The following is an interview with Bonnie Sludioff regarding her three currently running productions at the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival: Slightly-Off Broadway, The Magic School Bus: A Traumedy, and The Physicists. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Sludikoff about balancing three production schedules, what she hopes that audiences will take away from the shows, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congrats on the launch of three productions in this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of each show?
Bonnie Sludikoff: The Magic School Bus: A Traumedy is a world premiere solo show- it’s a fast-paced adventure where the audience members become students on a field trip inside of my body to learn about trauma, led by Ms. Frizzle from the series The Magic School Bus. Outside of that vehicle (pun intended) no specific knowledge of the show is necessary. You get to meet various parts of the body- heart, brain, liver, and cortisol, the meanest stress hormone of all time. You see how they work (and fail to work) as a result of traumatic events. It’s a very dark comedy that turns into a drama with a lot of light at the end of the tunnel.
Slightly-Off Broadway is an original parody song-cycle that takes audiences through 20 Broadway hits of today and yesterday including favorites from Hamilton, RENT, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, and NEWSIES. The story is purposely devoid of a major-plot, but a minor string connects pieces and each song stands alone with an individual idea. Audiences have been commenting on how it’s hilarious, but also surprisingly touching. We hit a lot of comical ideas – “On My Own” from Les Mis becomes “On My Phone” and “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King becomes “The Fast Pass Line”- but we also hit on some topical issues in a way that is accessible and funny with just a splash of substance.
The Physicists is an absurdist dark comedy. Based on the current state of the US, it’s probably even more timely now than when it was written in 1961 by Durrenmatt. It centers around 3 men in an insane asylum- one claims to be Einstein, another claims to be Newton, and a third claims to speak with King Solomon. We eventually find out that nothing is as it seems- and what starts out as a little crazy ends up truly insane.
BD: Given that The Magic School Bus is a one-woman show, how do you balance the workload of the production, especially in light of having two shows in the festival?
BS: Putting on a solo show may sound very flexible to some because you mostly only work around your own schedule, but, especially for those who self-produce, it’s basically a full-time job in and of itself. I’ve been rehearsing this show for months with my director Jessica Lynn Johnson, and I spent several months before that writing it. Another big inevitable chunk of time goes to all of the changes that happen between the preview and the next performance- you know, when you debut it and realize you have a whole bunch of things you are now ready to say that you were initially too scared to include.
This opening was particularly intense, because with my previous solo shows the process was longer and I always got at least 2-3 chances to debut 8 minutes pieces of it in a solo artist showcase (Jessica typically produces a few each year with her clients.) A new challenge was that as I have been living, sleeping, breathing and dreaming this solo show, I’ve had a million things to do to keep Slightly-Off Broadway afloat, and plot-twist, I also took on the challenge of producing a Fringe show that I’m not in – The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt.
There are dozens of folks around fringe this year that know me as that bonkers girl who is working on 3 shows- I feel pretty accomplished, but I learned a lot of big lessons. Honestly, the biggest one is that I reaffirmed how much hard work I’m capable of, and the discouraging news is the reminder that when other people are involved, you never know what they’ll do to crush your very carefully managed schedule. The most time consuming thing in my last 4 months was having to replace actors in both Slightly and The Physicists at the last minute. The Physicists is a large cast show with a live band and for a large chunk of time became the main priority, which is a challenge when you have two other shows that you’re in. Producing is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it’s very gratifying when it all comes together!
BD: What can you share with us about the creative process of the talented cast and crew that bring Slightly-Off Broadway to life?
BS: I could not have dreamed up a more talented cast for Slightly-Off Broadway- I handpicked this group of musical theatre pros- and I’d worked with a few of them in the past. Rita Outtrim is one of the funniest ladies I know, but this girl can SANG. She recently starred in The Last Five Years and I was blown away by the tiny nuances she brought to Cathy who has a bunch of great songs, but is very flawed character. Rita kills it in this show. We also have Eleen Hsu Wentlandt – a beautiful soprano with flawless vocals- we knew each other from the world of professional caroling, and she’d sung backup in one of my cabaret shows, but it was a delight finding out how funny she is in this show. Ken Maurice Purnell performed in a recent Mainstage show at Chromolume Theatre and blew everyone away with his vocals and his charm. I can’t imagine this show without him- even though I work on staff at Chromolume, I hadn’t met Ken and invited him via phone call to join the cast. Last, but certainly not least, Kelvin Chou was an emergency add-on when we lost a cast member due to a scheduling mishap and then proceeded to lose another actor the same way- and I’m so happy to get to work with this dynamic singer/actor- sometimes performers fall through so you get to the “right” group for your show.
I’m excited every performance to get to sing with these guys! We are working with the amazing Paul Cady as musical director, and though I wrote and directed this one, there was a lot of creative collaboration involved in bringing this one to life with actors jumping in with brilliant lyric additions, choreography, help with building props (we have a ton!). This show is also being produced with Chromolume Theatre, where I work as cabaret coordinator. Our theatre is just a few miles away from Fringe, and it’s been great for us to immerse into this community. James Esposito (head of Chromolume Theatre) and I have seen an absurd amount of fringe shows and have been excited to accommodate several productions for their fringe rehearsals over at Chromolume Theatre.
It’s been so exciting getting to co-produce this show- I put it out there at a staff meeting a few months ago- our staff knew that I wrote parodies, and had including them in other shows before, mostly as a soloist, but its really taken these pieces to a whole knew level by putting them up as group numbers. The audience response has been incredible.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from each of the shows?
BS: The Magic School Bus: A Traumedy isn’t just a show – it’s a 50 minute experience. Though I’m proud of the two solo shows I did previously, this is the story I have been trying to tell all along. I’m really happy people have been “getting it” and responding. Trauma (especially as a result of sexual violence) is an incredibly taboo topic- it’s brushed under the rug, and it’s treated like something very outside of the realm of conversation. In my show, I make it into something very tangible. My heart is trying to find freedom, my liver has given up on clearing out a backlog of cells, and Cortisol (the stress hormone) is this angry pushy lady who has taken up residence in my midsection with her evil henchman, Adrenaline. Meanwhile, the smallest misstep can upset the angry cells (resulting in the audience getting silly-stringed at one point). The tangible aspects of trauma are broken down, mostly through a comedic approach– but the show isn’t just a silly romp- it takes breaks from these adventures and gets serious when I tell the actual stories of how these parts came to be in their predicaments. I hope audiences will walk away with a little more understanding of how trauma affects the body. I hope they will also be a little more open about how all people are affected so differently by these events- emotionally, physically.
There is so much judgment on the topic of sexual violence, it really blows my mind. It seems like everyone thinks they know what healing and recovery should look like. Even in the audience reviews of the show (which are overwhelmingly positive as a whole) there was one that accused my writing of running afraid the other way and me of “thinking ahead”- it was a funny commentary because it didn’t use anything about the show itself to arrive at that judgment and if you take out that very large assumption, that person captured the exact intention of the show. Magic School Bus purposefully takes audiences on an adventure with a strong character arc. We don’t end at the same place that we start and we certainly don’t start with a fully alive and enlightened protagonist, because it’s a piece of theatre and not a TED talk. But it’s really revealing, even how people talk about shows covering sexual violence, how much judgment there is out there about how victims/survivors heal in different ways. This is exactly why this show and this approach is important!
Slightly-Off Broadway is less focused on depth, but it’s not without substance. A few songs get VERY topical, with my favorite moment of the show being the guys duet “Officer Benson”- an audience favorite. The song talks very lightly about how obsessed people are with SVU, ultimately revealing the pointed lyric- “It’s the only place, TV says rape is wrong.”- people were flagging me to down thanking me for writing this one and I was relieved, because even as someone who is doing a whole show that tackles this issue, I was scared to put it in a comedic song. I thought, maybe for this comedic song-cycle cabaret I should stop being that girl who speaks openly about sexual assault, but it’s SUCH a funny song and the point is coming across. Slightly-Off Broadway dives into a ton of issues, some with more substance than others. But it’s not a statement show, it’s a comedy through and through.
The Physicists is a timely show-directed by Ye’ela Rosenfeld and Stage Managed by the amazing Angela Acuna with set and costume design by local artist Rhea Cutillo. This large cast show is an important piece of theatre and I’m happy it’s resonated so hard- our reviews are very positive. This classic play about “insanity” could not be any more timely given the state of our country.
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for your productions?
BS: What I love about Hollywood Fringe is that it has room for all kinds of shows.
I think my two original shows this year are great contenders because they’re not like anything else out there. But at the same time, even a classic play like The Physicists has room to find its audience in this giant festival! Fringe is a big community experience and there’s room for everyone who has something to say. I love that.
BD: The shows will be appearing at the Sacred Fools Theater through the end of the month. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
BS: All of the shows are open to extensions- that depends on which shows Sacred Fools picks for the Encore Producer’s award, but Chromolume is already talking about extending Slightly-Off Broadway for at least one performance- it’ll be SLIGHTLY longer with a few added songs that I’m excited to unveil- we chose a 60 minute time slot for fringe, but will likely expand to about 80-90 minutes! The Magic School Bus: A Traumedy is something I’d like to bring into the college market.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
BS: I run a non-profit campaign called That’s What She Didn’t Say. We are dedicated to creating healthy conversations about challenging topics. Last year we produced the first Outdoor Voices Festival, a celebration of shows that brought challenging topics to light in an innovative way. The second annual festival is coming up and I’m so excited about some of the shows that have confirmed with us. The full lineup will be revealed later this summer, but you can follow online here. The festival presents theatrical productions followed by a talk/back where audiences can learn more about the “why” behind the work. Last year we featured solo shows, ensemble shows and a musical covering several topics including body image, rape culture, suicide, and race.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for The Physicists, Slightly-Off Broadway, and The Magic School Bus?
Only a handful of tickets remain for our last performance – June 24 at 3 p.m. at the Sacred Fools Black Box
Info on the show and Chromolume Theatre: Facebook.com/chrometheatre
Tickets to The Physicists: hff17.org/4624
Playing on the Sacred Fools Main Stage till June 23