Denver poet, playwright and professor Cristina Bejan was studying in Romania as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Bucharest when she became involved in the local cultural scene. “I was invited to contribute a piece to a cultural festival, and that’s where I met a multi-faceted artist, Rucsandra Pop. She and I planned to create an international theater platform between the United States and Romania. This concept led to the creation in 2014 of the Bucharest International Art Program inside the Beltway – a group that now resides in Denver.
Bucharest inside the Beltway (BiB) started – as the name suggests – in Washington, DC, and has grown into an “all-arts collective” which was launched at the Romanian Embassy in 2014. BiB functioned as both a production company, artistic events promoter and cultural platform to showcase local and international talents organized by the BiB team, which consists of Bejan as executive director and others on a case-by-case basis.
“There was a core of artists doing various things,” says Bejan. “Not just theater, but literature, visual arts, dance. It’s not just a Romanian thing. BiB was inspired by the intrepid artists of Bucharest, but it has come to represent local and international art. These are local artists from all over the world.
BiB “has been very successful” in DC, says Bejan. During its first two years, the organization produced arts events and performances in DC, including sold-out plays featuring local actors at theater festivals such as Capital Fringe 2014, the DC Black Theater. Festival 2015, the Kennedy Center Page to Stage 2015 and 2016 and at the Romanian Embassy. BiB also produced a multimedia dance performance featuring a Romanian dancer at the Goethe-Institut Washington and supported artistic collaborations with visual artists. In Bucharest, BiB organized an evening of readings of new plays and an evening of oral poetry.
Bejan moved to Denver in 2019, and despite co-founder Rucsandra Pop moving on to other projects in Romania, Bejan knew she couldn’t leave what they had built behind. She started to schedule productions in her new city. “The first thing BiB did locally was to put on an art exhibition at the Gypsy House Cafe with two painters from Moldova and Russia,” says Bejan. “I was doing little things like that with the BiB label while promoting Denver artists on our social media and Denver Art News.
Then the pandemic struck. “We were just about to have our launch in Denver, also at Gypsy House – an evening of plays by Romanian women playwrights,” recalls Bejan. “It was the weekend it all ended.”
But Bejan says she knew the pandemic would be both a challenge and an opportunity for BiB. “I had already established this digital presence… so I just started running,” she says. “This led to a collaboration with the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York. Every week we were promoting a Romanian author on social media. One of these writers, award-winning Romanian-Filipino-American playwright Amanda L. Andrei, approached Bejan with the idea of a global playwright residency, all done on Zoom. “Of course, I said yes straight away,” Bejan said.
This residency, which took place digitally during the summer of 2021, was called RADIANCE. Over a hundred hopeful playwrights from eight countries around the world have been challenged to develop original work for the stage that addresses questions such as: What makes you shine? What makes you go up? What are the shadows, chemicals, energy rays in your life? How to feel the glow?
After a rigorous application process, seven non-binary female and male playwrights from Kenya, Italy, UK, Romania, Cherokee Nation, Hmong people and Mexico were selected by Andrei. Three of the playwrights also represent BiB’s home towns: Bucharest, DC and Denver. The writers met regularly via Zoom during the summer of 2021 to help each other write their individual plays.
The RADIANCE New Play Showcase, produced by BiB in partnership with the Wheat Ridge Theater Company of Colorado, will feature twenty-minute clips from four of the residency’s plays. The show will serve as BiB’s launch in Denver and, like the residency, will take place virtually; it will air Saturday, December 11 at 11 a.m. on Facebook Live. The play will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the playwrights, and a recording of the entire event will be made available to the public on YouTube immediately afterwards. Anyone interested can RSVP through the Facebook event page.
“What is so important about this global playwright residency,” notes Bejan, “is that it is a multicultural dialogue. All these people helped each other to write these plays. Nothing about it has been political. It brought people together – people who without Zoom and the pandemic wouldn’t be in this position. It is the power of art.
The complete program of the RADIANCE New Play Showcase:
my house on the moon, by Minna Lee
Directed by Selena Naumoff
With Elyse Dinh, Fern Lim, Quyen Ngo
Sandy, by Anna Pellegrini
Directed by Mellisa Taylor
With Abigail Coryell, Sheila Tejada
ANNEX, by Maddox Pennington
Directed by Maru Garcia
With Valerie Terranova, Bailey McCoy, Dane Valerio, Danielle Gallo, Gilbert Chavarria, Kendall Yoder
the light, by Madalina Oprisan
Directed by Maipy Duarte
With Teodora Cristea, Thea Mercoffer, Adina Stetcu
RADIANCE New Play Showcase, Saturday December 11, Facebook Live. You can find more information about Cristina Bejan’s work on her website; to learn more about the RADIANCE showcase, see the project website.