FYIG Chats With Karen Knox and Gwenlyn Cumyn of BARBELLE

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Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

We are Karen Knox and Gwenlyn Cumyn, just a couple of sometimes writers/actors/directors/producers/meme-lovers based in Toronto. BARBELLE is the first digital series we’ve written and produced, although Gwenlyn has appeared in several previously as an actor (All For One, The Village Green). Karen has also cut her teeth as a director, her short film, Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping has screened around the world and won best short film at the Venice Short Film Festival and the Budapest Film Festival. We also enjoy long rides on the streetcar and sharing videos of babies eating lemons.

How did you both get started as actresses?

As actors, we took the traditional route. Small town community theatre plays, then some nerdy ass time in the high school drama club, then drama school where we met, and Karen went on to LAMDA. After all that, we realized we wanted to work creatively as more than just actors. Instead of getting a degree in writing or film, we took the school-of-life route and self-taught. School of life is interesting. You cry more, but it’s less expensive.

Your highly acclaimed short series BARBELLE is back for season 2 on April 10. Did you ever expect it would reach the heights that it has already with over 4 million views!?

Yes and no! We were certain that there would be a fairly large audience base that would enjoy the show, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the critical success. It’s more than touching to see the way the show has affected viewers, and we’re so happy to be making media that makes a difference. We’re looking forward to everyone seeing how we’ve stepped up our game in this second season!

Talk to us about your characters Alice O’Hara (Gwenlyn) and Veronica Vale (Karen).

Veronica is the definition of extra, suffering from an ex-it-girl complex, and Alice is her very talented, self righteous, vegan-ous musician ex-girlfriend. Together the two make up the pop duo BARBELLE, whose popularity has only sky-rocketed since news of their breakup went public. They have a classic love/hate relationship, and often swing between hot and heavy, and frustrated yet bantery bickering. While they realize their dysfunction is likely fatal, it’s next to impossible to picture their lives without the other.

What can fans expect from BARBELLE in season 2?

Definitely, expect a more grown-up edge to the series. It’s been a year and a half since the first season came out, and while we know our audience has grown up a little, so have we!

We wanted the heart/humour/style of the show to remain consistent with what we had originally envisioned for the world of BARBELLE, but to explore a darker edge.

Fans can expect the iconic love triangle of Alice/Veronica/Lulu to make a reappearance. It goes next level gay atomic meltdown. Prepare yourself.

We’re stoked to be spreading the love for our hometown in Season Two as well. We love Toronto so much and are thrilled to be showcasing the talents of some red hot musicians in this season including Cat and the Queen, Tika the Creator, Tush, Christian Hansen, and many more! We also got to write lots of new music which we’ll definitely be making available for fans to download!

How important was it to explore social topics like the #metoo movement and adversity for women in the music industry among others?

With regards to the #MeToo movement, we wanted to explore what this would look like through a queer lens. Through the past year, we’ve seen many men in the entertainment industry take responsibility (or not) for sexual misconduct, often by abusing positions of power. The entertainment industry, be it movies/music/literature, can create a power vacuum wherein artists (who are all fighting for jobs within a very small pool) are often subject to the approval of a very small group of “gatekeepers.” We wanted to address the fact that toxic masculinity and abuse of power can happen in a lesbian setting.

What are some of the advantages of having an all-female creative team?

There’s no mansplaining! Getting to work primarily with women and gender non-conforming creatives mean we got to make the show through a lens that doesn’t often get seen in mainstream content. Working on a majority female set doesn’t mean all your problems disappear, but oh my lord, EVERYONE’S SO GOOD AT LISTENING.

What’s next for your production company, Boss & Co?

Keep your eyes out for our new short-form comedy Slo Pitch, about a mostly queer beer league Slo Pitch team in Toronto. We’ll be going into production this summer/fall, and you can watch the trailer for the show now on our Barbelle//Boss&Co YouTube channel!

What advice would you have for aspiring actors/actresses?

Develop whatever it is that makes you unique. While theatre schools and classes may try and break you down to make you as versatile as possible, it’s important to remember who you are. More and more there’s an emphasis in the industry on what you personally bring to a role, and being a blank slate isn’t the selling point it used to be.

What are your lives like off-set?

Coffee and emails in whatever cafe will allow us to spread out over two to three tables. 

Let the readers know where to find you online

Our instagram handles are @gwenlyn.cumyn and @karenxknox, and you can keep up with all the BARBELLE news at @barbelle.series. Find us on twitter at @gwenlyn_cumyn, @karenxknox, and @barbelle_series