Theatergoers will get a chance to be part of the creative process this week, as the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre workshops the script for its original production “The 10th.”
“We had an opportunity to work with 10 actors who will help to bring to life the characters I’ve been working on through the course of writing this play,” said Christopher Willard, artistic director for the Backstage Theatre. “What I hope to do with their participation is to flesh out scenes, character choices and new ideas that I haven’t thought about, about the story and the telling and where it will eventually go.”
Willard said that since he’s been a part of the Backstage Theatre, it has produced about 23 or 24 original works, but never with the luxury of a workshop to fine-tune the material.
“We’ve always just written the shows and then put them up,” he said. “Sometimes the actual weeks of performance become the workshops, where you tweak and make changes. I didn’t want to put this piece through a trial by fire; I wanted to work out all the kinks before we went into production so we had a solid base beneath us. The material is too important to us.”
A three-part story
“The 10th” is the first in a three-play cycle that will tell the story of Summit County and, specifically, Breckenridge by following a family and its descendants. “The 10th” begins the tale with two soldiers that check in at Camp Hale and train to become the alpine troops of the 10th Mountain Division. They travel to Italy for World War II, and then one of the gentlemen returns to settle in Breckenridge.
The second play will follow the story of the soldier’s son, living in Breckenridge during the 1970s, when the ski resorts were experiencing their boom. The third and final piece of the three-play puzzle will follow the soldier’s granddaughter, a contemporary story set in the year that the play is staged. Willard said the Backstage Theatre is hoping to release one play each year, with a possible disruption when the theater is renovated.
“It’ll be a human story,” he said. “You’ll be introduced to some real living, breathing, flesh-and-blood characters and get to see the experiences through their eyes.”
The workshop was made possible by a grant from The Summit Foundation and Vail Resorts. The grant money will allow the cast to put the show through its paces over the next five days, paying the travel costs to bring the actors to Breckenridge from Denver and out of state. Partnerships with Beaver Run Resort, for housing, and Summit Express, for transportation to and from the airport, have also helped make the workshop happen.
“(The workshop) will solidify all of the work that we’ve done thus far,” Willard said. “We’ll get to hear the words in the mouths of the actors and … explore different avenues that we may not have realized just with me sitting in front of a computer writing the story.”
The workshop will begin with an internal reading of the script by the actors early in the week. The actors for the production were selected from a submission pool of more than 300 candidates, Willard said.
“They represent the very best in our area and nationwide talent, and in many cases, the characters have been crafted to reflect their particular strengths,” he said.
Willard also interviewed several veterans of the 10th Mountain Division in the course of creating the story for the “The 10th,” including Robert Parker, Hugh Evans and Sandy Treat. Treat will return Wednesday, Dec. 11, to speak with the cast.
“We want to have this moment with Sandy Treat, so that these men who will be portraying similar experiences to him will hear firsthand what it’s like,” Willard said. “By the end of the week, by Thursday, we’ll definitely be able to have the public see what we have so far and hear what they think.
Willard said he didn’t know how far along the play would be in the process at the Thursday reading, but hopefully the first act will be completed and the second act under way.
The audience will be encouraged to provide feedback on what they see and hear, either verbally or with survey cards.
“Play readings might sound a little dry, but they are actually quite dynamic for an audience who gets to use their imaginations throughout the process,” he said. “There is no scenery, but scenic elements and stage directions are read so the audience doesn’t miss a single moment in the production.”