Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gravity Defied's "[title of show]" kicks off this weekend

photo by Gabriel Christus

The Gravity Defied Theatre company's take on the creative process behind theater will hit the Fox studio theater this weekend. Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's "[title of show]," a comedy-within-a-comedy, turns the dramatic lens on itself, detailing the sometimes torturous, sometimes inspiring journey behind writing a show.
A feature about the comedy, which opens at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 follows after the jump.
AURORA | Benji Schirm’s knowledge of the musical comedy “[title of show]” goes much deeper than memorized lines or stage cues.
Schirm, director of the Gravity Defied Theatre company’s upcoming production of the comedy at the Aurora Fox, can get downright eerie in showing off his detailed knowledge of the text — think Dustin Hoffman counting cards in a Las Vegas casino in the film “Rain Man.”
“In the show, there are 197 mentions of insecurity, in one way or another,” Schirm said. “There are 256 obscure theater references in the 94-page script.”
Schirm’s intimate knowledge of the comedy isn’t accidental or freakish. The comedy has a special meaning for the director, just as it does for the four-member cast starring the Gravity Defied production.
The comedy-within-a-comedy details the creative process behind the production itself; it follows “[title of show]” writers Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell as they write the “[title of show]” script and score, drawing on the help of two actress friends.
“It’s a very interesting directorial premise,” Schirm said. “I can’t tell you how many personal connections I have because the show is our lives.
It’s not a difficult reach for us to be these people, because we are these people.
“It’s a personal connection entirely,” Schirm added.
The comedy’s premise is rooted in the theatrical process, a structure that’s bound to resonate with actors, directors, musicians and crew members who have suffered over a play. It’s a link that first brought the play to the attention of Keith Rabin Jr., the founder of the Gravity Defied company.
“The story is really amazing to me ... My journey in creating Gravity Defied theater was kind of like Bowen and Bell’s journey,” Rabin said. “(It’s) the legwork and the heart that it takes to keep on moving forward. There is so much ... so many obstacles that you have to overcome in order to get something from an idea to an actual product.”
In focusing so squarely on the theatrical process, the comedy includes very specific, obscure references to the history of theater and the legends of legendary Broadway actors and actresses. For example, there’s a gag about Mary Stout, a Broadway veteran whose accident with a hot dog cart found its way into the script.
“You have to know some theater to be able to get some of the references in the show,” Rabin said. “They talk a lot about Broadway stars and flop Broadway musicals that never really made it.”
Still, the crew maintain that such inside references don’t drain the underlying appeal of the comedy for general audiences.
“It’s really important that these characters are fully ingrained in the knowledge of these references,” Schirm said. “But what’s important is the connection of these people and creation. It’s not important that you get every reference ... What’s important is that you connect with the story and the people and the heart of the show.
“This show has a heart as big as a bull,” Schirm said.
For more than a year, Rabin and the rest of the Gravity Defied troupe have met such creative obstacles head-on, embracing an unorthodox and, at times, risqué artistic approach. The company is a program of the Rocky Mountain Arts Association, a nonprofit that encompasses the Denver Gay Mens’ Chorus, the Denver Womens’ Chorus, Out Loud: The Colorado Springs Mens’ Chorus and the Mosaic Youth Chorus.
The Gravity Defied troupe has drawn on the support of the RMAA, as well as constant access to the Aurora Fox, to further their unorthodox artistic mission since starting out last year.
Gravity Defied has made it a point to push the creative envelope, mounting lavish productions like “The Wild Party” earlier this year. The story of a celebration thrown by two Vaudeville performers in 1928 represented an ambitious pinnacle for the troupe — the production featured a cast of more than 25 engaged in drunken brawls and alcohol-induced hallucinations.
“[title of show]” still boasts some of Gravity Defied’s flair for the controversial; it lacks the overt sex and drug references of “The Wild Party,” but there’s still plenty of foul language. Still, making the transition to a small-scale comedy featuring a four-member cast and a stark set design, posed its own difficulties.
“The process is a lot easier in ways. But then you have the weight of the entire show on your shoulders. It’s all four of us all the time. That’s definitely a lot more of a challenge,” said Rabin. “We don’t ever leave the stage ... But we’re kind of getting the flow of the show now that we’re almost there.”
Schirm, who starred in several Gravity Defied productions before his debut as a director for the company, said the small scale of the piece wasn’t too much of an obstacle from a directorial point of view.
“I enjoy minimalistic theater. There are literally four chairs and a keyboard, but there are going to be 300 light cues,” Rabin said. “I’m going to tell a lot of the story with lights. Really, the biggest challenge was casting.”
Rabin and Danny Harrigan, who both starred in “The Wild Party,” had already claimed the two lead male roles “[title of show].” Finding actresses Misha Johnson and Alaina Beth Reel was the most taxing part of the casting process.
“They are amazing, phenomenal actresses,” Schirm said. “Most of the challenges as a director are behind me.”
With the rehearsals nearly completed and the premiere scheduled for Nov. 5 at the Aurora Fox, Schirm said he’s found the freedom to enjoy the show itself — its insights into the creative process and its humor rooted in a life devoted to the stage. The production also represents a personal opportunity for Schirm, who traveled from Boston to Denver more than a year ago to build a life in the local theater scene.
“I really am excited to show Denver what my art is,” Schirm said. “Truly, this show does it for me. It really is me.”
Gravity Defied Theatre company’s production of “[title of show]” will run from Nov. 5 to Nov. 21 at the Aurora Fox theater, 9900 E. Colfax. For more information about the show, e-mail, call 303-957-8186 or log on to

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