Staging the new year

Boulder County's 2024 theater season promises a suite of unforgettable performances

'One Man, Two Guvnors' at the 2023 Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Credit: Jennifer Koskinen

Boulder County’s 2023 theater season was a mosaic of spectacular highs and poignant lows. The 66th Colorado Shakespeare Festival‘s King Lear, featuring the brilliant Ellen McLaughlin, and the world premiere of You Enjoy Myself at the Dairy Arts Center by Local Theater Company were standout events. The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) welcomed a fresh leadership duo, Jessica Robblee and Mark Ragan, promising an exciting future. Additionally, the extension of the 2A tax marked a significant commitment to the arts in Boulder.

However, the year was also tinged with sadness as BDT Stage, a longtime beacon of Boulder’s performing arts scene, announced it would officially close its doors after nearly half a century of producing dinner theater following its run of Fiddler on the Roof on Jan. 13. BDT’s shuttering leaves a void in the community, with the city now bereft of a full-time building dedicated to theater.

Furthermore, according to the Colorado Business for the Arts 2023 Economic Activity Study of Denver Metro Culture, in-person attendance is down 15.6% across arts and culture organizations since 2019. Despite these challenges, local theater companies are gearing up for a 2024 season filled with ambitious productions.

Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC): What the Constitution Means to Me. Jan. 26-Feb. 11 (Denver) and May 3-19 (Boulder) 

The Savoy, 2700 Arapahoe St., Denver |  Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

BETC kicks off 2024 with the regional premiere of last year’s most-produced play, What the Constitution Means to Me. A finalist for Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2019, this comedic one-woman show is helmed by playwright Heidi Schreck, who traveled the country as a teenager competing in American Legion speech competitions to save money for college. She delves into the four generations of women in her family and how the founding document shaped their lives, sharing her perspective on the constitution then and now.

“Right now, the Supreme Court has three cases in front of it that will have an enormous impact on the presidential election,” says Mark Ragan, BETC’s managing director. “The nine justices who make up that tribunal can change our lives overnight — and have already changed the lives of women throughout the country with their reversal of Roe versus Wade. What the Constitution Means to Me looks at this outsized influence through the lens of one woman and four generations of women in her family. But this is no dry play. It is funny, poignant, beautiful and relevant.” 

Ragan says the biggest problem facing the theater industry is “attracting younger audiences, followed closely by the perennial issue of how to pay for it.” However, he remains optimistic that BETC will be able to rise to the occasion, as the new leadership team’s first three shows were all sold out or at 90 percent capacity.

In addition to its mainstage offering, the theater is producing two improv shows, King Penny Golden Radio Show and Mad LIBrarians, in Denver. May 2024 will find BETC partnering with the Boulder Ballet to bring Broadway and Royal Ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Joffrey Ballet’s Victoria Jaiani to Boulder. 

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CU Presents: Department of Theatre and Colorado Shakespeare Festival: Anon(ymous), Feb. 16-25; The Play That Goes Wrong, March 8-17; Macbeth, June 8-Aug. 11; The Merry Wives of Windsor, July 6-August 11; and Arden of Faversham, July 28

University Theatre Building, 261 University of Colorado, Boulder

On the student side, CU Presents is staging vastly different offerings this year. First up is Anon(ymous), a play by Naomi Iizuka that adapts Homer’s Odyssey through the eyes of a refugee in the United States. Later in the semester, the uproarious farce The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields crashes onto the stage as audiences witness the Cornley University Drama Society’s newest production fall apart (to hilarious effect) on opening night. 

Over the summer, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival will be offering a slimmed-down season to accommodate the massive renovations on the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre and the surrounding Hellems buildings. Tim Orr, producing artistic director of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, has tailored the 2024 season to their new indoor space, the Roe Green Theatre

“We’ve never produced Macbeth inside and it’s filled with the supernatural, which begs for a dark, intimate, theatrical environment,” Orr says. “The Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare’s original sitcom. It’s a total gas and we loved the idea of producing it indoors with sort of a ‘studio audience.’ And Arden of Faversham has long been on our original list of, ‘We’d love to do this someday but it’d never work on the Rippon,’ so this seems like the best year to do it.”

Orr sees the challenge of adapting to post-pandemic audience habits but is excited about the potential of the new venue. “I think reminding the public of the joy and thrill of live theater is the key,” he says. “There are very few surprises on a TV in your living room, but come to the theater and you’re in for it. And as for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, with a brand new indoor theater and a grand re-opening of the new Mary Rippon Outdoor Theater on the horizon, the future is very bright.”

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Local Theater Company: acts of faith, Feb. 1-18; Local Lab, March 14-17; and 237 Virginia Avenue, May 2-26

Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder | The Savoy, 2700 Arapahoe St., Denver

Local Theater Company’s 2024 season is a vivid reflection of its commitment to use the stage to tackle current events. Written by David Yee starring co-artistic director Betty Hart and directed by fellow co-artistic director Pesha Rudnick, the play acts of faith follows Faith’s journey from a lovesick teen to a warrior seeking justice. Rudnick describes the play as the “most inventive and poetic stories I have encountered in years. I am over the moon to welcome Boulder and Denver audiences who didn’t catch it at the Aurora Fox last year.”

In the world premiere of 237 Virginia Avenue, playwright David Myers takes audiences on a whirlwind tour through the history of American home ownership. “A generation ago, a single-income family could attain ownership, but that’s not the case today,” says co-artistic director Nick Chase. “Playwright David Myers takes us on a time-traveling journey through 400 years of U.S. history, showing us that the game was rigged a long time ago. All of this is done through two actors playing 10 characters. Both of these plays grapple with lofty themes in ways that are funny, thoughtful and entertaining.”

In addition to these productions, Local Theater Company is excited to bring back Local Lab for its 13th season. The Lab will feature three plays and provide insights into the company’s Democracy Cycle project. This initiative, a partnership with Curious Theatre Company and Gunnison Valley Theatre Festival, is a testament to Local Theater’s commitment to fostering important conversations about democracy in America.

“Boulder County is filled with intelligent, compassionate, curious people who want to have a novel experience; Local Theater Company provides that,” Hart says. “Boulder audiences are willing to see a play before the masses have deemed it great. They are trendsetters. They demonstrated this with the overwhelming passage of 2A: Boulder Country values the arts.”

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The Arts HUB: Newsies, Jan 12-21; Sweeney Todd, March 1-10; and Rent, June 7-16

The Arts HUB, 420 Courtney Way, Lafayette

The Arts HUB’s season kicks off with Newsies, a high-energy, crowd-pleasing musical that promises to draw in audiences of all ages with its inspiring story and catchy tunes. According to marketing and events coordinator Clara Wendland, Newsies “is one of the largest productions we’ve had yet.” It is also directed by Jessica Swanson, who was nominated for a Broadway Denver award for her choreography on the May production of Beauty and the Beast

Later in the season, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street offers a darker, more complex narrative, providing a stark contrast with its intense storyline and complex characters. Sweeney Todd returns to civilian life after being falsely imprisoned for15 years in eerie London, ready for vengeance. This is a special collaboration between The Arts HUB and Tracy Warren, a BDT Stage veteran. Summer brings Rent, an iconic Pulitzer-winning show set at the height of the AIDS crisis, follows a group of modern-day bohemians who struggle to survive on the Lower East Side of New York City. 

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Theater Company of Lafayette: Snakes!, Feb. 23-March 10; The Misanthrope, April 19-May 5; Vagina Monologues, July 18–28; Twilight Zone Parody: Serling Centennial, Oct. 25-Nov 10; and Holidazed and Confused, Dec. 13-15

Mary Miller Theater, 300 E. Simpson St., Lafayette

Beginning with Snakes!, a motley crew of wannabe documentarians ventures into the darkest reaches of the Everglades, only to become lost and surrounded by giant killer Burmese pythons. Snakes! is part Cocaine Bear and part Sharknado but with a stronger environmental message. Next up, TCL stages Molière’s The Misanthrope, which aims to blend classic themes with contemporary relevance. 

The lineup continues with The Vagina Monologues, offering a poignant and often humorous exploration of women’s experiences. Later in the year, Twilight Zone Parody: Serling Centennial promises a foray into the fantastical and surreal, while Holidazed and Confused offers a lighthearted, festive evening of one-act plays to end the year.