Bill Selby — Forbidden, Inspired, Crushin' It!

By Kimberly Dijkstra

Actor and director William “Bill” Selby started in theater at a young age. When he was 11 years old, his mother took him to an audition for the child’s role of Patrick in a production of “Auntie Mame” by the Melrose Community Players in his hometown in Massachusetts. He didn’t even know his mother intended for him to audition that day, but when he got there and the director handed him a piece of paper to fill out, the acting bug bit him.

“I knew right away that I wanted that part and I fought for that part,” Selby recalled. “The director told me years later ‘when you walked in the room, I knew you were going to be Patrick.”

Since then, he’s had a long career that has included Off-Broadway in New York, lots of regional theater, and tours that have taken him across the United States and the world.

In 2015, Selby played the masculine and comedic Luther Billis in “South Pacific” at Connecticut’s Ivoryton Playhouse, then one year later played Bernadette, a transgender woman, in a joint production of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” between Long Island’s Gateway Playhouse and Maine’s Ogunquit Playhouse.

“I was pretty proud of the fact that I successfully did both roles,” he said. “I played the tough guy one year and then at the other end of the spectrum I played a very effeminate woman.”

Both performances earned him a great deal of acclaim, including a nomination for “Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical” by the Connecticut Critics’ Circle and a number of rave reviews.

The Bernadette role was treat for him as an actor – not just to be able to do something completely different than he was used to and live it up in the experience, but to represent the transgender community as truthfully as possible. Instead of playing the role for laughs, as had been done before, the director and Selby agreed to portray Bernadette authentically.

“I got a lot of nice compliments from the transgender community saying ‘thank you for playing her as a real person and not as a cartoon,’” Selby said.

In order to be able to do that, he reached out to Eden Lane, a transgender woman and reporter who had interviewed him once for television in Denver. He asked her for advice.

“She was so open and gave me all kinds of information that really helped my performance,” Selby said.

“Forbidden Broadway” has been a big part of his life since 1985. The parody revue that started Off-Broadway nearly 40 years ago is a living entity that changes nearly every year. Each new edition spoofs different show tunes, both old and new. Selby fell in love with the show as a performer and has since directed 19 productions.

He was set to direct his 20th production at North Coast Repertory Theater in Solana Beach, CA, last March, when it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then postponed several times again.

“Luckily, they don’t want to give up on it,” Selby said, and shared that the new date has been set for April 2022. “I’m willing to wait!”

To push through the pandemic, Selby drew inspiration from elementary school. “I remember my third-grade teacher telling me, ‘Bill, you are a very creative person,’” he recalled. “So when theater stopped, I was sort of like, ‘oh boy, I’ve got to do something.’”

Last August, Selby participated in a

for “Stars In the House,” the daily web series hosted by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley which raises money for The Actors Fund. He performed a bit of the “Les Mis” parody song “More Miserable,” singing that the key is too high to the tune of “Bring Him Home.”

He also did

with a group from “Priscilla” to raise money for the not-for-profit Ogunquit Playhouse and performed “I Will Survive” with costar Matthew Marks.

“There’s something beautiful about having a theatrical family. It’s very comforting,” Selby said. “You breathe that sigh of relief because you are once again with the people that you love.”

The pandemic has afforded Selby more time to spend with his partner of 16 years. Both interested in photography, they visit parts of NYC and New Jersey to take photos and have friendly competitions with each other.

Selby has also been funneling his creative energy into videos that he puts on YouTube.

“For me editing those videos is a very relaxing and enjoyable experience,” he said. “You have a lot of pieces of video to put together, so it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Selby is looking forward to seeing his theater family in person again and performing with some sense of normalcy.

“I do hope that with the vaccinations we can get a sense of theater as it was,” Selby said. “So much magic was created and we all miss that and we miss giving it to audiences.”

There’s no doubt audiences miss that too.

“You can feel the hunger from the public right now. They want to see theater again,” he said. “And I know we as actors and performers are just dying to get back up there.”

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