15 Anniversary Artist Interviews: Pointless Theatre

Patti Kalil, co-artistic director of Pointless Theatre, says that the road to building a thriving and ebullient company has come through collaboration – and cardboard.

Capital Fringe also played a role in the founding of the company, which presented The Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet as its inaugural production in the 2010 festival.

“The year before I had done a show called Please Listen,” she recalls, “It was a musical, and it was by a lot of Pointless people, but at the time we weren’t Pointless, so it was kind of like a precursor. It was done at The Fringe tent.”

Kalil says Pointless took its name from a proposed production of Harry Nilsson’s legendary concept album/TV special, The Point at the University of Maryland, College Park. The students couldn’t get the rights to it, but they wanted to keep working together. So they started plotting a Capital Fringe production – and needed a company name. They became “Pointless Theatre.”

The brush with a dream show that couldn’t happen because of rights issues shaped their choice of Sleeping Beauty. The music was Tchaikovsky and the story was a fairy tale. “With the copyright thing,” Kalil says, we wanted to make sure we delved into something that was copyright-free.”

So Kalil and Pointless co-artistic director Matt Reckeweg got to work adapting the story. What they and their producing colleagues came up with was a blend of child’s play and creative chaos.

“I think what was freeing was that there were no restrictions,” Kalil recalls. “It was such a crazy show because it was a puppet show. It was family-friendly, but it was also kind of sassy and irreverent, and also kind of absurd. We had like cardboard cutout trumpets, instead of real trumpets. We had classic Tchaikovsky mixed in with very cartoonish slapstick humor. It was a mixture of disciplines and, in the design, it like felt very risky, because you know you never quite know what that’s going to look like.”

Pointless quickly embraced the challenges presented by the Fringe aesthetic. “We had like a giant scroll that just scrolled background to change the set,” says Kalil, “because that was the big sort of challenge that Fringe gave us.”

Puppets added a bit to the zaniness of setting up and breaking down a show with so many moving parts, but it quickly became an integral part of the aesthetic. “We were those people who we would show up to the load-in with ten different suitcases full of puppets,” Kalil recalls. “I actually think that led to our design work (especially because I was one of the main designers) being an aesthetic of cardboard. Really scrappy. resourceful material use. If we had started on a higher production level, I think we would have never quite embraced that.”

Empowerment was the key to making the challenges into an experience that Kalil recalls as “amazing.”

“We were about to leave an undergraduate program as theater majors,” she recalls, “and we were a really eclectic mix of performers and writers. We had a little bit of everything, and Fringe was like the only space we had as young artists who had no credentials. Eclectic experimental artists finding ways to tell stories in a multidisciplinary way. There was no sense of: ‘You need to earn this.’ It was: ‘It is here, and it is for everyone, which I know is [Capital Fringe Festival director] Julianne Brienza’s big philosophy. Keeping that open space.”

Pointless Theatre filled that space three more times over the years, producing Hugo Ball – A Super Spectacular Dada Adventure (2011), Imagination Meltdown Adventure (2012), and Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza! (2013).

“We felt so safe in that environment,” says Kalil. “And we have never left that mentality. We’re still proud of keeping that sense of scrappy resourcefulness. It took us, like, eight years to actually do a show that didn’t have a lot of cardboard in it.”

– Richard Byrne