By John Moore
Nov. 12, 2012
If asked about your physical health, emotional health, spiritual health or psychological health, you’d most likely have an answer at the ready, says Denver actor Evan Weissman. Perhaps you’ve recently discovered yoga; you’ve found God, a guru or a therapist.
But what if you were asked about your civic health? “That’s harder for most folks to gauge,” Weissman said. There is no bricks-and-mortar place in Denver for people to regularly exercise their civic muscles.
Weissman is out to change that by opening Denver’s first Civic health club.
“Warm Cookies of the Revolution,” he says, will be a place for daily human connection offering fun and engaging programming for both personal betterment and social change.
The irony of this being the internet era is that it discourages actual human interaction. By actually gathering people in a room, “this will be an antidote to the loneliness that comes with Facebook and other online interactions,” said Weissman — who recently, and against his better judgment, actually joined up on Facebook himself.
Weissman gave his idea a test-drive on Monday by hosting a Warm Cookies Game Night that drew about 100 curiosity-seekers to Buntport Theater for rounds of Scrabble, Monopoly, Balderdash and hipper variations on party games like Apples to Apples. Players were treated to cold milk, warm cookies and a slew of board games. The idea was for strangers to interact, laugh, and in the process just maybe … talk about our world. At our table we discussed, at our game’s insistence, the world’s next possible superhero duo. (I think the winner was decided to be either Jesus and Stalin — or Justin Bieber and Dick Cheney.)
About a year from now, Weissman will officially open his civic health club near the Esquire Theatre. Every night will be different, with salons as varied as, say, equally represented political debate; discussions on current events that might be impacting local neighborhoods; socially conscious comedy showcases; and maybe even … an introduction to knitting. The idea is to combine the fun of community pop-culture engagement with issues of vital civic importance.
Whenever you come in, you will be greeted with ice cream, warm cookies and hot soup, Weissman promises. Admission will be by donation only.
Weissman has entertained audiences for nearly 12 years as a member of the super-smart and often ridiculously silly Buntport Theater, which has produced more than 30 original, form-bending theatrical explorations like the current “Sweet Tooth,” an original musical about a happy recluse who goes to great lengths to experience the world from the comfort of her own home. Recently, Buntport staged a play that starred a life-sized puppet version of actor Tommy Lee Jones talking about his love for opera.
But anyone who knows Weissman also knows he is a highly informed citizen of the world who is not so much interested in advocating for specific political positions but rather in building conversations that bring to light, say, obvious inadequacies in our two-party political system, or taking more humanistic approaches to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He doesn’t care what you believe — well, he does — but he’s more concerned that you believe something. Warm Cookies of the Revolution seeks to better inform the citizenry, to allow differing points of view to be heard, and to cultivate community discussion and understanding about passionate topics. He plans to stay with Buntport, but in a reduced performing role moving forward.
“The idea is to combine features from Jane Addams’ Hull House and European salon discussions with contemporary issues, and yummy versions of your local mall’s food court,” Weissman said. But to start, his goal is admittedly small: “This is the first in what will hopefully be a Civic health-club movement across the globe, ” he said.
Wait, that is big.
In preparation for next year’s official opening, Weissman will host a monthly gathering at Buntport Theater (717 Lipan St.) that will offer participants a taste of what every night at Warm Cookies might be like. Next month’s theme will be a letter-writing party. On Dec. 10, attendees will write missives – whether a personal message to an estranged family member, a lover, a newspaper editor, a congressperson, a prisoner, no matter – Weissman just wants to revive the art of putting pen to paper. “We will also have representatives from different organizations telling you about some different campaigns and issues that are going on,” he said. “And you can be on whatever side you like.”
Weissman talked about that and more in his remarks to Monday’s game players. Here are excerpts, followed by contact information:
One of the main ideas is that the internet makes a lot of people lonely, and people seem to crave community and real-life interactions. There are music venues and comedy clubs and kickball leagues and all sorts of things that people do. The idea behind Warm Cookies of the Revolution is to try to keep these fun things that engage people, and lean into the civic a little bit more. Just to have a place for folks who are interested in deciding what we want as a community, and figuring out how to get there.
If you got an invitation that said, “Come to a discussion about the city budget,” or, “Come to a discussion about welcoming people into the neighborhood who have committed sex offenses and are getting out of prison,” … These are things that are very important, because they are happening — whether you like them or not. But most people aren’t going to those discussions. If you have kids, and you have to get a babysitter, and you only go out one night a week, that’s probably not the thing most people are going to go to. And the people who are going are usually already invested, and would show up anyway.
So if we can do things at the civic health club, like a game night, or a knitting circle, or a craft night, or cooking together, a whole host of things, you would come knowing you are also going to be talking about something civic … something about the community. But basically, you are going to have fun. We are going to get people who otherwise wouldn’t be a part of these conversations to take part.
We have a space that is going to open almost exactly a year from now. There will be a storefront. It will be pay-what-you-can, a donation-only system. There will be cookies, ice cream and soup. It will be a large space for community meetings, debates, fun things. There will be a community kitchen, so we will be cooking things for some of these activities. You are not going to come every single night. But, every once in a while, you can kind of plug-in, and see what different organizations around town are doing about a host of issues. We are also going to do things in different communities to get more people involved.