Behind the Curtain: Bonnie & Clyde

We had the pleasure of going Behind the Curtain with producers Ally Brumer and Debora Friedmann of Contact Theatre to talk about their upcoming production Bonnie & Clyde happening at MainLine Theatre from April 25-28! We spoke to the dynamic team about their experience creating a company and taking on the hit Bonnie & Clyde!

QDF: Congratulations on Bonnie & Clyde being the first show of Contact Theatre! What made you decide this particular show?

We knew we wanted to do a show that pushed the envelope in terms of themes and content beyond work we’d done with other companies before. Bonnie & Clyde was one of those shows we’d both trained ourselves to say “well no one is ever going to do it.” This is a show with guns, sex, and set in a very specific historical era. All of which are defining elements of a challenging show. It is also structurally very different from most shows which added to the challenge and intrigue. Of course, it is the controversial love story that drives the plot, and the incredible music by Wildhorn and Black that ultimately led us to choose this specific show as our inaugural production. Love, both romantic and for our family, that leads us to make questionable choices and sacrifices is something we think most people can relate to.

The story and setting are also so relevant to our current political climate where frustration and distrust between people and the government has led to criminals at times being seen as the heros (ie: the current news about Julian Assange). We also want to try bring musicals that have either never or rarely been done to the English theatre community of Montreal. And not to forget the elephant in the room, as a new theatre company we were very cognizant of the fact that these recognizable names would be helpful in spreading the word. Essentially this show provided just the right amount of challenge, intrigue and relatability for our first production.

QDF: Can you describe the experience of developing your own company? Do you have any tips for someone who wants to start their own?

Developing a theatre company is definitely one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of our lives. It wasn’t something we decided to do overnight and frankly something neither of us expected to actually go through with. At the end of the day we both found ourselves wanting to create certain art, but not having an outlet to do it in. We also wanted to grow and challenge ourselves to become better creators, and discover other creators who may have not found their outlet either. And so one really early morning sitting on the cold streets of New York in the rush line to see Come From Away, we took out our notebooks and put down our vision on paper and decided that we could actually make it come to life.

It has been moving to receive such an outpouring of support from our community. It has also been freeing to get to redefine our own structures and systems for rehearsals, shows and the company as whole. Because we both had a lot of experience on the stage as well, one of our main goals is to ensure the actors’ feel like they are part of the creation process as well and that we develop a strong basis of trust and mutual understanding that we are all working towards the same goal. Creating art through musical theatre is a huge challenge, and especially with the shows we are hoping to put on. There are few frills and grandeur, just raw and hard-to-face stories that deserve being told. And we hope to keep telling them.

The world is better with more creators. So, our advice to people who are thinking of going out there and creating is – do it. It’s not easy, it’s not always as fun as you were hoping, you may have to “start” a few times over, but what is creation without risk. This theatre community is an AMAZING source of knowledge that you should take advantage of. There’s workshops, blogs, networking events, Facebook groups, associations, and a bunch of creators who are happy to help guide you and answer any questions you have. Use the community, you are not alone.

Joel Bernstein and Camille Cormier Morasse portray outlaws Bonnie & Clyde.
Photo by Joshua Faier

QDF: Bonnie & Clyde is a classic and beloved show for many people. Do you feel any pressure or expectations to stay close to the original?

There is always a duty to stay true to the script and the writers’ intentions when you take on a show. We also love the original production and definitely took inspiration from it. However, our director and choreographer Debora Friedmann always thinks that when you take on a show that is well loved and known, it is vital to create a new take on the show. If you’re not taking some risks and incorporating new ideas why make the work at all?

As a dancer with a background in street dance Friedmann definitely took on the timelessness of the story with incorporating more contemporary movement, and much more movement in general to the show that is traditionally done with barely any dance. While the original production played a great deal with the concept of stillness and stagnance to counter the fast moving music and lifestyle of our leads, Friedmann chose to really push this dichotomy between the sense of being bound and the desire for freedom. This was done not only with increased use of the actors body in collaboration with a simple set that is used and reused, closing in slowly on our cast throughout the show and being interacted with in various different ways. We also chose to bring down the cast size as much as possible, double casting and cross casting our actors in order to create a more intimate process. This casting was also done carefully and intentionally as a means of highlighting the concepts of human interconnectedness and the challenging of gender norms that made Bonnie & Clyde so infamous in the first place.

Aside from artistic choices, taking a production that is typically done in a high tech proscenium theatre and bringing it into the intimate black box space of the MainLine obviously requires a great deal of adjustment. One of the biggest challenges was working in a radically different space then what the show was written for. Playing to audiences on all sides, negotiating with low ceilings and no space for hanging or flying in set definitely forced us into finding creative solutions and new ways of blocking the work so that it would fit in our space. While our production may not meet the expectations of people who’ve seen it in person, we hope they find themselves pleasantly surprised when confronted with our version of the show.

You can find more information and tickets for Contact Theatre’s Bonnie & Clyde running at MainLine Theatre from April 25-28 here.