The Baltimore Rock Opera Society –
Interview with Terry Gotham
(If you are proximal to the Baltimore area, I implore you, I beseech you, I beg of you to check out Lunastus. The Baltimore Rock Opera Society has been killing it for literally a decade now, and I was finally able to catch Lunastus, their latest mind-fuck jamboree of awesome, built with their bare hands (and lobster claws). I was so happy to talk to Shannon Hadley, Managing Director of the infamous Baltimore Rock Opera Society and wrangler of what must be a particularly feisty glaring of cats on acid (no shit, that’s what a group of cats is called) They make visionary and expansive rock-drenched stories, pushing the limits of what grass-roots, community and progressive art can be. I’ve been a fan for so long, so please enjoy this conversation, see the show, light them up on social media, and help them get somewhere dope to keep doing dope shit.)
1. How is Lunastus doing? Is the pressure off now that opening weekend is over, or does the large scale of the show ensure it’s exhausting all the way through?
From a financial standpoint the show is doing ok, but ideally we want to hit max capacity on all remaining shows. Besides our fundraising efforts this year, Lunastus is our only real source of income to keep the company afloat. So yeah, from my standpoint there’s never an end to the pressure.
2. I’ve long thought that the Baltimore Rock Opera Society was unique to Baltimore. Are there any sister organizations, groups you consider kindred spirits or potentially even creative troupes you’ve inspired elsewhere in the country/world?
There are a lot of kindred spirit animal organizations around the world that we’ve been introduced to over the years in various ways that share some kind of ideal with us – Meow Wolf in Santa Fe; Starkid Productions in Chicago; the Space Pirates in Philly – but I wouldn’t say that BROS has had an influence on them, it’s just cool to know there are weirdos everywhere.
3. What is the biggest challenge with creating at the scale that you do, that most people would never imagine you struggle with?
The biggest challenge of creating a BROS show is the last week before the show opens and you’re exhausted and bruised and barely functioning and everything is bad and why do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning to go to your job just so you can drag yourself to rehearsal and build all night until you repeat the cycle until opening night happens and everything is amazing and you’re crying and you’re on the biggest natural high of your life and you realize you did this with all of your friends and it’s the most beautiful and rewarding thing and suddenly it’s all worth it and no one ever understands except the people around you who are all dumbstruck at what just happened.
Alternately, the biggest challenges to creating something at this scale is achieving harmony between a large group. We can have a hard time understanding and respecting each other’s visions. Sometimes we forget how to talk to each other because we’re too scared of hurting each other’s feelings, but we have to remind ourselves that we are all coming together to work on this one show – and that show is the most important thing. What the audience sees and feels is the most important thing. Everyone is putting down these amazing pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes our own human nature causes the pieces to get stuck.
4. Besides Lunastus, has the group ever wanted to re-do a previous hit?
Lunastus was a part of the 2011 BROS Double Feature, which also produced “Amphion” – a rock opera set in the Byzantine era. Back in 2011 we were also revamping an entire theater while making both full-length rock operas, and to be honest we always felt like neither show got as much attention as they deserved – and two BROS shows are a lot to sit through. So in 2016 we decided to bring “Amphion” back, and we’re stoked to be able to give “Lunastus” the same love and attention. When we decided to try touring in 2014, we opted to remount our very first production “Gründlehämmer” – because we figured it would be the easiest way to let us figure out how to tour a show, by doing a show we already knew front to back. Some BROS members don’t like the remounts, while others love them; we make decisions based on what our Artistic Council thinks is best for the creative direction of the company.
5. So much of creating is saying yes. Because of your epic scale, pile of skills and breadth of vision, how do you know when to say “no,” or realize/make the call that something isn’t doable for a given show/budget/timeframe?
The BROS motto is “In Panton Redundo” which loosely translates to “In Everything Excess” – which basically means every show needs to have a big jaw-dropping face-melting moment. We’ve gotten in arguments about saying “no” just as much as we’ve gotten in trouble for saying “yes.” At this point, we know when something has the potential to fail, and we see how far we can push it, but there’s always a backup plan nowadays, just in case.
6. Any plans to expand/further modify the Brothership? Has it ever been to Burning Man? Will it go?
The Brothership is currently rotting away in the backyard of the Bell Foundry for the past two years and it breaks my heart everyday I walk by it. After one exceptionally cold winter the back stained glass window shattered and I had to replace it with sheet metal. This past year in particular we couldn’t keep the neighborhood kids out of the backyard, and they smashed in the windows and ripped the wings off. I think our little buddy is going off to the Dragon King sooner than later.
7. What is the relationship between BROS and the Baltimore authorities? Do they support your work, or see you more as hoodlums or troublemakers?
Which authorities? The cops? I don’t really think we’re much of a blip on their radar. The only time we’re out and about being obnoxious is Artscape, and at least then we do it in style.
8. Ghost Ship changed a lot of things for creative people in a lot of cities, how did it affect the BROS and do you have any thoughts on how to prevent any more of those from happening?
Artists need safe spaces to create art. This issue is much bigger than BROS and much bigger than Baltimore. There has been and still is a constant cycle of artists finding use for discarded spaces and turning them into bright beautiful hubs of creativity and positivity, only to be lost in the shadow of economic development. The shutdown reminded us how dangerous it is to get comfortable and how easy it is for something to be taken away. It reminded us to be a part of THE community, not just our community. If we don’t have districts or organizations that are truly willing to stand up and fight for the artists that are so vital to a cities marketing strategy then we need to band together and stand up for and support ourselves.
9. As one of the out-size success stories of art, community and social good, any tips for creators when it comes to building something totally new?
Write down a list of 20 things that you think are super exciting and then cross off the first 15. To create new is to pull something up from the depths, not skim the surface. Think of who you were when you were seven years old and ask them if they think what you’re doing now is cool. If it is, then it’s probably worth pursuing.
10. How do the BROS maintain their Brovial nature? Are there BROS retreats? Do you hang out outside of the creation/show-raising process?
You’re asking this question as if a bunch of us aren’t anxiety-ridden worriers who are constantly fretting they’re fucking something up or hurting someone’s feelings. But yeah, BROS can be a family. We organize a few dinners at HQ for members to socialize during production and get to know each other, and once a year we throw an epic camp-out party for anyone who’s ever been involved in a production. We try to maintain a pretty consistent community over the year.
If you can, make sure to get out to Lunastus for its closing weekend, pick up tickets here!