It’s hard to imagine how Title: Point productions crams not only an audience of up to 40 people into a tiny room (now known as Vital Joint, a black box theater) adjacent to the more familiar space at Silent Barn but also an entire cast, multiple sets, lighting, and crew. Well, things get a little creative. “They stuck me in a hole,” Spencer Thomas Campbell, co-writer of the current production, explained. “I spend the entire show in a hole.” But the challenges of a small space also contribute to keeping things interesting around here. I mean, at what other (serious) play is there a distinct possibility that the audience could get splattered with blood or maybe even puked on?
Unless you’re an independent theater buff or hyper-attuned to everything happening at Silent Barn (which is to say a ton of stuff) chances are you’re not too familiar with Title: Point. But the tiny production company founded by Theresa Buchheister has been quietly residing inside the Silent Barn for two and a half years and has recently staked out a permanent cubby hole of its own in the seemingly ever-expanding art collective.
This latest production is the outfit’s first effort in the former CSA Art Gallery space since it’s been reborn as Vital Joint. And in a lot of ways, Biter (Every Time I Turn Around) marks the culmination of the group’s efforts.
“The play is about shifting identities,” Spencer explained. “And being in a liminal state between who you are and where you come from and where you’re going in terms of the person you are, the animal you are, and the space you occupy in your relationships with other people.”
Spencer co-wrote the play with Ryan William Downey (another core Title: Point member), though not in any traditional sense. “It’s two plays that were written separately that we’ve broken up and stuffed inside one another, a play turducken,” Spencer explained. “When we thought about the plays together we realized they talk to each other in really sort of fascinating ways.”
Biter is also a super blend of influences confirmed by Theresa and the two co-writers: post-war avant-garde, Vaudeville, slapstick comedy (especially Laurel & Hardy), psychedelic-experimental theater, and of course horror.
“I’m a big, big blood and vomit writer,” Spencer admitted.
Per Samuel Beckett, who Theresa cited as a major influence, the characters are alien-like humanoids, living in a probably post-apocalyptic space and time unlike our own. They seem to have no history, no future, and live only for chatter.
But Biter is a little more lighthearted than Beckett, to be sure. The brief skits, monologues, goofy back-and-forths, and even the occasional outburst of violence are usually hilarious. It can be very disorienting at first to count yourself as an audience member. But it’s a lot like letting your eyes adjust to a dark room: give it a moment and everything will come into a fuzzy sort of focus that will do.
Ryan plays the Hardy character, constantly referring to his brotherly companion as “you idiot!” and constantly showering him with insults like: “Sometimes I wonder how the doctor ever told you apart from the afterbirth.”
The duo find themselves locked into throwing a very disturbing birthday party for a very unhinged bear. “I’m not a birthday boy!” he corrects them. “I’m a sensitive birthday bear.”
The bear man vacillates between feeling a-OK about the party. “Great party!” he exclaims as he paces about feverishly looking for a place to sit. Unable to find one, he leans onto a precariously placed table before suddenly falling face forward on the ground.
Spencer makes his grand appearance when he pops out of his “hole,” a tiny crawlspace at stage left. But Spencer is no longer a writer, he’s a fish with Coke-bottle glasses and taped hands for fins. “I’m only a little girl. I mean, a fish! I mean, a boy!”
The most enthralling characters were the murderous postman with depraved incestuous tendencies and a flamboyant but clueless detective named Sleuth Hound. The latter, shortly after making his entrance, straddled the audience member sitting next to me. Sleuth Hound locked eyes with the dude and placed his hands on either shoulder, delivering a sexy/creepy monologue regarding his, er, methods.
As for a narrative, that’s not really the proper way to think about Biter. Rather it’s a mosaic of weirdness that is also wildly funny.
“This is a piece of connective tissue between what we’ve been doing and what we are doing,” Ryan explained. “We’re very much on the shoulders of the work that Theresa made when she started the company.”
Though Spencer is a relative newcomer, the three met working at Strand almost a decade ago. “I hired Ryan,” Theresa laughed.
“Spencer and I shelved fiction and drama together and Theresa worked in the basement,” Ryan recalled. He and Spencer would discuss books and playwrights. “That was a really powerful way of exchanging ideas. But it wasn’t until five years later that we started collaborating at all.”
“For the first five years I wrote pretty much all of the shows,” Theresa recalled. “But at first I didn’t realize they all existed in the same world, which is not this world, which is not any time.”
Now, Theresa says the plays are all connected in some manner. Lines are transmitted from play to play and the works all take place within the same bizarro universe. Though Title: Point started out a very different place. Whereas production and events are happening at an almost break-neck pace now– “being at the Barn has been artistic calisthenics,” Ryan explained– prior to the move, the company was doing a show a year plus occasional engagements, drifting between indie venues like Secret Project Robot and the Invisible Dog.
Back then, things weren’t so guaranteed. “We were doing a show at the Lost Horizon Night Market, which was a bunch of U-Haul trucks with stages in the back,” Theresa recalled. “But then it closed, so we had all these Tyvek suits and fog machines and nothing to do.”
Little did they know that disappointment would later turn into an opportunity. Lucas Crane, one of the new Silent Barn “chefs,” was “instrumental in getting us in here,” Ryan said.
“A big turn for us was coming here,” Theresa said. “It was a calculated risk, I’ll certainly say.” Instead of having the opportunity to occasionally work in larger spaces, Title: Point signed on to have indefinite, consistent access to a space, albeit a very tiny one.
“We had to remap our brains to conceive how we would put theater into this space because it has practically none of the things you need to do traditional theater,” Ryan explained.
“Especially when it opened, there was no electricity,” Theresa added. “But it’s been fascinating for us learning how to work within a collective. We have access to a lot of incredible artists as well, like Claire who’s an architect, she designed our set and painted everything. We work with musicians too, there’s even the piñata girl. She made us a giant dick piñata for a William Burroughs event, it was great it was filled with lube, condoms, and candy.”
Ryan admitted that the collective duties can be “time consuming,” but reasoned, “that’s the nature of the Barn, you have to wear all these hats suddenly.”
Being at the Silent Barn means that events just straight up have to go down, and consistently. “It’s like getting a Master’s degree in making things happen,” Ryan said.
“The frequency with which we make things now has really gotten that wheel turning,” Theresa added. “It’s like the first time you do mushrooms– there’s so much texture and it’s something that’s always been there but from that day on you’re like, wow clouds are amazing!”
Now at Silent Barn the 12 or so core members of Title: Point stage original plays, hosts screenings, and a variety of other events. Writers often fulfill multiple roles as actors, costume designers, prop scouts, and directors. The group is tight knit, but always open to “new blood,” Theresa said.
“We’ve worked with a couple hundred people over two and a half years,” Ryan explained. “We try to cast as wide a net as we can. Actually, are you working on anything?”
The only requirement for working with Title: Point seems to be that collaborators can handle dangling on the edge of insanity. Spencer is a newer addition to the group and while his background is in non-narrative experimental fiction, he says that his lack of experience with writing plays has been an asset. “Writing that way has freed me to collage in a way that I might not if I had a playwriting background,” he said.
Ryan agreed: “You’re less plot-driven, you can make this pastiche of ideas.”
The three are remarkably united in their influences and it shows. Biter could easily come across as a mish-mash of influences, but since these muses are so equally shared amongst the Title: Point crew, they’re blended rather seamlessly in the production and result in a shockingly funny play that still maintains a characteristic avant-garde opaqueness. “We’re seeking to be confounded by art,” Ryan explained. “That’s exactly what we’re hoping for, a blissful confusion.”
“Biter (Every Time I Turn Around)” has three dates left: May 14, 15, and 16, 8 pm at Silent Barn: $10 in advance