Baltimore Rock Opera Society
|Type||Rock opera theatrical company|
Shannon Light Hadley
The Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS) is an all-volunteer theatrical company located in Baltimore, Maryland dedicated to developing new works of rock theater. The original founding members of BROS are Aran Keating, John DeCampos, Dylan Koehler, Eli Breitburg-Smith and Jared Margulies.
In October 2009, BROS launched its first production entitled Gründlehämmer and in May 2011 followed up with a double feature comprising two rock operas, Amphion and The Terrible Secret of Lunastus.
The group currently performs out of the Autograph Playhouse, a theater located in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore.
BROS began as a collaboration between Aran Keating, John DeCampos, Dylan Koehler, Eli Breitburg-Smith and Jared Margulies. Keating, Koehler, Breitburg-Smith and Margulies are all graduates of Goucher College. Breitburg-Smith explained that the origin for BROS began at a party in 2006 when he and his future co-founders were drinking beer and watching the Mel Gibson film Apocalypto: "We decided we were going to write a Rock Opera about our apartment, which was to be known from there forwards, as 'Brotopia.'" The goal, Breitburg-Smith said, was "to make something as epic as Apocalypto."
Despite the core group’s considerable experience in amateur theater, the enterprise got off to a slow start. Eventually though, the project began to gain momentum, particularly after the group embraced the acronym "BROS." With the assistance of Margulies, BROS secured a small $500 grant from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which according to Keating, "seemed like a big deal when we got it."
Some three years later in October 2009, "Brotopia" had transformed into BROS' first production, Gründlehämmer, the setting of which is a mythical, medieval land in which rock music has mystical powers ranging from being able to smite one’s enemies to growing crops. For the creators of Gründlehämmer, their overriding vision was to be "epic": "The only common thread in the show is that we want it to be extreme in whatever it does. If it's going to be corny, we want it to be really corny. If it's going to be cliché, we want to take those clichés completely over the top. We want to take the costumes over the top. The music, incredibly epic. We want it to be this all-encompassing thing where everything is ridiculous and extreme. And this is our experiment to see if we can make that happen."
The protagonist of the rock opera is a young farm boy whose parents are slain by an evil monster called The Grundle. The boy then sets off on a quest to conquer the beast and teams up with a former knight of the old kings guard, and skilled guitar duelist that trains him to be the greatest guitar champion of Brotopia. In a three hour performance, the newfound rockstar goes on to triumph over the six-armed, guitar-wielding Grundle, rescue the fair maiden and even defeat the evil king and his death metal playing henchmen.
The BROS Double Feature: Amphion & The Terrible Secret of Lunastus
In May 2011, BROS launched their second production, a four hour double feature of rock operas, Amphion and The Terrible Secret of Lunastus. Each work showcased their own original scores. For this performance, BROS had secured the use of a newly renovated and renamed venue, the Autograph Playhouse in Charles Village.
Amphion is "a tale of love and loyalty in ancient Constantinople" in the time of the Byzantine Empire. The story revolves around a Byzantine court musician Amphion who falls in love with Nasreen, the daughter of the stern Persian ambassador. The rock score ranges from "Bolly-rock dance grooves" to screamo. In a review, the Maryland Theatre Guide reported "the raw energy of the performers creates an excitement that must have been present in the air of Jesus Christ Superstar's fledgling performances."
The second performance of the double feature, The Terrible Secret of Lunastus, is "a comic sci-fi work complete with lasers and '70s-style rock" that presents "astronauts from a doomed Earth encountering an alien race called the Abzugs." As the astronauts search for a new home for mankind on the plant Lunastus, a terrible secret is unearthed. Of the performance, the Maryland Theatre Guide said, "Director Chuck Green leads a remarkably creative production team; most particularly an army of prop and costume designers who create a world of green aliens, dancing red vegetation, floating jellyfish-like puppets and a 'Mother Nog' creature that effectively engulfs the entire stage. The final laser battle scene alone is worth the price of admission."
VALHELLA: The Ragnarøkoperetta
VALHELLA: The Ragnarøkoperetta debuted on May 11 of 2012 at the Autograph Playhouse as the fourth original full-length rock opera by the BROS. VALHELLA was loosely adapted from Norse mythology and executed in pursuit of what composer Richard Wagner called Gesamtkunstwerk – “that mashup of spectacle, ritual, dance, music, theater and other artsy stuff that is opera at its most extreme.”
Written by Jen Tydings and directed by Aran Keating, VALHELLA is based on Ragnarök, the Norse “grand finale of an epic cycle of death and rebirth – an end to corrupt gods and the immersing of the earth in water, before the world is born anew and the cycle can begin again.” A truce is broken between the Norse gods Odin and Loki, when Odin conceives a son with a mortal maiden. Odin smites the young demibabe, but rather than destroying him, divides him into three “crippled” children: one deaf, one blind, and one mute.
The story takes place in Midgard, the central realm in Norse mythology. A plague has wiped out all of the strong men of the Brothers’ village – leaving them untouched. Despite their disabilities they each in turn venture into the surrounding forest to hunt for their tribe. There, each brother encounters one of Loki’s Progeny, tasked with teaching each brother a song that will unwittingly lure them and their village into Loki’s domain. Like Gründlehämmer, VALHELLA utilized music as a focal point to the story, culminating with a guitar battle between the Brothers and Loki.
“The real stars of VALHELLA are the army of prop, puppet, animation, costume, set, lighting and effects designers who transform the [Autograph] Playhouse into a lush forest, and plunge us into a fiery Nordic hell.” Featuring a soundtrack that ranged from traditional Norse folk music to power metal, a transformed set which included a full-scale World tree, a hand-drawn and animated opening sequence, advanced costuming, and an animatronic wolf head which was “one of the most memorable parts of the show” – VALHELLA was considered a monumental leap forward in the BROS’ production value. All eight shows sold out, which prompted the BROS to add a ninth encore presentation at midnight on May 20, 2012, which also sold out. An estimated 2,500 audience members saw the show over the course of the run.
After holding their first rock opera at the 2640 Space in St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore’s Charles Village neighborhood, BROS succeeded in securing the use of a new venue for their second performance. The Charles Village theater (9 West 25th Street) was formerly known as the Playhouse and later the Showtime Theater, but has now been renamed the Autograph Playhouse. BROS volunteers renovated the theater over the course of many months, transforming the theater into an accommodating space. The Autograph Playhouse is owned by Billie Taylor, a retired government worker and former actor for the now-defunct D.C. Black Repertory Company.
As an all-volunteer company, BROS has attracted the support of the surrounding community. Those involved in the productions range from individuals with experience in the theater world to complete amateurs.
There is currently a feature-length documentary film being produced about the BROS and the Murdercastle production. The film is being directed by Matt Kelly and being produced by the digital magazine What Weekly. It will feature original animation and interviews in addition to the footage of the production.
- Michael Byrne (30 September 2009). "Tales of Brotopia: The Baltimore Rock Opera Society drops Gründlehämmer". Baltimore City Paper. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- Ben Droz (7 October 2009). "GRUNDLEHAMMER: An Epic Rock Opera". Brightest Young Things. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- Bret McCabe (8 June 2011). "Cue Lasers". Baltimore City Paper. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- Tim Smith (26 May 2011). "New venue, new works for Rock Opera Society". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- Andrew L. Baughman (29 May 2011). "The BROS Double Feature at Showtime Theatre: Rock Achieved!". Maryland Theatre Guide. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- "Best Star Trek Musical". Baltimore City Paper. 21 September 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
- http://citypaper.com/arts/stage/em-valhella-em-1.1315766 http://whatweekly.com/2012/05/17/valhella/
- Justin Allen (26 May 2011). "New Brotopia". What Weekly. Retrieved 9 July 2011.