Update: The deadline for this campaign is 11:59 p.m. tonight, December 12; here's the original story we posted in October: “We’re not in danger, but we need help,” says Alex Weimer, Bug Theatre executive artistic director. That job title sounds impressive, but Weimer is going on eighteen years as the guy who sweeps up, fixes the toilets and keeps the Bug going.
And what is the Bug? “The quintessential community theater," says Bug resident film instructor Patrick Sheridan. "The last bastion of independent thought.” It’s a 150-seat venue in Highland that’s cranked out a disproportionally amazing amount of innovative theater, music, film, dance, comedy and freakiness for Denverites over the course of 21 years. And now the Bug gang needs a little financial assistance. An IndieGoGo fundraising campaign that ends on December 12 aims to inject a badly needed $28,500 into the theater’s bankbook.
After its birth as a nickelodeon in 1912, the building became a neighborhood movie house, under names such as the Ideal, World, Avalon, Oregon and Navajo — and then went dark. In 1994 an enthusiastic group of forward-looking local creatives teamed up, pitched in and rehabilitated the space, creating a cozy, funky, lo-fi atmosphere that is the venue’s hallmark.
The Bug has shone as an exemplary showcase for emerging artists and original work – from shows by local playwrights such as the late Don Becker, whose prosthetic arm is mounted in a glass case at the back of the theater, to the ongoing Emerging Filmmakers Project (a member of the first class of Westword MasterMinds), to the antics of the Grawlix (comics Ben Roy, Adam Cayton-Holland and Andrew Overdahl, who moved on to L.A. this year), to Freak Train, a monthly all-comers talent show that lets you do just about anything on stage for five minutes, while the audience enjoys a kind of local mini-beerfest.
The Bug occupies a cultural niche that no other institution in town can fill, and it does it on a bare-bones budget, with an enviable DIY ethos. There are no boundaries and few rules here, and none of the pretensions of mainstream artistic outfits. Because of that openness, “pretty much every local artist in town has been on this stage,” says Weimer.
Through all the economic ups and downs of the past two decades, the Bug has gutted it out — but now prosperity is rearing its ugly head. For much of its history, the Bug's neighborhood was considered undesirable. But now it's one of the hottest in the city, and the longstanding funky mix of housing and commercial stock is being plowed under by a massive wave of redevelopment. Rents and property taxes are rising fast, and there are new regulatory hoops to negotiate.
The lease is held by Weimer’s brother and sister-in-law, who are struggling to preserve various properties around “Pirate Corner” at 37th and Navajo, so named for the emblematic avant-garde gallery across the street from the Bug. The economic pressures are intense, though, and it will take sustained work and financial campaigns like this to keep the area from losing the distinctive, quirky resources that attracted people to the neighborhood in the first place.
Among the items on the Bug wish list are new seats, improvements to the restrooms, a new screen and projection system and the like, and offers of materials and labor are always welcome. “There is probably something we need that you can do,” says Weimer. However, money is the universal solvent.
The venue continues to serve audiences that are looking for work with a sense of immediacy and danger not found in conventional theaters. “This is a unique space,” says Deb Flomberg, Bug director of marketing. “Our audiences are a great deal younger than the audiences I see around town.” And those are demographics that more staid companies would kill for.
Even as the crowdfunding campaign gears up, the lights are on at the Bug. The space is in constant use, filling up with shows, classes, seminars and screenings. A couple held their wedding on the set of the current Equinox Theatre/PaperCat Films multimedia adaptation of The Night of the Living Dead a few weeks ago. The Bug is one of the last springs of weirdness still flowing along the Front Range.
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“Cool shit is vanishing from Denver,” notes Overdahl in the Bug’s fundraising video.
“This is the best place to see stuff you’re not going to see anywhere else,” says Weimer. “Time and time again, we hear how Denver needs vibrant alternative art spaces. Well, here’s one that’s working.”