Artscape 2015:

Water YOLO: Baltimore Rock Opera Society immerses Artscape in a post-apocalyptic Ocean City bro-down

A dozen or so 18-year-olds will pack into the expensive, three-bedroom luxury vacation condo belonging to one kid’s rich parents in Ocean City, Maryland, now permeated with the mixed smells of Axe, cheap booze, and weed. The tradition of Senior Week—the week graduating high schoolers head to the beach to party and escape adult  authority—will be the first and possibly only time these white kids will ever feel actively pursued by the police for drug possession and under-age drinking, but because their brains have not fully developed (and indeed have been slowed down), they don’t care—YOLO. They’ll squeeze out of the condo together and head to the Ocean City Boardwalk, where they’ll join fellow Confederate flag-clad Senior Week-ers to shop for neon T-shirts and koozies printed with bro-isms and shitty jokes, snap-backs, shutter shades, dick-shaped bongs, Greene Turtle swag, et cetera. If they hadn’t already picked up Hawaiian fake IDs, they’d have asked their older siblings to stock them up on Miller High Life and Bud Light six-packs that they’ll think will last them the week, but will actually be depleted in a few days, at which point they’ll scrounge for drinks at strangers’ parties. After day drinking, they’ll head to Ocean City’s under-21 dance club, H20. This would repeat every day for a week. One or two of them might get arrested, pregnant, or traumatized in some way, but most will return to their parents’ suburban homes to struggle with their ultimately worst hangover.

If the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (the acronym of which is BROS, not to be confused with “bros,” the term commonly used to identify douche-y frat-type dudes) were trying to recreate an authentic bro-infested Ocean City experience, it would look something like this. Alas, the BROS are not embarking on such a quest—at least, not exactly.

At its headquarters at the Bell Foundry, the company is constructing costumes, props, and a performance space to fill the lot between Metro Cleaners and the Charles Street parking garage—an immersive installation called BROcean City, its largest contribution to Artscape in its six years of participation. The lot will resemble Senior Week in some ways, but through the fantastical lense of the rock opera company.

“The aesthetic concept of BROcean City is like a BROS mutated version of Ocean City,” says BROS artistic council member and BROcean City artistic director Chuck Green. “It’s got that bro-y colorfulness of the black and neon T-shirts and the slang, but it’s also like a bit post-apocalyptic.”

Specifically, BROcean City was conceived as the aftermath of a tornado born down south that dragged tons of toxic mutagen from the National Institutes of Health to the Ocean City Boardwalk. All that survived were the “hyper-energy party mutants”—BROS volunteers in handmade costumes, transforming themselves into bizarre, aquatic party monsters in a mix of bro-y neons and armor made from fishnet and sea creatures.

BROcean City is basically everything endearing (if mildly annoying) about bro culture, minus the racism, sexism, and generally brain-dead qualities of bros and coupled with majestic sea creatures, mythical characters, and, of course, rock ’n’ roll. Think Gwar meets Mad Max meets Spongebob meets Tenacious D meets Senior Week.

Green leads us through the BROS workspace, the walls of which are covered with props and costumes from previous rock-opera productions. In the back stands a multipanel beach sign pointing to various fictional locations, including “Brotopia,” “Atlantis,” “Lunastus,” and “Treasure Island.” Green notes that several of the locations are from previous rock operas the BROS have produced.

Many elements of BROcean City are drawn from previous BROS productions. One of the primary highlights, and the main impetus for creating the entire setup, is the restaging of “The Rock Opera 6-Pack,” a series of rock-opera shorts that were performed at the Creative Alliance back in May, in a large tent—the Seadome—in the back of the Artscape lot.

“Our Artscapes in the past have just been air guitar stuff, bands, things like that,” says Green, “but we’re a rock-opera company, so we wanted to show the Artscape audience actual shows. We just never had the interior space to do that.”

The “6-Pack” features five one-act, 25-minute productions (normally it’s six one-acts, but one was canceled) spanning a wide range of themes and musical styles, including a punk-rock musical honoring Baltimore rats (‘RATS!’), a shadow-played Western folk tale with death-country tunes (‘The Legend of Jessie Jean’), and a gospel show about a tent revival healer (‘Revival’), to name a few.

The Seadome and the surrounding BROcean City Boardwalk will run on coordinated schedules, so that when there isn’t a rock opera being performed in the Seadome, other events will take place outside the tent, including band performances, air guitar contests, and carnival-style games such as “Dunk-a-Bro.”

Two vehicles will be parked on either side of the BROcean City archway entrance. One, the “Bröthership,” is BROS’ original Artscape Art Car, created for its first Artscape back in 2010. The 1988 Saab 900 was transformed into a quintessential rock ’n’ roll vessel straight outta hell, with a large foam skull on the hood, golden wings covering the side doors, and a stage mounted on top for performances and air-guitar contests. When Green shows us the car parked behind the Bell Foundry, it’s in need of repairs, but still glorious.

The other vehicle, the “Merchariot,” has yet to be completed. The chariot will parade Typhoonicus, tyrant of the sea, and the winner of the air-guitar contest down Charles Street, pulled by two hippocamps, fantasy creatures Green describes as half-horse, half-fish.

In the BROS workspace, Greg Bowen, who has multiple roles in BROS, is working on the large, PVC-pipe skeletons of the hippocamps. He shows us the fairly complex designs that will soon become colorful, life-size creatures. Under nylon skins, the beasts will be puppeted to move in tandem with the operator’s legs as they pull the chariot rickshaw-style, while BROS music blasts from the chariot’s amps and Typhoonicus hails the conquering air-guitar hero.

BROcean City may not resemble our own Senior Week experience. But we’re anticipating—and hoping—that the hypersaturated, genre-crossing immersion will override our memories of stars-and-bars bikinis and bro tanks with lobster claws, seaweed, and the pure power of rock. 

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