After raising her voice as the original Sister Mary Robert in Sister Act, The Musical, Broadway favorite Marla Mindelle takes her turn as sinful songstress and showrunner in the new musical short The Devil’s Bitch. Co-created with New York-based writer/producer Jonathan Parks-Ramage, Playbill.com is releasing the film online in parts, with the first part up this week. Watch it here.
Mindelle plays Evelyn, an aspiring actress who signs her soul over to the Devil for a second shot at life. But when she asked for fame, stardom, and bigger boobs, she should have been more specific. Instead of making it big in Hollywood, the Devil sends her to Hell, a.k.a. Broadway.
But Mindelle and Parks-Ramage feel right at home in their theatre family in New York, as well as the supportive gay community, both of which helped get their project off the ground via Kickstarter. We spoke to gay besties Marla and Jon and talked about comedy, careers, and coming out.
Out: How did you guys come to conceive The Devil’s Bitch?
Jonathan Parks-Ramage: So we’ve been writing partners for a while but this was really the first time we decided to actually produce something we wrote. We really wanted to get something out there on our own. In terms of our perspective and the way we work together, we’re really on the same page. We went to college for musical theatre together. I wound up working in TV for a while and Marla wound up on Broadway, but we’ve been partners for five years. We both have this dark humor and so we view The Devil’s Bitch as almost as the “anti-Glee.”
Marla Mindelle: There’s music, but there’s also pot-smoking and murder.
Without giving anything away, what kind of evil acts does Evelyn commit in the film?
MM: Evelyn sells her soul to the Devil for fame and fortune. She wants to be a movie star, but he ends up turning her into a Broadway star and she’s pissed. So now she has the ability to sing, but she also has to do all these Satanic deeds musically.
JPR: In the short, Evelyn’s first assignment for the Devil is to murder her boyfriend using the power of song, essentially. It’s pretty silly. We really like to push the envelope with our humor, for sure.
It must be a very different from your role, Marla, as Sister Mary Robert in Sister Act.
MM: Oh my God, yes. It’s completely 100% opposite from her. But for me personally, I do a lot of sketch comedy with my sister and I have this whole other different persona. While people know me as the shy, meek, mousy nun, they also know the kind of devious, mischievous girl that I am. It’s kind of like my alter ego.
Gotcha. It’s your ‘Sasha Fierce.’
MM: Yeah, exactly!
Rather than a stage musical, you made a movie musical short. Why go that route?
MM: We still wanted to use the connections we had in musical theatre. It’s such a small community here and everyone knows each other. We also thought Smash, Glee, and all these musical shows are very current, but we wanted to do something kind of like True Blood or Weeds, like a musical Weeds. We wanted do something bizarre and edgy.
JPR: It’s inevitable that people will start pushing edgier humor into comedy. Certainly the creators of South Park Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a bunch of musical numbers on their show. Also the irreverent humor of The Book of Mormon is really a move in that direction. But we wanted to do something that wasn’t theatre; it takes a ton of time to workshop and develop an original musical.
MM: It takes five to ten years to make a musical, and so we decided to do a truncated six month verison.
What were the steps to producing The Devil’s Bitch in half a year?
MM: We wrote it and then we raised almost $8000 on Kickstarter. Then we got a team of young, dedicated students from New York University to film the project and take on a whole crew together. It became this really big thing on a really small budget, so there was some magic involved there.
JPR: We got champagne on a beer budget, I guess you could say.
How’s the feedback so far?
JPR: The response has been great. It screened at the Friar’s Club Comedy Film Festival in October to a sold out audience. The festival was kind of like the Sundance for comedy. On the festival circuit, if your movie isn’t about meth dealers, it’s harder to get traction. There certainly are comedies on the circuit, but it was a newer festival that focused exclusively on comedy. It was a very exciting festival and it was an honor to be a part of it.
So how does the Playbill.com release this month work?
MM: The Playbill release of The Devil’s Bitch is almost like a mini-series. We’re releasing the film in three installments online. Rather than spending no money and making a ton of really crappy episodes, we wanted to spend a lot of money on a really kick-ass singular short with high production value and make it as professional and cinematic as possible. It’ll be really great for our following because they’ve been waiting on the edge of their seats for this.
You guys have really built a solid support system, then.
MM: I also do this weekly YouTube sketch show with my sister Lisa, CUNexTuesdays — a.k.a. cunt, which is a little dramatic, but I think because of the people who watch that, our audience was eager to donate money towards a larger project. So we really have to thank our fanbase. And the musical theatre world, too. They’re always eager for something new and fresh. They’re a very supportive community, I must say.
What’s next for The Devil’s Bitch?
JPR: We’re using Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog as a model; they released the show on the web as a three-part miniseries and the CW is airing it in the future. We’re kind of taking Dr. Horrible as a template for how we want to approach the online distribution. Having Playbill premiere it exclusively through their site gives us a larger platform that we’re hoping will draw additional viewers and help us build a following to help us take it further, even beyond the web.
Have you both always been out in your careers, or was it never really a question?
MM: I was out, gosh, I feel like when I came out of the womb, but then I almost went back in during my mid-twenties. There’s the stereotypical perception of gay women and I felt very different from that. So I kind of went back in, but then I said, “Well, that’s not working.” So then I came back out. I’ve been really fortunate because we’re now in a more supportive world. And there isn’t, I don’t think, a world more supportive than musical theatre in terms of your sexuality. And for Jon, as well; we both came to college and were like, “Welp, we’re gay!” We haven’t had any particular challenges and we’re both incredibly fortunate that way.
JPR: I used to work for four years as a producer for Roadside Entertainment in New York and it was interesting being in television. I was comfortable with my sexuality, but in comedy television, things can get a little bro-y. I was out but it can be difficult depending on the sphere you’re working within. But there are more and more queer comedians doing comedy now and it’s great to see a queer voice emerge in a strong way, a positive way.
MM: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of funny lesbian women in the arts stepping forward. I’m grateful growing up in the time that we’re growing up. People are embracing themselves and I feel like it’s more socially acceptable now. Ten or twenty years ago, this conversation wouldn’t even be happening.
Then it must be fantastic to get the recognition from the Friar’s Club, that The Devil’s Bitch, with its gay plot points and gay creators, is lauded for its serious funniness.
JPR: Exactly. It’s awesome to see it be embraced by the larger comedic community as legitimate, as something that can be shared with everyone. Marla’s and my sensibility appeal to gay audiences, but it’s also one that’s universal. When I was a kid, I came out in 8th grade and I desperately searched for other people like me, for role models in the media. Now, we live in a time where more and more people are coming out. Everyday, it feels like less of an issue. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of stuff going on especially in terms of marriage equality, but in terms of reaching people and making it culturally acceptable for youth to come out, I think it’s an exciting time.
What words of wisdom do you have for anyone out there — gay or not, actor or not — who are trying to achieve their own goals? Avoiding deals with the Devil, of course.
JPR: I would say the best advice I could give is ‘do it yourself.’ We’re living in a time when you can create media and content for less money. The most important thing is to keep creating, to keep at it, and to really go out there and do it yourself. Be a self-motivator. I think that’s key.
MM: I completely agree. All of the work Jon and I have done, and work I’ve done for myself, has been completely self-generated. You are your own business these days. Everyone is doing it — Kickstarter, web series — it’s amazing that people are creating their own work. Of course, there’s talent and luck, but there’s also perseverance and determination.
JPR: And do something that’s true to yourself and your own perspective. People respond to material they feel is coming from a place of truth. Regardless of how crazy and wacky The Devil’s Bitch may be, it’s honest to who Marla and I are in our comedic perspective. It’s about not trying to fit a mold because it’ll feel false, but really doing what you want to do, pushing it, putting it out there and it’ll come back to you.
Mindelle will return to Broadway as step-sister Gabrielle in a new adaptation of Cinderella in February. Parks-Ramage is producing an upcoming web series featuring Cole Escola, as well as workshopping an animated television pilot. Both Mindelle and Parks-Ramage are currently co-writing a full-length feature to be produced independently.
To watch the first part of The Devil’s Bitch, visit Playbill.com.