If you're one of those people who eschew local theater as a result of seeing one too many flaccid, predictable shows, take heart. The Bug's Freak Train is less a presentation than it is a zany, accidental experiment.
Here's how it works: As many as twelve "performers" sign up to do anything -- that's right, anything -- on stage for a full five minutes. The rules are few: Performers can't harm themselves, the space or the audience during their piece. Messy acts go last and clean up any leftovers.
After signing up for a slot (come early if you hope to get on stage), actors give technical director Alex Weimer a few brief directives as to what they'd like for lighting, which he improvises during the set. The evening is then kicked off with the audience-participation theme song "Freak Train," a bastardized version of Cat Stevens's "Peace Train."
Such dramatic freedom draws amateur thespians to the Bug's ambient space to belt out a preamble, sing a duet, deliver a completely improvised skit -- whatever. None of the acts are judged, and all get equal time. Should performers get off on a tangent and go more than five minutes, they're buzzed off the stage à la The Gong Show.
"Every once in a while, a dog will find its way into the show," observes Freak Train emcee and Bug co-program director GerRee Hinshaw. She recalls the anonymous performance artist who rolled fifty eggs off her head and let them fall to the floor (she went last, of course). Then there was the guy whose shtick included hurling himself at the wall for no apparent reason. Not long ago, a spacesuit-garbed man and woman cooked a waffle on stage to techno music, serving it to the audience after their stint.
Bizarre? Sort of. Entertaining? Definitely.
Hinshaw says Freak Train's fun is in the goofy improvisation, not in making judgment calls on the creators themselves.
"There is no bad," she insists. "They're just freaks. Freak Train is just an open stage -- whatever you're compelled to do."
A joint project of the Bug and Denver's Promethean Theatre, Freak Train was initiated to fill the dearth of mid-week theatrical offerings and has been permanently plugged into the Bug's eclectic lineup on the last Monday of each month. The two companies combine to emcee the event, with Hinshaw and Promethean organizer Joel Harmon typically juggling sign-up, buzzer and introduction duties.
The Train has been building a following since its inception in August 2000, growing from twenty or so enthusiastic regulars to the occasional standing-room-only crowd in the dimly lit 150-seat house. While plenty of participants are local theater-community regulars, organizers keep the action unpredictable by encouraging stage-shunning types to sign up.
"The first inclination was to have something that everyone could play," says Hinshaw, referring to the mix of performers. A handful at each event are gutsy novices with a soapbox to stand on, an (out-of-tune) aria to bellow, a semi-nude fantasy to realize. Apparently, performing in front of a captive audience is so freeing, some actors vie for a sign-up spot month after month.
Performer Antoine Velot scurries down to the Bug for nearly every Freak Train. Each time he takes the stage, he delivers a memorized monologue derived from the lyrics of a King Missile spoken-word song. While Velot is really, really into King Missile, he performs for the thrill of it.
"It's to get that rush," explains Velot. "That's really what it is."