Theater

Bucharest Inside the Beltway Launches in Denver

Denver professor, poet, and playwright Cristina Bejan.
Denver professor, poet, and playwright Cristina Bejan. Cristina Bejan

Denver poet, playwright and professor Cristina Bejan was studying in Romania as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Bucharest when she got involved in the local culture scene. “I was invited to contribute a play to a cultural festival, and it was there that I met an artist of many dimensions, Rucsandra Pop. She and I planned to start an international theater platform between the U.S. and Romania.” That concept led to the establishment in 2014 of the international arts program Bucharest inside the Beltway — a group that now calls Denver home.

Bucharest inside the Beltway (BiB) began — as the name suggests — in Washington, D.C., and expanded into an “all-arts collective” that was launched at the Romanian Embassy in 2014. BiB functioned both then and now as a production company, an artistic event promoter and a cultural platform to showcase local and international talent curated by the BiB team, which consists of Bejan as executive director and others on a project-by-project basis.

“There was a core group of artists doing various things,” says Bejan. “Not only theater, but literature, visual art, dance. It’s not just a Romanian thing. BiB was inspired by the fearless artists of Bucharest, but it’s come to represent local and international art. It’s about grassroots artists from all over the world.”

BiB “had a lot of success” in D.C.,  Bejan says. Within its first two years, the organization produced artistic events and shows in D.C., including sold-out plays featuring local actors in theater festivals such as Capital Fringe 2014, the DC Black Theatre Festival 2015, the Kennedy Center Page to Stage 2015 and 2016 and at the Romanian Embassy. BiB also produced a multimedia dance performance featuring a Romanian dancer at the Goethe-Institut Washington and supported artistic collaborations with visual artists. In Bucharest, BiB produced an evening of new play readings and a spoken-word poetry night.

Bejan relocated to Denver in 2019, and despite co-founder Rucsandra Pop moving on to other projects in Romania, Bejan knew she couldn’t leave behind what they'd built. She began scheduling productions in her new city. “The first thing BiB did locally was produce an art show at Gypsy House Cafe with two painters from Moldova and Russia," Bejan says. "I was doing small things like that with the BiB label while at the same time promoting Denver artists on our social media and Denver arts news.”
click to enlarge BiB's work from the Capital Fringe Festival in 2014. - CRISTINA BEJAN
BiB's work from the Capital Fringe Festival in 2014.
Cristina Bejan

Then the pandemic hit. “We were about to have our Denver launch, also at Gypsy House — an evening of plays by Romanian women playwrights,” Bejan recalls. "That was the weekend that everything shut down.”

But Bejan says she knew that the pandemic would be both a challenge and an opportunity for BiB. “I’d already established this digital presence…so I just hit the ground running," she says. "That led to a collaboration with the Romanian Cultural Institute of New York. Every week we were promoting a Romanian author on social media.” One of those authors, award-winning Romanian-Filipina-American playwright Amanda L. Andrei, approached Bejan with the idea of a global residency for playwrights, all done over Zoom. "Of course I immediately said yes," Bejan says.

That residency, which took place digitally over the summer of 2021, was called RADIANCE. Over one hundred hopeful playwrights from eight countries around the world were challenged to develop original work for the stage that addresses questions including: What makes you glow? What makes you rise? What are the shadows, the chemicals, the rays of energy in your life? How do you experience radiance?

After a rigorous application process, seven non-binary, female and male playwrights from Kenya, Italy, the U.K., Romania, the Cherokee Nation, the Hmong people and Mexico were selected by Andrei. Three of the playwrights also represent BiB’s home cities: Bucharest, D.C. and Denver. The writers met through Zoom on a regular basis over the summer of 2021 to help each other write their individual pieces.
click to enlarge The playwrights meet over Zoom. - CRISTINA BEJAN
The playwrights meet over Zoom.
Cristina Bejan
The RADIANCE New Play Showcase, produced by BiB in partnership with Colorado’s Wheat Ridge Theatre Company, will include twenty-minute excerpts from four of the plays from the residency. The show will serve as BiB's Denver launch and, like the residency, will be done virtually; it premieres Saturday, December 11, at 11 a.m. on Facebook Live. The broadcast of the plays will be followed by a Q&A with the playwrights, and a recording of the entire event will be made available to the public on YouTube immediately following. Anyone interested can RSVP via the Facebook event page.

“What’s so important about this global playwrights residency,” notes Bejan, “is that it’s been a multicultural dialogue. All of these people have helped each other write these plays. Nothing about it has been political. It’s brought people together — people who without Zoom and the pandemic wouldn’t be in this position. That’s the power of art.”

The full lineup for the RADIANCE New Play Showcase:

my home on the moon, by Minna Lee
Directed by Selena Naumoff
Featuring Elyse Dinh, Fern Lim, Quyen Ngo

Sandy, by Anna Pellegrini
Directed by Mellisa Taylor
Featuring Abigail Coryell, Sheila Tejada

ANNEX, by Maddox Pennington
Directed by Maru Garcia
Featuring Valerie Terranova, Bailey McCoy, Dane Valerio, Danielle Gallo, Gilbert Chavarria, Kendall Yoder

The Glow, by Madalina Oprisan
Directed by Maipy Duarte
Featuring Teodora Cristea, Thea Mercoffer, Adina Stetcu

RADIANCE New Play Showcase, Saturday, December 11, Facebook Live. More on Cristina Bejan’s work can be found on her website; for more on the RADIANCE showcase, see the project website.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen