Gwenlyn Cumyn On How Barbelle Strives to Add Positive Representation on Screen

KindaTV
KindaTV

It may be 2017, but the lack of diversity and queer representation on screen is still a huge issue in television and film. One web series looking to add to positive portrayals of queer characters is Barbelle, the new series available now on KindaTV’s YouTube channel. The show follows Alice and Veronica who make up the pop duo Barbelle, that must fake a relationship for fans, social media and the public after breaking up behind the scenes. It was created by stars Gwenlyn Cumyn and Karen Knox, and Season 1 explores if the duo can successfully complete their sophomore album without knowledge of their breakup getting out.

Cumyn is already well known to web series fans after starring as Dorothy on All For One, also found on KindaTV. She recently spoke exclusively with The TV Junkies about why she wanted to create something that put positive portrayals of queer characters on screen, as well as gave us insights into some fan favorite moments that have aired as part of Season 1 thus far. Be sure to catch Cumyn when the final two episodes of Barbelle’s first season drop Monday, November 27 at 11 a.m. EST on KindaTV.

 

The TV Junkies: Where did this idea for Barbelle come from for you?

Gwenlyn Cumyn: I’m not exactly sure where it came from. Part of what’s so fun about being an actor is that you get to pretend to be people you’re not and live a life you’ll never live. So the idea of being popstars is exciting, and getting to write music videos for ourselves to be in is a really fun thing to do that probably no one else is going to do. So we had to write it ourselves, and we also really wanted to work on something together.

The other thing is, ever since I was a teenager I had kept my eye out for queer ladies on TV and film and have been sorely disappointed with what’s out there. So I wanted to be a part of adding to that catalog.

TTVJ: You and Karen have known each other and worked together for awhile now. Why do you guys work so well together, and what was it like bringing Barbelle to life with her?

GC: We say that we’re artistic soulmates, but I think it’s because we’re everything that the other person isn’t. We’re able to fill in each other’s gaps and inspire each other to go places we wouldn’t necessarily go on our own. So it was amazing to get to do this with Karen, who I’ve worked with for so long on so many things.

KindaTV
KindaTV

TTVJ: Are you guys at all like Alice and Veronica in real life?

GC: It’s funny because when we were trying to figure out casting, our director Kelly [Paoli] didn’t know Karen very well at the beginning, and had it in her mind that I should be Veronica. I remember saying ‘I think you just think that because you’ve not met Karen.’ There are definitely elements of Alice and Veronica in us though. For instance, social media terrifies me and Karen soars at it.

TTVJ: The response I’ve seen to the episodes released so far has been great. What has it been like on your end to finally get the show out there to a large number of people?

GC: It’s so exciting to get the response from people, especially about the Easter Eggs and nuggets that we hope people will notice. Like the balloons in Episode 3, I’m so excited that everyone seems to be as excited about those things that we were.

TTVJ: As you mentioned, queer representation is something that’s still really lacking in television, and a lot of the queer rep we see is in genre based shows because they seem to be more open to it. That’s not Barbelle though, and you guys are putting this relationship between two women front and center. Was that important to you to really put a positive portrayal of queer representation out there?

GC: Absolutely! We did our best to avoid any of the tropes that we see over and over again, and by extension we wanted to have creative parts for women. As two female actresses, we play the same roles over and over again, so getting to be not perfect people is shockingly rare. Usually if you’re evil you’re a villain, so the idea of a female antihero is still kind of rare. I think that’s also true of queer characters where there can be a lot of villainess queer characters.

TTVJ: That’s one of the things I enjoy about the show is that it seems silly at first, but you are dealing with some deeper issues, like eating disorders and drug issues. Why did you want to explore those areas, and how do you make sure you’re treating them with the appropriate care in the limited space of a web series?

GC: I hope we’re treating them with the appropriate amount of care because it is such a short format, but those elements are a big part of the challenges that celebrities and non celebrities face. You see body image issues, particularly with female celebrities, and then drug and alcohol issues, so it would seem disingenuous to ignore that.

KindaTV
KindaTV

TTVJ: All the music in Barbelle is great, but we’ve got to talk about that music video in Episode 5 because it’s brilliant! How did you guys come up with the idea for that?

GC: I really don’t know how we came up with it. Music video concepts are surprisingly challenging because there’s so much freedom and you can do anything. So to focus in on one concept is difficult, and I think that’s why this beautiful mess of a video was born. It’s a bit of a happy accident and I don’t think we could’ve planned it to end up like that.

TTVJ: How did you get through it all with a straight face? [laughs]

GC: Karen was much better at it than I was. I could do about 30 seconds at a time before I just totally broke down.

TTVJ: The geese are an extra nice touch.

GC: We asked our editor for doves because we thought that’d be silly and cheesy. I don’t know if he thought he could do one better because he was like ‘Don’t even worry about it, I got you!’ Then we saw the geese! [laughs] We said ‘yes! We couldn’t make that up!’

TTVJ: So you’ve got a bunch of us completely obsessed with Barbelle, but what about you? What shows do you really love?

GC: A new season of Shameless is airing and I’ve always loved it, but it seems to just keep getting better. I have so many good things to say about it. It’s an ensemble cast that really feels like they’ve grown up together as a family. The things they have to go through and put up with is actually inspiring, because whatever I’m going through in my life is nothing and I can calm down about it. Also, through the seasons they’ve had opportunities to explore such interesting character dynamics that I’ve not seen on other shows, and they have time to do it. There’s a trans storyline in the last two seasons that honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it before. I think that’s really exciting. I also really love Outlander!

 

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Barbelle Season 1 is available now on KindaTV and releases new episodes every Monday.