Physical theater lifers Meghan Frank and Buba Basishvili found love at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in northern California, where their shared passion for humor and expression through movement cemented their relationship. Together they formed their own company, Theatre Artibus, settled in Denver and took over the old Savoy Building in the Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhood with plans to mold it into a cultural center and dedicated space for their own productions and other performance-arts concerns. It’s still a work in progress, but the introduction of Recipe, a collaborative immersive performance they’ve produced with like-minded theater companies and the Five Points community, is a big step toward establishing themselves as a contributing voice in a diverse community.
Learn more about Theatre Artibus, Recipe, and Frank and Basishvili as the couple takes on the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Meghan Frank: In the theater, image as a metaphor, especially surreal, unusual and heightened work. For example, the work of James Thierrée or Victoria Chaplin’s Cirque Invisible really hit the spot for me. I also like theater by non-actors. I also like when people share their stories in very simple, humanly connected ways. I like laughing, good physical comedians, driven teachers and being inspired by others who really live an artful life — or live a life that is art — or live as if there is no difference between these two notions.
Buba Basishvili: Sophocles, the person who first wrote the new testament, and Andy Kaufman. Why? I guess I like divine comedies, and I believe that the universe is conscience and has a great sense of humor.
Basishvili: Buster Keaton (a physical comedy hero), Frida Kahlo (so unnervingly herself) and Carol Burnett (a pioneering funny woman).
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Frank: I grew up in Denver. After high school graduation, I was outta here — I didn’t see the possibilities. After living on the coasts, experiencing global theater worlds and getting a graduate degree in the widely renowned and highly paid field of “Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre,” I was interested in coming back to Denver to start a theater company. Many of the big cities felt very saturated, and Denver seemed to be on the verge, a kind of bubbling tundra. There are definitely more opportunities for me as an independent artist now than in the late ’90s when I left, but the increased amount of money it requires to live in Denver is forcing an exodus for longtime residents and art makers, which feels strained and unsustainable.
In 2017, we just started our theater company, Theatre Artibus, and moved into an old building, the Savoy, in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver. We hope to have a long life at the Savoy and make a lot of original work there. Our first project was Flash Fest, a one-minute performance festival, and surprisingly, all the companies in Denver who create original work came, supported the act of creating theater and played with us. We had a great time together — it was fun! And I love them for that. Worst? We don’t meet that often.
Frank: I am fascinated by the human body and its unique ability to communicate without language. I worked for a long time with Bond Street Theatre (a company devoted to international theater collaboration as a form of cultural diplomacy) in the Balkans, Afghanistan, India and other such places. I learned so much about collaboration as a conversation, and the unique ability of theater to heal and create opportunities for communal laughter.
Basishvili: Artistic communities need to be able to travel, to show our work in other places, to be involved in an artistic dialogue and collaborations across the United States and the world. As a first-generation immigrant from the country of Georgia, my sensibility is undoubtedly global, and I think that theater should be that way, too. I want to see more international theater in Denver, and I also want to travel and show my work around the places that inspire me and make me curious to know more.
What’s your dream project?
Frank: We're in the middle of it! We started our theater company, Theatre Artibus, in 2017. We create new performances and collaborative community projects for adults and children. We are interested in telling stories that dissolve barriers and create connection. We have had the great privilege of taking over a cultural space at the Savoy. Built in 1889, the building has been the home to many art makers and cultural inventors over the years.
We look forward to continuing this tradition. We hope to nurture the Savoy into a home for original arts of many genres, especially original theater. The upstairs is a turn-of-the-century ballroom, and we have a rehearsal studio downstairs. We are planning some renovations in the space to make it more accessible and theater-ready, and look forward to having our first season at the Savoy soon. Making theater in Denver and producing outstanding theater-makers from all over the nation and world is a very exciting prospect to me.
Basishvili: To create a team of movers on the stage and to explore the idea of the “metaphor as a speaking image” — not just to talk about metaphor through text, but show it through the body on stage. I want to create a theater where the word is the transcendental container for the human desire. I want to explore natural forces (forces of the human relationship) in terms of how it develops characters for the stage.
Basishvili: I have a lot to explore yet. For now, I think outdoorsy Colorado is fun, and small things like food and beer are great here. Overall, this place is starting to develop its own bohemian and poetic lifestyle, and I’m looking for more of it. More small, artistic places in the city will help.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Frank: I do feel like there is a gap in supporting smaller arts organizations that are driven to make great, high-quality work but don’t fit a traditional 501(c)3 model, or are not yet five years strong in order to apply for SCFD funds. A Denver Arts Council would be incredibly beneficial to support smaller projects and encourage risk taking. Support of art in the margins and at the nexus of social change, such as the Arts in Society Grant, are helping create fruitful cross-sector partnerships with community organizations. More opportunities such as this are great and should continue.
Basishvili: To invest in small theater companies. There should be a balance between corporate theater funding and small-theater support.
Frank: I really respect and adore the companies with whom we are collaborating: Grapefruit Lab (Julie Rada, Kenny Storm, Miriam Suzanne), Jeannene Bragg and Jeff Campbell of Emancipation Theater Company; Kristen Adele is quite amazing; Buntport Theater is just the best; Nick Trotter of Circo de Nada. The 5280 Co-op is doing amazing things in Aurora; Annabel Louise Reader and Dan Huling, performers and now cobblers, run the Colorado Shoe School; I love also the Handsome Little Devils. I’m also a huge fan of Birgitta De Pree and Jim Jackson, artistic directors of the Millobo Arts Theatre in Colorado Springs.
Basishvili: Some wonderful Denver native theater companies [and people] I love are Jeff Campbell, Grapefruit Lab and all those at Buntport Theater. Some of my favorite people to work with are in our current cast of Recipe: Jeannene Bragg, Adrienne Martin-Fullwood, Lisa Young, James Brunt, Laura Chavez, Mitch Marquez, Wayne Breyer, Katie and Justin of Incite Colorado, among many others.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Frank: Recipe runs through January 19. The performance moves through rooms of the Savoy building as people of Five Points and Curtis Park — historical and contemporary — share stories about how food shapes their lives, relationships and experiences of home. The show will include a soundscape of neighborhood interviews and highlight food by local eateries. We are supported by an Imagine 2020 grant and some great local sponsors.
The show is a mashup of source text from neighborhood interviews, historical documents, research into the tenants of the Savoy, poetry and prose, and a whole bunch of artistic license, devised by a whole bunch of folks.
It is our first show in the Savoy, and a collaboration between Artibus, Grapefruit Lab, Emancipation Theater Company, as well as an outstanding local cast.
Basishvili: We have done a lot of interviews and devised a fun show that travels around the building. You should come!
In terms of longer-term goals, get through the renovations of the Savoy building alive. We are trying to put in an elevator and ramps, among some other improvements. We are trying to make our space ADA-accessible, and we have troubles with the city bureaucrats to start the renovations. The city should be more loyal to creative place-making!
Frank: I want to give a shout out to my artistic partner (and husband) Buba Basishvili, who immigrated from the ancient city of Tbilisi in Georgia to this newish, landlocked place to live out a dream of starting a theater company with me. Others that need notice? Anyone that makes it work in a city that continues to get more expensive to live in. Anyone who strives to make art about issues important to the world, and anyone who creates community around the process of art-making. I’m also a big fan of Mirror Image Arts, a company I work with as a teaching artist. They build empathy in young people through theater in schools, rec centers and juvenile detention centers across Colorado.
Basishvili: I think people who are making art possible should be highlighted, to encourage more people to become art supporters. I also believe that theater with a social justice lens is an important part of our sociopolitical life, and should get more attention here.
Recipe runs for five more shows on January 16 through 19 at the Savoy at Curtis Park, 2700 Arapahoe Street. Admission is $20 (or choose the Great Neighbor option and pay $40 so a community member in need can attend free of charge). Purchase tickets and find information online.
Learn more about Meghan Frank, Buba Basishvili and Theatre Artibus at the company website, and on Facebook or Instagram.