Picture a TED talk. You can do it, right?
Brian Colonna is working on one right now — sort of. He’s a member of Buntport Theater, where they’re about to do an evening of mock TED talks for the fourth time. He describes the typical setting for one of the short lectures that have become ubiquitous over the last few years:
“There’s a big screen. A circular rug. A stool with water.”
At their best, they might be inspiring and thought-provoking. Hell, Denver poet Theo Wilson made waves nationally a year ago with his TEDxMile High talk on infiltrating the alt-right via online comments. At their worst, they can be self-indulgent talks peppered with things that sound like epiphanies but aren’t.
And there’s that cadence. The one that’s borrowed from public radio reporters who do the short-sentence, long-sentence, short, short, short thing. Like this one. This cadence. The one that implies gravity.
“I think it works because people are so used to that format that you can play around with it and have a good time,” Colonna says. “You land something important and then you have to walk over to the stool and take a sip of water.”
The talks at Buntport are purely goofs, on topics submitted via social media.
Colonna’s prepping for his, titled “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” Past examples include “Fascinators: But are they really?” (yes, about the hats) and “I’m not a doctor, but neither are you.”
The series is part of Buntport’s off-night programming — the small Denver theater puts on three original main stage shows annually and fills out the calendar with bite-sized, usually comedic events that play with well known formats like this, or like a debate series featuring topics like “Bacon vs. Kevin Bacon,” or even an entirely original sitcom, a staple of Buntport’s programming years ago that has been revived this year.
Something about the TED talks one, though, feels like it fits particularly well with the changes happening in Denver right now.
Buntport, like a lot of small arts organizations, faces budget challenges in a city that keeps getting more expensive. And if you work in or near tech, as I do, you might be encountering more and more of the kind of well-lit, well-intentioned non-epiphanies that characterize the lesser TED talks.
“Those forms become so dominant in the way that people take in this information,” Colonna says. “‘Did you hear this podcast? Did you hear this TED talk? You’ve gotta hear this TED talk.”
He said those forms make him think about the way cities, and particularly Denver, are changing. The economy, booming though it is, is not particularly kind to a place like Buntport.
“Our rent’s gone up 40 percent at the theater,” he says, “and we have a good relationship with our landlord. That’s a fair price for him to get.”
Those prices have made it tough on artists and small arts organizations.
“Artistically we worry that … things sort of become homogenized,” he says. “You miss out on some of the smaller, quirky things because the economics create a cultural homogeny as well.”
The organization gets support from SCFD, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and is now one of 35 Denver organizations getting part of a big grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For the Bloomberg grant, organizations have to choose one of several tracks — Buntport has chosen marketing.
A decline in theater criticism locally means that there are barely any reviews.
“It’s really hard for us because we’ve always been a word-of-mouth place and now it’s only Juliet at Westword,” he said.
Now, Buntport is hoping to figure out how to get the attention of some of those Denver newcomers.
Want to go? Here’s what to know:
BuntporTED Talks. 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18. Tickets $7-9. Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan St., Denver.