Breckenridge theater keeps focus on original plays
Ryan Summerlin September 22, 2011
It’s a typical busy September at the Backstage Theatre in Breckenridge as cast and crew gear up for the October 13 season opener, “A Picasso,” the Colorado Theatre Coalition award-winner to star Bob Moore as Picasso and Wendy Tennis as Miss Fischer with Wendy Moore directing. KidsPlay workshops and rehearsals for “Cannibal, The Musical” (Oct. 21-30) are also underway; meanwhile, the theater is getting ready to audition for “Oscar and Felix, A New Look at the Odd Couple” (Feb. 24-March 24) and begin production on “A Christmas Story” (Nov. 18-Dec. 29). On top of all that, artistic director Chris Willard is hard at work drafting a script for “The Wedding Eve,” one of two original productions slated to premiere at the theater this year. Original productions are a mainstay at the Backstage, which has presented 21 theatre premieres ranging from kids’ shows, confessionals, musicals and dramas to comedies and musical revues since Willard took the helm in 2005. The most recent was the summer production of Edith Weiss’ “The Three Little Pigs,” a moral but humorous take on the classic tale. “On average, we have presented approximately two original productions a season,” said Willard, whose leadership helped the Backstage earn the distinction of being named Outstanding Regional Theatre by the Colorado Theatre Guild in 2010. “Next to the Denver Center Theatre (and Buntport which produces all original work), I don’t know of any other theatre in Colorado that has this track record of consistently producing original work,” Willard said. Past premieres include “Hidden,” “Crazy Bag,” “Sass,” “Two Dumb Dogs,” “The Drunkard,” “Happy Hour,” “The Storyman Presents Peter Pan” and “Menopause Monologues,” to name a few.
For its 38th season, the Backstage Theatre will again present two world premieres: “The Wedding Eve” (Jan. 13-Feb. 11) and a summer children’s theatre production, “Pirates of the Fourth Grade” (July 6-22) from the creators of the theater’s hit production, “The Hobbit.” Willard himself is writing “The Wedding Eve,” which he calls “a screwball comedy about an out-of-control wedding set in 1930s Hollywood” that “is being written specifically for a troupe of actors we’ve assembled for the show, including Missy and Bob Moore, members of Summit County’s theatre dynasty.” “Screwball comedy is my favorite comic style, and I’m loving the challenges presented by this piece,” Willard added, naming the small cast, the production’s single setting and a slamming door farce among them. “It’s also wonderful to write for specific actors,” he said. “I can write with their voices in my head, tailor the piece to their strengths, and even challenge them by giving them new things to play that they have never tried before.” The Backstage commissions most of its new works to complement the season’s lineup while trying to adhere to the community theatre’s bottom line by choosing viable productions. With “The Three Little Pigs,” Willard explained, “I was looking for a play with a name so kids would recognize it.” He then commissioned Edith Weiss, the Denver-based playwright who also wrote the Backstage premiere, “Two Dumb Dogs,” to write it. “Each one of the shows she’s written for us has been published, so it’s nice to see the Backstage listed as the company where the work was first created,” Willard said. The theater received three Marlowe awards for “Two Dumb Dogs,” which will be revived next spring and tour Denver in repertory with “The Three Little Pigs.” “My position as artistic director of the theatre allows me to continue relationships with writers I’ve worked with in the past,” Willard said, adding that he is open to new writers and projects that “complement the style of shows we produce, resonate with our audience demographic and have commercial appeal.” Past writers include locals from Breckenridge, Silverthorne and Dillon as well as metro-Denver based individuals. “I’m very proud of the commitment we make to producing new work and … seeing projects to production,” Willard said. “New theatre pieces have to come from somewhere, so why not help to generate these new shows?”