“Why does Denver need one more theater company right now?” asks Rachel Bouchard. She has the answer to her own question: Benchmark Theatre Company's inaugural full-scale production, sci-fi crime-drama The Nether, which launches Friday, March 31.
The Front Range is rich with theater these days. From the sweeping Broadway productions brought in by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts to the immersive productions of the Catamounts and everything in between, metro Denver's theater scene has a lot going on — and not always a big enough audience to support it.
Even so, Bouchard and her creative partner, Haley Johnson, saw an opportunity to tap into Denver's exploding economy, rich with breweries, food culture and legalized marijuana. "We really wanted to be a part of bringing the Denver art scene to the forefront on a national level," says Bouchard.
The troupe aims to create quality productions in collaboration with other theater and arts organizations. It already has some experience with that, having worked on a collaboration in the wake of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, raising money for the Human Rights Campaign alongside eight other companies.
Bouchard has lived in Colorado since 2009; she moved here to work with Creede Repertory Theatre. Since then, she has worked on productions with Vintage Theatre, Curious Theatre and Breckenridge Backstage Theatre...and now Benchmark.
The Nether takes place in the not-so-distant future and deals with virtual reality, "which is something that is coming up on us fast," Bouchard says. In the play, climate change has ravaged the earth and the internet has evolved into a virtual-reality experience that has consumed everything; there is no more logging-on, because there is no physical reality.
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"One thing the play deals with is, how do you create law in a world that's virtual where there's no physical reality? Can there be a crime in a virtual world?" asks Bouchard.
The play, written by Jennifer Haley, is fresh territory for Denver theater companies, which rarely perform genre productions. Not that all of Benchmark Theatre's productions are going to be sci-fi, horror or fantasy, though.
“We're not genre specific, but we are trying to create unique productions," Bouchard says. "Just something that's not quite as straightforward."
The Nether opens Friday, March 31 and runs through April 23, at Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan Street. Performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 9 p.m. Tickets are $30; for more information, go to Benchmark Theatre.