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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 Medieval hallucination that Gründlehämmer calls home is known within the cast and crew as Brotopia, a fairy-tale kind of place where, as Keating explains, music is the dominant energy. There are songs to fight wars with, to kill with. And there are songs to woo and grow crops with. Of the production's 20 very real-looking prop guitars, some have been built to look like swords and some to look like plowshares. The role of music in this piece is never explained in blunt terms in the libretto, but by the first time someone gets shot down by a guitar riff, it's pretty clear.

About two years ago, though, Brotopia was the nickname for the house Breitburg-Smith and Dylan Koehler were living in. Both are graduates of Goucher College, as is Keating; if there's a local network that Gründlehämmer is most connected to, it's probably Goucher. Together with DeCampos, they come across as awesome nerds--like, in an arts world coursing with nerd-chic, they are very much the real thing. There's nothing ironic or self-conscious about them. They're dudes who like cheap beer, explosions, and intricate, large-scale stage production.

The original Brotopia was the inspiration/gestational space for a rock opera about dudes living together in a house, featuring a "kind of Middle Eastern theme," Keating recalls.

"We all went to a party at his [Dylan and Eli's] old place," DeCampos recalls. "This was like two years and change ago, and at the time [Keating and Koehler] were sporting insane mullets. They both came up to me with this idea and were like, 'We've got this rock opera--it's set in this place called Brotopia.' I was locked on, I'll do it.

"Another six months passed and nothing happened, and Aran and I had been talking about doing a stage production of Phantom of the Paradise"--the outré 1970s Brian De Palma-directed movie rock musical--"and we kind of merged those two ideas and came up with this thing."

"Instead of trying to adapt a copyrighted film, we decided to write our own musical," Keating adds.

"I remember--I might be making this up--but we had been watching Apocalypto," Breitburg-Smith says. "And afterwards, we decided we had to make something as epic as Apocalypto."

"It was [a] pretty cold [start] for all of us," he says. "Everybody that was in that core group of people had either done lots of amateur theater--college, high school, or community--or had been in bands. Personally, I did a lot of acting in college. I had one experience directing in high school. My most relevant experience to what I'm doing right now is doing freelance video work."

From those first conversations, Gründlehämmer spent nearly a year as mostly talk, as big plans have a way of doing. "For about a year it was just like 'I got this riff--it's going to be a cool song,'" Koehler says. "We talked about how all of this stuff was going to happen and how great it was going to be and we set our sights really high."

"It seems like the turning point was when we started calling ourselves BROS," DeCampos says. "As soon as that got locked in, everybody started piling up and we started developing the idea more. It's such an awesome acronym."

With the help of Jared Marguiles, one of the project's original collaborators, BROS was able to secure a small grant from Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts of $500, "which seemed like a big deal when we got it," Keating says. "Back then we were talking about putting on a show with a budget of, like, $2,000." The budget has since ballooned to nearly $6,000, with incidental and unforeseen expenses--like insurance for rental microphones, say--adding to the tab like planets being sucked into a black hole. Save for a pair of successful fundraisers, the difference is largely coming out of DeCampos and Keating's savings (leveraged against ticket sales).

"We really didn't even get the word that we were going to be able to put it on until July," Keating says. "It took us a long time to nail down 2640 as the performance space. They were kind of hesitant about having something this large scale.

2640's organizers came around. "It's been amazing to see the [space] transformed from a giant hall with a few sofas and folding chairs scattered about to the fairytale landscape the BROS created," says Tiffany DeFoe, a member of the collective that runs the space. "They've constructed an incredible set from the roughest materials, plus a ton of work from a crew that seems somehow more like an extended family than a theater group."

"I don't think we knew how difficult it was going to be," Keating says. "Not to say that it's more difficult, just that we didn't know what the hell we were doing. It got to the point where we were writing all of this music, we had the script, and we were psyched to do it. We were getting to the point where we were done doing it or we needed to keep going and put it on. The rest got figured out along the way."

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