2016 True West Award: The women running theatre in Boulder

True West Awards Boulder women

(Clockwise from top left:
Rebecca Remaly Weitz, Emily K. Harrison, Amanda Berg Wilson and Pesha Rudnick. Inset right: Joan Kuder Bell as Mrs. Millamount in Upstart Crow’s ‘The Way of the World.’)


Day 30: The women running theatre in Boulder

First off: Yes, there is something inherently wrong with singling out a group of successful women for their accomplishments based in part on their gender.

Then again, when you have been systematically singled out for exclusion over decades in large part based of your gender, then perhaps the occasional exception to the unjust rule is something to celebrate.

You may have seen the damning national stats: While women make up about 68 percent of all theatregoing audiences, fewer than 25 percent of the stories they see performed on American stages are written or directed by women. Further, 73 percent of all Artistic Directors and 62 percent of Executive Directors at leading U.S. theatres are white men. But did you know 65 percent of those working in jobs just below those leadership positions are women or persons of color? That means women and minorities do most of the work – and white men get promoted.

True West Award Quote Boulder womenIt’s no wonder any self-starting woman with aspirations of running a theatre company would bypass the rat race and instead start her own.

Call it an anomaly, a coincidence or a hopeful trend, but at a time when rectifying longstanding gender disparity is a major priority in the American theatre, one need only look to Boulder to find four distinctive theatre companies that were started or co-founded by creatively adventurous, collaborative women:

(Photos above and right, clockwise from top left: Emily K. Harrison, Pesha Rudnick, Amanda Berg Wilson and Rebecca Remaly Weitz.) 

The city of Boulder’s theatre roots run deep through the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, which turns 60 this summer; through Joan and Richard Bell’s Upstart Crow, which has presented classical theatre since 1980; and through BDT Stage, which has been staging Broadway-caliber musicals for nearly 40 years.

But it is these four upstart women of the Boulder theatre community who have revived the city’s reputation as a culturally active and relevant hot spot. And for that, Duran says, Boulder is most grateful.

“I am honestly blown away by all four them,” said Duran, who has been the Producing Artistic Director at BDT Stage for 13 years. “They are all so educated, and they have such amazing backgrounds in theatre and academia. These women are bringing brave new voices to the theatre and bringing different kinds of theatregoing experiences to Boulder audiences, and that benefits all of us.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

The question is: Are these companies significant because they exist – or rather, is it significant that women brought them into existence? To Rudnick, it matters that women started all four companies because female theatre administrators are a collective rarity in the American theatre. “It matters because there is diversity in the female perspective, and feminism is rooted in humanism,” she said. “At Local Theater Company, we are interested in making theater that supports artists, our families and in telling stories that are inclusive and diverse.”

Wilson knows one thing for sure: The question intself wouldn’t matter a bit if all four companies were not doing good and progressive work. “To boot: All four companies are dedicated almost exclusively to producing work that is new to Colorado,” she said. “All four companies are actively wrestling with how to address the emerging mandate that issues of equity and diversity must be addressed in the work and organizational structure of every theatre company. And all four are significant in this town and state because nationally, significant organizations that are also female-led are few and far between.”

Our report from the 2016 Statera conference on gender parity

And all four companies truly were firing on all cylinders in 2016. We asked each leader for a brief rundown of their accomplishments this year:

BETC Vera Rubin. Michael Ensminger BOULDER ENSEMBLE THEATRE COMPANY, Rebecca Remaly Weitz: “We produced two word premieres (Vera Rubin: Bringing the Dark to Light and Full Code) and three regional premieres (Cyrano, Ripcord and Every Xmas Story Ever Told). We also workshopped a new play (The Madres) that has been selected as a finalist by the National New Play Network. We continued our successful annual co-production of The SantaLand Diaries with Off-Center at the Denver Center’s Jones Theatre. Our support from the Shubert Foundation was increased by 50 percent, and I was the grateful recipient of the 2016 Emerging Professional Artist Award from the National Theatre Conference. We now have two full-time and three part-time employees. And our ensemble has grown to 23 fabulous people. (Photo: Mackenzie Sherburne and Chip Persons in ‘Vera Rubin: ‘Bringing the Dark to Light.’ Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

Catamounts The Taming. Michael EnsmingerTHE CATAMOUNTS, Amanda Berg Wilson: We produced two adventurous regional premieres by rising American playwrights (Jordan Harrison’s Futura and Lauren Gunderson’s The Taming). We served up three weekends of theatre, food and community though our original FEED series. We led young artists through the process of creating and performing their own work at Flatirons and Heatherwood Elementary schools. We received a three-year organizational grant from the Boulder Arts Commission, and our funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District increased by 58 percent. We hired our first employee (me!), and we moved our administrative headquarters from my damn couch to a sexy new co-working space. But what I am most proud of in 2016 is that we made a public commitment to increase the diversity in our programming and artists. (Photo: McPherson Horle in ‘The Taming.’ Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

Local The Firestorm. Michael Ensminger. LOCAL THEATER COMPANY, Pesha Rudnick: As Local moves into our fifth season, we’ve renewed our fierce commitment to developing new American plays that address issues that are urgently “of the moment.” The Firestorm was a perfect example of that — it’s a new play by Meridith Friedman that addresses white privilege, racism and marriage during a heated election season. We added facilitated audience conversations that offer a platform for true, genuine dialogue. The Creede Repertory Theatre presented The History Room, which we first introduced during our 2016 Local Lab New Play Festival. Our new literacy program, Literature Live, will launch in February with a world premiere production of A Home in the Heart, an adaptation of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. It’s a stunning novel that explores immigration, coming-of-age and self-expression, and we will be presenting it for students, teachers and families in partnership with the Boulder Public Library. (Photo: Jada Suzanne Dixon in ‘The Firestorm.’ Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

Square Product Cockroach. J Akiyama Kinisissquare product theatre company: We collaborated with Hoarded Stuff Performance on the world premiere of an awkward existential comedy called This Aunt is Not a Cockroach. We collaborated with Chicago’s The New Colony to produce two staged readings: Evan Linder‘s Byhalia, Mississippi, which we read as part of a simultaneous world-premiere Conversation here in Boulder, and our own original work called SLAB (about Hurricane Katrina), which we read at The Den Theatre in Chicago. We collaborated with Quake Theater on Ham & Millicent’s Boulder Arts Week Art Walk. And in the fall, we collaborated with the University of Colorado on a production of the Neo-Futurists’ 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, which we originally staged in 2012. (Photo: Laura Ann Samuelson in ‘This Aunt is Not a Cockroach.’ Photo by J. Akiyama, Kinisis Photography.)

Coming Saturday: The 2016 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year

True West Awards. Boulder women. Amanda Berg Wilson. In October, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts hosted a national conference that addressed gender disparity in the American theatre. Much attention was paid to the particular challenge mothers face maintaining administrative careers while raising children. Berg said it is significant that most of the women who run theatre companies in Boulder are also mothers.

“We lose too many excellent theatre artists to the necessities of family life because your child-bearing years unfortunately often overlap with some of your best creative and career-development years,” Wilson said. “And the low pay and long hours aren’t terribly conducive to hiring babysitters who are sometimes paid more to watch your kid while you make your art than you are to make it. So to stick with it once you have kids takes a certain amount of ingenuity and grit and dedication to a vision — and hopefully a supportive partner. Women still labor under so many double standards when it comes to balancing work and family life. I’d like to think our community benefits from those of us who are willing to try to walk that tightrope.”

(Photo above and right: Amanda Berg Wilson is not above mopping the floor after performances by The Catamounts. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS (to date)

Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
Day 3: After Orlando
Day 4: Michael Morgan
Day 5: Beth Beyer
Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
Day 7: donnie l. betts
Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
Day 10: Jason Sherwood
Day 11: Leslie O’Carroll and Steve Wilson
Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
Day 13: Jake Mendes
Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
Day 15: Patty Yaconis
Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
Day 21: Jeff Neuman
Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
Day 23: Matthew Campbell
Day 24: Sharon Kay White
Day 25: John Hauser
Day 26: Lon Winston
Day 27: Jason Ducat
Day 28: Sam Gregory
Day 29: Warren Sherrill
Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

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