Once endangered, Perry-Mansfield thrives again | SteamboatToday.com

Once endangered, Perry-Mansfield thrives again

A home for the arts

Margaret Hair

— Rusty de Lucia made her first trip to Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in 1955.

A New York City drama student of Charlotte Perry, de Lucia thought she was going to be an actor. Perry – who de Lucia calls “Kingo” – knew different. By her third summer at the camp, the then 15-year-old de Lucia was teaching creative dramatics to younger students.

“That first year that I worked with her, I knew

theater would be my life,” de Lucia said, sitting in the office at Perry-Mansfield earlier in the week. A faculty member since 1989, de Lucia returned to Steamboat Springs to live after falling in love with the area decades before as a summer camper.

On Sunday, de Lucia will celebrate Perry-Mansfield’s 95th anniversary with scores of alumni and community members the place has touched. Rehearsals of the camp’s dance and theater programs will be open to the public, along with free tours, root beer floats and a late-afternoon barbecue.

As much as it is a celebration of the camp, the day is a thank-you to the community that saved it, said event organizer and former Perry-Mansfield board president Holly Williams. In the fall of 1990, the Friends of Perry-Mansfield called on the citizens of Steamboat Springs to raise about $150,000 as an initial investment to buy the camp back from its private ownership under the Missouri-based Stephens College.

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“Had the community not stepped up with the funds, we wouldn’t have been able to save the camp,” Williams said.

Living by the Ladies’ example

Then and now, Perry-Mansfield is rustic, a retreat into the woods for top dancers, actors, writers and performers from across the nation.

From its start as the dream of two performing artists and Smith College graduates, Perry-Mansfield has been a training ground, summer camp, private college arts campus and community touch-point. It has changed hands and faces as it has been host to the likes of Agnes de Mille, Stephen Schwartz, John Cage and Dustin Hoffman.

But from 1913 until 1965, and from 1992 to the present – leaving out the period when the college was a satellite campus for Stephens College – the defining factor of Perry-Mansfield has been the spirit Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield infused in it, said former counselor and current camp historian T. Ray Faulkner.

“What I learned from the ladies, and how they were beautiful mentors without even opening their mouths, was phenomenal,” said Faulkner, a former professional dancer who came to the camp as a counselor in 1957 and spent five of her nine years there as a personal assistant to “the Ladies.”

In her time running errands up the camp’s steep hills, picking up guest artists, organizing receptions and “keeping the johns so they would flush,” Faulkner said she absorbed the positive attitude that would carry her through 23 years as a professor of dance.

“Their philosophy was do what you want to do in life and you’ll be happy,” Faulkner said. “They just set a beautiful example. We were really unaware of how much they were giving us, and we just gained from them in a way that really made our own lives very, very happy.”

That spirit is distilled in the drama teaching technique de Lucia learned from Perry and used for almost 20 years in the Steamboat Springs School District.

“She summed up acting in two sentences: ‘Acting is believing. If you believe in what you’re doing, the audience will believe it,'” de Lucia said. “I’ve had a gadzillion teachers since then, and I still use Charlotte’s technique totally.”

As the camp gives local, regional and national students access to some of the top teachers, creators and performers in their fields, it breeds something beyond a sense of community: It creates a family.

“Perry-Mansfield today is doing exactly what they set out to do: giving young people an opportunity to explore the arts in interesting and successful ways,” Faulkner said.

Salvation came

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Raising $150,000 in Steamboat Springs in the early ’90s was a different proposition than it might be today. Where a few phone calls could be enough to solicit the funds now, at the time, saving Perry-Mansfield was a grassroots effort that involved bake sales, Boy Scouts and small donations, Williams said.

“We weren’t an entity. We weren’t incorporated. We didn’t have money. We didn’t even have stationary,” she said. The city of Steamboat Springs loaned the Friends $60,000 to get the effort started. Within about five weeks, the group raised 10 percent of the listed price to buy the property back from Stephens. By 1994, the Friends had gathered $1.3 million – enough to burn the mortgage on the camp.

“That was really such a turning point for the community to realize what really mattered,” said June Lindenmayer, the camp’s executive director.

When Perry and Mansfield started their camp in 1913 in Eldora, and when they moved it to Routt County in 1914, they had no ulterior motive. It wasn’t a marketing scheme to draw in outside money, and it wasn’t an effort to put the area on the map, Williams said. It was simple, pure and in line with women’s view about how the arts could thrive.

“It wasn’t something contrived. It was the dream of two women who wanted to have an arts camp in nature,” Williams said. “It’s something that just naturally came about in this community, like the rodeo. It’s just part of our DNA.”

Since the Friends took over, more than 70 locals have served on the Perry-Mansfield board of directors. The school is once again able to attract the best and the brightest in the performing arts, and has spawned a New Works Festival to put new material into the art world. Students have to audition to come to the camp, and they work long hours each day, honing the skills they hope will carry them to the professional circuit.

For all the new buildings and programs, Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield’s original mission has stayed solid, de Lucia said.

“Facilities-wise, of course it’s better. Spirit-wise it hasn’t changed. And that’s why it keeps going.”

Schedule for the 95th anniversary celebration

1 to 4 p.m. – One-hour tours of the camp start at the Main Office

1:30 to 2 p.m. – Equestrian demonstration

2 to 3 p.m. – Root beer floats at the Main Office

2 to 6 p.m. – Open rehearsals for the student production of “Sweeney Todd,” in Louis Horst studio

2 to 6 p.m. – Open rehearsals for the Youth Festival, with performances by students in grades five to nine

2 to 4 p.m. – Theatrical rehearsal in Conrad Hall

2 to 3 p.m. – Modern dance with Jennifer Golonka in the Main Studio

3 to 4 p.m. – Dance repertory presentation by high school and college students in the Steinberg Pavilion

3 to 4:30 p.m. – Ballet with Meghan Grupposo in the Main Studio

4 to 6 p.m. – Barbecue dinner (RSVP only) at the Main Lodge

4:30 to 6 p.m. – Jazz dance with Antonio Brown in the Main Studio

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