect of writing a frothy musical set in a mental ward began with random lines my partner and I began tossing back and forth. The idea took hold and held great appeal.
In 1992 I was appearing in “Ruthless!, The Musical”, a fact which strongly played into the enthusiasm my writing partner and I shared for putting time and effort into our concept. We were greatly encouraged by the success of Marvin Laird (music) and Joel Paley (book and lyrics), the talented team who had authored the all-female musical in which I was appearing.
In addition, I was appearing nightly alongside an exuberantly talented actress/singer who served as the prototype for our female lead in “Crazy”. I’m very fond of this show.

Cover of Second Book
Blue Feather Books, Inc., 2010.

Monika: In the comedy/drama “Voices In The Upper Air” (1993) you focused on the main character’s deep need for unconditional love. Did you include any autobiographical elements there?
Aleshia: My first inclination was to shout, “Are you kidding!” Monika, I’ve never written anything which did not include huge chunks of autobiographical material. Does anyone? Everything I know about human interaction, the essence of any theatrical piece, is first filtered through life’s experiences. Even when I try not to express my own beliefs when writing, I find it damn near impossible. Consciously or unconsciously I always seem to seep through into the words, coloring my characters. In essence, at the heart of all writing, an author is relating what they know.
Monika: “Agatha Christie, You're Killing Me!” was a 1999 comic mystery. Quite a change …
Aleshia: I was highly amused when I first envisioned an overly dramatic, highly temperamental actress whose superstitious nature restricts her to only appearing in plays authored by Agatha Christie. An actress with such a phobia, of course, would require a wealthy husband to finance his wife’s theatrical apprehensions – even though the plays always lose money. Amanda Bouvier’s ill-received shows are financially cooking her husband’s goose, along with its golden egg. Oh, what the hell, why not throw a deranged killer with a penchant for one-liners into the mix? And that’s exactly what we did. Gosh! It was such fun creating these characters. The show had a fairly healthy run so I’m seemingly not the only one who enjoyed them.
Monika: And finally the 2007 stage play titled 'INSIDE/ OUT' in which you elaborate on your extended family relationship of love and respect between Gina Grahame and yourself. How did you meet Gina?
Aleshia: Gina first responded with a delightfully appreciative note after she read my autobiography, “The Woman I Was NOT Born To Be.” Even though I always respond to the notes I receive, there was something so amazingly honest and forthright in Gina’s following missives that I continued to enthusiastically respond. We openly discussed ‘everything’. It never felt as though caution must be exercised. Finally, we met face to face when Gina and her fiancĂ© came to visit his mother who lived in my area. Gina and I bonded immediately. It was as though I’d known her all my life. I still feel that way.

Mother/Daughter test shot 2012, while together on a cruise.

Monika: When did you discover that your friendship evolved into a mother-daughter relationship?
Aleshia: It was, I feel, a very natural progression. In some important aspects, I’ve spent a lifetime traversing the same byways Gina is now traveling. We’re still openly discussing all aspects of life. We certainly never suffer from any lull in the conversation, even though we do not always share the same point of view. I try not to slap her hand and insist that Mother knows best. What we always do share, however, is mutual respect.
To me, it quite simply feels as though Gina is my daughter. We’ve traveled abroad together as mother/daughter on several occasions. It’s been a pure joy. Some of my friends have suggested that I naturally have a strong maternal bent, and (indeed) that may be true. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I so adored my students and younger actors with whom I’ve worked. In truth, I have no answers as to why the 'motherly' role fits so comfortably. Why bother looking a gift horse in the mouth? Whatever the exact blending of attributes that underlie the bond Gina and I share, I’m a very fortunate ‘Mamma’ to have such a wonderful, talented ‘daughter’ in my life.
Monika: Did you write 'INSIDE/ OUT' together with Gina? How did you share the work? 
Aleshia: Yes, although Gina might have a different take on our creative efforts together –- I’d say we slugged out the creation of every bloody line. Actually, it’s how I prefer to work. No line or situation is ever solid until both creative partners are in agreement that it ‘feels’ authentic for the character. Sometimes that requires gnashing of teeth, a few growls of disagreement, and hours of hot debate. Ah, but when the correct line does finally fall into place, it truly a cause for celebration. During the creation of the INSIDE/OUT script and the rehearsal period that followed while we prepared for the performance, Gina and I worked closely together in concert. It was a joyful splurge of creative energy.

A flyer of an INSIDE/OUT performance.

Monika: Do you keep in touch with Gina?
Aleshia: Mercy, yes! In a few days, she is scheduled to arrive for a four-day weekend, as a matter of fact. We generally speak on a weekly basis and certainly maintain e-mail contact, even though ‘my daughter’ has an exceedingly fast-paced professional and social life. But does she ever listen when Mother tells her to slow down…?
Monika: In the 2000s you wrote the autobiographical set: 'The Woman I Was NOT Born to Be - A Transsexual Journey' (2001) and 'The Woman I WAS Born to Be' (2010). How would you recommend both books to potential readers?
Aleshia: The blurb on the jacket of my last book states: “For nearly 50 years, Aleshia Brevard hid the fact that she was one of America’s first transsexuals from her friends, stepchildren, fellow actors and actresses, film producers, students, and university administrators, and even from her four husbands.” Well, it’s now been 50+ years and I’m no longer hiding from anyone, but that blurb pretty well sums up the journey I’ve been on for the last seventy-five years. Life has been an interesting one, at least to me, and I merely hope readers will enjoy the wild ride as much as I enjoyed taking it.
Monika: Is there anything left which you did not cover in the books but you would like to do if you could turn back time?
Aleshia: I don’t honestly know that I would make any alterations to my life, given the opportunity to do it over again. Oh, sure, I might be a tad more selective in choosing some of the men in my life. Who wouldn’t? Perhaps I could find a better way to side-step insecurities and groundless fears that plagued me early on. Still, once all the pieces and heartaches have fallen into place, the person we are is the sum total of those experiences, good and bad. I like the woman I’ve grown into so to revamp any of the events that got me to where I am today might be a foolish exercise. As with directing any theatrical undertaking, one reaches a point when it’s imperative to trust in the finished product, balancing the criticism of the things done wrong with the praise for what has been done right.

Aleshia and Gina, Christmas 2012.

Monika: Have you been working recently on any new projects?
Aleshia: It has been a long, tedious process but I’m currently in ‘final’ edits for my first novel, “Bilbo’s Bend”. I blush to admit it, honestly, I do, but as much as I adore each and every character in this book, I find my enthusiasm waning now that the finish line is in sight. Why I wonder? Do I merely fear saying goodbye to the characters, these children of my psyche? Could be. These characters, after all, are more than merely my creations; they’re composites of some real-life characters that peopled my life.
Trey Bilbo, my protagonist, represents the person I might have become had life-altering surgery not been available to me. I do like him, yes – but thank goodness I didn’t have to be him.
Monika: Although women live longer than men, it is sometimes claimed that men "age" better than women. What do you think?
Aleshia: Nonsense. Well, you asked what I think, Monika! Okay, seriously, if I actually have to be drawn into a discussion of age, I suspect a major reason women are said to suffer unfairly from the aging process is that ageism and sexism are still closely aligned in society.
I am not, however, going to waste too much time trying to figure this out. What I can tell you without reservation is that at seventy-five the issue no longer concerns me. I age as I age, whether or not there are those who would prefer I age differently. Oh, sure, I want to be pleased with the woman I see looking back at me from the mirror – but it’s me I’m finally interested in pleasing.

Dinner in the early '90s during
Aleshia's university professor stint.

Monika: Apart from the obvious benefits of aging, what do you think is the downside?
Aleshia: Aside from death, you mean? There is always that! Ah, but aside from falling in a heap, I’m fortunate to have a group of female friends with whom I share a ‘certain’ longevity. We all agree that the benefits of aging far, far outweigh the negatives. We have, you see, transcended the youthful concerns about being viewed as “worthy’ women.
We’ve come to that point in life where we’re confident with our own definition of “worth”. Any number of aches, pains, or bilious episodes may materialize for us at any given moment, but such ailments pale in comparison to having at long last found comfort in one’s own skin.
Monika: Aleshia, this interview ends the series of interviews with you. I would like to thank you for your willingness to share your life with me as well as with many other transgender women reading my blog. It was a sheer pleasure to be able to interact with such a remarkable lady!
Aleshia: It’s truly been my pleasure, Monika. Thank you for asking.

All the photos: courtesy of Aleshia Brevard.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Aleshia Brevard has passed to the other side. May she find the happiness and love she gave to others. Thank you for all you have done. Rest in Peace.

1 Jul 2017

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