When Artistic Director Bailey Boudreau got the idea to start the Slipstream Theatre Initiative he was working as a theater director out of West Bloomfield High School. As talented as many of his students were, Boudreau couldn’t help but notice that most of them weren’t getting any performance experience outside of their school productions. Beyond that, he felt they weren’t getting a chance to understand the deep messages behind many of the works they performed.
“Shows that I had loved like ‘Doll’s House’ and ‘Hedda Gabler,’ every time I saw them done they were just like museum pieces and we kind of ignored the fact that they were banned at their time. They were about women doing the unthinkable and it was very progressive at the time. … Young people reading these classics [at school] aren’t necessarily really seeing that if they see a production.” Boudreau said. “And I thought, ‘Someone needs to do shows like that, where they relate these struggles and these issues to things that are happening currently.’”
That germ of an idea eventually resulted in today’s Slipstream Theatre Initiative, and now the Ferndale company is gearing up for a sixth season. Just as initially planned, each of the company’s shows aims not only to entertain but to provide a deeper message, one that’s often tied to social justice causes.
“As current affairs change, as new laws are made or not made, political campaigns are held and breaking news happens every day, there’s never a shortage of an issue. Next season, we’re dealing with immigration, which we’ve not dealt with before. We’re delving a little bit more into gender identity and then also we’re really looking at what a family is in today’s society, among many other things,” Boudreau said. “That’s three out of our six shows.”
Creating Its Own Slipstream
The company’s name is intentionally related to its greater mission, too. Ask Boudreau and he’ll tell you about the three technical definitions of the word “slipstream.” The first is based in physics.
“It is the force that carries particles along with it in a jet stream. [With] a mother dolphin, her children will be carried in her slipstream that’s created by her floating. So, it’s a way of getting something from one point to another without being the actual unit, [the] tangible thing that is moving,” he said. “And then in literature, it is a genre that combines two or more genres into one that cannot be defined, which felt very much like us, and this state when you are dreaming that allows you to access your memories and, supposedly, past lives.”
Past lives for Slipstream is taken to mean classic works. The company is certainly no stranger to taking audiences through seemingly disparate topics, settings and characters into its own reinterpretations.
“Taking the classic in our slipstream, moving it toward something different without actually changing it,” Boudreau said.
Take its current production of “The Frogs.” Described as a “loving homage to the Greek classical comedy by Aristophanes,” the show “is given new life through the magic of Stephen Sondheim with lyrics by Bert Shevlove and Nathan Lane.” It also blends the work of George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare while recalling audiences to their “passion for art, truth, love and of course … theater!”
Though the search for brand-new takes on classics never stops at Slipstream, as the end of its season draws closer the planning process goes into overdrive.
“We don’t really stop. We end our season in October, we go into rehearsal for the next season generally in November. So, as soon as we’ve announced a season and we have solidified our dates and all of that, we start moving onto the next season,” Boudreau said.
Since the company is a closed one, auditions for actors outside of the regular performers aren’t usually held at the start of each season. However, Boudreau said that interested performers are welcome to submit a headshot and resume for consideration — especially if a project calls for the representation of a character who can’t be portrayed by the existing cast members.
“I think that we live in a time where, finally, people are starting to embrace differences and understand more that we are all so uniquely different in so many ways as protected classes continue to grow. I think theater is something that is meant to entertain, educate and illuminate and you can’t do that by featuring one kind of person,” he said. “You can’t change someone’s mind by telling an all-white story all the time. You can’t make someone see something differently if you don’t present something different for them to see.”
For example, Boudreau said that he feels confident directing shows that have LGBTQ themes because of his own identity as a gay man but will consult with others before taking on projects that include different identities.
“When we did ‘P.Y.G.,’ the original work based on Pygmalion, we consulted with a local trans woman on every line. She read the script and she gave us a lot of feedback and it’s important to us that we represent voices and that we represent them accurately, and I think that should be important to anyone who is really being a productive member of society today,” Boudreau said. “You know, I struggle with an actual articulate answer on why we choose to feature diversity and inclusion, because I think we should all be doing it. It seems to me like absolute insanity that it’s not something that is just done everywhere, always, all the time.”
To learn more about the Slipstream Theatre Initiative visit slipstreamti.com. “The Frogs” will run through Sept. 29.