QUOTE Rattlesnake Kate Neyla Pekarek Karen Hartman. Photo by John Moore.

Deeper Dive: A closer look at ‘Rattlesnake Kate’

Note: In this daily series, we are taking a deeper dive into the nine titles recently announced on the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2020-21 season. Today: ‘Rattlesnake Kate.’

‘Kate Slaughterback is a woman the world wasn’t quite ready for’

Mary Kate Morrissey as Rattlesnake Kate. Photo by Adams VisCom.

Mary Kate Morrissey as Kate Slaughterback in the 2019 Colorado New Play Summit concert reading. Photo by Adams VisCom.

  • Written by: Music and lyrics by Neyla Pekarek; book by Karen Hartman
  • Year written: Ongoing
  • Director: DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman
  • Dates: The world-premiere staging runs from February 5 to March 14, 2021. Opening night is February 12.
  • Where: Marvin & Judi Wolf Theatre
  • Genre: Colorado-based bio-musical
  • The play at a glance: Around 100 years ago near Greeley, frontierswoman Kate Slaughterback fought tooth, nail and rifle to save her young son, killing 140 rattlesnakes in one quick-thinking and courageous battle. After the infamous showdown, “Rattlesnake Kate” became a global sensation. But her battles were far from over: To find a love that would last. To be treated as an equal. To forge a future for herself and for other women like her. Discover the inspirational true story that is larger than life and stranger than fiction in this vibrant new musical.
  • About the authors: Aurora native Neyla Pekarek was a longtime cellist and vocalist with the Grammy-nominated folk-rock band The Lumineers, whose first record reached triple-platinum status with sales of more than 3 million records. Last year Pekarek released her debut solo album, “Rattlesnake,” inspired by Slaughterback’s story (but not the score to her new stage musical). She is a graduate of Overland High School in Aurora and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. San Diego native Karen Hartman specializes in plays about human beings in the crosshairs of history. Her play Good Faith: Four Chats about Race and the New Haven Fire Department premiered last year at  Yale Repertory Theater. She graduated from the Yale School of Drama and is Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington.

Summit Spotlight: Neyla Pekarek and Karen Hartman on Rattlesnake Kate

  • From the playwright: “We started with Neyla’s album, which is really beautiful and works gorgeously as it is,” Hartman said. “And now we’re making it into this other thing. We’re going on this journey with Kate from when she leaves home in her teens to shortly before she dies.”
  • From the composer: “The story of Rattlesnake Kate goes so far beyond the rattlesnake encounter,” Pekarek said. “That’s the hook that gets you into her story. But as I began to research her, I discovered she kept up this love-letter correspondence with a man in Iowa for 40 years – and they never met. She kept having all these challenges thrown at her, and they only made her stronger.”
  • Rattlesnake Kate

    Neyla Pekarek. Photo by John Moore.

    Why was this the story that spoke to you? “I wrote Rattlesnake Kate from a place where a lot of women are right now. I wasn’t trying to write a ‘Me Too’ musical, but I was writing my experience. And I have felt very silenced by men in my life. I have felt very underappreciated and undervalued. Kate felt a lot of those things as well.”

  • This play is a commission. … What’s a commission? Rattlesnake Kate is the first new work to be commissioned under Chris Coleman since he became the Artistic Director of the DCPA Theatre Company. That means the Denver Center provided financial and workshop support during the development of the play, and held right-of-first-refusal to give the play its first full production – which Coleman is now exercising. “I would say it’s just such a good move for Chris Coleman’s first commission to go to a global Colorado recording artist who is writing a Colorado story,” said Hartman. “A brilliant move.” Rattlesnake Kate is also the first commissioned musical the DCPA Theatre Company has ever produced.
  • Says Artistic Director Chris Coleman: “I really love finding stories that are unique to a particular region where a theatre lives. And this is really a story about a woman the world wasn’t quite ready for. Think about it: It’s 1925. She’s running a farm on her own in really tough terrain, and she just insists on world meeting the world on her own terms.”
  • About that music: “It’s incredible,” Coleman said. “The music feels very contemporary. There’s a lot of energy and intensity in it. And there’s also there’s a ton of humor in it.”

KATE (singing):

“Rattlesnake Kate, alive and well.

Exhausted and passed out in that rattlesnake hell.

No broken bones, no teeth in my skin.

I live to tell the tale.

Let my story begin.”

  • Rattlesnake Kate Courtesy Greeley Historical Museum

    ‘Rattlesnake’ Kate Slaughterback. Photo courtesy Greeley Historical Museum.

    What’s the long-range plan? “I think Rattlesnake Kate has the potential to be big here in Denver, and I’m excited to see how it might have a life outside of Denver,” Coleman said. “I’ve made it my place to spread the word to as many of my colleagues around the country as I can because I think it should have a life, a big life, well beyond the Denver Center.”

  • Fun facts: As Kate Slaughterback was slaughtering 140 snakes, her gun ran out of bullets. So she grabbed a nearby sign and used it to kill the snakes, one-by-one. According to legend, the sign said: No Hunting.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Video bonus: Chris Coleman talks about Rattlesnake Kate

Photo gallery: Colorado New Play Summit photos of Rattlesnake Kate

Featured Play Rattlesnake Kate 800

Rehearsal for ‘Rattlesnake Kate’ at the 2019 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore.

Photos by Adams VisCom and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Our ‘Deeper Dive’ series to date: