Bonne Kramer talks playing the bassoon (and a glockenspiel, and coconuts, and a penny whistle) while singing and dancing in Into The Woods

From singing and dancing in Mamma Mia to narrating audiobooks and animation, Bonne Kramer is a woman of many talents. That list also includes playing the bassoon, something she’s able to marry with performing on stage 8 times a week on stage in the wildly successful tour of Into The Woods.

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What made you fall in love with performing?

I’ve been performing since I was a kid – piano, church musicals, putting on puppet shows, hosting auctions (auctioning off my toys of course), making movies about my pets (How to Make a Pig Beautiful), writing songs (Butt Out of My Way) – that kind of stuff. In 5th grade for the talent show, I decided to impersonate all my teachers for the entire school, complete with their accents and mannerisms like a roast. It was a HIT. That was definitely a career highlight for me. Realizing I could make people laugh. That was a drug.

You’re doing double-duty playing the bassoon as well as acting. How did finding the rhythm challenge you as an artist?

It came as a bit of a shock and challenge to me that I would be memorizing the bassoon orchestrations. Our cello player, Fred, had the same daunting task, but with the experience of multiple Sondheim/John Doyle productions, so I clung to him for moral support. And then surprisingly, (after many hours of rehearsal), it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I think the interpretation of music through an instrument is very similar to interpreting text. It makes perfect sense to me that a musician would also be an actor and singer. My challenges were a bit more logistical. When do I soak my reeds? How do I maintain them while traveling the country with constant weather changes? Also, I can’t tell you how many times, during a quick change, one of the hundreds of pieces of fringe from my costume shawl would get stuck in the over 20 something keys on the bassoon. But it’s also thrilling. In a matter of minutes, I’ll put on the shawl to play Jack’s mom singing a heartfelt song to my son, then throw on a flamboyant hat while cackling as Cinderella’s Stepmother, then throw it all down and pick up the bassoon! And all to Lapine’s text and a Sondheim score! Life is good.

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What’s been the most surprising aspect of this production of Into The Woods?

I had no idea how involved I would be for the majority of the 2 hour 20 minute long show. I literally don’t leave the stage during Act 1, and barely leave it for Act 2. That was both a pleasant and unpleasant surprise. If I’m not singing/acting or playing the bassoon, I’m probably hitting/playing/moving something such as the autoharp, woodblocks, paper birds, glockenspiel, coconuts, penny whistle, cowbell, doing baby cries, giant deaths…did I forget something?

How are you a different artist today than you were a year ago?

Everyone wants to build their resume, but I tend to put a lot of stock in learning, developing relationships, and experiencing life. I’m more concerned about being a cool human, not just a skilled performer. And then of course, that seems to be when I find the jobs that suit me like this one in Into the Woods. I often get that I’m not a typical “musical theatre performer,” and I like that. In the last three years, I have put a lot of time and energy into traveling, meeting people, learning new skills, having interesting experiences, eating lots of good food – I do love food – or my favorite hobby of all: dancing. I just started learning Zouk. I had never even heard of it. It’s so sensual and improvisational. I’m pretty bad at it, and by bad, I mean unskilled.

How do you stay inspired as a performer?

It’s funny. Sometimes I’ll be in a rut, and I’ll think “All art sucks. It’s just for money. Pop music is so bad these days. What’s the point?” And then I’ll see some great sketch on SNL, or listen to Paul Simon or Debussy or Nirvana, or see an episode of Louie, or watch people dancing tango and I’m like, “I wanna do that. Am I doing that?” And then my brain takes off. I’m so interested in what makes people react. Real human honest reactions. It’s funny how you can sense when someone is putting something on for show or when it’s real. I love going to a movie and watching people in the movie theatre watch the movie. Or watching fireworks and just listening to everyone’s honest reaction. These things excite and amuse me. Or if I really need inspiration, I just go play in the ocean. I try to remind myself that the world is so much more than my tiny life and career. Performing can be a very selfish endeavor, or it can be a very giving one. I tend to stay inspired when it’s closer to the latter.

Photos by Joan Marcus
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