New web series pokes affectionate fun at Baltimore’s arts community
Published: January 29, 2014
The show, which consists of 10 episodes, each under 10 minutes, is full of local color and insider-y theater jokes about just how bad some independent productions can be. But its aesthetic qualities and production values are extremely professional, resulting in something that is a bit like Girls: Station North, with characters that feel like people we know and have written about. We caught up with Kopajtic by phone in New York, where she now spends most of her time. The final episode of the series premieres Jan. 31 at Metro Gallery.
City Paper: How did BFA come about?
Katie Kopatjic: It started last January when I was taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in New York, and everyone around me was working in web series. Even at my job it seemed like everyone was in or making web series. At the time I was auditioning for stuff and I was like, Why have I not, like, been in one of these things yet? It seems so simple. I was talking about this with someone I work with at a coffee shop, and a guy overheard my conversation and the guy who overheard my conversation happens to be a Baltimore-born filmmaker and actor who wanted to learn how to swim, and he also heard me talking about how I was a swim coach, so he basically gave me his business card. And since then we’ve been meeting every week and I would give him a swim lesson, it’s turned into coaching since he’s gotten better, and he would train me in higher production process. Since I had a degree in acting, I had no idea about the film-production process.
But I knew I wanted to have it feature my friends and actors in Baltimore that I went to school with, so I pretty much wrote the parts for them and myself and made it happen, really.
CP: It’s very meta in starting a production to do a web series about these people who start up a theater—
KK: And the even more meta thing is that this year, three of those actors are starting a theater company in Baltimore. So it’s like layers on layers on layers.
CP: So you have a BFA?
KK: I graduated [from UMBC] in May 2011.
CP: The series really captures that kind of angst of getting out of college now, especially with an art degree. There’s a level at which it is comic and a level at which it hits an uncomfortable truth.
KK: It’s about half and half. It’s all based on my experience. Even down to the New York thing and the roommate thing. When I first moved to New York, my really, really good friend at the time and I had a sort of like falling out and it wasn’t for the same reasons, but we had a falling out and it was really shitty because you’re left alone in the city. The whole thing is based off how I really feel, but I have a tendency to make it into a joke. That’s why it’s like making fun of it, and by “it” I mean having this art degree, because it’s like a combination of depression and hilarity. It’s so prevalent, it’s happening to everyone, so no one is special in this crisis. Everyone knows that the millennials are having this quarter-life crisis thing. It’s kind of old news even. That’s where the comedy comes from. It’s like, “Here’s another story about struggling artists, so let’s make fun of it a little bit more.” It’s kind of in my nature to not take things too seriously.
CP: The comedy is what, I think, makes it work. In the case of your character and the one-woman play toward the end of the series . . .
KK: I really just wanted to play a weird tomboyish eccentric character. As far as the play within a play, I knew that she had some kind of weird up-bringing and I wanted her to change the dynamic of the theater company by eventually using Ryan to play in the show. Did I, Katie, actually write this play? I didn’t. I wrote the outline of what the play would be about and I wrote a couple bits of it that would make sense if we just saw bits. But to be honest, I’ve seen a lot of really shitty theater and it tends to be one-woman or one-man and it tends to be really like introspective and kind of indulgent. It’s not Sam’s intention to be like that, but I wanted to make fun of that style of theater. When it’s done well, it can be really really good. However, I think a lot of young artists are doing a lot of self-reflective things that not necessarily everybody else wants to watch. Does that make sense?
CP: I was going to ask you if it was intentionally bad, but thought I’d let you work around to it, in case it wasn’t.
KK: It was absolutely satire.
CP: Tell me about your involvement with the theater scene in town.
KK: In Baltimore, I would say the closest involvement I have is going to shows when I can, but I’m mostly in New York and back-and-forth travel. Last year I spent about a third of the year in Baltimore, staying either with Katie, the actress who played Sarah . . . in the city or with my parents at home. I wish I could be in two places at once, but the rest of the actors in the show are way more involved than I am.
CP: Why did you set it in Baltimore as opposed to New York? What is it about Baltimore that makes this work better.
KK: Because, one, it’s my favorite city. I love it. I wanted a reason to go back and spend a lot of time there. I wanted a reason to use all my friends who were living in Baltimore and I was afraid they would all start moving to Chicago or L.A. because some had just graduated from college and I wasn’t sure what everyone was doing. So it was, We have to do this now. I have to bring it to them so everyone will do it. Mainly the thing was that Baltimore is such an interesting city, and in the last three years, the theater scene has really blossomed, and this big push to kind of reinvent Station North is changing the attitude of the city. I will never compete with HBO, but I really wanted to show a side of Baltimore that wasn’t The Wire, because, having traveled to a lot of different places and introducing myself as someone from Maryland who went to school in Baltimore, that’s the only reaction I ever got. “Oh, The Wire, The Wire, The Wire,” which is cool that people have something to refer to, but they have no idea that Baltimore is a cool, vibrant city, and I just wanted to film that. And it is also part of the story itself. These are people who are not living in New York or L.A. and that is part of the character of it.
CP: So you say you can’t compete with HBO, but what happens to a web series. I mean after the Metro Gallery screening, what happens?
KK: That’s the really scary thing, to be honest, your work is free and it’s just another thing out in the internet universe and you’re suddenly competing with millions of other people doing very similar stuff—what is going to happen to it? That, I think, is up to me. . . . Outside the web series the goal is to take the material and film an additional scene of Sarah and Ryan in New York and then film a future scene and put everything together to make it a feature-length film.
BFA has a screening party Jan. 31 at Metro Gallery. To watch the series, visit bfatheseries.com
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