New kid on the block

Happy Dagger takes a stab at its first Boulder production with ‘Every Brilliant Thing’

Jacque Wilke and Brian Keating in 'Every Brilliant Thing,' the first offering from Boulder’s Happy Dagger Theater Company, running through May 14 at R Gallery + Wine Bar. Photo by Susannah Bancroft.

Theater is a lot like house hunting. At least that’s what Todd Morton, founder of the new Boulder-based theater company Happy Dagger, discovered while choosing the production for the group’s debut performance.

“The advice I received from my colleague when I was looking for a house was, ‘When I see it, I’ll know,’ and that was spot-on,” Morton says. “When I drove up the driveway to my home, I felt it instantly, and when I read the script for Every Brilliant Thing, I knew right away it was a good fit.” 

Performed by Jacque Wilke and showing at the R Gallery + Wine Bar through May 14, Every Brilliant Thing centers on a lonely child who compiles a list throughout her life of “every brilliant thing” she encounters. The idea is to encourage her mother, who is recovering from a suicide attempt, by reminding her of the everyday beauty in the world.

“A one-person show seemed like a good size to start with for the company,” Morton says. “And the play’s story was so inspiring, despite the darkness of its subject matter, which I found very compelling in our current time.” 

Morton had always used the stage to help him make sense of the world, but when he and his wife relocated to Boulder from Boston in 2020, he found himself missing the robust theater scene of his former city. “I think there is real potential for a vibrant theater community of the same scale [in Boulder],” Morton says. “It’s this beautiful, liberal mecca at the edge of the mountains, so I just don’t quite understand why it couldn’t exist.” 

So he founded Happy Dagger Inc., a 501(c)(3) company whose target audience is “people who don’t see theater,” according to Morton. “Theater aficionados have their established theaters around here, but what about everyone else who is just around Pearl Street or tourists who may not see shows regularly?” 

By any other name

Inspired by a discussion with a colleague a few years before moving to Boulder, Happy Dagger takes its name from a line in Romeo and Juliet: “Yea, noise? then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die,” which Juliet says before killing herself.

“When I was searching for a name for the organization, my wife asked, ‘Why not Happy Dagger?’ and I was unsure at first,” Morton says. “It just seemed a little violent, and we’re all a little sensitive right now, and I just didn’t want to come off as too intense. I asked her, ‘What if we want to do children’s theater?’ And, without missing a beat, she said, ‘Then call it Happy Butterknife for that program.’” 

Though the group had a name, Happy Dagger lacked a space — a familiar story for many local performing arts organizations. A chance meeting at a Boulder Arts Council mixer led to a collaboration with Rob Lantz, owner of R Gallery + Wine Bar, who agreed to let Happy Dagger use the space for its first show. 

After securing a venue, Morton held auditions to find an actor capable of portraying the demanding lead role in Every Brilliant Thing, who is onstage the entire time and improvises with the audience. Wilke was selected by Morton after several callbacks and auditions. 

Before moving into the gallery space for tech and dress rehearsals, the team spent three weeks practicing at various locations around Denver. “I had heard from a couple of other people who had done the show that rehearsals are really hard if you don’t start to get audiences in or have people in the room for the actor to work with,” Morton says. So, he hired several people to rehearse the audience participation sections with Wilke. 

“It changed everything once there were people in a room for Jackie to play with,” Morton says. “And what I love about getting to see it every night with different audiences is seeing how they respond to the story and how that influences the evening.” 

In an effort to capitalize on the success of its first offering, Happy Dagger plans to stage its next production in the fall.

“We’re getting momentum from Every Brilliant Thing — and since people are digging this, we want to get in while it’s still fresh,” Morton says. “So, be on the lookout for us to announce our fall project, and come be a part of the theater community we are building in Boulder.” 

ON STAGE: Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan. Various times through May 14, R Gallery + Wine Bar, 2027 Broadway, Boulder. Tickets here.


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