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Pauper Players takes a deep dive into an infamous crime duo with 'Bonnie and Clyde'

Bonnie and Clyde
UNC Pauper Players are putting on the musical, "Bonnie & Clyde," as their fall show. Photo courtesy of Anna Longenecker.

The classic American outlaw story is getting a twist as UNC Pauper Players travel back in time with their fall production of "Bonnie & Clyde," a musical about the famous criminal duo.

"Bonnie & Clyde" is unique in its use of bluegrass, gospel and rockabilly music within its soundtrack, rendering it an experimental choice of production for the theater company. 

"We're kind of taking a risk with 'Bonnie & Clyde,' it being a lesser-known show for some," Elizabeth Wheless, a first-year who plays Bonnie, said. "But we're really hoping that that risk pays off because we know that a lot of people in the theater community know about this show and we're trying to get the community more involved." 

The idea for the show came from senior Anna Longenecker, its director. 

"Once somebody has an idea to do a show, we present it to the executive board and so Anna, our director, had the idea to do 'Bonnie & Clyde,'" stage manager Kelly Wygant said. 

Longenecker said one of the key factors in picking the show was its relative anonymity. 

"We're really excited that through the successes of several of our other projects over the past year, we've been able to branch out and pick lesser-known shows that will be more of a challenge to produce but very important productions nonetheless," Longenecker said.  

The musical begins at the height of the Great Depression, tracing a path from the initial meeting to the inevitable fall of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two young Texans with mutual cravings for fame, excitement and success, with the pair resorting to both robbery and murder in an effort to survive. 

"The key sentiment that kind of overarches the entire plot of 'Bonnie & Clyde' is trying to reach that cathartic point of feeling alive — being alive, connecting with others on a deeper level, and how amidst the oppression of our society that can often be so difficult to obtain," Longenecker said. "This takes place during the Great Depression, so most of the characters are seeing economic oppression at this point in the show, and furthermore, it kind of deconstructs those challenges that we face and brings back the essence of humanity."

Wheless said the complex dynamic between Bonnie, Clyde and the people around them amidst the toils of economic crisis drew her deeper into the story. 

"I think this show is so special because it kind of takes a story we've all been told since we were kids and it talks more about just Bonnie and Clyde — it talks about whom they affected and how they shaped the world around them because I never knew about Clyde's brother, Buck, or Buck's wife, Blanche, or his parents — I just knew about Bonnie and Clyde," Wheless said. 

While the plot is set in the 1930s, Wygant said she finds the themes of the production appropriate for the modern era. 

"I think what's special about 'Bonnie & Clyde' is that it's very relatable to our college campus and the phase of life we're all in — it's kind of about these kids who want to do better than what their parents did," Wygnant said. "They want to get out of this town, they want to break free." 

Wheless hopes audiences will take away a deeper, fresher understanding of Bonnie and Clyde's historic situation. She said she initially saw the duo simply as criminals, but through the show she began to see the struggles they endured during the Great Depression to achieve the American Dream. 

"It's just made me so much more connected to them, and I hope that audiences really take away that sense of, well, 'What would you do to reach your goals?'" Wheless said. "You are all a little bit like Bonnie and Clyde. You all have that ambition in you and you may be afraid to just take it. And I really hope they see that other side to them instead of just robbers and pillagers."

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