BWW Interview: Bailey Boudreau Talks ON THE EXHALE at Slipstream Theatre Initiative and Why It's Important Right Now
Slipstream Theatre Initiative is having a conversation that is long past due - gun violence. It's one they admit is uncomfortable, upsetting, and can make you cringe, but it is a topic that is long past time and very necessary right now. Now in their fifth season, Slipstream has always been determined to pair its productions with socially relevant issues and On The Exhale is no different. The one-woman play is set in a situation that could be a TED Talk or a college lecture and focuses on a woman whose second-grade son was killed in a school shooting. Through a recounting of the event and her irrational reaction, the audience is forced to question what it takes to become a mass shooter. Instead of describing a monster that none of us could imagine being, she describes the obsession with control, power, and life that goes hand in hand with being a gun owner. She exposes the human instincts behind turning in to a shooter. We realize soon realize that given the right set of circumstances, we are subject to becoming the thing we most fear. BroadwayWorld Detroit had a chance to speak with Slipstream's Artistic Director, Bailey Boudreau, about being director of this significant piece of art and why it is an important for audiences to explore it even though the content may be uncomfortable to them. Take a moment to read our insightful interview with Bailey to understand his passion about On The Exhale and the social issues the it revolves around.
BroadwayWorld Detroit: Can you give our readers a brief background of yourself and then your theatre career as an introduction?
Bailey Boudreau: I fell in love with theatre when I was 12 and immediately auditioned for a performing arts high school in Jacksonville. From there, I attended Boston University, in their BFA program with a focus in classical theatre before leaving to do a national tour of The Diary of Anne Frank. I landed in Chicago after that originating several roles and performing alongside many greats with my cabaret show. After coming to Michigan, I got involved with the Ringwald Theatre and several other theatres before I really fell in love with producing, after the death of a dear friend who I considered a revolutionary artist. From that point forward, I decided I wanted to create theatre and art that had a message and could at least open conversations to incite change.
How would you describe On The Exhale in your own words?
It is unlike any show I've ever read or seen. The playwright does a masterful job of taking such heavy subject matter and placing it in a relative perspective. It is so easy to empathize with the main character and you find yourself even rooting for her to commit an unspeakable act. It's done with such dynamic writing and magnificent storytelling that you don't even realize you are becoming the thing you fear. It's a show about the irrationality of human emotion. How we, as people, lose our sense of judgment, morality, and logic during a time of duress. It takes the theoretical and makes it actual. So that we can understand these atrocities - and more importantly - understand that action has to be taken.
How did you discover it?
We actually get a newsletter from the publishing houses with newly released show rights. It happened to be one of the featured ones so I ordered the script. And then I saw that it was on BroadwayHD and watched it. The entire thing was just...mind-blowing. And I knew we had to do it. There was no question.
What made want to direct On The Exhale?
Whenever the topic is divisive, I want to direct it. I love the challenge of taking subject matter that could make everyone cringe and helping to shape it into something palpable, allowing an audience to understand and embrace its intent. I also work well with Tiaja Sabrie (like frighteningly well) and I think that connection and artistic understanding is important when it's just one actor and one director. There needs to be a lot of trust, and it is helpful to have a shorthand, as Tiaja and I do.
Why do you think this is important to do now?
We had this show planned for next season. We were on board to do our Golden Girls themed Merry Wives of Windsor in this slot. We had already decided Tiaja was the actor for On the Exhale, and we had planned its slot and our rehearsal process. But then, within one week, the Sandy Hook parents won the right to sue the gun manufacturer, a mass shooting happened in New Zealand, and a law was on the table in one of our Southern States that would actually MANDATE that people carry guns. We felt like we had to do the show now. It seemed like waiting was a gamble we couldn't afford to take.
Gun violence / gun control are hot topics that are widely debated right now and your theatre choose to do this show over one that is definitely less political, controversial, and much more light-hearted. People come to theatre for an escape or to learn something and I think On The Exhale falls into the latter category (let me know if you disagree), what do you think the audiences are going to take away and learn from your show?
Doing the light-hearted pieces is fun, uplifting, and has tons of pros. However, that wasn't why we started Slipstream. And with a topic like this, the power of theatre is to expose a truth. It's about illuminating issues in a way that has an immediate impact. While it's tough material, it provides the audience a catharsis while also opening their minds to just how human the people who perpetrate these crimes are. It offers a new perspective on the "monsters" and "villains" we are all too quick to write off as unstable or "the exception". When a piece of theatre or art is able to take material like this and set the stage for a real conversation and true discovery, it is impossible to turn away.
Did you do any special preparation or research to get ready to direct this show?
I did a lot of research into school shootings. I watched and re-watched news footage from Sandy Hook and Columbine. And then I watched a LOT of Ted Talks, specifically the one with the Columbine shooter's mother. I felt it was important to approach this show with an open mind about the people that commit these crimes. Why do they do it? What makes us different from them? What are the warning signs? I wanted to dissect the idea of the action itself, and the emotional state that leads to the action, rather than looking at the aftermath. Because the aftermath is atrocious. It is devastating. It is diabolical. We can't stop this kind of violence if we only look at the aftermath. It infuriates us in such a way that logic is no longer something we are capable of.
What was like working with Tiaja Sabrie throughout the entire process?
Tiaja is quite literally the perfect actor. She listens, she follows her instincts, she takes direction and interprets it immediately, she does her work and she comes ready to roll. I have never worked with someone who is so prepared, so on top of every second, who has an answer to every character question, motivation, language choice, etc. It's like collaborating with your twin. At least I imagine that's what it's like since I don't have a twin.
How would you describe Tiaja Sabrie's performance in five words?
It demolishes and rejuvenates you.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
There is this section where her character is trying so hard not to cry by controlling her breath. And it is one of the most fantastic things I have ever seen on stage. Partly because of Tiaja's brilliance, but also because it is so inherently visceral. We have all been in just that moment. If we can't relate to any of the rest of the play, we can relate to trying to hold it all together in a moment where it seems like everything is falling apart.
If you had to describe On The Exhale in five words...
Fearless exploration of emotional instability.
What makes Slipstream's interpretation of On The Exhale unique?
We went a bit younger and we designed it in the vein of a TedTalk. Unlike most of our shows, though, we didn't want to domuch to this one in order to add our "Slipstream spin." It's such an honest and powerful piece of theatre that changing it would be a disservice. Although I think the small space adds to the intimacy intended with the script.
How do you hope audience members feel leaving the show?
Pissed off. Devastated. Charged. Incited. Moved to action.
Why should people come see On The Exhale?
Theatre tells a lot of stories and we get the luxury of choosing, but sometimes there are stories that are so real, so full of universal truths, that they choose us. That is this show. If you want to transcend your physical space and join a collective consciousness for just an hour - you need to be here, in this theatre, at this show. It's not a story, it's a life.
On The Exhale runs April 26th through May 19th at the Slipstream Theatre Initiative in Ferndale. Shows are Friday and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm and tickets are $12. For more information and tickets, email InsideTheSliptream@gmail or visit www.slipstreamti.com.