Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bards of a feather: The indefinable suchness of Buntport Theater

This profile appeared in 5280 magazine in March of 2007.

Bards of a feather
The indefinable suchness of Buntport Theater

They toil in a warehouse at 7th and Lipan, close to the hoot and rumble of the rail yards and I-25. They don’t do Shakespeare (unless you count “Titus Andronicus! The Musical”). They craft every show from scratch, reconfiguring their each time – from the labyrinths of “The Odyssey: A Walking Tour” to the floating lattices of “The 30th of Baydak” to the portable skating rink of “Kafka on Ice.”
After nearly a decade and almost 20 productions together, working without a substantial budget or a net, Buntport is the hottest thing going in Denver’s theatre.
“We want to be a cultural institution in Denver. I think we’re on the right track,” says Evan Weissman, the youngest company member (they range in age from 27 to 32). “We’re not just performers seeking stardom, we want to make stuff. And have heating and air conditioning. Ultimately, we want to be able to say that any night of the week, there’s something really cool going on at Buntport.”
The group began to take shape in 1998. Its seven members – Erik Edborg, Erin Rollman, Hannah Duggan, Matt Petraglia, SamAnTha Schmitz, Brian Colonna and Weissman – were classmates at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. There they devised “Quixote,” a piece fueled on snatches from Cervantes’ novel. The troupe’s exuberant no-budget feat of legerdemain went over well, and they traveled widely with it. However, the rigors of the road were disenchanting.
“We decided two things,” says Colonna. “’We’re going to stick, and we’re going to get a space in Denver.’”
Buntport has not only made a virtue of necessity – they have crafted a credo from it. Determined, they settled down and got to work. It wasn’t until their twice-weekly “live sitcom” “Magnets on the Fridge” caught on with the local cognoscenti that they began to hit the cultural radar (“Magnets” ended its five-season run this summer with three on-stage weddings, joined spontaneously by two more from the audience).
All the members collaborate on every aspect of every show. Edborg, Rollman, Colonna, Duggan and Weissman form the on-stage contingent. The fruits of many small writing sessions are funneled to Rollman, who acts as the final editor of the scripts. “It just happened that way,” she says. “Someone has to make sure the voices stay the same … figure out the pace and the melody, the tone… plus, I’m anal retentive, and good with spelling.”
Petraglia is the technical guru, and Schmitz’s strengths lie in directing, design and financial matters – Colonna states, “While we’re all coming up with expensive ideas, she’s the one who says, ‘Hey, this is how much money we have!’”
Their disarmingly offhand, hand-hewn approach gives Buntport a refreshing vitality and directness. The group’s rowdy wit, mingled with surreal and serious undercurrents, makes it one of the region’s most unique and enjoyable nights out.
Currently, the group is in mid-season, ready to hatch a new production soon and running full-blast with its “Magnets” replacement, the enigmatically titled “Starship Troy.”
“What’s nice is, there are seven of us,” says Colonna. “At any given time, one of us is having a nervous breakdown, saying, ‘This is no good, what are we doing?’, but there are six others to keep us on track.”
“It’s usually Brian who’s saying that,” quips Petraglia.

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