2020 TRUE WEST AWARD: BUNTPORT THEATER

Day 16 True West Buntpivot 6002

Component GradientStart is not available in React's context. It is defined in agility, however. Please check React Dev tools for props.

'I can feel myself getting less smart when I'm not making things.'

– Erin Rollman

By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist

As soon as it became evident that unconventional theatre was going to be the only kind of theatre in 2020, it stood to reason Denver’s decidedly unconventional Buntport Theater would be first to hop out into the wide-open field of new creative discoveries.

Buntport is a collaborative ensemble of five friends who have been producing smart, funky and all-original theatre for 20 years. Brian Colonna, Hannah Duggan, Erik Edborg, Erin Rollman and Samantha Schmitz entered 2020 on a countdown to the once unthinkable: Their 50th completely original, full-length theatrical play. Think about that. I mean, Shakespeare only wrote 37 … ish. (And really, who doesn’t prefer Buntport’s bloody Britney Spears take on “Titus Andronicus” to the boring bloody Bard’s?)

Buntport GrasshoppersJust a few weeks after COVID shut down indoor performances across the globe, Buntport announced a live, outdoor mini drive-in experiment called “The Grasshoppers.” It was a short, funny twist on a nature documentary they performed on a thin strip of lawn in front of the theatre while the audience listened on devices from the safety of their cars. The premise was based on a nugget of scientific trivia that solitary and otherwise chill grasshoppers, who are totally mellow when left alone, will morph into clouds of crop-destroying locusts when physically forced into close confinement together. Sound familiar to anyone in 2020?

The first full run of “The Grasshoppers” sold out in days. Then a second run. Next they took the show to Colorado Springs, where they produced an additional filmed companion piece for the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. “Rocky Mountain Locusts” comically revisits a forgotten Rocky Mountain environmental catastrophe from back in 1875, when a swarm of 3 1/2 trillion locusts ravaged 198,000 square miles of land, farmhouses, towns and forests. (And you should check out what the little bastards are doing to the food security of millions of people along the Horn of Africa right now.)

(Story continues below the video)

Watch Buntport's short film, 'Rocky Mountain Locusts.'

Buntport had hoped to be presenting its 49th original show, "Cabaret De Profundis, or How to Sing While Ugly Crying” last March, but instead it has just kept Buntpivoting. “You have no choice but to creatively respond to something like this,” said Colonna. And that’s just what they have been doing throughout 2020.

The company not only thought outside of the box, they abandoned it altogether when they invented the Buntport Bored Post Society Society (B.B.P.S.S.). The idea there was to encourage people both to support the U.S. Postal Service and not focus so much on their computer screens. Participants received a series of interactive, creative prompts through the mail that inspired subsequent activity time far and wide.

Read more: Juliet Wittman of Westword interviews Thaddeus Phillips

In November, Buntport presented “Morale is at an All-Time High," its live-streaming (and still available) virtual comedy about life, love and the workplace, in partnership with Stories On Stage. And it has continued to digitally present “The Narrators,” a monthly live storytelling event (and podcast) that invites comedians, actors, musicians, writers and other fascinating folks to share true stories from their lives, all centered on a rotating theme.

Thaddeus Phillips on a plane somewhere over Iceland

Thaddeus Phillips on a plane somewhere over Iceland.

But for hard-core fans of the full-on Buntport aesthetic, their artistic cousin Thaddeus Phillips is presently providing what surely must qualify as one of the most creative, thoughtful and satisfying online theatrical adventures anywhere since the onset of the pandemic. It’s called “Zoo Motel” – a double-entendre that not only acknowledges that “Zoom” has become a kind of “Hotel California” for all of us in 2020, but also serves as a valid commentary that we’re all existing in a kind of global menagerie at present.

Phillips, a graduate of Denver East High School who attended Colorado College with his Buntport brethren, has become one of the most celebrated theatrical storytellers in the world for his sheer imagination, innovation and singular ways of looking at the world. “Zoo Motel” is Phillips at his most gentle, most searching, most playful and really, most wonderful.

When the pandemic struck, Phillips knew instinctively that the only way to make live theatre come alive on a screen was to make it into a cinematic experience. And he pours every bit of his training in world theatrical staging techniques to tell his story about connection in a time of disconnection.

There can be no be greater evidence of his success in that than to consider this: Phillips performs this one-man jewel from his apartment located about an hour north of Bogatá, Colombia – while the technical aspects are being run by a Stage Manager in Queens, New York. Those of us in the audience (limited to no more than 21 per performance), are guests of the Zoo Motel. And at yesterday’s performance, we checked in from as far away as Slovenia, Sweden, London, Edinburgh, Moscow, Israel, New York and Denver. It felt a bit like when I stayed in my first hostel. Before Phillips spoke his first word, it was as if he had pulled a slice of the entire world out of isolation and gathered them together to share a communal experience that was … well, nothing less than magic.

'The Family Tree' offers live holiday comedy from safety of home

While the world got smaller when COVID forced millions into isolation, Phillips’ storytelling only got bigger. If anything, Zoom only put more toys in his storytelling toy box. He employs playful visual effects, puppetry, pop-up books, door-hole peepers, shadow puppetry, music and mythology to take us on an all-too-brief adventure that is at once a joy ride, a plane ride, a space ride, a magic show, a drive-in movie – and the best card trick you’ll ever hope to see. The staging is directed by Phillips’ wife, Tatiana Mallarino, and the world of the play is designed by Steven Dufala.

“Phillips and his team have mastered the art of Zoom,” Josh Herron wrote for the Broad Street Review. “Rather than place the limitations of live theatre onto a webcast, they have made something surprising, magical and theatrical in its own right.”

And the narrative keeps coming back to those deeply meaningful themes of connection and missed connections.

Thaddeus Phillips phone of the windBy now, you’ve surely heard of that mysterious silver monolith that showed up in the Utah desert and is now popping up all over the world, including Boulder’s Chautauqua Park. But you might not know that for years, a disconnected phone booth has sat incongruously in a garden in Otsuchi, Japan. It’s called “The Phone of the Wind,” and it was placed there by an old man grieving his departed wife. Since the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, more than 25,000 people from all over the world have come to this garden to call their dead loved ones over that phone.

When Phillips asks us quietly, “Who would you call?” it’s just one of the loveliest moments I’ve experienced in a theatre, and it mattered absolutely not that I wasn’t in a theatre to experience it.

A married couple's Christmas in 'Wales'

Buntport is listing virtual performances of “Zoo Motel” only through Saturday (December 19), but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Phillips will be performing the show through January 30, and you can book a room to any performance from anywhere in the world. He’s choosing a wide variety of performance times based on traditional theatergoing hours in various cities around the world. So the reason performances through December 19 are listed as the “Denver” performances is because they begin at 8 p.m. MST. But it’s worth seeing at any time in any time zone. (What is time, anymore, anyway?)

“Zoo Motel” was the perfect opportunity for Buntport to partner up again with their old friend. But Buntport itself is ending the year with a wonderfully sweet holiday gift for its faithful: A video anthology of Rollman’s 70-year-old father, David, reading Charles Dickens’ complete “A Christmas Carol” in five chapters, each available for free, on demand.

When Erin Rollman was a girl, David would read the full novella to his children each holiday season over several nights. “When I was young, I would marvel at how present he remains, clearly still affected by a story he has read countless times,” Erin said. Click here to watch

It’s wrenching to think that instead of planning for its 50th original production in March 2021, Buntport is asking the same existential question every arts organization in the world is presently suffering: How long can even the most supported and beloved of companies hope to survive without significant revenue if that lasts more than a year?

We all seem to be trapped in the Hotel California right now. This is a time of prolonged dread and death and disease and uncertainty and loss. And about all we have control over at the moment is how we choose to see the world, and our future in it. While we can’t yet see the door to exit this Zoo Motel, Phillips, for one, seems to be telling us that we can, in fact, check out any time we like. Of that mindset, at least.

Question is: When we make it outside, how do we stave off the swarm of locusts that's awaiting us?

'Zoo Motel'

  • Through January 30
  • Created and performed by Thaddeus Phillips
  • Designed by Steven Dufala
  • Directed by Tatiana Mallarino
  • Magic by Steve Cuiffo
  • Technical support: Newton Buchanan and Melissa Jernigan
  • Showtimes: Vary between noon MST, 5 p.m. MST and 8 p.m. MST
  • Cost: Each of 21 available motel rooms books for $21 each per household
  • Appropriate for all ages
  • Tickets: zoomotel.org

ORDER ZOO MOTEL ONLINE

Zoo Motel closing credits

Closing credits for 'Zoo Motel.'

They said it

  • "At its core, 'Zoo Motel' is about Earth, and our place on it, and our place in the universe, and how we’re all part of the same puzzle even if we’re far apart or even if we’ve never met. Even if we’re separated by time or death. And in 2020, that is a hell of a message.” – Alissa Smith, Colorado Springs Gazette
  • “By the time Phillips plays a clip from 'The Wizard of Oz,' we are losing our grip on the line between reality and fantasy. This room is both a place and a dream … The physical laws are unstable here in a show that amuses and beguiles.” – Mark Fisher, The Guardian
  • "A glorious, makeshift peephole into the marvels of theatre, the possibilities of the imagination and the human need to connect.¨ – Lyn Gardner, Stage Door

About Thaddeus Phillips

Thaddeus Phillips is a Colorado native who directs theater in Europe, tours with his own work globally and moonlights on TV. Created works include: "17 Border Crossings," "Red-Eye to Havre de Grace," "Inflatable Space," "A Billion Nights on Earth," "Capsule 33," "Lost Soles," "Whale Optics," "The Earth's Sharp Edge," "The Melting Bridge," "King Lear," "The Tempest" and "Henry 5 Live from Times Square." In addition to Denver's Buntport Theater, Phillips' work has been presented and commissioned by New York Theatre Workshop, BAM Next Wave Festival, Barrow Street Theater, Territory Festival (Moscow), The Broad (Santa Monica) Hong Kong Festival and Miami Light Project. He is a Pew Fellow, A Doris Duke Artist Award recipient, and appeared in ¨Narcos¨ and one of the "Spider-Man" films. Visit his website

About Buntport Theater

The Buntport Theater ensemble of Brian Colonna, Hannah Duggan, Erik Edborg, Erin Rollman and Samantha Schmitz have been creating original theater together for 20 years. Based in Denver, they have written and produced nearly 50 full-length plays, 150 live sit-com episodes, more than 100 short plays performed in the freight elevator at the Denver Art Museum, and countless one-off events. In all, they perform more than 100 times each year. They have collectively received more than 100 awards from a variety of organizations and media outlets, including the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Over the years, Buntport has collaborated with bucketloads of other creatives – from large institutions to individual artists, from fellow theatremakers to musicians to authors and on. Buntport is now well-established as Denver’s home for new, unique live theater. They are presently attempting to create a coffee-table art book celebrating examining their two decades of making weird, fun stuff. Visit the website

'The Grasshopers' from inside a carA look at Buntport's T'he Grasshoppers,' from insde a car.

Home,Reignite the Arts,Donate Now,Donate Now,Corporate Giving,Art Circle,2024-2025 Theatre Season,Renew,Visit Us,View All Events,Roland Bernier: In Other Words,Word Play,Lola Montejo: After Another After,Floyd D. Tunson: Ascent,Anthony Garcia Sr: Pigment,Pamela Webb: Hand + Hammer,Lauri Lynnxe Murphy: Seeing the Trees For the Forest,Pink Progression: Collaborations,Imprint: Print Educators of Colorado,528.0: Regional Juried Printmaking Exhibition,Wood.Works,Carley Warren: Three Pieces,Viral Influence: Art in the Time of Coronavirus,Brady Smith: (Don’t be embarrassed by) Your Trouble with Living,Melody Epperson: 100 Years + 1,Blurring The Line,Narkita Gold: Black In Denver,Art of the State 2022,Into The Woods,One Sheet,The River Bride,Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey,Gary Staab: Second Nature,Flora: Scientific Botanical Illustrations of Colorado Plants,Charlotte's Web,Art + Science,Jeffco Schools Foundation High School Art Exhibition,Wendy Kowynia: Following the Thread,Spring Pottery Sale,Damn Yankees,Bueno: Mark Bueno,Denver Gay Men's Chorus: Divas, Icons and Justice Warriors,The Book Club Play,Guitar Stars and Friends,The Denver Brass: In Pursuit of Leisure,Swing, Swing, Swing: Benny and Beyond ,A Night at the Movies with the Colorado Symphony,Toad the Wet Sprocket and Cracker,Ramón Bonilla: The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places for me.,Keb' Mo',Boz Scaggs,Lucero,The Ladies of Soul,Ben Folds,Drawn: From The Source,Day of African Culture,Cleo Parker Robinson Dance presents Living the Lush Life,Face Vocal Band,George Thorogood and the Destroyers,Indigo Girls,Big Draw Colorado,Collective Soul,Rockley Instrument Sale,The Laramie Project Talkbacks with Judy and Dennis Shepard,Allyship & Advocacy in Action: Supporting the LGBTQAI+ Community,Emilio Lobato: A Mi Manera A 40-Year Survey,Latitude 37° Art of Southern Colorado,Beautiful - The Carole King Musical,The Laramie Project,Colcha Embroidery of the San Luis Valley,Hazel Miller and the Collective: Christmas with Soul,Fine Art Market,Holiday Pottery Sale,Our Town,Big Band Royalty: Nothin’ But the Blues,Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella Sensory Friendly Performance,Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella ASL Interpreted Performances ,Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella,Artist Proof: Print Process at Oehme Graphics,Exhibition Tour and Artist Talk with Sue Oehme,Sue Oehme Inclusions,Big Ink,53rd Annual Jeffco Schools Foundation High School Art Exhibition,Print Jam,Latin Sounds From Legendary Artists,A Year With Frog and Toad,Matt Christie: Between Then and Now,Robin Cole: Genesis,Arvada Center Spring Brunch,Preservation Hall Jazz Band,Mozart Under Moonlight,Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812,Nothing On,Corinne Bailey Rae,Tower of Power,A Tribute to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops,CJRO Presents: Lady Sings the Groove with Tatiana LadyMay Mayfield,Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder,Orquesta Akokán with Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen,Spin Doctors with Cracker,Denver Gay Men's Chorus: Shout!,3rd Law Dance/Theater,Denver Brass presents: Brass, Camera, Action,The High Kings and Gaelic Storm,Big Richard,Melissa Etheridge: I’m Not Broken Tour,Noises Off,Dining Partners,Amplify,Theatre,Upcoming Shows,2024-2025 Theatre Season,Renew,Performances for Students,Auditions,Local Season AEA Auditions,Local Season Non-AEA Auditions,Galleries,Current Exhibitions,Gallery Events,Upcoming Exhibitions,Art Sales,Art Submissions,Sculpture Field,History Museum,Archive,Education,View All Classes,Summer Camps,Full Day,Summer Camp Performances,FAQ,Spring Break Camps,Classes for Kids,Classes for Adults,Ceramics,Front Range Youth Symphony,Dance Classes,Links and Forms,Arts Day,Arts Day Outreach,Ageless Adults,Scholarships,Yesterado,Yesterado,Field Trips and Outreach,ECE Field Trips,K-5 Field Trips,Middle and High School Field Trips,Outreach Programs,Preschool Partnership Program,Music and Dance,Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra,Summer Concerts,Humanities,Private Event Rentals,Caterers,Vendors,Straight Talk Series ,Straight Talk with Philip Sneed,COVID’s toll on Colorado theatre: 224 productions and counting ,Straight Talk with Lynne Collins,Straight Talk with Rod Lansberry,Straight Talk with Phamaly, Buntport, Colorado Shakes and Rocky Mountain Rep,Straight Talk with Creede Rep, Town Hall, Candlelight and Theatre Company of Lafayette,Straight Talk with Aurora Fox, BDT Stage, Cherry Creek Theatre and Misfits,Straight Talk with Su Teatro, Vintage, Backstage and Counterweight,Straight Talk with Local Theater Company, Theater 29, The Source and Equinox,Straight Talk with the Denver Center, Jesters Dinner Theatre, Glenwood Vaudeville Revue and Germinal Stage-Denver,Actors' union issues safety guidelines for re-opening,Straight Talk with square product, Forge Light, Springs Ensemble Theatre and Coal Creek Theatre of Louisville,Straight Talk with the Fine Arts Center, Miners Alley Playhouse, Dangerous Theatre and Lone Tree Arts Center ,Straight Talk with Lake Dillon Theatre Company, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Northglenn Arts,Straight Talk with The Catamounts, Bas Bleu and Thingamajig,Straight Talk with Curious Theatre Company,Straight Talk with OpenStage, Firehouse and Adams Mystery Playhouse,Straight Talk with Platte Valley Players and Theatreworks,Straight Talk with Parker Arts, Stories on Stage and Thunder River ,Staight Talk 2 with Philip Sneed: This much is uncertain,Arvada Center News,Getting to Know The Big Tuna,Getting to Know: Keith Ewer and his Hammered Dulcimer,Understanding Farce in Theatre,2024 Summer Concert Series Playlist Volume 1,Pivoting With,Pivoting with The Black Actors Guild,Pivoting with ... Emily Van Fleet and Nathan Jones,Pivoting With ... Tammy Franklin and the Curtain Playhouse,Pivoting With Nick Sugar and the Town Hall Arts Center,Pivoting With Helen Murray and the Aurora Fox,Pivoting with Edith Weiss and Christy Montour Larson,Pivoting With Scott RC Levy and the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company,Pivoting with Todd Debrecini for Halloween,Pivoting with Ashley Campbell,Pivoting with Meghan Anderson Doyle,Pivoting with Jenna Moll Reyes,Pivoting with Erik Fellenstein,Pivoting with Ray Bailey ,Pivoting with Tara Falk,Community News,Inside the Arvada Center,All About Printmaking Techniques,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Collin Parson ,Christina Noel-Adcock,"Bright Star" cast unveils video as message of hope,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Christine Moore,Humans of the Arvada Center: Steven Cogswell,Humans of the Arvada Center: Ashi K. Smythe,City of Arvada to install new sculpture in Hoskinson Park,Humans of the Arvada Center Jessie Page,Humans of the Arvada Center Cal Meakins,Humans of the Arvada Center: Adam Stolte,Supreme Court workplace ruling hits home for Lisa Leafgreen,'Time for talk is over': Arvada Center launch 'Amplify' series to raise black male voices,Humans of the Arvada Center Jon Olson ,Humans of the Arvada Center: Abygail Rosales,Revealing The Dialogue,Amplify Epiode 3 launches, series expanding to include black women,Photo Blog: Sweeney Todd Rehearsals,Humans of the Arvada Center: Gabriel Morales,Cleo Parker Robinson dances back in the box with Arvada Center,Amplify turns the mic over to local Black women ,Beth Malone bringing 'joy bomb' to Arvada Center oon September 4,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Emily King,Amplify Women Episode 2,Special Book Honors Special Dance Teacher,amplify-series-comes-to-powerful-conclusion,Take a stroll through 'Sculpture in the Field',Lessons from a summer of outdoor theatre in the time of COVID ,Humans of the Arvada Center: John Hamilton,Doreen Montalvo in Denver: Compassion and grit,Betty Hart's presidential promise: Build a bigger tent,Humans of the Arvada Center: Brenna Clendaniel and Sophia Koop,On being Black in Denver and all the colors that it brings,2020 True West Awards: Buntpivot ,2020 True West Awards: Lily Bradford,2020 True West Awards: The Scenesters,2020 True West Awards: Podcastic,2020 True West Awards: Phamaly takes 'Honk' to Japan,2020 True West Awards: Christine Moore,2020 True West Awards: Alive Inside,2020 True West Awards: Michael Ensminger,True West Awards: They Wrote the Book,True West Awards: Rent-A-Pals,True West Awards: Of Spacious Skies,True West Awards: Christopher Page-Sanders,2020 True West Awards: Suffer the little children,2020 True West Awards: Spirit of Giving,2020 True West Awards: Secret Gardeners,2020 True West Awards: Denis Berkfeldt,2020 True West Awards: Amplify,2020 True West Awards: Reclaiming One Star,2020 True West Awards: William Hahn and Jessica Robblee,2020 True West Awards: Lisa Wagner Erickson,20 for 20,Meet the Frasers,Lucy Roucis' final act is a gutpunch,Reunite the Arts Collin Parson,Jodie Steeves and Nancy Terry,Reunite the Arts Lisa Leafgreen,Remembering John Gratkins,Reunite the Arts: From our CEO,Danielle Johnson Q&A,Reunite the Arts Lynne Collins,The Show Must Go On,Diana and Mike Kinsey,Get to Know Kazu Oba,Meet Suzanna Champion,The Gear of Million Dollar Quartet,FRYS and the Symphony,Get to Know Carlou D,Stories From the Studio,Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Lares Feliciano,21 for 21,An interview with Geoffrey Kent: The Liar,An interview with Jada Suzanne Dixon: Stick Fly,An interview with Jessica Robblee: Animal Farm,Fast Facts About Kinky Boots,Costume Department Boots Up,Rod A Lansberry Announces Retirement from Arvada Center,Lynne Collins Named Artistic Director of Arvada Center Theatre,Getting to Know José González,Getting to Know Joan Osborne and Madeleine Peyroux,The Many Sounds of Carlou D,Setting the mood: Into the Woods Set Designer Brian Mallgrave,Into the Woods Directors Note,The River Bride Director's Note,What is Magical Realism?,Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Ana María Hernando,Meet Ceramics Artist Luanne Burke,From student to teacher: Hadley’s story,Tackling the Beast,Things to Know About Our Town,Creating the Look of Our Town: A Q and A with Set Designer Brian Mallgrave,Whatever Lola Wants - A Deep Dive into the Damn Yankees Signature Song,Selling Your Soul - A Pop Culture Favorite,The Book Club Play Reads,Metatheatre Elements in Our Town - When a Play Knows It's a Play,90s Throwback Vibe with Arvada Center 2023 Summer Concert Series,Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra at the Arvada Center,Opening Acts of the Arvada Center 2023 Summer Concert Series,Getting to know Baaba Maal,Big Draw Highlights,The Music of Keb' Mo,Getting to Know Lucero,The People at the Indigo Girls ,Listen to the hits of Carole King with this playlist,Carole King: The Writer Behind The Music,Songs inspired by Matthew Shepard,Summer Internship at The Arvada Center,Arvada Center journeys to Southern Colorado : A Photo Diary,Arvada Center and Colorado Chapter of Free Mom Hugs share the love,Costume Inspiration for Cinderella with Costume Designer Madison Booth,Getting to Know: iZCALLi and ArtistiCO,The Many Faces of Cinderella,Arvada Center awarded Social Impact Theatre Grant from Biller Family Foundation,The music that influenced the music of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,Volunteer,About Us,Ticketing Policies,Authorized Ticketing,Group Tickets,Ticket Discounts,Contact Us,Accessibility,Health and Safety,Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access,Careers,Tours,Adopt an Actor 2023,Adopt An Artwork,Temp,Land Acknowledgement,What To Expect at the Theatre,One Sheet Music,Gift Certificates,LGBT Resources,Privacy Policy,Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet Seat Map,Gala,Gala Sponsors,Errors,404,Natasha and Pierre Synopsis,Concessions,Summer Preorders