Transgender actress Bianca Leigh has long been one of downtown'sstronger performers. (You may havealso seen her as Mary Ellen in the groundbreaking film, Trans America, with Felicity Huffman.) She's a dynamic presence on stage aswell, recently playing Time in Taylor Mac's 2010 Obie award winning The Lily'sRevenge, and before that, Margareta in Theater Askew's delightful Cornbury: TheQueen's Governor. She is also aknockout nightclub singer. Leigh's wrote and stars in the her new biographic solo musical A Night at the Tombs, directed by Theater Askew's excellent co-artistic director TimCusack. Taylor Mac and Jeff Whitty (Tony Awardwinner for Avenue Q) also wrote some of the songs. I spoke with Leigh.
TOM MURRIN: HiBianca. I've seen you in otherpeople's shows and always thought you were great; what's your new solo showabout?
BIANCA LEIGH: It's about a young, beautiful trans-girl, trans-woman, who comes to NewYork City to seek fame and fortune and to be a Shakespearean actress. And she finds that there's one thingshe has to do first: she has to change her sex. But the medical establishment at the time was outrageouslyexpensive, so she finds work as a dominatrix, which is completely legal. But then, through a grave misunderstanding,she is arrested and spends 36 hours in the Tombs.
TM: I rememberthe Tombs. It was where the gardenat 6th Avenue and Greenwich Avenue is now, behind the JeffersonMarket Library. You don't seemthat old.
BL: This wouldbe in 1987. I'm 47 now.
TM: So the showis what happens during those 36 hours you're in jail?
BL: While she'sthere, she thinks about her life up till then. First of all, she meets all sorts of people. She's in protective custody. She meets butch queers, drag queers,sadistic correction officers, straight guys looking for an easy night of it,shoplifters, prostitutes, heroin addicts and the occasional turnstile jumper.
TM: What willwe see of all this?
BL: You'regoing to see what happens in the jail.But also, she has plenty of time to see how she got there. We learn about her family (in NewJersey), about being a young trans girl, how she started out having to hide hertrue nature. She led a doublelife, having to hide what she was like and sneak around. But what she really learns is thatfreedom is so important and so precious; and also that she is a member of aqueer community. She has a queerconsciousness. Even though she isa trans, she is a queer and subject to the hate of the straight community.
TM: So tell mesome of the things that happen.
BL: When she'sin the Tombs, she's called a "homo." She's not treated like a debutante, even though she may look likeone. She leaves a little moregrown up. She goes in thinkingit's a game; even the domination thing seemed like a game to her. Once she leaves, she realizes it's nota game. Being a woman is not agame. And power is not a game, butis something very real that is abused.
TM: So whatwill you do in the show?
BL: I tellstories. There are several songs. Taylor Mac wrote a lullabythat I sing during my childhood section. Jeff Whitty wrote a song, togetherwith Barb Morrison, set in Show World on 42nd St. I act out all thecharacters. I do my mother andfather and some of the people in the cell. At one time there might be anywhere from 4-10 people rotatedin and out of the cell. I do someof the guards, lawyers and judges; and the woman who employed me, Fleur-de-Lis,a world famous dominatrix.
TM: This soundslike it was a life-changing experience.
BL: Besideslearning about freedom, community, compassion and abuse of power, she learns tobe a part of a community she may not have realized she was part of, and howsometimes the bad guy is really the hero. The world is really a complicated place. This all happened 25 years ago, when I was a kid, ablip. Since then, after that, Ieventually got out of that and tried to change. At that time it was very hard for a trans person to get ajob, there weren't any civil rights rules. Now it's different, you have job protection.
Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, (212) 352-3101, July 1 -Aug. 5, every Thursday night at 8 P.M., July 1, 8 (opening night), 15, 22, 29& Aug. 5, $18.