Growing something good

Catamounts’ latest immersive outdoor performance explores the life of a Colorado legend on his own farm

Credit: Michael Ensminger

Until she toured the 152 acres of open space in Westminster bearing his name a few years ago, Amanda Berg Wilson had never heard of former Colorado Attorney General John Metzger

“Truly, I knew nothing about him,” admits Wilson, co-founder and artistic director of The Catamounts, whose outdoor Pride of the Farm at Metzger Farm Open Space will be the Boulder-based experimental theater group’s fifth site-specific collaboration with the city of Westminster. “I learned a little bit about John from reading placards around the farm and was compelled by his story of being an orphan and a ward of the state who became a very progressive lawyer and politician.”

Wilson continued to research Metzger’s story after that first experience on the famed attorney’s farm, the site of Catamounts’ immersive outdoor theater experience based on his life and running through June 25, which he purchased in 1943 to experiment with self-sustaining farming practices. Representing everyday people in civil cases earned Metzger the moniker “people’s attorney.” He served as the attorney general for the state of Colorado for a single term at the turn of the following decade, during which he advocated for progressive causes like environmental justice, church-state separation and equal representation for communities typically underserved by the legal system.   

“John Metzger was talking about issues that we’re still talking about today,” Wilson says. “However, we aren’t creating [Pride of the Farm] to lionize this one guy. It’s an immersive piece that invites people onto the farm in a way that amplifies ideas that are certainly authentic to who John was, but it was more important for us to engage the audience in a tactile way than to give them a history lesson.”

To help make this interactive open-space adventure a reality, Wilson approached playwright Jeffrey Neuman with the concept. After their initial collaboration on Land of Milk and Honey in 2021, a site-specific performance developed in cooperation with the city of Westminster on the Shoenberg Farm, Neuman was eager to work with The Catamounts once more.  

“Working on Land on Milk and Honey was a compelling and nourishing experience,” Neuman says. “So when Amanda approached me about Pride of the Farm, I had to say yes. Plus, I know whenever she comes to me with a project, that means I get to do research, which just tickles me because I love that process.”

Credit: Michael Ensminger

‘Finding your voice as a citizen’

When it came to building a narrative around Metzger’s life, Neuman first turned to historical archive materials like newspaper articles and city planning documents. But the playwright says things really opened up once he visited the farm itself.  

“The scenes I drafted before getting onto the farm were a good framework, but once I got onto the space for the first time, I realized they wouldn’t work,” Neuman says. “When I was actually walking around the farm, I was able to touch planks of wood, feel the crunch of the grass, and see bunnies dart from one space to another — being in the environment changed things, because I was no longer writing from my head. I was writing from a visceral place.”

The result of that onsite inspiration is a century-spanning exploration of environmental stewardship, stretching from the late 1920s to the Reagan administration. “It’s kind of like a time capsule of all these moments on the farm through John’s life and after it,” Neuman says. 

These decades unfold much like a live-action “choose your own adventure” book in Pride of the Farm. Audience members are periodically invited to join actors in interactive activities around the farm, such as daily chores, sustainable farming, beer-drinking (for the 21 and up) and music-making. 

“The thing that’s so great about it is that, depending on your comfort level, you can participate as much or as little as you want,” says actor Maggie Tisdale. “We will take care of you. If you don’t want to be very involved, that’s fine; Jeff’s script includes paths for that.” 

But as such immersive theater experiences become more popular on the Front Range and beyond, Pride of the Farm is emphasizing accessibility — an effort supported by funds from the $15,000 grant recently awarded to Catamounts by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“It is such a great honor to receive the grant,” Wilson says. “Since our playwright is deaf and Metzger was a strong advocate of people who couldn’t always speak up for themselves, we’re going to perform one show with ASL translation and ask audience members to let us know in advance if they need any help getting around the farm or with other needs — we are making sure that if you want to see the show, you can.”  

Despite the logistical challenges posed by the setting, the team behind The Catamounts’ latest outdoor experience says it’s the perfect way to connect with the story of a Colorado legend and reflect on our relationship to each other and the place we call home.  

“The show is about learning to be an empowered community member, so I think being put in a position where you have to work with other people to move through the space will be enriching,” Neuman says. “Pride of the Farm is so much about finding your voice as a citizen that I don’t think the story could effectively be told in any other way but immersively.” 

ON STAGE: Pride of the Farm. Various times through June 25, Metzger Farm, 12080 Lowell Blvd., Westminster-Broomfield. Tickets here.