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Degree of Inspiration

Theatre alumni thrive in Baltimore.

With its many indie performances and off-beat exhibits, Baltimore is quickly becoming a city known for its art scene. Katie Kopajtic ’11, acting, is catching that process in real time in b.f.a. – an original web series featuring other recent UMBC graduates (many of whom were involved in the UMBC Theatre Department’s award-winning 2011 production of Las Meninas).

“We were inspired by local artists doing big things,” Kopajtic explains. “We wanted to show what’s going on in Baltimore’s art scene in a way that parallels real life.”

Indeed, shortly after the last episode of b.f.a.’s first season was released in January, cast members Katie, Dan Hileman ’12, acting, David Brasington ’12, acting, Jessie Poole ’13, acting, and Kiirstn Pagan ‘11, theatre, did their own big thing: creating a new Baltimore troupe called The Interrobang Theatre Company, which debuted its first production in March.

The video series produced by Kopajtic follows a group of friends as they try to navigate the acting world after graduation. (The friends even have their own theatre company, called “Stick People Theatre Company.”) The cast and crew filmed a pilot episode, but Kopajtic – who serves as writer, director, and also acts in the series – knew the homegrown project would need significant funding to continue to its conclusion.

“We had to think about what it would take to film an entire season,” she says. “Things like rentals and even post-production costs like editing—those add up fast.”

So the b.f.a. team launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, eventually raising $7,000 toward a full series production budget of $10,000. Pagan, who served as the series’ marketing director, observes that the cast and crew were brought into the creative side of the project as the fundraising was ongoing.

“All of the cast members ended up being very involved in the writing process,” Pagan says. “We had multiple meetings over the summer to go over Katie’s scripts, where everyone was able to help mold the story, making it more interesting, funny, and compelling.”

After a June premiere of the pilot episode at Creative Alliance in Highlandtown, Kopajtic and her cast and crew were able to schedule the final round of filming on a reduced budget beginning in August.

“It was disappointing, but we came to terms with it,” says Kopajtic. “We learned to cut costs without cutting corners.”

The b.f.a. team found low-and-no-cost shooting locations (including Joe Squared and Ottobar) to stretch that budget, and they collaborated with Station North Arts and Entertainment and the Annex Theatre to use the set and lights at a new city arts space called The Chicken Box.

Sean McComas ‘11, acting, says the opportunity to stretch his skill set from theatre into film was an unexpected perk of his involvement in b.f.a.

“In theater, you are always following a character’s journey from start to finish,” McComas explains. “You may rehearse out of sequence, but in performance you actually go on a journey. In film, that is not the case.”

Filming wrapped in November, and the new episodes debuted online every two weeks through late fall. Kopajtic and the rest of her collaborators are planning a new season of the series, but she believes that b.f.a. is already achieving its goal: showcase Baltimore and the people who live and work there.

“b.f.a is a glimpse into the real lives of artists,” she says. “It shows people working hard, struggling to put themselves out there. That’s Baltimore. That’s what we do.”

Hileman says that the Baltimore connection was a big part of forming Interrobang. “I wanted to see more professional opportunities for young actors like myself in the Baltimore area,” she says. ‘[The series] is funny to me because when people think of moving somewhere to start their acting career, they don't think of a city like Baltimore. But personally, I never had a desire to move anywhere else; I decided to make my own opportunities in a city that I love with talented people who deserve to be paid for their hard work.”

Pagan sees a synergy between the two projects. “I think the idea to start Interrobang came totally unrelated to b.f.a.,” she says, “but now that the two have become so intertwined, it is really interesting to see how one effects the other…. I'm on the writing team for Season Two of b.f.a. and I am constantly referring to things that happened to us at Interrobang as things that could possibly happen to Stick People on their journey to create not only a successful theatre company but dynamic, interesting art.”

– Laura Lefavor ’13 and Richard Byrne ’86

To watch b.f.a., go to bfatheseries.com.

Investigate The Interrobang Theatre Company at http://www.interrobangbaltimore.org/

(04/24/2014)