The Brüka Theatre: Bridging the culture gap in Reno since 1992
Nevada Appeal News Service
From afar, the exterior of the Brüka Theatre, with its neon signs in all the windows, could easily be mistaken for just another downtown Reno bar. But get a little bit closer and you’ll quickly find yourself intrigued, as the promotional posters and custom neon signs for productions such as “The Buttcracker” and “Reefer Madness” come into focus.
Step inside and buy a ticket, and you’re in for one of the most unique theatergoing experiences you can have in the area, or anywhere for that matter.
Founded in 1992 by Scott Beers, who currently serves as Brüka’s artistic director, the theater’s main stage is a “found space” as Beers’ calls it, converted to work as an intimate theater on the ground floor of the Mason’s building at the corner of North Virginia and West First Street – literally right in the middle of Reno’s arts district.
The main stage seats about 70 people on couches and old movie theater seats, with the audience so close that the actors hardly require microphones.
“You kind of want to put people on couches with people that they don’t know; that’s part of it,” Beers said. “Some people wear jeans and T-shirts, and some people get dressed up like they’re going to the opera. But if you squish them on a couch together, somehow it becomes its own entity, and the audience can truly be a part of the show.”
In addition to the Brüka main stage, there is the even smaller sub-Brüka lounge in the basement where the theater stages avant-garde plays, unfamiliar works, one-night events, readings, music events, and other performances that are less technical to produce and/or call for a more intimate setting. And, if it’s ever needed, the Mason’s building also has a 400-seat proscenium theater in a traditional layout upstairs, which Brüka has used on occasion.
But while Brüka’s space certainly lends quite a bit of character to the theater company, it’s the people who truly make it special.
“We have a staff of artists who are there because they are in love with theater. And I think that’s really different,” said Producing Director Mary Bennett. “We have a core group of actors and technicians and designers who are very passionate about what they are doing; and they’re pretty experienced, and they want to come back and play with each other.”
Though Brüka is a non-professional theater company, many, if not most, of the actors, technicians, musicians and producers have plenty of industry experience, but choose to work with Brüka for the love of it. Or as Beers says, “People are here for the right reasons.
“I try to interview people and see why they’re here. Are they here because they want to go to Hollywood and become a star? That probably isn’t going to work for us; we’re going to let you down. But if you’re interested in pushing your craft, (Brüka is perfect). We pretty much run ourselves like a professional company, minus the pay.”
No pay but plenty of diversity
Look back through some of the Brüka’s promotional posters for past shows and the company’s eclectic interests become immediately apparent. From the intergalactic comedy “Resident Alien” to an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to the Brüka’s original production of “The Buttcracker” and the intense drama of “The Pillowman,” the Brüka artists strive for diversity and relevance.
“We have a lot of really educated artists who have been doing this for a long time, and a lot of the stuff that (actors) will get driven about and get excited about is dramatic,” Bennett said. “But audiences, on the other hand, flock in hordes to see comedies. So comedies do very well. We really try to balance it and give our artists the opportunity to be artistic and bring the community in.”
Or, as Beers said, what Brüka puts on is “really reflective of the times. Right now with where our country is at I think people are really in need of light entertainment – stuff that is frivolous and kind of silly – that opens our hearts. And if we do a lot of light stuff, then we can sneak in some heavy drama.”
Being a Reno theater
“You hear about all the revitalization that’s going on in downtown Reno now, and we’ve been down there for 15 years and have watched it change so much. And we hope that we’ve helped make it happen,” Bennett said.
Because of all the redevelopment in Reno’s downtown core, the Brüka Theatre is still, and always has been, on a month-to-month lease, though as Brüka has established its reputation throughout the years, most of the staff no longer worry about getting kicked out.
And while the theater has certainly played a lead role in the transformation of the downtown river corridor into Reno’s arts district, Beers is still somewhat apathetic about how Brüka fits into the Reno arts scene.
“I don’t give a (darn),” he said. “It’s too intimidating to try to think of those kinds of things. If I was doing theater in any other place it would be exactly the same as what I produce here.
“The work speaks for itself: Consistent theater, eight shows per year for 13 or 14 years … nobody really argues with that.”