New Benchmark Theatre plans to have a deep bench

Benchmark, clockwise from left: Susannah McLeod, Marc Stith, Lauren Bahlman, Jeffrey Neuman, Rachel Bouchard, Kate Folkins and Haley Johnson. Photo credit: McLeod9 Creative.

To use sports parlance, the founders of Denver’s newest theatre company promise to have a deep bench. That’s just one reason they are naming it Benchmark.

“We were looking for a name that encapsulated our slogan: ‘Unique Productions. Uncompromising Quality. Theatre with Intention,’ ” said actor Haley Johnson, whose partner is actor and director Rachel Bouchard. “Benchmark fit the bill for us with its solidity, aspiration – and the fun of being able to play on the word ‘bench.’ ”

benchmark-logoThe core Benchmark team also will include actors Lauren Bahlman, Marc Stith (Vintage’s Rabbit Hole) and Susannah McLeod (Creede Repertory Theatre and McLeod9 Creative); director Kate Folkins (Boulder Ensemble’s The Few); and playwright Jeffrey Neuman (The Edge’s Exit Strategies). The founders emphasize this is not the announcement of a core creative company, but rather those who will have specific initial duties ranging from social media to marketing to production management.

Johnson is one of the busiest actors in Denver, having starred in Vintage Theatre’s Henry Award-nominated Rabbit Hole and currently appearing in Spotlight’s Night Watch. Bouchard just completed an incendiary turn in Curious Theatre’s White Guy on the Bus and is next set to direct Sabrina Fair at Spotlight.

And while the dialogue within the national theatre community has long centered on gender disparity both onstage and in crucial creative decision-making roles, Johnson says Benchmark being created (and largely run) by women is not intentional.

“Rachel and I respect and trust each other,” Johnson said. “We share the same passion and goals in terms of creating theatre. As we were putting together our initial company, it just happened that we have an abundance of brilliant women – and men – in the Denver theatre community, and we were excited to be able to utilize some of these strong, intelligent, talented female artists. 

“So while we’re not intentionally making a statement, we happily embrace the idea of bringing more attention to – and helping to eliminate – the gender disparity gap.”

That there is a new theatre company in town is not particularly noteworthy given that start-up companies often tend to appear and disappear in the span of a single production. But that there is a new theatre company in town that does not take the stage until next March actually is. Because Benchmark is laying the groundwork for a lasting foundation.

“Our initial goal is to raise a full $100,000 before the curtain goes up on Season 1,” Bouchard said. “And our ultimate goal is to double our operating budget within the first three years.”

Benchmark plans an initial three-show season as well as an annual new-play festival – with a twist. Just as Theatre Company of Lafayette has a longstanding tradition of presenting an annual new-play festival centered on a rotating theme, Benchmark is accepting submissions for its 2017 Fever Dream Festival – a collection of new works in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres. More info about the festival is available here

Benchmark isn’t announcing its christening title just yet, but it will open March 31 at the Buntport Theater. “We can tell you that the theme of our inaugural season is ‘Cultivation,’ ” said Johnson. “We will be offering imaginative and unique productions and events that delve into the nooks and crannies of humanity, encouraging thought, conversation and interaction within our community.”

a-benchmark-340More of our interview with Benchmark co-founder Haley Johnson:

John Moore: Why did you feel the need to create a new theatre company in Denver at this time?

Haley Johnson: Denver is a thriving city with a fantastic amount of constantly evolving theatrical and artistic work. This community feels ripe for a Renaissance-esque explosion of art, and we wanted to take a more active role in helping to bring that about. And we wanted to create additional job opportunities for theatre professionals.

John Moore: What do you want to tell artists (onstage or off), or potential volunteers and audiences who read this, about what they can do to join your cause?

Haley Johnson: We welcome their interest and look forward to forging strong relationships with them. They can reach us at We are also hosting an Open House to celebrate our launch at RedLine (2350 Arapahoe St.)  from 5-7 p.m. Aug. 1.

John Moore: March seems like a long way away. What will you be doing in the meantime?

Haley Johnson: We will be sponsoring a few events in the interim – some performance-based and others more activity based. Obviously, it will also involve a bit of fundraising. We also plan to create community through partnerships. Not just other theatres but other businesses and enterprises in the area as well. We’re really wanting to look at Denver as a whole and not as an island. Also, we are partnering this year with Modest Arts, a college preparatory program, as part of our Youth Arts Initiative. We will be assisting them in raising funds for underprivileged youth to attend a year’s worth of classes, as well as providing internships for their students.

About the founders

Rachel Bouchard began her professional career at summer stock while attending college at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre with Honors. She has since worked as a director, actor and stage manager in Chicago, as well as at a number of Colorado theatre companies including Backstage Theatre, Creede Repertory Theatre, Cherry Creek Theatre, Curious Theatre, The Edge Theater, Miners Alley Playhouse, Spotlight Theatre, Starkey Productions and Vintage Theatre. 

Haley Johnson is an award-winning actress, director and playwright who has been actively working in the Denver theatre community for the past 12 years. She has performed with companies including Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Vintage Theatre, The Edge Theater, Miners Alley Playhouse, Spotlight Theatre, The Avenue Theater, square product and more. She recently appeared on screen at the Cannes Film Festival in the locally produced film, Genesis.