Buntport's Jessica Robblee looks back at 100 episodes of tRUNks: A Live Comic Book and forward to the finale
tRUNks co-writers and performers Mitch Slevc and Jessica Robblee as their superhero alter-egos, Walter "The Volt" Cosmic and Trixie "The Germ" Truddfeldt.
While some kids grow up following the antics of such superheroes as the Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, millennials in Denver with theater-savvy parents have grown up following tRUNks. Buntport Theater's live serial comic book began in December 2005, presenting a show every other week focusing on its own universe of superheroes and villains; each new installment has been based on a book suggested by the audience. The serial show has grown into a beloved tradition for families and people of all ages, but it's finally coming to a close after eight seasons with a three-episode trilogy early next year.
We caught up with co-creator/writer/director/performer Jessica Robblee in advance of tRUNks' 100th episode this Saturday to talk about her favorite moments from over the years and post-tRUNks.
Westword: How would you describe tRUNKs to someone who has never heard of it before?
Jessica Robblee: It's a live comic book and a new episode happens every two weeks, and each episode is based very loosely upon a book that is suggested by an audience member. It's really well described by the experience of doing it. So you arrive at the theater, you press a button on a toy and it tells you whether you're gonna pay $5, $6, or $7 for your ticket. You get a dollar off if you're wearing a superhero costume. Then you go inside the lobby and you have the option to write down one of your favorite books and stick it in this trunk. You also have the option to stick a raffle ticket in to win a prize that's superhero-related. And then in the middle of the show one of the actors reaches into the trunk and pulls a book title and that's our suggestion for our next episode. So this last time we collected The Hobbit randomly out of that little trunk of book titles and so the next day we started outlining a show with elements of The Hobbit included. And I think it's pretty great, you know, an epic quest sort of book landing on our 100th episode is pretty fun.
How has tRUNks changed over the hundred episodes?
Well, we've had different core superheroes. We've had three that have stayed the same, we've had different core writers -- two have stayed the same, myself and Mitch Slevc -- and then we've had different core ensemble members help us write, because when you're writing a script that fast it helps to have three writers. So we've had those core characters change over the years. That's a big thing. Every time we write it collaboratively, we build it collaboratively and then we perform it all together. It's really been a bit of adjustment every time we've had a new core member of our ensemble come in. And they've all been lovely people who've either left because they were moving or because they went to grad school or because they signed on for a few episodes. It's a highly demanding, creative job. You're either writing or you're building or you're memorizing or you're performing at any time during the season. So you're in. We write it in a week and then we rehearse it in a week and then we perform it for one day and then we start over again. So that's stayed the same the whole time.
I'd say the characters have really grown so close over the years. They're really best friends. And I think the audience feels very tight with them. Like, some of these kids have really grown up with us. They've been watching it for years. It's pretty exciting. You meet them when they're five and then seven years later they're still coming to your shows. It's pretty wonderful.
What was the first episode like?
Our original episode was about setting up our super powers. Both of the two main characters acquired their super powers in that episode. My character was in the original episode and I went on a high school field trip as a supreme nerd, and my next door neighbor was Claire Clayborn, very popular, the kind of person whose name you remember for the rest of your life after high school. You know, Claire Clayborn. She got attacked by a parrot and it gave her the power to make people say whatever she wants them to say. And my power is to make people sneeze at any moment because I was bitten by a radioactive mosquito. So I started out as a rabid allergic nerd and then I was bitten by a radioactive mosquito and then I gained superpowers. So the character of The Germ, the one who can make people sneeze at inopportune moments, a mighty mighty power, has endured for eight seasons now.