Interviews From Another Zero:

Synthia L. Hardy who wrote and stars in the play Billie! Backstage with Lady Day currently playing at the Brooks Theatre in Downtown Oceanside until October 2

"Theatre doors are theatre doors, it really does not matter what color. If there is something they want to see, they will come and see it." 

by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Synthia L. Hardy in Billie! Backstage with Lady Day Photo credit Ted Leib
We had a very nice conversation with Synthia L. Hardy who wrote and stars in the play Billie! Backstage with Lady Day which had its San Diego premiere on September 23 produced by the Oceanside Theatre Company. Billie! had its debut in 2009 at The Whitefire Theater in Los Angeles and has had annual encore performances. Let us dive into Synthia's world for a few lines and enjoy what she had to share...

You wrote this piece that has been around for 13 years, what inspired you to write it?

I have always loved jazz and the big band sound. Growing up I would just hear the different people in my family, the adults talking about Billie Holiday and all of those things and then one day, I can't tell you what click to make me say I wanted to write her story, but I decided to write her story and a couple of others as a one-person show and this one seemed to come out ahead of the other two. 

What have you seen since you started the show in LA in audience reactions to now performing it here?

It is about the same because people who know about Billie Holiday or want to know about Billie Holiday, they have an appreciation for jazz and an appreciation for her. You would think some would be older but we get all kinds of people, male and female, from all backgrounds. Of course, music brings everybody together. I do not see a difference yet, I like to see the diversity of people coming.

The piece is in two acts. Can you tell us about Billie's nickname Lady Day and theatre wise is it like an alter-ego or what does that look like onstage?

The name of the show is Billie! Backstage with Lady Day so the first half is backstage with Lady getting ready to go do a concert which gets a second half so the audience are reporters coming to find out about her life. Different stories, good, bad, and ugly, and because it is backstage, the piano player is there so we are also rehearsing a couple of songs that we are going to do in the second half. One of the reasons I wanted to write a story this way is because everybody knows about the music. Most people know about her drugs and that's it, the music and the drugs. I wanted to do a different take, I did not want to sit onstage and shoot up and nod off, I wanted to get the background on why she sang those songs, why she wrote some of the songs and her relationships with her mom and her dad. She was raped at 10 years old, and her father got killed because of racism. I wanted to do it that way so people could learn more about her. She had some great things in her life happen too, and that is what I wanted to do with the story.  A lot of this stuff, unfortunately, especially the racism is here today.  

Since this play has been going on for over a decade, have you seen a transition in the theatre scene with your piece now that people (in a very general aspect) want to get on the bandwagon of equity, diversity, and inclusion and be like "oh! let's get Billie! on our season or schedule because this looks diverse?" Have you seen any difference? because overall it is well-known that American theatre is pretty white and crafted for that audience, to be honest, so how has that experience been as a Black singer and artist?

Synthia L. Hardy and Woody Woods in Billie! Backstage with Lady Day Photo credit Ted Leib
Wow, that is a very interesting question. Of course the touchy subjects of racism and the lynching, the stuff I talk about, there were people pre-pandemic who were still kind of shocked, and then sometimes it is the language because I do it raw, Billie Holiday was not a polite little girl, she was raw and she had her words. Post-pandemic I hear a lot more gasps in the audience when I am talking about racism and in terms of the audience make-up some shows are all white, some all Black. The makeup is always different. And, theatre doors are theatre doors, it really does not matter what color. If there is something they want to see, they will come and see it. I will never forget in one of the earlier shows, there was a group of young people Asian and Hispanic, I was so surprised because they were so into it. And like I said at that time, I thought the show might be for older people or African American people and it was so lovely to see. Some of them were musicians and they wanted to learn more about Billie Holiday. What a lot of people did not know is that Billie was a prankster, she was hilarious, very funny, there are things that I do in the show that are just funny, you go into this dark hole for a minute, then you are out because she does something else that is ridiculous and I think that keeps the balance, so all kind of people can appreciate it.

When you wrote it, did you always have yourself in mind to perform it?

Absolutely! -laughs- It was MY THING! In this business, there are parts you are going to get, parts you are not, the parts you think you are going to get, the parts you want to get... at that time, no one would've hired me to play Billie Holiday so, I wrote it for myself. Not really knowing it was going to be 13 years later, I knew it was going to be for six weeks, we had it for six weeks and that was it. So yeah, I wrote it for me. Maybe when I get to be 104, I will pass the torch to someone else. Right now it is my baby.

Synthia L. Hardy in Billie! Backstage with Lady Day Photo credit Ted Leib
What is your favorite part of the show?

My favorite part... that is a hard one. I would say that one of my favorite parts is the story about Strange Fruit. I start talking about the story of Billie's father and the song Strange Fruit, which is about the lynchings in the south. I like it because I can feel the people, the way we have our lights that are red lights, so it is kind of blood and eerie. I can hear people do and say nothing. Nothing. It is quiet. The song touches people in such a way. I like when people feel what it is I am doing. 

Billie! Backstage with Lady Day starting Synthia L. Hardy has three performances left (if they do not get extended for a week). Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 and available online at or by calling the box office at 760-433-8900. 

The show is directed by Bryan Rasmussen with Woody Woods on the piano, Russell Bizzett on drums, Marcus Wilcher, on saxophone, and Gedeon Deák on bass.

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