Keith Rabin, Jr., of Gravity Defied Theatre talks economics and f-bombs
The founders of Gravity Defied Theatre had their work cut out for them when they founded the troupe in 2008. In addition to facing the standard pitfalls and challenges of starting a new theater company, founders Keith Rabin, Jr., and Danny Harrigan had to carve out a viable niche in Denver theater scene as the local and national economy crumbled. With help from the Rocky Mountain Arts Association and responsive patrons, the company has succeeded despite the economic downturn; Gravity Defied is wrapping up its second season with a production of [title of show] at the Aurora Fox theater and has already announced titles for its third season. Westword caught up with Rabin to discuss the troupe's unlikely success, the company's unique theatrical mission and the founders' love for f-bombs.
Westword (A.H. Goldstein): Can you give a brief history of the Gravity Defied Theatre company?
Keith Rabin, Jr.: We started in 2008. Me and Danny [Harrigan] had just finished working at the Carousel Dinner Theater; we were living in Fort Collins at the time. We were wanting to do something different. I said, "Why don't we just start our own theater company?" He was like, "Why don't we?" From that point on, I just started doing the leg work and here we are.
We moved to Denver, and we were part of the Denver Gay Men's Chorus at the time. We had proposed to the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Arts Association our idea of putting this together. That was in January of 2009. Then that summer we were doing our inaugural show.
WW: Starting this out, did you have an artistic mission in mind? Was there a particular type of theater that you wanted to offer that was absent in the Denver scene?
KR: We wanted to do theater where we were going to be doing shows that nobody else really wanted to touch. For example, a little bit more risqué type of shows, definitely stuff that nobody has been beating the hell out of. We wanted to make sure that our shows were fresh, that theaters have not been doing them ... at least for two years, just so that it's always something new for the community.
WW: How do the shows that you've selected in the past two years align with that creative mission?
KR: We opened our inaugural season with Bare: The Musical, which was a regional premiere. I had known about this show for quite some time and had loved the style of music and the story of it, being gay-themed. A lot of people didn't really know about the show itself; I think it's trying to get back on Broadway right now.
It takes place in a Catholic high school, and the story revolves around two characters, Peter and Jason. They're roommates who have fallen in love. They quickly get to a point where one of the characters, Peter, wants to not hide their love anymore. Jason, being a popular student and also having parents that wouldn't be necessary very agreeable to the situation, he kind of breaks it off with Peter and starts seeing this girl named Ivy. He ends up getting her pregnant. Suddenly it all comes out about Peter and Jason's relationship, and Jason ends up committing suicide, overdosing on GHB during a school play of "Romeo and Juliet." It's a sad story, but it's kind of a rock opera as well. It has a great message and story.
It being the inaugural show for the Gravity Defied Theatre and the Rocky Mountain Arts Association's first theatrical program, we thought it was the best thing to open up with.
We wanted to also make sure that we included some titles that were not so not-family-friendly. That's why we did "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" next. Then we came into this season, an entire season full of regional premieres: a new work by Jonathan VanDyke called "Totally Electric," and "The Wild Party" by Andrew Lippa this summer and now closing this season with [title of show]."
WW: What have been the basic challenges of starting up a new theater company in the Denver scene?
KR: Just getting our name out there. Obviously, there's quite a bit of amazing theater here in Denver. It's just trying to carve out what makes us different from the rest and getting people to know who we are as a theater company has been quite a challenge. But I think just having shows that are not familiar has kind of drawn in a certain crowd, which has been amazing for us.
Luckily for us, finding talent for our productions has not been a challenge. I think that the types of shows that we do are the types of shows that performers want to do, so we've been lucky enough to find quality people to cast in these shows.
WW: How have you gotten the word out in terms of casting and reached actors already working in the scene?
KR: Word of mouth has been a small part of it, but to be completely honest, probably 90 percent of our talent comes from the Colorado Theatre Guild and the audition postings that we put through that website. I find it really exciting to be able to say, I want to do these shows and I know that most of the theaters in this area aren't going to touch this production, either because it has too many f-bombs or sex or drugs. Those are the types of shows that we like to do. [But] we wanted to do a theater company for everybody, not just for people who like f-bomb shows, so to speak.
WW: Starting out a theater company seems like it would be challenging in any economy -- you picked a particularly rough economic climate to launch Gravity Defied. Has the poor economy made the process more difficult?
KR: That's a really good question, and one that I don't know that I can answer. I knew when I started putting all of this together, we were right at the beginning, if not at the worst point, of all this weirdness in the economy. I wasn't going to let that stop me. One of the things that kind of kept me going was that somebody had told me that when the Great Depression was going on, the movie industry was still going strong. All that people had to turn to was entertainment, to try to keep their minds of off all of the awful things. That kind of drove me.
Being a part of the Rocky Mountain Arts Association, I was thinking that a lot of the patrons were going to be a huge factor in our ticket sales. I've come to find out that 70 percent of the people who come to Gravity Defied shows have never been to a RMAA function, nor have they ever heard of RMAA.
To be honest, the economy has not really stopped people from wanting to find out who we are and what we're all about.
WW: Can you tell me a bit about the current production of [title of show]?
KR: [title of show] is a musical that I found out about when I was living in New York in 2006. I believe that they had just been through the whole NY music theater festival season. I picked up the soundtrack and started listening to it. The premise of the story is two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. The story documents their journey from the time of, 'Hey, we have this idea,' to the time they get to Broadway. It documents the journey of these two writers, Hunter Bowen and Jeff Bell, and two friends, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, and how they created and morphed this piece.
WW: Do you see any parallels to building Gravity Defied in the story?
KR: It was huge. This show itself and the music, the way that the music speaks about insecurities and how everybody in the world is going to try to bring you down and tell you that whatever you're doing is not going to happen ... How we beat ourselves up every day. It's not true. If you keep going through it and working and working, you can make an idea into a reality.
It's the same for us. Never give up, follow your heart and you can definitely make something out of nothing.
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