It’s become something of a tradition at the annual Whitefire Theatres Solofest to end the by now epic run of 80 shows in 90 days, with a Whitefire classic, ”Billie, Backstage with Lady Day.”
Directed by Bryan Rasmussen, the artistic director of Solofest and everything Whitefire and starring the incomparable, Synthia L. Hardy as the lady herself.
It’s a gorgeous piece of theatre and always a joyous finale to what’s become the biggest solo festival on the west coast and the second biggest in the entire country. The live band is authentic and exceptional and Ms Hardy’s rendition of one of the greatest artists of our time is quite remarkable.
We wondered how this blissful show came to be. So we asked!!
What drew you to Billie Holidays story and led to the creation of this show?
I’ve always loved jazz and blues, even as a child. So, it was the music that I was attracted to first. Later, as I was reading about her I discovered little know stories about her. That’s when I decided to write the play. A couple of years after starting the writing I worked with Bryan Rasmussen, director of my show and long time friend. The end result is what you see on stage today.
How did you put the band together?
We didn’t have the band in the beginning. On Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday we decided to add the band. They’ve been there ever since. I can’t see the show being done without them at this point. I had worked with these guys at some point or another over the years and we were friends. Lanny Hartley, the piano player, I know from a church where he played and I sang in the choir. Mark Allen Felton, sax player, I’ve known since the early 90’s. He, also, played for our church. I met Bobby Wilkerson, the drummer when we were doing tribute to Motown and Oldies shows. Michael Saucier, bassist, I met on a temp job at a law firm. so, I’ve know them all for many years. I asked them to play for the show. They did and here we are. They add so much to the show.
Billie Holiday is timeless, how does her story stay so relevant?
First of all, it’s the music. Secondly, her life story is amazing, sad, triumphant. She was a great singer and jazz musicians and singers all over the world are familiar with her. Some of the subject matter is still relevant today: racism; drugs; family relations; etc.
This show is such a perfect balance of music and story. How did you decide on the structure of the show?
Bryan Rasmussen’s direction helped to structure and shape it so that it flowed well.
How did the collaboration with Bryan Rasmussen and the Whitefire Theatre come about?
As I stated above, Bryan and I have been friends for years. I joined a class he was giving at the Whitefire Theatre. We started working on the show and produced it there in 2009.
The Whitefire is a landmark space for the unusual, the experimental, the classic and the most eclectic collection of some of the most brilliant theatre in Los Angeles. Solofest is a masterpiece and brilliantly executed by Bryan, Jessica Lynn Johnson and the team at the Whitefire. It’s an incredible feat of organization, fueled by their sheer faith in humanity, to create, perform and to just show up! We salute you!!!!