Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The play, Backwards: A Comedy About Trauma, will soon premiere at The Lounge Theatre in Hollywood, CA. For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the show, how would you describe its premise?
Bonnie Sludikoff: Backwards: A Comedy About Trauma tells the story of Bailey, a young woman who gets trapped in a dystopian TV world that shows us what happens when pop culture meets rape culture. The show dives into a lot of poignant conversations, but completely strives to meet audiences where they are.
BD: What inspired you to tell this story, and how would you describe your creative process in bringing it to life?
BS: There is so much that needs to be said about the occurrence of sexual violence in our society. I’m passionate about bringing this underrepresented topic out of the shadows, and as a survivor, I feel like I have a unique point of view. I feel particularly compelled to speak because of the absurdity of the situations I’ve dealt with in my past. Sexually violent crimes are harmful enough when prosecuted and when survivors find immediate and unconditional support, but that was not the experience I had. Ultimately, the ridiculous events that make up my past led me to my understanding of how absurdly rape is handled-- for perspective, today Brock Turner got out of prison after being caught in the act of raping a classmate at Stanford...he served 3 months of a 6-month sentence... It all blows my mind: the failure of the justice system, the responses by the general public. It's all just a satire waiting to happen, and I think that looking at it from that vantage point is really healthy, not only for survivors, but for people hoping to understand a little better.
BD: Given that the performance is a one-woman show, how do you balance the workload of the production, and do you feel that the various roles enhance your creative process?
BS: Well…doing solo theatre is certainly not for the faint of heart. Forget about all the obvious challenges like being by yourself onstage with no fellow actors to rely on, having to memorize 60-90 minutes of material, etc. You also end up (in most cases) being a one-person production team. I balance the workload by making lists early on, prioritizing what needs to be done, planning ahead as much as possible, and trying not to beat myself up when all of my best-laid plans fall through. Every plan has a backup, and there is a definite learning curve. As far as the creative process, I love having the freedom to make so many decisions and take ownership of my work in the way I wouldn’t get to in a traditional show. Ultimately, everything gets to be at my own discretion. I have an amazing, skilled director, but because I’m working with such personal material, I get to (and need to) take a really active role in the process. It’s awesome because when all is said and done, you end up with this piece that contains your whole heart and soul.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
BS: I hope audience members will get to take a moment to truly experience whatever they feel about this (often misrepresented) topic. Everyone is entitled to have their own thoughts and feelings, but when a topic is this prevalent, we can’t afford to feel nothing at all. I hope this show helps to fight apathy, gives a little more background on the state of things, and gives audience members the opportunity to break some of the tension with a little laughter. I hope survivors feel the care that went into giving life to this story, and that people are able to experience some of the really cool things that happen in the theatre when we watch important shows: closure, understanding, paradigms being challenged, and lots of laughter.
BD: What can you tell us about the non-profit organization, “That’s What She Didn’t Say,” and how did it evolve to include Backwards?
BS: My non-profit campaign is called “That’s What She Didn’t Say,” and our mission is to help create healthy conversations about topics deemed challenging, taboo, or off-limits. This campaign started more than 6 years ago with me just trying to learn how to speak effectively about sexual violence. It was my deep, dark secret and something that made me feel a lot of shame and isolation, and I had this moment where I decided I was not only going to come out that, but I was going to set an example for others and find my voice so I could help them find theirs. One of the biggest lessons I learned early on was that people are generally terrified of sexual violence, not just of it happening to them, but of having to “deal with it” as a topic of conversation. We have all been groomed to believe that it’s taboo and personal and that’s a huge problem. Once I started to approach it from that angle, I realized I needed to expand the mission of the campaign. When anything is treated as taboo, off-limits, or “challenging,” it persists and grows. This isn’t just about stopping rape and abuse, this is about stopping the silence surrounding several topics. I spent a few years doing another solo show that was mostly made up of my own experiences. It was successful and ran 5 different times in LA through several festivals, and even made it into United Solo in NYC! But as my activist voice grew and developed, I started to understand what was missing from that story. With Backwards: A Comedy About Trauma, I’ve kept the most important parts of my own story, but I’ve incorporated a lot of research about rape culture, the media, the government, and other women’s stories.
BD: What makes the Outdoor Voices festival an ideal venue for Backwards?
BS: The Outdoor Voices Festival, much like the non-profit campaign (That’s What She Didn’t Say) is all about creating healthy conversations about challenging topics, and I can’t think of a more appropriate place to debut Backwards. I’m also really excited about finally getting to premiere a show with a talk-back. When you bring up so many important issues, it’s great to have a chance to let the audience become an active part of the conversation. I’m also really excited about the other 4 shows in the festival. I curated them with SO much care, and I can’t wait for everyone who comes out to see them. We are exploring a ton of important topics in a really innovative and entertaining way.
BD: The show will be appearing at The Lounge on September 18 and 24, 2016. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
BS: After the show’s premiere, I’m planning to take it into the college market. That was always the bigger picture plan for this show. I wrote it for a wide demographic, but I think it’ll be a really valuable show for students!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
BS: I tried so hard to put myself on “audition restriction” so I could focus on just this show, but when the opportunity arose, I couldn’t resist trying out for my number one bucket list musical a few weeks ago. I’m excited to say that I’ll be performing in Songs for a New World at Chromolume Theatre this month before and after the premiere of Backwards! I’m understudying so I’ll just be on for two performances (Sep 11 and Oct 1), but it’s still a ton of work. Jason Robert Brown, like solo theatre, is not for the faint of heart! Even though it’s been a challenge getting myself ready for that and my solo show, it’s a huge blessing and really awesome divine timing. With all of my past solo performances, the post-show “vulnerability hangover” is pretty serious. Last time I did a solo show, I bought a dog…. Hopefully, being too busy with another show will keep me from doing anything ridiculous.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Backwards?
BS: Thank you everyone for reading and entertaining the idea of checking out Backwards: A Comedy About Trauma. I want you to know you don’t need to be scared to attend. As a theatre goer, I personally enjoy really “heavy” shows, but this is NOT one of them. This is a show you can take your boyfriend or girlfriend to, a mature teen (over 14), a friend, a colleague, your mechanic. Anyone. It’s silly and fun and you’ll get to see a multitude of characters from Judge Judy and Steve from Blues Clues to the ENTIRE cast of Friends. Tickets are available via eventbrite. You can follow the Outdoor Voices Festival on Facebook.