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Tales of Brotopia

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society drops Gründlehämmer

Photographs By Michael Northrup
Gründlehämmer in rehearsal.

By Michael Byrne | Posted 9/30/2009


October 2-4, 2640 Space

More information at Baltimore Rock Opera Society's website

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The floor of the cavernous old church sanctuary space of 2640 is a minefield of under-construction props. A new second stage, lower and forward of the old one, bears a fresh coat of gray paint. The rough façade of a small wooden village sits in pieces around the room. Against the rear wall sit nearly 20 freshly fabricated, badass-looking fake guitars. A handheld saw bleats, and somewhere underneath all of this mess is the titular Gründlehämmer, a massive ax with soon-to-be-functional LEDs that is promised to look very, very cool.

It's about two weeks out from the premiere and three-night run of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society's (BROS) first ever production, Gründlehämmer. Looking around the space--which has been fully and completely dominated by the production--it's immediately apparent BROS is onto something huge with this; or, more importantly, something that couldn't be huge enough.

The four principles of the production--Aran Keating, John DeCampos, Dylan Koehler, and Eli Breitburg-Smith--seem surprisingly relaxed as they chat with a reporter while overlooking the set from 2640's balcony. Things are running late, injuries have mounted, and Gründlehämmer is costing more than double what was originally budgeted, already, but there's no question that the rock opera is going to go off and go off in epic fashion.

And "epic" is really the key here. After taking it all in--the elaborate sets; the immensely talented, diverse cast and band; the painstakingly crafted props; the enthusiastic brain trust at the top--something becomes apparent. Gründlehämmer is very much a DIY project, yes, but as much as DIY is a buzz term these days and as many grassroots-theater productions revel in their own grass rootsiness--the cut-and-pasted zines of local theater, say--Gründlehämmer is running away from DIY amateurism at the speed of sound.

"This whole thing is like an experiment in trying to do something legit," Keating says. "It's above ground. It's pretty much for the general public. We're trying to make it look as professional as we can."

"I think our vision was epic," Koehler adds. "We thought big, we wanted to do it big."

"It's really about the vision," Breitburg-Smith continues. "It's about making it what we see."

Everything about Gründlehämmer has to be over-the-top, the group explains. Bigger really is better. ("I'd spend $50,000 on [Gründlehämmer] if I could," DeCampos exclaims.) From a fake blood pump with 30 pounds of pressure to a looming slug-monster to full-on dance numbers to some seriously impressive stunt falling, after two years of preparation, the production is indeed approaching epic proportions.

"It's completely ridiculous," Keating says. "We strove at every turn to make it as over-the-top as possible. It's kind of like the appeal of a horror movie, or an opera. Or, yeah, death metal or extreme metal. GWAR.

"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."

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