Slo Pitch Brings Queer Identities to Mainstream Media

Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.
Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.

We don’t know about you, but we could really use a laugh right now. Thankfully, Slo Pitch has arrived and is ready and able to provide plenty of good times. The 10-episode streaming series is available now in Canada on OUTtv (available through Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV) and in the U.S. Monday, August 3 on KindaTV. Slo Pitch follows the long suffering and over invested Coach Joanne (Kirsten Rasmussen) and her team of underdogs, the Brovaries, as they try to take their team all the way to the queer Slo-pitch championship of their local beer league. 

Slo Pitch was created by J Stevens, Gwenlyn Cumyn, and Knox, and just like past project BARBELLE, it promises to bring all the queer fun you need this summer. Cumyn and Knox recently spoke with The TV Junkies about what it took to bring Slo Pitch to life, and why they are so obsessed with the show’s diverse cast of characters and talented cast that includes Rasmussen, Amanda Cordner, Chelsea Muirhead, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, and Lane Webber. 

In addition to creating and writing Slo Pitch, Cumyn and Knox also co-star. Cumyn plays Ann, the Brovaries bisexual second base player who rooms with Joanne. Meanwhile, Knox really taps into her comedic side and plays the loud and eccentric German outfield player, Boris. Both detailed for us how they hope to expand the series into a longer, 30 minute series for television, and why it’s so important to continue to bring such diverse stories with a lot of queer representation to the mainstream.

 

The TV Junkies: When we last spoke, you had created the trailer for Slo Pitch to try and secure IPF funding. What happened from there out and what was the process like to get Slo Pitch to screen?

Gwen Cumyn: Since we got the funding, we shot last fall and found our wonderful coach Joanne, Kirsten Rasmussen, and I’m so excited for the world to meet her. We then got together the rest of the cast and crew and had just an amazing time shooting it. The process of working with Shaftesbury was very smooth and all around a great working partnership. Knox and I, though we certainly are producers, prefer not to be. Shaftesbury did a great job at doing the things we didn’t want to do.

Knox: One of the amazing women we worked with at Shaftesbury is Paige Haight. A big reason why Slo Pitch happened is because of her. We went through the summer and it was retched because we had half of our financing but not the other half. We thought we weren’t going to be able to make the show and then Paige figured out some miracle hijinks with the budget and getting us in house with Shaftesbury. So we got to then shoot in the fall. People would know Paige from her work on Carmilla, both in a small acting role [as Elsie] and as an assistant production manager, but she’s also worked on Falconette. We also have another show in development with her right now with OutTV and Shaftesbury called Funeral for a Lesbian Bar. She has been instrumental in making things happen and is so wonderful. She’s a behind the scenes person who never wants to take credit for anything, but she’s working to make things happen for more female-driven, queer content in Toronto. We love Paige Haight.

TTVJ: The next great super producer for all our gay TV needs. That’s what I’m hearing.

Knox: I feel like that’s exactly what she’s positioning herself to be.

Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.
Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.

TTVJ: We’ve seen a lot of different sports stories told on screen. Besides the fact that this is slo-pitch, how does this series differ from so many others we’ve seen?

Knox: One of the big reasons why Gwen and I wanted to make this show is because there’s a big lack of shows about women in sports. There was a show called Pitch about the first woman to play in Major League Baseball, but it was about a woman in a man’s world. We just wanted to do a show about a softball team that happened to be mostly female and mostly queer. 

GC: It’s an untapped niche market that needs serving. 

Knox: Lesbians and sports is such a nice wine pairing. 

GC: There also aren’t really any sports TV shows about amateur sports. That’s really fun especially because a lot of amateur athletes treat their sport with almost as much seriousness and dedication as pro athletes. That makes for fun comedy.

TTVJ: Are either of you athletic?

GC: The director, J Stevens, they’re really the athlete behind the scenes. I think they often say that if they hadn’t gone into film they would’ve been an athlete of some form or other. 

TTVJ: How did you do then shooting the scenes where you’re having to bat and throw?

GC: Knox is amazing! I don’t think it was just beginner’s luck. Knox was hitting all the balls.

Knox: I played rec soccer growing up and I have three brothers. There was no skirting around playing sports sometimes. I also played a lot of tennis as a teenager. 

One funny anecdote though is that there’s a character Sasha, played by Chelsea Muirhead, who is supposed to be the worst player on the team, but she’s actually the most athletic of anyone we cast. Then Amanda Cordner, who plays our pro player Mel, was probably the worst. It just goes to show you that sometimes what we believe on screen is not reflective of real life.

TTVJ: Your audition process didn’t consist of everyone having to hit 5 home runs? [laughs]

Knox: We actually didn’t audition for anyone on the show and that speaks to how much talent there is in Canada. We knew so many amazing actors and people we wanted to work with so we just cast it. I think, maybe more so than any other project we worked on, we were just so delighted by the casting. 

GC: It was a dream come true.

Knox: A dream come true! The second day we were shooting in the bar, and I looked at Gwen and said, ‘Dude, this cast!’ I love the cast so much. It really gelled and worked in ways I didn’t predict. It was really gratifying and confirmation about following your instincts with regards to casting kind, good people who also happen to be extremely talented is really worth it. Everyone we worked with was a literal dream to work with. No bad eggs on this set.

GC: Not a one!

Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.
Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.

TTVJ: As a viewer, it felt really exciting to get to see a lot of actors I’m not used to seeing and really getting their chance to shine on screen.

Knox: We want more of them! We would like this to be a half hour and think there’s so much potential there. It’s surprising but satisfying and that’s my favorite kind of TV.

TTVJ: What can you share about the characters the two of you are playing?

GC: Ann was complicated for us for a long time. I think we got to a fun place where she likes getting high and hanging out with Joanne even though they aren’t the most natural of friends. They find common ground in a lot of things. It’s surprising that, even as a bisexual, it was challenging to figure what kind of representation we wanted to put out there and how self-critical I was about that. I’m glad we worked through it and I love Ann.

Knox: It was interesting because in an earlier iteration of Ann’s character we were going to make her a really self-aware bisexual who was aware of the slutty stereotype often thrust upon bisexual women. We thought, ‘No it’ll be funny because she’s self aware and leans into the trope.’ But then that didn’t end up giving us enough runway to explore and the humor actually came from giving Ann a more nuanced portrait. What do we end up saying about bisexual people in this show, Gwen?

GC: We’re just people like everyone else. 

Knox: People like everyone else, and flawed and horny! [laughs]

GC: Speaking of flawed and horny… Boris!

Knox: I love this character so much and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had on set. One of the really cool things about this show is that we weren’t doing hair, we had makeup, but it was all pretty minimal. It was so fun showing up to set knowing I was only wearing a red tracksuit all day — nobody was going to put anything on my face or touch up my hair. The freedom you access as a performer when you don’t have to be concerned about the way that you look is remarkable. That’s not a new discovery for me. I remember as a teenager playing Gollum in a production of The Hobbit and it was my favorite thing ever. I got to cover myself in dirt and a loin cloth prancing around the stage acting like a demon. I feel like in a lot of ways that’s what Boris is too. [laughs]

I loved the character so much and she’s so fun. I hope I get to play more of her because the pure, unadulterated joy of that character just lights up my life. It’s funny too because we wrote the character but I didn’t really know how I was going to do it. We showed up to shoot the trailer, I leaned in, and this weird character just came out. It’s one of those funny experiences as a performer where you realize you’ve had something inside of you that hasn’t really emerged. It just poured out of me and I knew who she was without thinking about it too much. That’s unusual for me as an actor, but I adore her!

Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.
Shaftesbury / Boss & Co.

TTVJ: This is a comedy series, but just as with your other projects, you guys have a lot of fun but also tackle some more serious topics. In the case of Slo Pitch, you’re even looking at issues like immigration. Is that always a goal in your work?

Knox: We tried to be political with it by actively being non-political with it. We didn’t want it to be very rah-rah females in sports or ‘We’re women and we play sports!’ We actively tried to remove questions of gender from it as a way of presenting the piece showing that a show doesn’t necessarily need to be a gendered viewing of it. It can just be a show about sports, period. That’s the universal specific, right? If there was a show about a men’s Slo-pitch beer league they wouldn’t say, ‘This is a men’s show about a beer league Slo-pitch team.’ It would just be a show about a beer league Slo-pitch team. 

This is something I am very interested in, and a recent idea I’ve seized upon and am slowly becoming obsessed with: finding the universal specific for women. The work isn’t necessarily viewed through a gendered lens and instead a gender non-specific gaze. 

GC: We’ve been talking recently about how our writing seems to come out very quippy. I think the same could maybe be said for any larger statements. I don’t know that it was anything we tried to do and it just kind of happens. Even when we try to minimize it, it’s innately part of who we are. 

Knox: Simply that the show exists is a political statement. The show is about a mostly female, mostly queer Slo-pitch team with broad racial diversity. We really did want it to be quite mainstream and the comedy to have mainstream broad appeal. Yes, creating niche content for niche audiences is very important because the specificity is the act of generosity for those audiences, but something that has a more universal language for an audience is also a gift because it makes content like this more mainstream in the zeitgeist. The possibility of a show that has lesbians, bisexuals, and gender non-conforming people as the heroes and providers of comedy is a way of mainstreaming those identities in more mainstream media. 

 

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Slo Pitch is available now in Canada on OUTtv (available through Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV) and in the U.S. Monday, August 3 on KindaTV