The cast of Baltimore-filmed and -set web series "BFA"… (Kiirstn Pagan, Handout )
There's a scene in the first episode of the new web series "BFA" that quickly tells you this isn't another navel-gazer about life as a 20-something in New York or Los Angeles.
Our protagonists, a group of Baltimore actors who make up the fictional Stick People Theatre Company, have just put on an edgy performance in their partially renovated rowhouse. The audience — five lonely souls — is told afterward by emcee Sarah Pearl (played by 23-year-old Katie Hileman) that cupcakes and beer are available as refreshments. That's when a young man from the audience heads over to the workbench-turned-table and pounds down nearly every mini cupcake available.
What he can't eat, he loads into a makeshift bowl he makes with his arm and the front of his T-shirt.
"Seriously?" says actor and playwright Sam Pratt (played by 25-year-old Katie Kopajtic, who created the series), watching in disgust.
His free hand then whisks away a straggling tray of cupcakes as he heads out the door.
It's perfectly Baltimore, and it captures the humor, wackiness and mild desperation that make this show about young Bachelor of Fine Arts grads different from other shows about millennials.
On Friday, the "BFA" cast will be holding a screening party for friends and fans at the Metro Gallery in Station North, where the entire first season of "BFA" will run back-to-back before a screening of the Season 1 finale.
"I really wanted to make this about Baltimore City theater artists," said Kopajtic. "Baltimore is where I kind of got my artistic footing and also the way it's just growing. 'BFA' is just like a narrative of what's really going on."
"BFA" is a comedic drama that follows the lives of Sarah, Sam, Julia (23-year-old Jessie Poole), Graham (23-year-old David Brasington), Ryan (24-year-old Sean McComas) and Andy (23-year-old Anderson Wells), recent college graduates who almost all have Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees (hence, the name — but in this case, "BFA" actually stands for "Baltimore. Friends. Artists."). All the characters are in their 20s, and all of them are, with varying degrees of success, looking for meaningful work that will make use of their artistic skills.
"I remember when we first sat down, I said, 'So the pitch is basically — it's been refined — but the pitch is basically the 'Girls' of Station North," says Baltimore native Michael Cuomo, now an actor based in New York who served as a consultant to the series. "Katie was like, 'Well, I don't know if we're going have as much sex in 'BFA' as there is in 'Girls.'"
The 10 episodes that make up "BFA's" first season were produced for a mere $6,500. Most of the series was filmed last summer at venues such as Joe Squared, the Ottobar and a Canton rowhouse that belongs to Kopajtic's brother.
Much of the series deals with trying to break in to the theater business. Sarah is in charge of the Stick People Theatre Company, and is struggling alongside Sam to get the latter's play shown in Baltimore. Old friend Ryan, on the other hand, has already toured internationally with the show "War Horse" and is back for a Lifetime film gig; Sarah is envious that he seems to be making it in show business.
Tension between wild child Ryan and much of the gang simmers throughout the series, while viewers are left to wonder through many of the episodes whether the Stick People will ever get their play performed. If they do, it will certainly be despite Peabody musician Graham's deliciously psychotic Roland Park mommy (played by Susan McCully).
What isn't in "BFA"? Well, there are no scenes with therapists (hello, Lena Dunham), and there are more than just heterosexuals and white people running around.
Also, Graham, "BFA's" biggest oddball, is the only character living off a trust fund; even that meets a timely death when he falls out with his mother.
"The difference is that "BFA's" perspective is trying to be a little more realistic with what the situation of an artist is," said Brasington, who obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2012.
The driving force behind it all is Kopajtic, who graduated with her own BFA from UMBC in 2011. She put aside an accomplished high school career with the Harford Hurricanes swim club — including a top place finish in the 50 freestyle at the 2007 county championship and a trip to the nationals — when she decided she wanted to concentrate full time on acting. That career choice caused her father, a landscape architect, and mother, a scientist, to briefly pause.
"We're the kind of people where you go to work every day, and she said she was going to do theater," said mother Theresa Kopajtic. "We were like, 'Ah, how's that going to pay your bills?'"
They soon realized Katie was as committed to her art as she had been to swimming.