D.B. Bonds didn’t know he wanted to be a director. In fact, he started his career as an actor. “If you would told me even ten years ago that one day you’ll make this transition to director, I would have probably said, ‘No way,’” says the man who is now the associate director of Broadway’s Kinky Boots—and seven other Kinky Boots companies to date worldwide. Bonds made his Broadway debut in the cast of the original Les Misérables and played in the third national tour of the show. He was a swing in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway before he went out on the road with Jerry Mitchell’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and then as Emmett Forrest in Mitchell’s tour of Legally Blonde The Musical.
In between, Bonds did well with regional gigs; but it was his frustration with one particular job that led to a change in his career. “I was complaining [about my director] saying, ‘He’s doing this and the lighting is wrong and this transition is bad. These people are moving on every laugh line,’” says Bonds. “I just kept going and he stopped me and said, ‘You know, that’s not your job, but it could be if you wanted it to be.”
So Bonds reached out to directors he knew he wanted to work with and learn from. Mitchell was the first to respond—and he happened to be directing the workshop of what would become Broadway’s Tony-winning Kinky Boots. “I sat with him at the table in no certain capacity for a week and watched him,” remembers Bonds. “Then when the show got announced to go to Chicago, he called me up and said, ‘Would you like to be my associate on the show?’”
An associate director is not to be confused with an assistant director. Assistants—though they are no small part of the team—often take care of administrative duties; “an associate director is there for artistic support,” says Bonds. “More of a colleague.”
That is especially true when mounting a new show. “My job in putting the show up [for the first time] is to be a sounding board for Jerry, be a support system for him, take notes for him,” says Bonds. As Mitchell typically directs and choreographs, Bonds also works closely with Mitchell’s associate choreographer Rusty Mowery. “Any time Jerry is doing anything, we’re right with him.
“Being a director and a choreographer can be a little lonely because you’re sort of collaborating with yourself a lot,” explains Bonds. “I’m there to listen and to have an opinion and be ready to give it if I’m asked.”
Associates sit in on all creative meetings—which for Kinky Boots meant working with the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein. Once the show opens on Broadway, Bonds is in charge of maintaining the quality for the production, from giving notes to cast members to casting replacements (with final approval from Mitchell) to running put-in rehearsals (where those replacements learn the show). To keep the show fresh, Bonds spends a lot of time at the Al Hirshfeld Theatre, usually four nights a week watching at least part of the show.
The mark of a good associate is also their ability to communicate with actors. “You have to know the psychology,” says Bonds. “You have to know different actors take notes different ways. You have to know how to deliver those. You have to know when to deliver them. It’s all about taking temperature.”
But much of Bonds’ work happens outside of New York. To date, he has been the associate director on eight companies of Kinky Boots: Broadway, the U.S. tour, Toronto, London, Korea, Japan, Australia, and, most recently, Germany. Bonds is involved from inception to opening night on all of these productions. When the tour and Toronto productions were running, he’d travel out to see the show about once a month; for overseas companies, Bonds trained the resident directors to oversee those productions and maintain the integrity of Mitchell’s original sensibilities.
“He loves a front-footed energy; he’s not a fan of casual,” says Bonds of his director. “[He wants] full out—and for a reason. And he’s a fan of pace.” Bonds needs to look at every iteration of Kinky Boots through the eyes of the creator—and with the knowledge from all of those early creative meetings and the development process. “I remember a gentleman came up to [Jerry] at intermission and said, ‘Mr. Mitchell, will you sign my Playbill?’ He said, ‘Sure. I don’t have a pen.’ I had a pen with me and I just put the pen in front of Jerry and the gentleman said, ‘Wow, that’s a good assistant.’ And Jerry said, ‘He’s not my assistant. He’s my associate.’ It was important for Jerry, for that gentleman, for me to know: This is how I think of you.”
How much does it cost to put on a show like Kinky Boots? Watch the video below: