Dance for Today: Janis Lundman & Adrienne Mitchell on Bomb Girls

Tonight, Bomb Girls, a new six-part series begins on Global TV. In it, we meet five women from different walks of life who work in a Toronto munitions factory during the 1940s. Last month, I got to chat with two of my favourite women in television about it – Janis Lundman (Executive Producer) and Adrienne Mitchell (Executive Producer and Director) of Back Alley Films – and here’s some of our conversation about what is going to be a really great look at a period in history that you might not know much about.

Bomb Girls recently had a screening in Ottawa. What reaction did you receive from those who attended?

Janis: It was fantastic. We invited Members of Parliament, Senators, admirals, veterans of all different ages, [and] people who were involved in the show, but the best part was that we invited two real live bomb girls – women who worked in the factories making bombs, making guns, Queenie and Helen. It was worth it just to have them in the audience and have people able to speak to them about their experiences and what had happened. At the end, they went on stage with our actors and were given a standing ovation. I think that was the best part for me. It touched people. There were some tears in the audience afterward, and what more can you ask for when you create something?

Adrienne: There was one gal, her name was Helen Rapp [who] made anti-aircraft guns. She said – and it’s really gratifying to hear these kinds of things – “I haven’t been to the home front since 1943, and I’ve been there again today after seeing [this episode].” She really connected, and it brought back a lot of memories for her and how difficult it was for a woman to be transplanted into a male environment, for the men to accept the women, and the women to get comfortable. Then what she also said, which I think is really interesting, it was the first time that women experienced a kind of camaraderie. They never had that before. Men had these bonds, over sports [or] work, but women were more siloed. This was the first time that women from all walks of life could come together and bond, laugh, commiserate, and have that kind of camaraderie that men were used to having.

I hadn’t realized the boundaries that were broken down during that time, and it comes across very naturally in the first episode.

Janis: Well that’s when it all started to break down, the class system. You had these ads placed in newspapers, “Come down, come to the factories, we need you!” The [women] were coming from all across the country – the Prairies, from the West, from the East Coast – and converging on these factories that were in Southern Ontario, a lot of them Toronto, and as Adrienne said, they were meeting women from different walks of life, from different backgrounds, different classes, and they’re all working together. They have the same goal. Maybe they’re living in the same rooming house. They’re going through the same things with what may be happening with their sons or their brothers or their husbands, and they really started to bond.

There’s a line in that first episode that made me realize that, until I watched it, I hadn’t really thought about how real the threat of Hitler was on North American soil.

Janis: That was a possibility. There were U-boats in the St. Lawrence [River] and along the coast of Maine. Louise, a woman who worked at the DIL plant in Ajax which built various types of bombs, we were asking her these questions and at one point, she just looked at us and said, “You girls don’t understand. We actually thought Germany was going to occupy Canada. We had no idea what was going to happen. We thought that today could be our last day living in this kind of way, so we all lived for the moment, seized life, because even here on the home front, people were terrified that their whole way of life was going to be threatened and changed.”

The characters really convey that sentiment, and I have to say that each role is perfectly cast.

Janis: That’s not easy. It was a real process. We had an amazing casting director, Lisa Parasyn and her partner Jon Comerford, and there was no stone left unturned. It’s a funny thing to cast for this period because there are actors that just feel so 2011. They could be really great actors, but they just don’t fit. To find these girls who feel like they come from that place yet still have a kind of universality to connect them to our modern sensibilities, to find that balance is really challenging. The chemistry between the actors is there, and even off set they connected so well. It was a really interesting dynamic between [them], with Meg Tilley [being] such a great role model for them all.

It was surprising to see the news that Meg Tilley was cast as Lorna, especially because I wouldn’t necessarily think of her when casting for a TV series, and she’s been out of the spotlight for so long.

Adrienne: She’s spent quite a long time away from the business. She raised her family in Victoria, and this is one of the most substantial things she’s done in a long time. It’s interesting because there are parallels with her and [her character] Lorna. The bomb factory’s only six months in operation, and Lorna’s experiencing a whole new realm of things because she’s being exposed to these women who are young and crossing social and moral boundaries. Also, she’s now experiencing being outside of the domestic situation. There’s the parallel between Meg diving back into the acting world and her character experiencing this new frontier.

In the first episode, there’s a scene that takes place at a dance that really left an impression. Between the music, the costumes and the dancing, it was like I’d stepped back in time.

Janis: The one thing that we say about that particular scene is that people were dancing like there could be no tomorrow. You were not only going out to have fun, there was an energy that we may not be here tomorrow, the soldiers may not be there tomorrow, something might happen in the bomb factory. We have to live for today and dance for today.

Bomb Girls airs tonight at 8pm on Global TV. And just an aside … if you are a fan of Being Erica at all, you might recognize a certain musician from the future playing a privileged boy from the past 😉

Image Courtesy of Global

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