Outstanding New Work nominees Matthew Stodolak and Katie Kerr burst onto the scene in 2023 with their, ahem, bold new company Boldly Productions and a wildly ambitious new Christmas musical Chris, Mrs. The ultra-charming faux-Hallmark crowd pleaser won our hearts and a spot in this year’s awards race.
Do you remember your first experience with theatre?
Katie – I first fell in love with musicals on film. My grandparents had the entire Shirley Temple collection growing up and I wore those tapes out. Then my mom took me to see the Rockettes when I was about eight and I realized all that singing and dancing didn’t just happen on TV. I was hooked ever since.
Matt – I remember seeing a production of Jesus Christ Superstar when I was maybe 10 years old and I remember being totally transported and in awe of how this was all happening in real life not on a TV screen.
How did your professional partnership start and why does it work so well?
Katie – Our professional partnership blossomed out of our romantic partnership. Being married certainly has its advantages as writers. It is a lot easier to schedule meetings, you can bounce things off of each other in the moment, and there is a trust that cannot be paralleled. It always comes down to the best idea, not whose idea it was. We can be brutally honest about what is working and what’s not. Now that’s not to say that it doesn’t come with its challenges. When you have the freedom to talk about the show whenever, it can easily become your whole identity as a couple.
Tell us about Boldly Productions and the aims of the company.
Matt – Boldly Productions is an entertainment company founded by Katie and I to produce new Canadian theatrical works. With so few opportunities for commercial development in this country, we saw an opportunity to create something not just for us to produce Chris, Mrs. but to work with others also and bring fresh and exciting shows to audiences.
Where did the idea of Chris, Mrs come from?
Katie – We met doing a regional production of Elf, and quickly realized not only did we love the holidays, but we both had been looking for a partner to write with. Covid hit shortly after, so we found ourselves with a lot of time to try writing together, so we decided to start with what brought us together. Chris, Mrs. has always been about the importance of family, but after that first holiday season without our loved ones, we also began to explore the importance of traditions and how they shape our relationships and our lives.
Tell us a little about your collaboration process.
Katie – For the most part, I wrote the book and the lyrics and Matt wrote and orchestrated the music. These are not hard lines though. We very rarely write in isolation. We usually start with the character – what they are trying to accomplish, how they are currently feelings, what their musical vernacular is. Then explore expressing that musically or lyrically, whoever is feeling inspired first and build from there. We find a rhythm or a musical phrase we like and I put some lyrics to it, or we find a line that really speaks to the moment and look at making that musical. This has worked well for us, and has kept the songs in the show grounded and forward moving.
How did the show change throughout the development and rehearsals?
Katie – When we workshopped the show back in 2022 in Stratford, we started with a table read. It was the first time we had heard voices outside of our own embody the characters. Afterwards we had an open discussion on the piece, which was so insightful. We had a room full of Canada’s top actors, sharing their views on their characters and how they related to the show as a whole. We made some great changes, including the addition of a ballad for our female lead in Act 2. During rehearsals for the show in Toronto, we continued to discover moments in the movement and the scene changes that we hadn’t been able to explore in our workshop.
Tell us about the cast and how they fit into your concept of how you envisioned the characters.
Matt – We were spoiled with the best of Canadian theatre talent for both our workshop and our premiere. Our show featured stand out performances by Broadway’s Danielle Wade and Liam Tobin, as well as Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane, AJ Bridel, Henry Firmston and Andrew Broderick. One of the most frequent pieces of feedback we heard from our cast through the process was the commonality between themselves and their character. While we sketched out the framework for their wants and needs, our incredible cast lifted those characters off the page and gave them a life of their own. What we envisioned was an elevation from the two dimensional “made for TV movie” characters, and this company delivered above and beyond.
What were some of the unexpected challenges you encountered during the process?
Matt – I wouldn’t call them challenges, more so opportunities for growth. Commercial theatre can be a complex system to navigate, but it is made infinitely easier to solve by relying on great colleagues across all departments of creative and production to ensure that we are all going in the right direction together.
One unique dynamic that we had to navigate was the ability to control both sides of the switchboard: both creative and production. Very often you hear about the tête-à-tête which might occur between these two departments. For us however, we were having those discussions together. If you adjust the budget from one department, how does that affect another? Having said that though, it was the best education possible in terms of how the whole machine runs from the most visible vantage point.
Do you have a favourite moment or song in the production?
Katie – AJ Bridel is arguably one of the funniest actors in Canada. Her song “All I Want For Christmas” was a highlight for me every show. Her commitment to awkward lovestruck teenager combined with her killer vocals brought the house down every night.
Matt – The final picture. The snow and the tree at the end. It was such a simple and joyful moment for everyone on stage, as well as the audience.
Do you have anything you’d like to plug?
Keep an eye on our social channels at “chrismrsmusical” or our website chrismrs.com for many exciting announcements about what’s next to come.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
We are so honored to have our first production nominated by My Entertainment World! Thank you so much for your support of our show and of theatre as a whole!