The Baltimore Rock Opera Society was founded in 2007. Its productions have consisted of stage musicals, which have included over-the-top costumes and even puppetry. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down their shows. Their pivot was to go virtual, broadcasting online so that people could watch safely from home. In the past, BROS had done what they called a “6-pack” show, which are a series of sketches or one-act plays, packaged together. In the wake of the pandemic, BROS decided to do a virtual 6-pack, dividing up each of the six plays to individual teams who could safely film them remotely.
Naomi Davidoff is a member of BROS’ Artistic Council. She joined BROS in 2011. She worked as the group’s Costume Director for many years. She got her bachelor’s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2013. The 31-year-old is originally from Philadelphia. She herself is a costume designer, having worked on many productions. She’s also a member of a band that does garage and grunge-style rock. Back in 2015, she worked on the 6-pack and the six shows within it. One of which was a spoof of the Broadway musical Cats (1982), it was simply called Rats!, replacing people in feline costumes with those in rodent ones.
When BROS went virtual, the group decided to resurrect the rodent idea and use it as a framing device for the six, individual productions. Davidoff got to work on writing that framing device. She came up with the story and she even wrote all the songs for it. The story follows the two rodent characters from the 2015 production on a new adventure. That adventure is described as a “wild ride through the sewers of Baltimore.” Those sewers were created using green screen in a no-contact studio. That studio was provided by another member of the BROS community.
Greg Bowen is that other member. He too is apart of the BROS’ Artistic Council. He joined BROS while he was a sophomore at MICA. In addition to being a stage performer, Bowen has his own videography company called Human Being Productions. As part of that company, Bowen has a studio with a green screen that operated as a space that was COVID-safe. He was then able to be the cinematographer for Davidoff’s framing device.
Davidoff was even able to direct the rodent story remotely and from the comfort of her own home. She never had contact with Bowen or any of the two lead actors. In fact, the two lead actors, that of Meghan Taylor and John Marra, didn’t even have any contact with each other. Each actor filmed their roles alone in front of Bowen’s green screen. For performers who are accustomed to being in close contact with cast members, this way of working was particularly difficult for the actors. However, a philosophy for BROS is to work with the tools you have, even if those tools are little to nothing.
Davidoff and Bowen worked on the framing device. Various teams though worked on the six shorts independently. A lot of it was done before Davidoff and Bowen filmed the framing device. They’re all different but have similar aesthetics. They all have an irreverent humor that often leans to the somewhat vulgar. The framing device literally starts with toilet or potty humor. There is a lot of Jim Henson in these shorts. If one has seen Avenue Q, another Broadway musical, there’s a lot of comparisons to be made, though some might see this as a bit more edgy. Bowen also describes it as akin to cult late-night TV shows, such as Tales from the Crypt (1989). The shorts include the following:
The Feast by Zeb Blair and written by Kim Le. Filmed at Herring Lake Films, this short is also playing separately on Sunday as part of OCFF’s Animation Shorts. It’s a crazy, little tale about the dangers of cannibalism, set to folk music.
Litmus Test by Travis Madden and written by Dirk Joseph. The music was recorded and mixed by Jessica Keyes and Patrick McMinn of Hidden Arrow Studios. Davidoff describes it as more dark techno and industrial. Filmed at the historic Bell Foundry in Baltimore, it feels like an episode of Star Trek (1966).
Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep by Justin Sabe and written by Aaron Travis. Filmed at Baltimore Improv Group, it’s like The Muppet Show (1976) doing a submarine thriller.
U R Tha 1 by Mike Smith and written by Smith as well. Filmed at Baltimore Improv Group, it’s a very jive version of Sesame Street with not rock music but funk music. Davidoff says that they wanted to be expansive and diverse in the music. They wanted not just rock music but “music that rocks.”
On My Shoulders by Lincoln Goode and written by Tyler Merchant and Derek Cooper. Starring Steve Pingel, the film is about a man named Charlie who wrestles with indecision or two opposing choices, constantly nagging him.
No. 1 Pencil by Eric Poch and written by Katharine Heidkamp. The original concept came from Amanda Boutwell. Here, this film differs from most of the others by utilizing marionettes. Filmed at Baltimore Improv Group, Boutwell describes this short as “goofy, yet epic.” She says it’s about “crazed, power hungry scientists, inter-dimensional portals and demons from hell.”
HOLES: A Puppet Anthology.
Saturday, March 5 at 2 p.m. at FOX Gold Coast.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.
For more information, go to https://ocmdfilmfestival.com/.
To learn more about the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, go to https://www.baltimorerockopera.org/.