After thirteen years with Buntport Theater, actor Brian Colonna knows his fellow collaborators and they know him. They write together. They perform together. They even share directorial responsibilities. As a result, they have built one of the funniest theater troupes in Colorado. But sometimes, they know each other so well that they risk creative stagnation -- and that's one of the few risks they refuse to entertain. So to combat any chance of stagnation, they embark on projects with other organizations that will push them in new directions. Captured in Film, Buntport's most recent collaboration with Augustana Arts, Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra and CU Denver Film, premieres this weekend; in advance of this musical, theatrical, cinematic extravaganza, Westword spoke with Colonna about his role in the project.
Westword: Talk about Captured in Film.
Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra asked us to come up with live entertainment between the showings of silent films as well as to create a silent film that shows at the end of the evening. It's one that was made by us, and I'm acting in that, as well as providing live entertainment between the classic films.
Talk about the production.
It's been fun. What is different about it from our other pieces is that we're building the live entertainment so that it fits in with the film at the end. That's something we haven't done before. The characters you see in the film are the same characters you see live.
This is your first collaboration with the chamber orchestra. How is it?
It's been amazing. It's not every day that you get to have a full orchestra underscore you. You're singing with a full orchestra. It's pretty incredible as a performer.
Talk about what's come up in the collaboration? What have been some of the high points?
I think that the rehearsal we had last week, where we got to play with the orchestra, was great because we added some moments of interacting with them. A lot of it is conceptual. We talk about the ideas, but then when we're actually rehearsing with the musicians, new stuff comes up. There are moments where my character interacts with the orchestra, and Hannah, who plays my wife, interacts with the orchestra. Her shtick is that she's unhappy that this orchestra is here, ostensibly in her living room, making all this noise. We had a good time playing with them.
Talk about your own relationship as an actor to silent film.
It's the first time we've ever tried to film a silent film. That was a challenge in and of itself. I'd say our ensemble has been pretty influenced by the performance style in silent film, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. They're not quite silent film, but that era of vaudeville performance and then into silent film. It's a cornerstone of ours. Of course, there are lots of influences. I know for all of us -- and we've been working together for thirteen years -- our favorites in that category are Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. I think the reason is that they are pure physical performers. In theater, you talk about that. You talk about getting things across with your body and being physical and inhabiting a role, and those guys were some of the best ever at that kind of thing. It's a good challenge when you go into working on a silent film to figure out how to tell a story without dialogue and just with facial expressions. It's a good challenge as an actor. Read on for more from Brian Colonna.
It seems like quite the legacy to live up to, thinking of Chaplin and Keaton.
We joke that it's the last thing that you want to do is have a Buster Keaton film shown and it's you in the silent film after that. Hopefully the way our film works is that in no way is it comparing itself to something like that. It's more of a compliment or homage or something like that. We're just dabbling in the form. That's a bad way to set your self up for a show, for sure. Often, Buntport spoofs classic texts. What is the difference as you're approaching film as opposed to literature?
I think that in one way, we're not filmmakers. There is a challenge there. We worked with David Liban from the University of Colorado Film Department. He shot the film. We watched a couple of the silent films that are being shown and thought about the visual language and the setup of some of the shots. The storylines are often quite simple. We thought about how that would work, how we could tell a story that seems similar to the silent films that people might see within the genre. In that way, there is a piece of work that exists and you play with the idea that some of the visual motifs are in it. Buster Keaton interacts with the audience of the film. He sometimes puts his hand over the camera. Those are the kinds of visual jokes that we try to incorporate as a nod to that style. Adaptation is an interesting way to think of it. I think that it was probably a way that we approached it in some way, although we didn't call it that. It's the same kind of thing. You take the text or you take the film, and you say, "Oh, here are good parts about it. This is something people will recognize about silent film." You try to hit those bases.
What's it like to do comedy with a chamber orchestra?
We've collaborated with musicians before. There are a couple musicals that we've done that have been scored. There is a musical component to some of our work. The feeling of a full orchestra and the interplay with the film and then the live performance, it's a unique thing. You certainly don't have an opportunity to go to a movie that was scored live. It happens every once in a while. It's just a great blend of those things. As a performer, it's difficult, because we talk about some of the underscoring earlier and that happens while we're performing. You have to do your best to interact with the music and not get distracted. While I listen to it, I just try to remember to say my lines. I think it will all come together. It's a full feeling. You have the orchestra, all these artists playing and the live components in the films. It's a nice piece of each one of those forms all blended together.
What is Buntport's history and what is your involvement in that?
I've been with the company since the beginning. This is our thirteenth season. We've been in Denver since then. We have a black box style theater over on Seventh and Lipan in the Santa Fe area. We do all original work, produced, directed and written by us, often adaptations of literature. We tend to do three or so shows a year like this one with Augustana. We also perform with the Denver Art Museum. We do a piece called Joan and Charlie Discuss Tonight's Theme at their Untitled events, where we take a piece of art and then create characters based on that piece of art. Also, we have Off Night Entertainment. There's the Great Debate, where we assemble a team of "experts" to debate important matters like bacon versus Kevin Bacon.
Really, our focus is on original work and has been since we started. We try to keep things affordable and approachable. The challenge of the ensemble is to try to come up with something new, to stretch ourselves and try different things on. Definitely, this silent film fits into this category, because we've never done anything like that before. It was a challenge that we're happy to take on.
Join the Buntport Theater for Captured in Film, Friday, April 25 and Saturday, April 26, at the Holiday Event Center, 2644 West 32nd Avenue. Tickets, $24, are available online at augustanaarts.org or by calling 303-388-4962.
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