Benchmark Theatre, launched in 2017, is starting its second season in a new Lakewood location, with a new theme (“identity”) and with the continued mission to bring the community together and open up a dialogue about the human experience. We spoke with Rachel Rogers, Benchmark’s executive artistic director and co-founder, about the theater, its new show, “A Kid Like Jake” (Feb. 16- March 24), and how the new building will play into its mission as an organization.
What are the goals and mission of Benchmark?
“Our mission is really three-fold. We have three different wings. One is the Fever Dream Festival, which is a new play festival that is genre driven—sci-fi, horror and fantasy—and is unique to Benchmark. Our main wing is our productions, where we are telling universal stories and trying to share those stories in what we call ‘the universal shared human experience.’ It’s this idea that we are not specific to any particular identity and is more about how we all have a shared sense of stories that connect us all in our own ways so we know that we are all going through this experience together. Part of that is doing stories that stimulate conversations—stories that really have you leaving the theater, whether or not you enjoyed the play or liked the story, with your mind buzzing and the need to have a conversation with somebody about what you just experienced. Then, our third wing is our community response.”
Tell us more about the community response.
“We bring together members of the community, other theater companies, other arts organizations and just other people who are part of our wider community for events. It’s our way of giving back to the community and getting the community to discuss and bring issues to the forefront. The very first thing we ever did as a theater company was in 2016: ‘After Orlando’ was a national event, where more than 100 playwrights wrote shorts in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting and theater companies all over the country produced some of them. We did Colorado’s event and brought in 10 other theater companies to work with us. We did a two-night event and ended up raising something like $2,400 for the Human Rights Campaign. We also held an event in January for the Women’s Voice Theater Festival, which celebrates the works of female artists. We did that to benefit the Blue Bench, a local organization. We really try to work hand-in-hand with other members of the community.”
What did you learn from your first year and how are you taking that into this year?
“It’s interesting. I think it is going to be quite the experience being in our own space, as opposed to renting space. We were very fortunate that we were able to use Buntport Theater for all our events last year, but there are still some challenges when you aren’t in your home space entirely. It’s so nice to be able to say, ‘Oh, we are rehearsing in the same space and we are building in the same space.’ Also, being able to do more things like classes and have more availability for things like our community response pieces has us really excited.”
What can you tell us about “A Kid Like Jake”?
” ‘A Kid Like Jake’ is directed by Warren Sherrill who is the associate artistic director of The Edge Theater. It is a beautiful piece that deals with two parents and starts that conversation about what you feel when encountered with parenting struggles and how you might think you would react in certain situations—only to discover that when it happens to you it may be entirely different. It gets everybody thinking about putting themselves in someone else’s shoes.”
What are you hoping the audience will take away from the show?
“With so much of our work I think the hope is that the audience will walk away with questions about what their pre-conceived notions are, who they are and what they believe and how they would react to not just things that happen to them personally, but maybe to friends or acquaintances. … (The plot involves) the question about whether a child could potentially be transgendered, so we are hoping that it opens minds and starts that conversation. It’s really easy to talk about things in theoretical situations or from afar but really trying to put yourself in the position and hoping that you would be a loving and supportive parent and would be able to talk to your partner openly about these things is a different story.”
Why do you love theater?
“Theater to me is one of the most visceral experiences. It gives an audience member the chance of sight and sound and smell and all of these things that are so immediate it’s hard to escape them in a lot of ways. The storytelling we are able to do is so immediate and I think that’s one of the reasons I love live theater.
“And, especially with us choosing the mission that we did for Benchmark, I love this idea that yes, we want our shows to be entertaining, but we also would like people to take a little more away from it than just a good time. I think theater is a really wonderful medium to start those conversations and give people the chance to experience things that they may not normally … so, that as a society and a community, we can all see things from a different perspective, become more patient and kind and know that we are all in this journey together. I love that theater has the power to do that.”
Can you give us a preview of this season?
“We do themed seasons every year. Last year, our theme was cultivation; this year it is identity. Each of show we have selected comes at the question of identity from a different angle. With ‘A Kid Like Jake,’ you’re talking about a very delicate and meaningful conversation regarding identity and gender identity and how we lovingly embrace that as a society. After that, we have ‘The Arsonists,’ which is about a father-daughter duo dealing with the question, ‘Are you who you are because of the way you are raised, or is it heredity?’ Then we have ‘Uncanny Valley,’ which deals with AI, so it opens up that whole spectrum of questions. And then, finally, ‘What You Will’ is about love and how you identify yourself within love and romance and relationships.”