Their ideal company would be affordable, employ the same artists over and over, and make theater and dance more accessible to the public. The only catch with that ideal company: It didn’t exist yet.
“So,” said Kyd. “We just decided to have a show.”
Mitchell and Kyd teamed up with Lise Bruneau, Amanda MacKaye and Christopher Marino to found Taffety Punk Theatre Company in 2004. Their first effort was a show in the back room at the Black Cat in December. Tickets to the performance, “The Devil in His Own Words,” went for $7. Almost 100 people showed up. Taffety raked in $200 for the night.
They immediately started planning for their next ventures, keeping to their basic tenets — cheap tickets, punk ethos, collaboration — earning nonprofit status in 2007 and churning out 33 shows during the next eight years.
Ticket prices have stayed low; it’ll only set you back $10 to see “Lucrece.” According to Kyd, attendance for one night shows is between 300-400 people. At CHAW, where productions typically run from 12 to 16 weeks and capacity is about 60, Taffety averages about 45 patrons per show.
Taffety is the resident theater company at CHAW, but it books all over town, appearing this year at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, Arena Stage and the Kennedy Center.
The eight active company members, mostly 30-somethings, all have at least one other job to pay the bills: some teaching, some in the arts, some at offices. Kyd, 41, is the education director at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore.
Kyd is loath to put a label on the kind of work Taffety produces. He described projects that attract the company as “any epic story that allows us to exploit music and dance” and estimates their repertoire is evenly split between classic plays and original work.
The term “Taffety Punk” is Shakespeare-speak for “well-dressed whore,” which was the just-right something old, something new mashup the Taffety founders were going for. Kyd had read the phrase in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
“I thought it was so cool that the word ‘punk’ was that old,” Kyd said. “[And it’s] how we feel as artists: having to be subject to the whims of our pimps. . . . That sense [of], here we are, these powerless creatures that actually have no money, but then we dress up and go hog-wild and try to entertain people.”
Gilbert is on the ground, on her side, feigning sleep.
“Let’s see where this leads,” says Kyd.
Gilbert raises her eyebrows. “We know where it leads.”