‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ starts a season of laughs for Breckenridge Backstage Theatre | SummitDaily.com

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ starts a season of laughs for Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

Associate Director Branden Smith fills schedule with comedies

The cast of “The Importance of Being Earnest” rehearses. The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre production runs through Feb. 19.
Curtis DeVore/Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

Breckenridge Backstage Theatre is inviting people to escape the wintry weather for a stay in the English countryside. Their latest play, the first of the 2022 season, is Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The comedy opened Wednesday, Feb. 2, and Associate Director Branden Smith picked it because of its accessible humor.

“This is just one of the funniest shows I have ever read,” Smith said.

As the theater sat dark during the coronavirus pandemic, Smith and some of his friends would simply sit on the stage and read a handful aloud. Wilde’s wit had the group howling with laughter, so Smith knew he wanted to produce and direct it.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” tells the story of John Worthing, who invents a fictitious brother named Ernest as an excuse to leave his country home and journey to London. While in the city, he stays with his friend Algernon Moncrieff, cousin of Worthing’s love, Gwendolen Fairfax. The farce deals with mistaken identities, satire of Victorian society and more.

Worthing is played by Christian Ray Robinson, Jacob Dresch is Moncrieff, Leslie O’Carroll is Lady Bracknell, Stephanie Saltis is Cecily Cardew and Seth Palmer-Harris plays the butler. Additionally, locals Kelsey Colwell as Fairfax, Robert Jones as Rev. Chaustable and Quinn Walcott as Miss Prism round out the cast. Smith said the talented actors have flexed their comedic muscles in the rehearsals.

“We’re just putting as many funny, silly bits as we can just because the text lends itself to it,” Smith said.

To highlight the plot point of two couples falling for each other, the theater company will have a special performance on Valentine’s Day. A Monday this year, when the theater is normally closed, Smith said the occasion also honors the fact that the play premiered Feb. 14, 1895.

It is the second play Smith has directed at the theater following July’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” which was its first show back after shutting down. Smith acted in it, as well, making it a decades-old reprisal from when he performed it in Cape Cod.

If you go

What: “The Importance of Being Earnest”

When: Now through Feb. 19

Where: Breckenridge Theater, 121 S. Ridge St., Breckenridge

Cost: Tickets start at $25. All adults must bring proof of vaccination and a photo ID. Masks are also required. Visit BackstageTheatre.org to purchase.

Originally from Massachusetts, Smith studied acting at Emerson College in Boston and moved out to Los Angeles for his career. He got interested in acting in high school when a friend asked him to join because they needed more men in the cast. He auditioned before cross-country practice one day and found himself doing eight shows in two years.

Playing Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” is what made Smith fall in love with Shakespeare, and the creative collaboration had it coming back to the stage again and again.

“There are so many opportunities for people to find themselves and do things they didn’t think they could do, that they didn’t think were possible. It’s a really magical, special place,” Smith said.

Smith — who grew up skiing at Sugarbush Resort and Mad River Glen New England — has been in Summit County since 2017, working in marketing for Keystone Resort and Copper Mountain Resort. He became involved with Backstage in his free time, appearing in productions like “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “The Taming of the Shrew” with former Artistic Director Nathan Autrey.

Smith did “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” with Autrey at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Autrey resigned and moved to Texas when the theater shut down.

“I’m grateful for my time in Breckenridge,” Autrey said in 2020. “I’m grateful for the shows that we got to create, while I was there. I think we did some really amazing things.”

After working remotely for months, Smith saw the theater as an opportunity to see people, again. He reached out to the board of directors in 2021 to lend a hand and was brought on as business manager. He then joined in as the associate producer in June, doing similar tasks as Autrey did.

“To be able to do it full time, in the thing I actually went to school for, was just incredible,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of work, but I definitely thrive off of that. There’s a lot of growth and a lot of learning, and it’s really exciting.”

Breckenridge Backstage Theatre Associate Director Branden Smith joined the company in 2021. “The Importance of Being Earnest” is the second production he has directed with Backstage.
Branden Smith/Courtesy photo

The search for a new producing artistic director role, which is a blend of the previous artistic director and executive director jobs, continues. Smith said the new hire would focus on fundraising, development and planning in addition to guiding the artistic direction of the theater.

In the meantime, Smith hopes to implement a few new programs like adult acting classes. He wants play readings to continue because he sees that as an easy way for someone to dip their toes into acting, and he also aims to have actors teach in between performances.

On deck next is Neil Simon’s comedy “Rumors.” Previews begin March 9, with the play officially opening March 16 and running through April 2. Like a game of telephone, misinterpretations and lies constantly compound in the farce.

“It is almost on ‘Airplane!’ level of a joke every two seconds,” Smith said, referencing the 1980 film starring Leslie Nielsen.

Previews, which offer lower prices at earlier shows, are new this season. Smith said it makes it accessible for locals and gives the theater more time to make adjustments.

“It gives the directors, the designers, the actors a chance to kind of play with it in front of an audience to see what hits and allow it to then settle after that first week,” Smith said.

After that is the youth edition of “The Sound of Music” for the theater’s student enrichment program from April 29 to May 1 at the Riverwalk Center. In June will be “The Play That Goes Wrong,” and August will have “Peter and the Starcatcher” — what was originally planned as a Backstage production in 2020 — as a community show at the Riverwalk Center.

“It’s a really big stage to fill, and I think that show is going to be really great for that space.”

The rest of the season hasn’t been officially released. Smith said they want to see how everything, such as the pandemic, plays out in case they need to pivot away from a big summer musical. Backstage usually does at least one drama per year, but this season, Smith said they’re skipping that to focus on musicals and comedies.

“Things have been tough for everybody — some people more than others — and right now, we just need to laugh,” Smith said. “We need comedy.”

The cast of “The Importance of Being Earnest” rehearses. It is the first of multiple comedies planned this season for Breckenridge Backstage Theatre.
Curtis DeVore/Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

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