Some eighteen years ago, six actor-writers who had met as students at Colorado College got together to create Buntport, a kind of theater that’s entirely original, in a coldly echoing Denver warehouse. They are Erin Rollman, Brian Colonna, Hannah Duggan, Erik Edborg, SamAnTha Schmitz and Evan Weissman—who has since left the company to form an equally innovative community organizing group, Warm Cookies of the Revolution, but still works on an occasional show.
Buntport is holding a fundraiser Saturday, 8 p.m. at 717 Lipan called An Evening with Scott Bakula (Without Scott Bakula). Tickets cost $25.
Denver theater would be a lot less interesting without Buntport. The group works together to create their scripts, which are based on whatever one of them happens to be reading at the time, someone’s haunting obsession, or a quirky fact that’s caught the group’s attention. Rollman may be pondering Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the result is a beautifully haunting production called Wake. Two Buntporters catch Tommy Lee Jones in line at the Santa Fe Opera, and their next production becomes Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone, with a giant puppet standing in for the actor. A fairly obscure satirical essay proposes a service for making rich people seem literate by mutilating their books so they look read—breaking the spines, dog-earing the pages. Some time later, The Book Handlers seems to spring full-fledged from the company’s melded brain.
The eccentric approach may explain why the descriptions on Buntport programs tend to be short, teasing and enigmatic, but the productions are always carefully and creatively put together. The configuration of the now-transformed warehouse changes for each show—playing area, audience seating and all. You may find yourself focused on a small lighted box in which Rollman plays a grieving Victorian woman who’s convinced her son was murdered, having been cut apart while unconscious by doctors wanting to examine his brain. A Synopsis of Butchery is actually based on a historical source. Then there’s the astonishing, intricately-detailed, multi-level Rube Goldberg contraption created for The Book Handlers. Or you gaze upward as performers navigate perilously swaying platforms hung from the ceiling in The 30th of Baydak. But a set may also consist simply of a gray Volkswagen bus with pictures painted on the sides being pushed from place to place by the cast of Titus Andronicus: The Musical. Props have been known to spring to life or become actual characters—like the goldfish who played Ophelia in the company’s spoof of Hamlet, Something is Rotten, and later starred as the white whale in Moby Dick Unread.
You never get the feeling that the group is straining to capture a younger, hipper audience like so many other local companies because over the years they’ve developed a devoted following that tends to be clever, creative and—yes—young and hip, and those people are talking about Buntport all over town, in comedy clubs, coffee shops, bars, classes and galleries.
Buntport inspires some persistent questions, however. How does this small group of people manage to produce work year after year that never feels stale? Don’t they ever get sick of each other? How do they stay afloat financially? It did seem there might be friction six years back when Facebook posts for A Knight to Remember proclaimed sulkily that the concept was Colonna’s alone, three of the other company members wouldn’t be participating, and while Duggan had agreed to do the tech, she fully intended to mess it up. But Knight turned out to be a light, fizzy, friendly evening involving the entire crew, though there was a fair amount of onstage bitching from Duggan.
This is one of the very few acting companies in Denver whose members actually make a living and can devote themselves entirely to their work. The Saturday fundraiser is one of two they’ll mount this year, and donations can also be made directly to the theater, are tax deductible and will be matched by the Olson-Vander Heyden Foundation. Donations make up roughly a third of Buntport’s operating budget; the rest comes from ticket sales and grants.
Saturday’s entertainment includes an episode of Quantum Leap, enlivened by live performances. “Think Quantum Leap mixed with Rocky Horror mixed with Mystery Science Theater,” says the invitation, adding, “The episode comes complete with silly commercial breaks and an interview with not Scott Bakula.” There will be food (which at Buntport tends to be delicious and include home-made cookies), along with drink and prizes. The money raised will support the work of the upcoming 19th season, which kicks off with various monthly programming (check the website for details: www.buntport.com) before the debut of the next original play, Universe 92.
Asked what keeps the company together, Colonna has a ready answer: “We’re inspired by so many things. But really, it’s easier to keep going because we get to lean on each other. After so many years together, we’re good at lifting one another up when needed.”
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