After graduating, Kopajtic eventually moved to New York and found work as a personal trainer and teaching artist. Her experience is one of several inspirations behind the show.
"When you're in college, it's very important to know you're getting a BFA, it signifies something," said Kopajtic. "When you're out of college, it really means nothing."
Which, she openly acknowledged, may not be news to most people. But because of this, artists often end up doing unusual things, she says.
- The cast of Baltimore-filmed and -set web series "BFA" (from left to right): David Brasington, Katie Hileman, Sean McComas, Anderson Wells, Katie Kopajtic, Jessie Poole.
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"It's just challenging and you have to a lot of weird stuff after college, like weird odd jobs," said Kopajtic. "You basically have to take risks so that you can get where you need to be. And also you have to do all the work yourself."
It was at one of those odd jobs that Kopajtic met Cuomo, who helped "BFA" get started. Kopajtic was working as a barista at the Little Fox Cafe in New York City when Cuomo — who wrote, produced and starred in 2011's "Happy New Year" — stopped by and overheard her talking about wanting to make a web series. Cuomo offered a groovy barter: advising Kopajtic on her web series in exchange for swimming lessons.
"I'm in the pool for an hour, then in the coffee shop reviewing her work," said Cuomo. "It's now become more of a friendship. I don't think I'll be breaking any of Michael Phelps' records, but I definitely can swim a pretty mean freestyle."
Kopajtic ended up launching a campaign on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo for "BFA," but the call-out fell $3,000 short of the $10,000 she was hoping to raise (and Indiegogo also took a cut). Short on money, Kopajtic got creative: One of the film crews she used was able to borrow equipment, while Grilled Cheese & Co. donated food during filming and Union Craft Brewing donated beer for "BFA" fundraisers.
She also got the opportunity to work with her father, whom she recruited to play none other than her character Sam's dad.
"I was expecting a more flamboyant character if I got a chance, but it was easier in that respect," Bill Kopajtic chuckled, noting his previous acting experience consisted of playing a rock in an elementary school play.
Susan McCully, a senior lecturer of playwriting and dramatic literature at UMBC, chipped in her time to play Graham's grande dame mother. Otherwise, Kopajtic recruited her fellow theater friends from her time at UMBC and made sure to pay them, even if it wasn't much.
"I guess because we're all really good friends, we all know each other really well as actors and as human beings," said Hileman. "I think that really shines through. We're comfortable talking to each other and working with each other, and that definitely makes a difference than say, if we'd done it with actors you didn't know."
Kopajtic had never directed before, and there was a whole new vocabulary to learn, from tungsten bulbs to camera exposures. She wasn't the only one being challenged, either, and the project turned out to be an interesting collaboration on multiple levels, the actors said.
"I don't have any training in film at all," said Brasington. "All of the terms and language that you use are different on the set, in terms of what's the role of the director and what's the role of the camera person in terms of expressing their opinions. So it's a really interesting learning process on how to sort of collaborate and work in that way."
Eve Muson, an assistant professor of theatre at UMBC and head of the school's acting program, said technology has transformed the way many Baltimore theatre grads get their start in the business.
"In the 1960s, '70s and '80s, kids didn't have cameras and computers and the technical savvy and a delivery system like the Internet and independent movie houses and all this sorts of stuff," said Muson. "The only delivery system was you're on Broadway, you're in a movie or on a TV program."
Muson said the idea that the only way to make it in show business is by moving to New York or Los Angeles, getting an agent and trying out at auditions is a myth.
"More and more of our kids are trying to create and be part of this young burgeoning Baltimore theatre scene," she added. "I'm so thrilled Katie decided, 'God dammit, I'm going to make something because I want to say something in the world.'F"
Next up for "BFA" and its crew?
Brasington, Hileman, Poole and another cast member, Kiirstn Pagan, are sticking together to form the Interrobang Theatre Company. They'll be producing their first show, "Scab," beginning on March 26 at St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Station North.
As for Kopajtic, she said she's going to keep acting, keep generating work and keep improvising. A second season of "BFA" is also not out of the question, through Kopajtic said she'd need to find a producer and a writing team ("If I can find a way to make those two things happen then it's on," she added).
She's also thinking about using the "BFA" episodes to make into a film that she can then submit to film festivals. But that will depend, as always, on cash.
"It always depends on money," she said. "Now that it's an idea, I'm going to follow through; but when it's going to happen, I don't know. It won't be same process as this whole first year; it'll be more low-key and less pressure to get it done on a timeline."
Perhaps then, Kopajtic will be ready to return to the city.
"My ultimate dream is to go back to Baltimore with a bigger purpose than what I've already started here," said Kopajtic. "If that makes sense — kind of doing all the work with the end goal of coming back."
Baltimore will be waiting.
If you go
A "BFA" celebration starts at 8 p.m. Friday, with a screening of Episodes 1-9, followed by the release of Episode 10, at the Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles St. in Station North. Following the screenings, there's a party at 9 p.m., featuring drink specials, music and dancing. $7. themetrogallery.net
Check out "BFA" at bfatheseries.com.