#39: Amanda Berg Wilson.
Amanda Berg Wilson is a juggler of roles, who came to Boulder from Chicago, where she helped found the interdisciplinary performance group Striding Lion. And when she moved to Colorado, she brought with her an adventurously playful breath of creative fresh air. Once here, she founded another company, the Catamounts, with her husband Ben. As she discusses below, the Catamounts don't walk in the same footsteps as all the theater companies that have come before them. Instead, they innovate both onstage and all around it -- with original plays and sometimes with dinner shows that in no way resemble dinner theater, but instead champion the clarion of slow food and brain food intermingled.
We asked Berg Wilson, a force of theatrical nature, to take on our 100CC questionnaire, which she did, as follows, with a mental cartwheel and a rush of smart words.
If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
This is, of course, an ever-evolving answer, but: I'd love to make a rock musical with Frank Zappa (whose Billy the Mountain I staged in 2005 and 2006 with my Chicago company, Striding Lion, and count it as one of my best theater experiences ever); apprentice Trish Sie and try and apply what she does in an OK Go Video to the stage; get David Foster Wallace to adapt his essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" into a play I'd then direct -- he supposedly said he's not sure if actors are very stupid or very smart, but I think after a collaborative process with the Catamounts, he'd at least concede we're very fun. I directed an adaptation of a George Saunders piece last year (Jon) and began a correspondence with him that remains one of the biggest thrills of my professional life -- I'd love to get to work with him in collaboration. There are also many living theater artists with whom it would be an honor to collaborate: Tina Landau, Anna Shapiro, Mary Zimmerman, to name a few. It's a good time for theater, despite what lots of folks might say.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Oh gosh. I am one of those people who is interested in pretty much everyone. I find humans endlessly fascinating, which is why I chose to dedicate my life to the artistic examination of human behavior. It's like asking an alcoholic, "What is your favorite booze?" I'm interested in everyone. They pretty much all get me drunk.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year? The endless producing in the extended Denver theater community of the same five or six plays. I am repeatedly surprised by how companies do not distinguish themselves by the material they choose. I am fortunate that this does not happen in my smaller Boulder theater community -- my brethren and sist-thren at companies like BETC, Local Theatre Company and square product theatre are all staging new, and sometimes experimental or original work, and that helps keep me inspired and growing. I also, by the way, think it's what keeps audiences inspired and growing. I think if more companies had a distinct mission and, just as important, a distinct aesthetic, we'd see a real diversification of the work, and less of this thing where a company closes a play, only to have it open at another theater across town the next week. What is that? It makes no sense to me.
What's your day job?
I've spent the last few years dedicating myself exclusively to the Catamounts, the Boulder-based performance group I founded, and to raising my five-year-old girl, Eloise. I write the Catamounts' grants, lead our fundraising, teach our educational programs, direct our shows, produce (and sometimes perform) in our FEED events, balance our books, file our permits, design our postcards...it's amazing how quickly it has become my full-time job! I'm not paid anywhere near full-time yet, and I'm lucky that my kick-ass husband has a job that pays the bills. But I'm determined to get the Catamounts to a place where it can also pay me -- and the amazing artists with whom I have the privilege to work -- what we're worth. In fact, I'm staking my mid-career years on it.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
The thing I'm going to do anyway, and that I've been planning to do in one form or another my whole life, only sooner and without an endless fundraising campaign: open a black box theater with its own specialty tap room here in Colorado. We Catamounts love really good, adventurous food, booze and theater, especially all together, which is why we started our FEED program, in which we pair them in a four-course seated dinner. In doing so, we've developed all these awesome relationships with local breweries and distilleries and food trucks and food companies. Our own space would allow us to capitalize on these relationships, and our FEED concept, and also provide our extended artistic community a really cool, affordable space to produce work. I imagine this place being a kind of poor man's, bohemian country club -- families can eat lunch from the food truck pulled up in the courtyard and have a pint while their kids are taking a Saturday theater class. There won't be tennis, but there will be a taco truck.
An aside, and why I actually think serving good beer at shows is so important: Theater will continue to be a marginalized activity and see its audience age if the experience of going to see a play is so unsexy. I was actually only offered Bud products at a show I attended recently -- Bud products! In Colorado! The craft beer capital of the world! It's like -- come on, y'all. We can't only think about the quality of the show, but we also need to think about what that audience member experiences from the moment they walk in the door. (It was a good show, by the way, but would have been better with a good beer.)
I'd also immediately put all of the Catamounts on salary, so they could dedicate themselves full-time to the work that we're doing in the cracks and crevices of our very full lives. Then we'd show the world!
What's the one thing Colorado could do to help the arts?
Champion the local and homemade over the imported and corporately-made. We do that wherever possible with our beer, with our produce and food, and we should do that with our art. Champion it everywhere....
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I'm a big fan of the folks at Buntport. I also love Control Group's work. Also, Paper Bird, amazing. And the creatives in my own company (Joan Bruemmer-Holden, Meridith C. Grundei, McPherson Horle, Jason Maxwell, Lauren Shepard and Ben Wilson) -- I direct them, but am also their biggest fan. If I had to narrow it down to one person, I couldn't. I like ensembles, and we've got some good ones!
What's on your agenda for the rest of 2013 and beyond?
We open probably my favorite play I've ever directed this weekend, Failure: A Love Story, by my Chicago colleague Philip Dawkins, at the Dairy. It's the story of three Chicago sisters who all die in the same year, 1928, and the man who loved them all. It's about how interconnected love and loss are, and it's hilarious and whimsical and a bit macabre and completely beautiful. If ever there was a production that is what I want our work to be, this is it. Then, we will have our third annual FEED: Short & Sweet event in December, where we'll pair beer, dessert and performance in a magical evening. Then, in March, I'm getting up on stage for the first time with the Cats, under Catamount Meridith C. Grundei's direction, as Ellen in There Is A Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher. Introducing the work of Philip and Mickle to Colorado this season is one of the greatest privileges I've had as a theater artist -- they are both smart, wicked funny and immensely generous. In June, we'll have another FEED event: FEED: Mountain, and FEED's director Lauren Shepard is handing me the reins, so I'll direct one of those events for the first time.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local theater/performance community this year?
People fuss about driving to Boulder, but there is some great new theater happening here, and more folks are noticing that. Also, one of the Catamounts' artistic associates is a composer named Paul Fowler. He composed the music for our productions God's Ear and Messenger #1. He's writing an opera right now about that lady who tried to "restore" the Ecce Homo fresco. If it is going to be as awesome as I think it is, you shall know his name.
Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
Do you have a suggestion for a future profile? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments.
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