November 6, 2010

No Apologies for Kerfuffles Here—Hitching Post Theatre. ~Emily Bedal

Not Your Average Theater.

It is 8:30 am.  It’s Sunday.  I try to remember why I’m actually awake after three hours of sleep—but it doesn’t take me long to remember.  Today I embark on a fourteen hour, once a month adventure, known to seasoned Boulderites as Hitching Post Theater.  I tiptoe through the Kelly’s home to the Kelly Barn where five desks are set up, only three of them occupied by this months brave writers.  It’s the theater world, people are late.   Three MacBooks, one PC, and coffee in the pot.  Erin Kelly and Jesse McDonald, the two directors of Hitching Post Theater, make their way to the front of the room where this months’ theme is scrawled on the black board.  “A Year of Kerfuffles”– referring to the mishaps and mayhem occuring in the past year Kelly and McDonald have shared with an assortment of talented writers, directors, and actors that now work together to create the monthly event that is known as Hitching Post Theater.

On the second Sunday of every month, while others are church-going, errand running, and soccer-playing, a team of roughly thirty individuals are scattered about the Nomad Theatre in North Boulder to create, in 10.5 hours, an evening of short plays performed for an eager audience.  The show is introduced by music from a local musician and accompanied by a live gallery showing of local artwork.  This month marks the One Year Anniversary of Hitching Post, so expectations are high and the energy is piercing.  It is barely 9 am and I am aware of two things: my coffee cup is empty—and this will not be a day soon forgotten.

As new resident of Boulder, I have been itching to find authenticity in the art world.  Luckily I made it out alive of various high school productions and community theaters, still with a hope for kind-hearted “theatre people.”  I moved to Boulder with images of hippies, mountains, and yuppies planted in my mind—but not a clue about the “arts “–even though I am a self-proclaimed “theatre girl”.  Note: this is a dangerous phrase, that could mean one of two things: I either enjoy highly dramatic situations in my own life, or enjoy collaborative theatrical projects in which a group of like-minded people work together for an extended–or short, in this case– period of time running around like chickens with their heads cut off to produce a piece of work that they believe in.  I prefer the latter, and prefer it even more when I know there are people like Kelly and McDonald behind it all.

I met the two artistic visionaries roughly three weeks ago in their upstairs office in the Nomad Theatre on a Friday morning.  I had been attracted to their mission statement on their Rock Rose Entertainment website:  to bring enlightenment to others through media.  They currently are in production of two films: Lilith, set during the Civil War period-and a documentary about the effects of Mercury and what action is being done.  Their films aren’t the only vehicle for their outreach–and though Hitching Post Theater has an all but serious feel to it, it is clear why the people come back.  It was clear to me the minute I met Erin and Jesse:  their vision is stunning, and their presence: contagious.

Before I lost myself in the magic of the day, the writers were trickling out one by one. Scripts were printed and one third of the process had been completed.  I was lucky enough to sit down with writers Ken Conte and Stefan Kleinschuster before they escaped.  Conte entered the room with his computer bag and motorcycle helmet, pacing even to get to the chair.  It was is as if his brain had just temporarily left this planet into the world of writing genius, and he was just learning to land back in his own two shoes.  Conte is a third-time writer, and makes the commute back and forth from Fort Collins for this kerfuffle of a day.  Upon my asking of his favorite part of the day:  “When it’s all over.”  Conte writes screenplays in his personal time, and mentions that the Hitching Post provides a unique opportunity for screen/stage writers to have their work viewed in the same day.  “Often times screenwriters will write something and 99.9% of the times, no one will ever read it:  it will never come alive.  But Hitching Post provides a sort of ego-boost to have your work shown on the same day”.  Though the ego-boost can be kind, Conte marks Kelly and McDonald as his main inspiration for making the one-hour motorcycle journey from Fort Collins on these Sunday mornings.

Next, I sat down with Stefan Kleinschuster, a local writer and painter.  Kleinschuster is also a third-time cohort in Hitching Post’s monthly event.  Even based on our brief “off-the-record” conversation, I could tell immediately the level of talent and nature of the people that are drawn to Kelly and McDonald.  These writers weren’t in it for the love of seeing their work on the stage–it was the overall excitement of the creative process, and because of the two producer’s energy.  I agreed and quickly realized I’d have to do something about mine if I were to make it to the finish line with the rest of them.

After meeting with the writers, I set out for the Nomad Theatre.  When I arrived, the theme had already been announced, and the scripts selected by the directors.  Five directors were each paired with a script with its actors written in– and split to their respective rehearsal areas. The process had just begun:  lines being learned, blocking being shoveled out, stage managers being flagged down to fetch various props and costume items, and assortment of meats, cheeses and bread for a quick-gourmet bite between lines.

It was remarkable:  within four hours of meeting each other, reading scripts, and creating a performance, actors were dressed and ready for the cue-to-cue at 5:30 pm.  After that:  last minute rehearsal and lights up at 7pm.  The actors looked alive, energized–an energy that is easily forgotten when a show is rehearsed for weeks and weeks prior to a live audience.  But these actors and directors had a deadline to meet– and meet well.

The audience started trickling in around 6:20 pm.  Though the energies were split:  Kelly managing the front of the house while McDonald was playing “actor”, the cookies were still out, wine and beer displayed, coffee brewed, and raffle tickets sold.  As soon as I took a deep breath, the audience was arriving. It was clear that once a patron sees Hitching Post Theater: they come back for more.  But why bother come out on a Sunday night to see a show that could, logistically speaking, be hit or miss?

For one, it is authentic.  It is the epitome of a creative process:  completely unpredictable, and compacted into less than a day.  Pleasing for those actors, writers and directors who enjoy immediate gratification.  And it’s oddly satisfying as a spectator to know the potential mishaps are twice as likely considering the time constraints.   Four visions combining to create ultimately, one, that would have to be agreed upon to broadcast in front of a live, buzzing audience.  Hitching Post’s slogan:  We Make No Apologies.  And with that, no apologies were made, as the audience was seated, the opening music was finished, and raffle prizes were distributed.  Lights up.

As someone who had been a witness of the process the entire day, there was a bit of a baited-breath syndrome that would happen with each play beginning.  Would they remember their lines?  Would set pieces make sense?  Costumes tear?  Audience respond and understand?  Audience throw tomatoes?  Luckily, the only “kerfuffles” were in the technical aspect.  I could hardly contain my laughter when a young male actor’s pajama pants were falling down his legs as he was trying to “level” with his girlfriend.  But the laughter was authentic, the actors performed well under pressure–and audience members left in good spirits.  The second show, a whole new crowd, a whole different set of laughter moments– but same satisfaction.

A fourteen hour day can be overwhelming–but I know I can speak for others when I say I’ll certainly be back.  Hitching Post Theater is a breath of fresh mountain air standing against other theater experiences I have had that can seem rather impersonal, boring, and drawn out.  None of that is the case here.  What you give is what you get–and those involved don’t give anything less than 100%.  I looked at a tired pair of producers–who still both had smiles on their faces.

If you are interested in checking out Hitching Post’s Productions, they occur on the second Sunday of each month.  Next month’s show is November 14th and the Nomad Theatre!  And if you are brave enough to act, direct, or write—you can shoot an email to Erin and Jesse.  If not—I’ll see you in the audience!

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