Don’t Compromise the Epic

 

One of the many interesting things about the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS) is that their core people understand 21st Century leadership. They are driven by vision and fueled by passion. If you get it and want in they will find an important place for you. You get to contribute awesomeness and have a good time making it happen.

I maintain they build tribe better than anyone in Baltimore. The things their people will do with them in order to realize the shared vision are, well, epic. They curate their brand as well as anyone. They’re fun-smart, visually-oriented, and they like beer and dick jokes. What’s not to like? What they do is truly unique and inspiring, impossible and fun. Baltimore should embrace them as the answer to business-as-usual. BROS are the line in the sand, the knife clenched in my teeth against mediocrity and certainty.

Three of maybe eight core BROS interviewed are: Aran Keating (beard), Dylan Koehler (glasses), and Jen Tydings (tattoos).

Peter

Tell the BROS creation story as if it were a bedtime story to a little kid.

Dylan

Deep in the dingy depths of Aran’s basement, 5 BROS sat around a table drinking beer and they came up with Gründlehämmer, the most epic rock opera ever.

The moral is—

Jen

–Drink beer?

Dylan

Don’t compromise the epic just to make it possible.

Aran

Allow the beer to take you to reality. To come up with the dumbest idea you can and accomplish that goal.

Dylan

Do what you need to do to get the ideas. Then do what you need to do to make them better. Then do what you need to do to make them happen.

Aran

And the moral of the BROS creation story is that the dumbest idea you can think of isn’t dumb enough.

Peter 

Dumb is code for?

Aran

Dumb is code for—make it as ridiculous and beyond reality as you can. Visualizing is an active part of the process, even up to the last night of the show.

Jen

We really believe in our stupidity.

Aran

We encourage people to believe in their stupid ideas. Do Not Put any limits on it–whatsoever.

Creation Story Take Two … There were 2 dreamers. They became infatuated with a storybook known as Phantom of the Paradise. They memorized it. Fell in love with it. There were 4 other dreamers, Trolls, with dreams in a post-graduate abyss. In order to escape daily life they came up with fantasies of themselves as Arab Kings. The Trolls and basement-dwelling dudes got together and wrote an original rock opera called Gründlehämmer.

SILENCE

Peter

Gründlehämmer was an answer to what question or a solution to what problem?

Aran

It was more of an imperative. I think that the word BROS was coined and it became its own imperative. Gründlehämmer, the word, emerged from–who the fuck knows–Dylan’s mind. And it was the show. The show existed as soon as BROS and Grundlehammer, as soon as those two words existed, the shows, they were done, basically.

Dylan

Yeah. That is the way that all BROS show and ideas go. Once the concept is there, the reality must follow. Even the concept of what BROS is inside all of our heads…elevating the reality around us up to the Valhalla of rock godliness.

Aran

The vision is there in all of our heads. It’s why we’re a part of this. We understand what it is to have a BROS show. We’re trying to make the reality fit that.

Dylan

What you see at a BROS show is one seven thousandth of the BROS vision.

Peter

With little experience to guide you, what do you think you did right with Gründlehämmer?

Aran

To this day, I go to people and ask what are you excited about? What do you have to contribute to this? How can we fit what you’re excited about into our show? I’ve always viewed that as my role. If there’s good shit, good people, they understand the vision and they’re psyched about it, let’s get you into the show.

What do we do well? Get people psyched up about the fact that it’s happening. Somebody’s willing to go there and if you want to get involved guess what you’ve got to do? Show up and make something happen. Our job is just to play quality control and make sure it’s good, it’s working, it’s integrated, it’s a piece of art. There’s no holds barred. You guys think that’s true?

Dylan

The only hold barred is that it has to be awesome. It has to be taint-grindingly awesome.

Peter

Did you say, “taint-grindingly”?

Dylan

Taint.

Aran

Like a grundle.

Just having a vision of that strength, that people just see it and get it. We want that and to let people add to it, rather than recruiting people and managing them. Showing, not telling.

Peter

Did transforming the new space (Autograph Playhouse on 25th Street) into a workable rock opera venue affect your process when mounting the Double Feature last May?

All

Yes. Huge. Definitely.

Aran

The way you phrased that…yes.

Gründlehämmer, that’s our first show. The Double Feature was one show. We’ve only done two shows. That’s it for us. I don’t think our process is cemented.

All we know is that we liked what happened during Gründlehämmer and during The Double Feature we were blown out. We had way too much shit to do.

Dylan

Trying to apply the things that made us great at producing rock operas totally back-fired applied to the renovation.

Jen

It was like facing a dragon, a really bad scene.

Dylan

We’ve gotten better at both ends of it. Doing shit that needs to be done in a rational manner and letting the crazy shit that needs to be crazy, making that crazy!

Aran

We are annealed in fire. We did what was necessary to put on a show there.

Dylan

It was part of the process of us growing. Now we can do only the things that work.

Aran

We got through that shit and made a profit.

Jen

We’re in the black!

Aran

We’re in the black as a company, we’ve got more people, tons of people helping out with that show! Because of that we came out of the gate running with Phantom. It was fun again.

Jen

We’re happy again.

Dylan

There’s a ton of work to be done. It’s joyful work. We’ve figured out how to get shit done, so that we can really spend the time focusing on the vision.

Peter

What does the acquisition and transformation of the theater say about BROS?

Jen

We’re cocksure?

Aran

It says we have a lot of skilled people.

Jen

We take risks with absolutely no money.

Dylan

It says a lot about our risk tolerance. This was our best prospect for rock operas and we did it balls to the wall. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but it says we’re out for a challenge.

Aran

I’ll back that up. Cheers!

Jen 

It shows we have a lot of faith in the people we work with. They believe when we tell them we can do things.

Peter

When finding the right people to add their thing to the vision, what’s more important; cultural fit or skills and experience?

Dylan

I think it’s cultural fit.

Aran

We breed loyalty in certain kinds of people. I love that.

I view my job as, somebody comes in and what are they going to do? Some people will find themselves a job and other people…I know there’s something they could do perfectly. I just have to find out what that thing is.

Peter

How do you decide what to produce?

Dylan

For the 2012 season we got together for the first time and had a pitch party.

Aran

BROS-wide.

Dylan

Open to the public, actually. Our plans are to continue this model. Anyone that wants to can pitch an idea for a BROS show can do it. About 50 people attended that last one. Everyone with an idea delivered a presentation on why theirs should be the next BROS thing, and how this fulfills the BROS 7,000 Year Trajectory of Ascendance.

And we did a very crude vote.

Jen

A crude drunk vote.

Aran

And asked for feedback.

Dylan

An open Q & A, and then the 8 of us voted and reached a unanimous decision.

Aran

Our current goal is to produce 2 original shows a year. Not something we’ve ever accomplished, but it’s our plan.

Peter

Jen, share with us your pitch for VALHELLA.

Jen

I dressed up in business attire. Put my glasses on. I wanted to look smart.

Dylan

BROS is a group that respects proper business attire.

All

True.

Jen

I know these guys so I know what to pander to.

I have a lot of talented friends and got some of them involved in making my pitch. Epic sound effects for a power point—thunder, lightening and crashing. This crazy deep voice, like “Valhalla”…played that right off the bat with this crazy metaled-out scream.

All the slides after that were pictures of cool stuff like demons and cats fighting.

I’ve had the idea for a couple of years, when I was first becoming heavily involved with the BROS. It was an idea. I fleshed it out. Then thought…this could be something that, maybe, could be good.

I used imagery I know appeals to these crazy people and added my story into that. And I got people excited about it.

Peter

The BROS culture or lifestyle is anchored in what belief or activity?

Aran

The 1st Article on the Charter is that there will be beer.

Peter

In all situations?

Chuck Green

 

Dylan

Power tools!

Aran

There will be situations where there will be less beer. And situations where there will be more beer. But, there will be beer.

Dylan

There will be beer is an important part of our culture. Not just that we drink a lot, but that, I think, it helps reinforce that our values are centered around having a good time. Putting on these shows and having a good time.

If you can’t do it drinking a beer then…if you can’t have a good time and a beer while doing it, it’s not BROS worthy.

Peter

You have a Charter.

Aran 

The 2nd Article on the Charter is, if it aint jewel-encrusted—

Jen and Aran

Encrust that shit.

Peter

And the 3rd Article?

Aran

We’re working on that one.

Peter

Does the culture affect the work and if so, do you care?

Aran

Certain parts of the work. Certain parts of our process are fundamentally different from a standard theater company. We are not actor-oriented. Very much not so. We are oriented around vision, visual elements, technical elements, and people as agents of the vision.

Dylan

The story, Epic!

Aran

The look.

Jen

Expression.

Dylan

Awesome looking thing.

Aran

That’s what we want. That’s what we go for. As opposed to other theater companies or Shakespeare where all you need is a stage and some people to say the lines. You can’t put a BROS Show on a stage and some people. It’s not that. So, for me…it does affect the work and, yeah, you wouldn’t want Shakespeare on beer.

Jen

Maybe you would.

It’s kind of OK for it to remain this jovial fun thing, because the actor’s process, thus far, has been back seat to building an amazing prop, having an amazing technical show, and the timing, everything is perfect.

People who work with us like beer, but love making this art. We’re self-governing. If they care they’ll be responsible.

Aran

You don’t go to the opera to critique the acting. That’s kinda where we’re at. We’re not into the nuance of straight theater.

Peter

A new show, VALHELLA: The Ragnarøkkoperetta, is next. Jen, you wrote it, what’s the BROS secret to getting buy-in for a show?

Jen

You have to make people believe in it as much as you believe in it. People sense passion. People don’t see passion, about anything, anymore. It can be earth-shaking when they do. People want that. They see something they miss, that we say is attainable. Once they see people doing things they miss or love or makes them feel happy, and it’s attainable, they want it.

Aran

And the vision of it. If we can’t boil VALHELLA down to 2 sentences, we’ve kinda failed, because we’re not going to be able to motivate people.

Dylan

We boiled Gründlehämmer down to one word – Epic.

Aran

Passionate, but also busting your ass.

Jen

Yeah, that’s true.

Aran

I thinks that’s what it’s about. If we can’t make people believe, it is a very important part of what we do—that people buy into it.

Peter

Can claim it.

Aran

And you claim it and say, “It’s mine. I’m part of this thing.” We’re putting this shit on together, it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be awesome, and you are in it right now.

 

Dylan

The street show (Artscape on the bridge) was a great exercise in getting people excited, because there was no story, no real concept besides blood.

Peter

I remember. It was primitive.

Jen

Crazy.

Dylan

If we can’t do that, how can we get people to do something that requires real coordination?

The Artscape performance on the bridge is the essence of the things BROS does.

Aran

I want BROS to be all things. I want BROS to be like the thing that’s irrefutably entertaining and, like, have examples of high art in it.

Peter

What’s next?

Jen

VALHELLA. It’s about 3 Viking brothers who are demi-gods and don’t know it. It’s also the over-arching plot about the fall of the gods, Odin and Loki. The Ragnarøkkoperetta.

It’s worthy because it’s epic. It’s a storybook. It’s a huge opportunity for us to showcase everything we do well. It’s got Chuck Greene doing animation, it has puppets, and it has monsters in it, metal as well as folk music, singing, dick jokes, crazy helmets, ridiculous headdresses. All jam packed into 90 minutes.

Peter

What makes it different?

Jen 

Typically, we do the hero’s tale. Have an ending where everyone feels like good has won. That everybody knows by heart. I think this is vaguer, and based on Norse mythology. Creation stories, happenings that don’t have morals. But they represented people at the time, who believed in them. It’s not about morality. It’s just about being.

Chuck Green (who wrote The Terrible Secret of Lunastus in The Double Feature)

VALHELLA covers the Viking bases that, we can all agree, flow within the BROS blood.

Peter

Shares DNA with BROS.

Chuck

Yeah.

Aran

It’s challenging us to tell a different kind of story, to use different source material, and allow a more complete aesthetic based around Norse mythology.

But, for us, we’re putting it all together much tighter with a much higher quality of stagecraft than before.

Dylan

We’re trying to take it to the next level without sacrificing awesomeness and stupidness for professionalism. It’s definitely not intellectual.

Aran

Dylan seems to always want people to shit their pants. Care to comment, Dylan?

Jen

Oh, no.

Dylan

It’s true. To elaborate and articulate on that…

When I watched Grundlehammer from the balcony, the scene where Benedon is fighting the Grundle and it’s a back and forth thing, it’s a guitar battle, and they’re dueling back and forth, and it takes forever and finally, like, and the mentor, Halvor gets struck down and dies, and I’m just—“No! What am I to do without your guidance…?” It was like—that for me—I may or may not have literally shit my pants, but that level of emotional investment in the story, in the characters, in just the awesomeness, the epicness was…that experience is what I want people to…to show up at a BROS Show and an hour and a half later, like, oh my god—the mentor dying!

What made me metaphorically shit my pants was knowing the concept of the story, and knowing the characters, and knowing the vision and seeing it realized. The ultimate challenge for us technically and artistically is to have a vision that’s fucking sweet and you fucking see it happening at the same time you, like, have known what it is, you knew, and your underwear gets stained.

Aran

It feels good. It happens.

I shed tears.

Chuck

The moment for me was when he pulls the hammer out of Grundle’s gut.

Aran

I actually shed tears when Halvor arrived on the scene. When he shows up was my favorite part.

Peter

After VALHELLA: The Ragnarøkkoperetta?

Aran

H.H. Holmes and the Murder Castle. A death metal rock opera set during the 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair. This is going to take us somewhere different. It’s going to be difficult, bloody, scary hard metal and possibly somewhat R rated. That’s where we’re going.

 

*   *   *

BROS are awesome. That’s not the beer talkin’.

http://baltimorerockopera.org/


 

Hey Smalltimore, I can recommend…

 

Gleam

By Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner
Based on Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston
Directed by Marion McClinton
Center Stage Jan 4–Feb 5, 2012

This soaring saga brings to life the vivid characters of Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved novel, a shining jewel of the Harlem Renaissance by one of America’s literary giants.

And I look forward to…

 

Naomi’s Flight 

Creative Alliance February 2 at 7:30 p.m. and February 3 at 8:00 p.m.

Combining traditional theater and aerial dance, Mara Neimanis returns to the Creative Alliance to debut a powerful, painful, funny exploration of what happens when a daughter is called upon to care for her ailing parents. Spinning, climbing and swinging on kinetic steel sculptures by Tim Scofield, Neimanis makes “the impossible look supremely easy,” (Washington Post).

 

And many more. Check theater listings and go experience something!

 

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About The Author

Peter is a branding consultant based in Baltimore

  • Max

    Amazing interview.  

  • http://twitter.com/QueenofTacos Arabella

    I miss very few things about my hometown of Baltimore. (I recently  moved to Denver, CO last summer.) The thing I miss the most are the BROS and their shows. Their enthusiasm for theatre, for epicness, for having a good time…there’s NOTHING like that out here. It kills me that I won’t be able to make it back to see “Valhella,” but luckily, I’m friends with enough of the BROS on Facebook that I can live vicariously thanks to the Wonders and Splendors of the Internet.