Independent theater entrepreneur kryssi wyckoff-martin is that rare bird, a native Coloradan. Better yet, after studying theater with playwright Edward Albee and Circle in the Square founder Jose Quintero at the University of Houston, she even returned to her home state. Wyckoff-martin then "puttered around" with Citystage Ensemble and some other local small theater projects before taking the plunge and starting her own company, genoa's mother productions.
A tiny--not just small--company, gmp has only about seven members and is dedicated mostly to developing new material rather than rerunning someone else's time-honored classics. As if to emphasize the company's homegrown qualities, it's named for wyckoff-martin's three-year-old daughter, who is in turn named for a Colorado farming community on the eastern plains that's overflowing with members of the Wyckoff clan. "You can't swing a cat there without knocking a Wyckoff in the head," she says--and perhaps the same is true for gmp, since the many-hatted wyckoff-martin acts, writes, directs and produces.
Gmp's latest venture, wyckoff-martin's interactive comedy Paul's Place, opens Friday in a freestanding building on South Broadway owned by the author's pal, Liz Ellis, whom she met while waiting tables some years ago at My Brother's Bar. Wyckoff-martin openly admits the play is inspired by her sojourn at Brother's, and that thread of experience carries on in the present: Ellis will open a flower shop with a latte cart in the South Broadway space the same day the play premieres. By day you'll be able to sniff and sip, but at night, at least on the weekends, the place will be transformed into Paul's Place, seating 25 to 30 people per show around five or six tables. "You'll actually be waited on by the actors," wyckoff-martin says. "It'll be like you're eavesdropping. Among restaurant workers, a conversation can last all night, because everyone's always going back and forth, saying something and later picking up where they left off."
She admits there are difficulties in staging a play sans proscenium. "Actors as a species need to have a stage, they need to have a spotlight," wyckoff-martin notes. "One actor quit early on because he couldn't deal with it--he had to have the stage." But when the arguments begin to fly right across tables where audience members are sitting, she's banking on their tolerance. "Here," she says, "you come, you laugh, you leave--it's very light. It tackles a heavy subject, but it does it so fast, you don't even know you've tackled it."
There is, after all, a central theme to Paul's Place: sexual harassment. "You can actually get away with a lot more things in restaurants than anywhere else," says wyckoff-martin. "For instance, the bartenders are always male, and the waiters are always females. One character has been a waitress for twenty years, and she keeps getting passed up for promotions, so she just drinks herself blind, and she keeps waiting on tables." In contrast, the restaurant manager is a young frat boy in his twenties. "Everybody hates him. He's completely clueless, and he doesn't care or even know."
Bartender Joey is the central figure, around whom the conversation and action flow. Unlike most of wyckoff-martin's other characters, who are composite personalities, Joey is firmly based on an actual Brother's bartender. "Some of the lines that come out of the bartender's mouth are things that have actually come out of his mouth," wyckoff-martin says. "I told him, 'You'll think I stole your life.'"
Another character, Millie, is based in part on artist Jill Hadley Hooper, also a onetime behind-the-scenes ally at Brother's. "She's not interested in the politics and the crap," wyckoff-martin says of Millie. "She's the conscience of the place. Her attitude is, 'I just work here and go home and do my art.'"
The playwright shows up in a character, too: "Now, let's not be coy--when you put yourself in a play, that character is going to be a hero, someone who's there to save the day. But she's not. She's actually a bitch--she's what I used to be like. I didn't realize then that I was being that difficult at the time." That's honest talk for an artist, whose heart can get all tied up in her dialogue, but wyckoff-martin credits college mentor Albee with helping her learn to cut through the personal in the interest of uncloaking a more professional mien. "He has an innate sense of crap," she says. "Here's a man with two Pulitzer Prizes telling you what's wrong with your play. I actually curled up into a fetal position when he did. But he knocked into me that you can't be too sensitive--you have to be able to filter through the criticism."
Nowadays, wyckoff-martin's main problem with critics isn't the criticism. "It's because they don't come," she groans. Denver is still more of a sports town than a theater town, she says, especially when it comes to grassroots productions in the gmp mold, but in her mind, it's a matter of educating audiences to explore small theater. She'd like to tackle the children's market some day, noting that it's simply a great place to begin that process. Otherwise, says wyckoff-martin, "I don't know what to do about it. I'm not the greatest producer in the world--I'm an artist. I cannot force someone to go to the theater." Variety, however, may be the magic key for gmp: "I don't want to get into a niche. But if we have to have one, our niche is new work."
Paul's Place, 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., May 7-June 26, 1645 South Broadway, 303-831-6095.