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New leadership at Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company on their first year and the season ahead

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Jessica Robblee in BETC's production of 'What the Constitution Means to Me.' Credit: Offsquare Theatre Company

As the curtain rises on a new season for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC), producing artistic director Jessica Robblee finds herself caught up in the whirlwind that comes with leading one of Boulder’s flagship cultural institutions.

“There has not been much time for reflection,” she says. “It has been one of those things where you are just kind of thrown together with a deadline and everyone is helping make everything happen.”

Alongside managing director Mark Ragan, Robblee is spearheading an ambitious second season. BETC’s five-show lineup, split between the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder and The Savoy in Denver, aims to captivate audiences while also strengthening community connections.

“We quickly sold out almost everything we’ve done, which was a complete surprise to me,” Ragan says. “BETC is different than a lot of other theaters because we have an 18-year history and ticket buyers who go back nearly two decades. They value having a local theater company.”

Transition and triumph

The previous season marked a poignant transition for BETC as founders Rebecca Remaly and Stephen Weitz passed the torch to Robblee and Ragan. Under the duo, BETC became a staple of the Boulder arts scene, celebrated for its thoughtful productions and community engagement. 

The former leaders’ final season featured a spellbinding production of The Royale, which won nine Henry Awards and set a high standard for the incoming team. Robblee and Ragan’s inaugural season at BETC was themed around the Emily Dickinson quote, “I dwell in possibility.” 

Mark these dates for the BETC 2024-2025 season

An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen 
Sept. 26-Oct. 13 (The Savoy)
Nov. 8-17 (Dairy Arts Center) 

Adapted by Mark Ragan, this 1882 Norwegian play explores truth, democracy and social tension. 

The Ballot of Paola Aguilar by Bernardo Cubría 
Oct. 17-Nov. 3 (Dairy Arts Center)

A comic take on identity politics about a consultant group’s attempt to win the Latino vote through one woman who needs an in vitro fertilization procedure. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
December 5-29 (Dairy Arts Center)

For something different from the typical Christmas play, BETC stages this family-friendly story filled with holiday spirit in an adaptation by Jessica Robblee. 

Hope and Gravity by Michael Hollinger 
Jan. 23-Feb. 16 (The Savoy)

A major-city elevator accident connects nine disparate lives in this 2018 play.

The White Chip by Sean Daniels 
April 10-May 4 (Dairy Arts Center)

A darkly comic autobiographical play about alcoholism.

This north star proved prophetic as they broadened the company’s geographic reach and diversified its offerings. The classic play, The Belle of Amherst, as well as the Colorado premieres of Coal Country and What the Constitution Means to Me, reengaged longtime audiences while attracting new ones. 

Although the new leaders changed the company’s name back to Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company last fall (from its 2021 rebrand to Butterfly Effect Theatre Company), BETC now splits its time between Boulder and Denver. Ragan attributes this to the Dairy’s rental restrictions — implemented during the pandemic — limiting organizations to 16 weeks per year, as well as the scarcity of alternative, affordable theaters in Boulder.

“We wanted to build our reputation beyond Boulder, and we have a very robust season; it’s difficult to have a robust season if you’re limited to 16 weeks,” he says. “The old BETC, under Stephen and Rebecca, had 26 weeks at the Dairy: 26 to 16 is a huge difference, so we needed to search for another venue. The Savoy has been a tremendous venue and partner; audiences in the Curtis Park and Five Points neighborhoods are starting to get to know us.” 

He admits that selling tickets in Denver is tougher than in Boulder, but he hopes that changes over time. Ragan says their upcoming run of What the Constitution Means to Me at the Dairy, May 3 through 19, which closes out BETC’s 2023-2024 season, sold out two and a half weeks before opening night. 

“We saw a huge bump in audience members from locals at [the Denver production of] What The Constitution Means To Me in January, but it didn’t sell out like at the Dairy,” Ragan says. “We sold about 70% of the available tickets for Constitution at Savoy, so we did well, but it was a more difficult challenge to sell out The Savoy than the Dairy due to BETC’s 18-year track record at the Dairy.”  

A new chapter

Robblee and Ragan intend to expand BETC’s educational initiatives and deepen community engagement. Since taking over, they have partnered with Boulder’s Family Learning Center and Boulder Housing Partners, offering free tickets and sponsoring an improv class to low- and moderate-income residents. Ragan also noted that BETC is collaborating with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra and Boulder Ballet to create a free membership program for all three organizations’ performances. 

“Collaboration is a matter of survival. Arts organizations have to stand up for one another,” Ragan says. “BETC is the chief sponsor of this summer’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival and is contributing to the Boulder Ballet, Boulder Philharmonic and the Dairy Arts Center. There is no better marketing idea than sponsoring organizations that appeal to people who should be seeing BETC productions. It has this wonderful two-pronged advance of benefiting both organizations.”

The Ragan family had previously donated to these organizations, but after taking over BETC, they decided it “made more sense” to give funds in the theater’s name. 

While last season’s financial success laid a solid foundation, the challenges of funding the arts persist. Ragan estimates that about 25% of the company’s budget comes from ticket sales, so the other 75% has to come from sponsors, donors and grants. As BETC navigates its future, both leaders are adapting and planning more robust seasons. 

“We’re excited to get things bit by bit more secure with each production,” Robblee says. “We just had our general auditions, so we are working on casting right now, among other things — we are constantly working to make things better each time.” 

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