The 2005 MasterMind winners:
MasterMind, Visual Arts: Lauri Lynnxe Murphy
MasterMind, Literary Arts: Denver Zine Library
MasterMind, Design/Fashion: Brandi Shigley
MasterMind, Film/Video: Emerging Filmmakers Project
MasterMind, Performing Arts: Buntport Theater
MasterMind Award, Performing Arts
Buntport Theater It's no crime to have a good time -- not even at a night of experimental theater.
While some theater companies set out to change the world, Buntport Theater wants to make sure its audiences have a good time in the process. And they do.
This is not to say that Buntport's members are artistic shirkers. They create their own plays, come up with ingeniously designed sets, make intensely creative use of objects and issue profound commentary on public life. At the same time, they're hysterically funny and irreverent. How smart is that? In an era of TiVo, iPods, e-books and HBO, they make theater more relevant than ever.
Since the original group founded the company in 1998, they've put on fifteen original productions and 46 episodes of their biweekly sitcom, Magnets on the Fridge (for a complete schedule, go to www.buntport.com). The members write each show collaboratively, proving again and again the depth of their literary and comedic insights. They explored the hilarity and idiosyncrasies of living under a "benevolent" dictator in 30th of Baydak; in Kafka on Ice, they staged the works of Franz Kafka on, yes, faux ice and with skates. They even took on Shakespeare's bastard-son play Titus Andronicus and turned it into Titus Andronicus: The Musical! In short, they've made even bad material accessible.
"I just like making our own shows," says Buntport co-founder Erin Rollman. "I'm proud of what we do. It's been pretty rewarding. It's been great to have an impact, even though it's a small impact in the community. But it's great to have an impact at all. The embarrassing thing about Buntport is that we're bad theater people. We get so involved in our own stuff that we don't get the newest theater magazine and don't keep up with the latest trends in theater."
But they don't have much time for that, either. They have their own theater to keep up, in a refurbished warehouse off Santa Fe Drive. No trustafarian pays their way; each of the company's members holds down at least one other job in order to fund their dream. "It's one of those things that people really like doing and are willing to do for basically nothing and work ridiculously long hours, or you'd never be interested," Rollman says. Their interest is infectious: People who never believed they could sit still for a night of theater keep coming back for more Buntport.
This cast of characters met while students at Colorado College, studying theater and Eastern European culture. Weighing their options after graduation, they decided to leave Colorado Springs and move north up I-25. "Nobody wanted to be in the Springs," Rollman says. "We had no intention of being there. The ultimate choice was, are we all going to move to New York or Chicago, or are we going to stay in Denver? And we decided to stay where we could have some impact."
We're glad they did. Over the past seven years, Buntport has made Denver a much livelier -- and funnier -- place. While the group's original lineup has changed, its mission has not: to present original, offbeat entertainment with wit and sophistication. The comedic skills of Rollman, Evan Weissman, Brian Colonna, Erik Edborg and Hannah Dugan -- coupled with the set design of Matt Petraglia and Samantha Schmitz -- guarantee that there's rarely an evening of bad theater at Buntport. You don't even need to drink the Kool-Aid to be a fan: The company sells Buntport coffee for true believers.
"I would love for live theater and live performance and other art to be something people are more involved in," Rollman says. "We'd all love to see more people in our space, more people in all performance venues around town. We'd like to be able to do this full-time and bring it to a level that we're always happy with, that we're not always scrounging to buy some wood to build some set. We'd like to be more secure where we are and be able to continue making things we're proud of."
As it stands, they have plenty to be proud of. In fact, they're a company of MasterMinds.
MasterMind Award, Literary Arts
Denver Zine Library "We try to make zines more tangible to people," explains Kristy Fenton, head of the Denver Zine Library. And since December 2003, the DZL, now located at 1644 Platte Street, has done exactly that, pushing the art as both a social and an aesthetic outlet.
Fenton discovered zines as a high school student in Chicago in the late '90s. Self-published, non-conformist and usually highly personal, zines had been around for years; it was one of the stalwarts, the punk bible Maximum Rocknroll, that first fired Fenton's love of the format. When she moved to Denver, the self-described "library geek" quickly fell in with Jamez Terry and Kelly Costello, who'd just opened the DZL in a small shed behind their Baker-neighborhood rental home. Fenton became an ardent volunteer, and when Terry and Costello left Colorado last summer, she assumed leadership of the library.
Since the DZL had already run afoul of Denver zoning laws, Fenton looked for a new location that would accommodate its traffic and schedule of events. After considering several sites, she and her volunteers moved the DZL into the first floor of the non-profit Other Side Arts center on Platte Street in July 2004.
"We wanted to be more autonomous but still have it be a free space," Fenton says. "There's a lot of room here, and it's very much community-oriented. It's been a good fit."
Today the DZL houses over 5,300 zines from around the world, all catalogued on its website, www.denverzinelibrary.org. The range of size and subject is staggering -- everything from tiny, hand-folded chapbooks to thick, full-sized paperbacks covering such diverse topics as art, food, history, religion, animal rights, feminism, travel, music, family, politics, poetry, sex and science. Each zine is available for loan, but most visitors choose to pull up an easy chair and flip through a batch while enjoying a cup of coffee graciously provided by the library. A donation jar sits next to the coffeemaker; the DZL is entirely volunteer-run, and its rent and expenses are covered solely by contributions.
But the DZL does much more than simply archive this cultural paper trail; it propagates it. With a community computer on hand and a used Xerox machine on its way, Fenton wants to emphasize the library as a place where people are encouraged not only to read zines, but to make their own. "We want to open up access and resources to people," she explains. "The importance of zine-making is having an outlet. It's amazing to see all the different people who come in and use the library. A lot of people are coming in to start new projects. We have all these supplies to make zines with, and zinesters on hand willing to teach."
Although the new millennium has seen the rise of online "e-zines" and blogs, Fenton feels that the print version is more vital than ever. "It seems like over the past ten years, e-zines and blogs have functioned as outlets for people, but people are still putting zines out, and zine communities are very strong," she says. "I think that has something to say about their importance. Too many people spend too much time behind a computer. There's something to be said for typing up a zine, assembling it, formatting it, copying it, stapling or sewing or gluing it together. There's this whole process to zine-making that's lost when you just type up a blog. They do share some functions, but the do-it-yourself thing is particular to zines."
The community aspect of zines has always been one of the medium's greatest strengths, a fact Fenton never forgets. In September 2004, the Castle Rock Library invited Fenton and her comrades to hold a zine workshop for high school students. "These kids didn't know what a zine was," she recalls, "so it was pretty interesting to see how they took the whole thing. It was a lot of fun. We want to continue doing things like that."
The DZL is trying to do more outreach work, too, particular at area charter schools like P.S. 1, and to branch out into the growing subgenres of audio and video zines.
"Being more active in the community is a direction we want to take the library in," Fenton notes. "There's a lot of community-building involved in making zines. You put something down on paper, and then you hand it out to people. It breaks down barriers. It allows kids or young adults or anyone to take control of the media and be part of it. They learn to put themselves out there, become more involved and not just see themselves as an audience."
There are many reasons the Denver Zine Library deserves the first MasterMind Award for Literary Arts: its focus, its energy, its determination and its potential for community service, fostering a medium in which many vital young writers can build confidence and momentum as artists. But Fenton sums it up best herself: "I think the library and the whole process of zine-making functions as a tool of literacy. It's all about reading, writing, exchanging and sharing."
MasterMind Award, Visual Arts
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy Last year, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy gave an artist talk to a second-grade class. Thinking the kids would be interested in stuffed animals, she decided to discuss some of her plusher creations. But when she explained that she made the pieces by cutting up old stuffed animals and sewing their parts back together in odd combinations, "every second-grader in the room burst into tears," she says. "As an artist, I wind up using the refuse of society to create something new. But I admit I do feel guilty when I cut off their heads."
Over the past year, though, it was her own head that Murphy feared she'd lost. That's because in February 2004, she and partner Barbara Pooler ("We opened the place with $5,000 that her mother left her," Murphy says) started Capsule, a small gallery highlighting cutting-edge contemporary art, and Pod, a funky boutique offering affordable artist-made objects, in a storefront at 554 Santa Fe Drive, and all of a sudden Murphy had no time to pull off animal heads and create her own art at all.
"It's been crazy; it's been nuts," she says. "I think I approached this whole thing like I was doing an installation. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. But it's been really fulfilling and rewarding on so many levels."
Not just for Murphy.
Capsule's shows -- including the group effort Plush: Perverse Playthings and photographer Katie Taft's solo Mes Petits Amis -- have been some of the best exhibits in town. Pod has proven another winner, offering even more artists access to the public. "I feel like on the surface it's a little boutique, but we really have this grandiose mission of trying to re-educate people to spend locally," Murphy says.
Murphy and Pooler didn't stop there; when an artist moved out of the back space of the building that had once housed ILK, the artists' cooperative, they added a stage for occasional performances. And every month, Murphy now hosts an artists' swap. "Basically, the whole idea is that no money changes hands, so artists bring old stuff they're not using anymore and swap it with others," she explains. Someone brought a box of old Boy Scout badges to the most recent swap; they'll no doubt appear soon on some important piece of art at a gallery near you.
The rewards have been psychic, if not economic. "We're still hanging in there," Murphy says. "I've been working for free for a year. But all my life, I've wanted a place where music and art and writing and theater -- all my passions -- could come together in one place. I've just been lucky. I've met so many people in the past year -- all these amazing people, all these amazing talents."
And many of those people dropped by the storefront on February 19 to celebrate the first birthday of Pod & Capsule -- an occasion worth celebrating. "The biggest surprise of the last year is that we're still open," Murphy says. "We don't have MBAs, we don't know anything about business. We're doing it by the seat of our pants."
And with a little help from friends. "The support from the community has been awesome," she continues. "We could not have done any of this in the past year without all of our friends and our family. We have had such phenomenal help."
Now that Pod & Capsule have gotten past the one-year mark, Murphy thinks she may even be able to do some work of her own again. "I've been raring to get back into the studio," she says. "I finished the stuffed-animal coat, but I didn't have a show last year for the first time in ages." And now, somehow, she's going to run a gallery and a shop and a stage and her swaps and the new workshop series they're starting, offering advice to artists and maybe even lessons in knitting and how to be a DJ -- "there are just big gaps in people's knowledge," she says -- and still get a show ready for + Gallery come this fall.
Another person might need another head. But Lauri Lynnxe Murphy is already a MasterMind.
MasterMind Award, Film/Video/ Multimedia
Emerging Filmmakers Project There's a lot going on in the dark at the Bug Theatre. In 2002, the resurrected northwest Denver theater/music/performance space launched its Emerging Filmmakers Project, a monthly series that gives aspiring directors, producers and screenwriters a chance to show their work on the (sort of) big screen and gives audiences a wonderfully schizo survey of the short films, videos and documentaries being created in Colorado.
While other local producers have introduced specialized film festivals and interesting cinematic events over the past few years, the Emerging Filmmakers Project has become the most enduring, dynamic micro-series in town, packing the Bug on the third Thursday of every month.
We have a few ideas about why this is. The MasterMinds behind the Project purposely select films that reflect the diversity of filmmakers working in Colorado, from total pros with budgets and field crews to kids using digital cameras and basement editing docks; selections encompass every genre and medium, from animated flicks to super-8 montages. This approach results in delightful, unpredictable programming: One recent evening, we caught a wordless film about a man attacked by meat; a music video starring a cheesy, '80s-style video-game superhero; and a documentary about a middle-aged woman obsessed with American Idol's Clay Aiken.
Month after month, the Project proves that countless creative folks are making movies in our state. True, this isn't Sundance, or even Telluride -- and that's precisely the point. These aren't perfect films. Many are raw rough cuts, first edits, works in progress. Some of them are even a little ratty around the edges. The organizers don't demand perfection, because they know there's as much to be learned from mistakes as successes, and the Project is a lot about learning. It transforms watching film -- an inherently passive experience -- into an interactive, dynamic exercise that creates community while stoking a dialogue over cinema itself. After each film is screened, the director takes the Bug stage to field questions from the audience, questions on topics that range from lighting and set design to content and the creative urge. In the process, filmmakers collect a real-time response that can only come from watching their work with an audience: They see firsthand what makes people laugh, what makes them squirm, when they seem engaged or bored.
"A lot of people are trying to figure out what to do with their films -- whether to submit to festivals and things like that," says Michelle Baldwin, who became one of the series' producers after the Bug's Alan Hamilton and Mare Trevathan conceived of it in 2002. "The Project generates such great conversation; it gives the filmmakers a forum to get feedback from other people involved in film. People will say things like, ŒThis is a great film, you just need a little more lighting.' That kind of thing is really valuable to any artist."
The Experimental Film Project hopes to expand its educational component with a series of workshops designed to bring people together from a variety of arts endeavors. Last year, the Bug hosted a day-long seminar that introduced local fashion designers to local filmmakers; a similar workshop linking filmmakers with musicians is planned for April. The idea is to explore and utilize homegrown resources and talent while using film to help forge an aesthetic identity for Colorado.
"It's a really interesting way of creating a community," says Baldwin. "We have a ton of actors and filmmakers who show up to support each other and see each other's work. We've seen it happen over and over again that people come together as a result of this series. We just heard about two guys who'd had films screened on the same night, and now they're working on a project together. They never even knew each other before that."
And even if there wasn't free beer at the Thursday-night screenings (Breckenridge Brewery is a longtime Bug sponsor, and suds are gratis with the $5 admission), the Emerging Filmmakers Project would be our clear choice for the first multimedia MasterMind Award. We applaud the producers for creating a venue for both community and critical discussion, and we're pleased to see another progressive, people-binding addition on this already culturally rich stretch of Navajo Street.
MasterMind Award, Design/Fashion
Brandi Shigley Brandi Shigley is a ball of energy. She's full of passion and life and love for Denver. Love for Denver fashion designers, in particular.
But it's a love she came by the hard way.
In the beginning, success came too easily to this Smoky Hill High School/Metro State grad: A friend saw her handbags and told her she had to start selling them, so together they built a website. The customers came quickly, all clamoring for a b.shigley original. But when Shigley decided she wanted a change of scenery, wanted to make the bigtime in California, everything changed. She was no longer the local girl made good.
"When I left for San Diego, I thought that my bag business would stay with me and stay on top," Shigley says. "But nobody there knew what a b.shigley bag was, so I had to learn how to have a business and go out there and find the sales and find the press, get the exposure. When I was in Denver, it all kind of came to me. In San Diego, I had to learn everything the hard way, and that's the best way I could have learned."
That tough experience gave her a real love for her home town and the people who'd originally supported her. And when Shigley returned to the Mile High City last year, she brought with her not only her flourishing bag business, but also a passion for helping other designers survive everything she had to learn on her own.
That's why she wins our Fashion MasterMind award. Not only is she a genius designer in her own right, but she's helping to incubate other designers, who in turn are dressing Denver's cultural landscape.
Soon after Shigley returned to town, she set up "Snow," a fashion marketplace that last December filled Andenken Gallery with energy and people -- hundreds of people all browsing and mingling and getting creative. She managed to get notoriously flaky and fickle designers to not only show up, but to collaborate on fashion shows throughout the day. Even in the big L.A. and New York fashion weeks, such camaraderie is rare. "Snow" was such a success that Shigley's now preparing a bigger, better version -- "Bloom" -- for this spring.
Although such events mark a real change in the Denver scene, even more promising for this town's long-term fashion sense is Shigley's business acumen, which she gladly shares with others. Once a month, Shigley hosts workshops that give designers and other members of the creative class the 411 on how to get started in the industry. She walks them through everything from getting a business license and trademarking a brand to writing a press release and developing a smokin' website for next to no cash. She teaches them how to sell online, how to approach boutiques to carry their designs. She acts as both business mentor and friend to a scene that's really burgeoned in the last eighteen months.
"It's hard to figure out how to get out there," Shigley says, her enthusiasm infectious. "Having learned the hard way over the past four years, I wanted to take those lessons and share them, show how you can do anything you want as long as you have passion and a vision. I find that a lot of people are actually surprised that I'm sharing what I've learned. But if you can share with others what you've learned, then I think you should.
"I'm still doing my own bags," she continues, "but the workshops and helping others get started is slowly taking off, and I'm having less time to do my own bags. But that's inspiring to me, because I'm able to utilize more of the business aspect of the fashion end, which is what really makes me excited. I mean, it's good to have great designers, but it's even better to have great, successful designers."
We're expecting terrific things from Shigley and her Fashion Denver (www.fashiondenver.com). There's been talk of a Denver Fashion Week filled with local designers, and she's just the person to get that off the ground. We see numerous designers just starting out, and we know that she's the MasterMind who can help them go from a line of simple screen-printed Ts to a full-fledged business. Of all the fabulous designers in this city, Shigley's just the one to make Denver more than a Giant Ball of String stopover on the fashion map.
"Designs for women who kick ass." That's Shigley's motto, and that's what she does.