Springfield's Carolyn Billingsley Explains Her Passion for Helping Others

At just 16 years old, Carolyn Billingsley started Carolyn Billingsley Productions to raise funds and awareness for those living with HIV and AIDS through casting, producing and directing her production Backwards, inspired by the musical Broadway Backwards

By Jamie Thomas

Mar 2020

Carolyn Billingsley, Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsCarolyn Billingsley started her own theater production company at just 16 years old. Purchase Photo

417 Magazine: What inspired this?
Carolyn Billingsley: I lost a very dear friend and mentor to AIDS [theater and technical director for several local theaters and high schools Gary Lyons], and I knew I wanted to make a difference. I was inspired by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS back in 2016. So, I decided to put on a show with a small group of friends, and it found incredible success. At 16, I found a love of producing and directing and established my own company.

417: When did you get interested in performing?
C.B.:  I’m from Joplin, and I started performing at community theaters when I was 7. Then I moved to Springfield during middle school and started with Springfield Little Theatre under Lorianne Dunn and Beth Domann. They always told me if I wanted to do something, just do it. 

417: Were you intimidated or overwhelmed?
C.B.: It was overwhelming at times. I was so thankful for the support system I had. This year, I’m so excited to finally partner with APO [AIDS Project of the Ozarks] as well as The Old Glass Place for the production... When the show started finding success, I actually received a call from the producer of Broadway Backwards in New York [Danny Whitman]. He invited my team and me up there to see their production. He’s been willing to help with anything I could possibly need.

417: What was the indicator your show was a hit?
C.B.: When my team and I sat down after our first show, just feeling the aftermath of it and how much fun we had creating it, and then all of the people that were affected by the show and that loved the show and wanted to see another one happen, it was just a passion that none of us knew could exist. 

417: What kind of response have you gotten?
C.B.: We’ve heard incredible things from the community—that’s actually how we started our partnership with APO. We had audience members that loved what we did. They told us about APO and how incredible it would be if we were able to donate funds from our show to them.

417: How has the wider creative scene in Springfield responded to what you’re doing?
C.B.: We have had an outpouring of support. I think everyone has loved coming together to support an incredible organization like APO. I can’t thank them enough.