When Boulder theater artist, Amanda Berg Wilson returned to Denver from a decade long explore of Chicago what she found here was a lot of great theater. What she craved, was great theater with a Chi-town influence. “There was so much being done in Chicago while I was there, so much of it was unlike anything I’d seen before; exciting voices from playwrights telling multi-disciplinary, non-realistic stories that were offbeat and very theatrical.” That was then. Now in its fifth season, Co-Founder/Artistic Director, Amanda Berg Wilson and the cadre of artists who constitute The Catamounts, continue to surprise and engage like no one else in Denver theater. Drawn to the non-linear tale, this “Theater for an Adventurous Palate” has built a repertoire of edgy experiences for a loyal Denver/Boulder audience that is welcoming of the group’s esoteric, contemporary focus. And they FEED you.
I sat down with some Catamounts and began a chat about the upcoming production of Jordan Harrison’s play, Futura, with a slight detour diving deep into the differences between experimental theatre and performance art and the evolution of the avant-garde movement. “The concept of pushing the boundaries of theatrical convention isn’t new, of course, it just keeps changing” says Amanda. “Where we fit into this as a company is that rather than looking for stories that alienate, we’re looking for stories with a point of entry, for narratives that refine and defy convention while engaging our audience.” So far, so good.
Futura is the season’s second full-length offering; a dystopian allegory written by Jordan Harrison, directed by company member Meridith Grundei. A 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for his play Marjorie Prime, Harrison takes us to the not so distant future where the printed word is illegal. Harrison’s obsession with fonts led him to an exploration of the art of pen-to-paper and the extinction of the printed word in a digitized age where online libraries, e-readers and the rapidly shrinking newspaper industry are the polar ice caps of a font-fetishist’s nightmare. Melancholy for a pre-e world and the collateral damage of the Information Age is a now a font of inspiration for millennial writers. Playwright Annie Baker mourned the loss of film to digital in The Flick, and though Harrison is currently on the writing team for the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, his theatrical forays continue to pay off.
I ask Ms. Grundei, to tell me about Futura and a world where the printed word cannot be written or even read. “It takes place in 2021, so not that far off, when the written word is virtually dead. On her first day back on the job after her husband’s gone missing, a University professor launches into a passionate rant about history, relevance and importance typography and the detrimental effects of the techno world on the human brain. Then she gets kidnapped.”
We continue into the topics explored on the play’s dark side: the ominous Big Brother, capricious Wikipedia and manipulation of information controlled by a select few. “It’s interesting because rather than being a manipulative polemic, we ask at what cost? Futura is a brilliantly written and thought-provoking play about the physical loss of the written page, our privacy in this growing technological world, and the beauty and sadness around the loss of something so simple as an ink smudge.” Says the eloquent Ms. Grundei. “A life without texture” say I. The Catamounts Executive Producer, McPherson Horle, adds, “The largess of Jordan Harrison’s ideas about government intrusion and the power of the written word would be gift enough, but the humor, grace and humanity that pervade this piece are truly remarkable. This is a hopeful story about the importance of human connection, and the art that flows as a result.”
Now tell me about the FEED. Berg Wilson picks up, “FEED is a multi-course, seated dinner where each course pairs a dish, a drink, and a performance piece. All courses revolve around a central theme, and live music weaves the whole evening together.” Go on… “We choose a theme, FEED: Fire, FEED: Illuminate” says Horle. “Then we create a palate of handcrafted food and a specialty drink inspired by that theme. We encourage people to experience the chef’s pairings and the performance- dance, music, literature- each element enhances and compliments the other. It’s truly magical.” I ask MacPherson Horle how that came to be. “Well, first off, we’re foodies. Foodies with an MFA.”
Sounds good to me!
Futura opens April 2 at the Nomad Theater in Boulder and runs through the 16th. Click here for tickets, schedule and special performance events.