Wit Theatre Company gets creative with first production, The Pillowman

The theater gods tend to smile on resourcefulness -- and with the level of adaptability that Wit Theatre Company has had to exhibit so far, it should be no exception. To mount their first show, the people behind Wit have had to bring together warm bodies from the remnants of two closed companies; rehearse in the basement of the Blake Street Tavern; get a discount to perform at the Bug on the only two weekends it had open; and dumpster dive for set-building materials. But on Friday, June 22 at 7:30 pm at the Bug Theatre, Wit will open its first show: Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman.

When members of Prescott Independent Theater in Prescott, Arizona, including couple Jake Murray d'Armand and Valerye Rene, moved to "the big city", as Denver is described on the company's Facebook page, they found themselves a creative home at 73rd Avenue Theatre Company. They staged Hamlet, the company's final show.

Thomas Brugger, one of Wit's Artistic Directors, said, "We didn't want to let what we were building at another location just disappear." They had actors who wanted to act, shows they wanted to produce. He approached d'Armand about keeping up their creative work in a new company, and they joined forces.

The Pillowman is about a writer whose stories have the grim commonality of ending with the violent death of a child--he is brought in for interrogation when those stories become scripts for actual murders.

"It sort of lined up," says d'Armand, the other Artistic Director and Director of Pillowman, on choosing the play. "It was one of the last shows we had on our docket in Arizona, so I already had a vision for it."

With a play and a cast, they needed space. Thomas Brugger sought help from the Blake Street Tavern, where he is a regular.

"I've got my own chair," he jokes.

Blake Street Tavern allowed him to use the basement as rehearsal space last year when he produced Aunt Abby's Secret Recipe at the Bug Theatre, and they agreed to help for The Pillowman too--effectively donating thousands of dollars to the nascent company by allowing them to rehearse for free.

Nicholas Kemner, Artistic Development Director--A.D.D., he notes--adds, "I feel like it helps our street cred, like, 'yeah, I rehearse in a bar.'" Kemner, who came from a small theater program at a private Christian school, says he's used to "making a lot out of a little. I love that we're rehearsing on a dance floor."

They still needed a performance space, so they checked out the Bug Theatre, on several recommendations. The Bug had only two weekends open and helped them out with a discount, so they went for it. They threw a fundraiser (at Blake Street Tavern, of course) to "make our bank deposit," says Managing Director Valerye Rene, "to make our presence known."

To build their sets, they got even more resourceful. "Our set for Pillowman is built out of mattresses," says d'Armand. Lauren Meyer, Stage Manager for the show, adds that they collected them just by "driving down alleys in a truck. Dumpster diving is amazing."

When a company opens with a play as dark as The Pillowman, it's fair to wonder whether they are establishing a modus operandi; but Wit has no 'shtick'--no adjective really describes what they hope to do, except, d'Armand says, "professional. No matter what play we're doing, just do it as well as possible."

Rene adds, "I just don't want people to leave thinking they know what we're going to do next."

The Pillowman opens Friday, June 22 at 7:30 pm at the Bug Theatre at 3654 Navajo Street; it will run Friday and Saturday for only two weekends, closing on June 30. Tickets are $10 in advance and $14 at the door. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 303-296-3798 or visit their Facebook page.

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Shaughnessy Speirs