Steamboat Springs In 1935, Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield invited theater icon Agnes deMille to teach at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Steamboat Springs for the summer. During her visit, deMille asked to be taken to a square dance west of Hayden because she had never seen one. Fiddle and guitar players played the locals' favorites, until they were asked to play "Turkey in the Straw," a song deMille knew a dance to. She happily took to the cleared dance floor and performed for the cowboys.
The men were so taken by her they carried her out and dropped her in the sagebrush as a joke.
Seven years later, deMille choreographed the musical theater production of "Rodeo" (pronounced like RodDrive) and said in her autobiography that night in Hayden is where the idea for the show began.
As it turned out, that story proved to be an example of the original philosophy behind Perry-Mansfield. Along with providing a place for young people to learn performance art, it would be a haven for professionals to be inspired to create.
Nearly 80 years later, a new musical theater piece, also called "Rodeo," but pronounced in the traditional western way, is one of two shows in workshop at Perry-Mansfield that could solidify that goal.
"Rodeo," a comedy about ranchers trying to save their land, and a straight-theater piece called "Midwives," adapted from a best-selling novel about a midwife on trial, are part of Perry-Mansfield's New Noises program. A special script-in-hand production of the shows will be presented to the public on Saturday.
Both works could put New Noises on the map for supplying a need in the theater industry. That need is adequate support, expertise and time for new musical theater and straight theater pieces that are still in the development phase.
"It's a very difficult field to get a foothold in," Stephen Schwartz said of the musical theater business. "It's nice to be of some assistance."
Schwartz is an Oscar and Tony award-winning composer and lyricist who took a special trip to Perry-Mansfield this week to help workshop "Rodeo."
He also is the artistic director of the musical theater development program of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
"Rodeo" was one of eight shows still in the writing process chosen by ASCAP that would receive additional support. Once finished, "Rodeo" could make a run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
"We were approached by Perry-Mansfield about doing one of the shows here," Schwartz said.
In the theater business, new shows often have a hard time making it off the script and onto the stage, mainly because it's difficult to recruit quality actors, directors and consulting writers to work in the later writing phases. For the past five years, Perry-Mansfield has developed New Noises to be a solution to that problem.
Camp officials want to provide an opportunity for writers to have the time and resources needed to produce the best work they can.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to create something from the ground up," said Peter Flynn, guest director of "Rodeo."
Flynn is an accomplished actor and director who is lending his expertise to the writers in the workshop. His job this week was to understand what message was trying to be conveyed through the story and music and then offer suggestions.
"What we are working with is a work in progress, and when we are finished (this week), it will still be a work in progress," Flynn said.
But the goal is to take the shows to the next step, where they can be produced in smaller theaters or can go through a more intensive workshop.
"It's something I think we need to cultivate at Perry-Mansfield," Burgess Clark said. "It's basically what Perry-Mansfield was founded on."
Clark is the theater department head at Perry-Mansfield, the head of the New Noises program and is the director of "Midwives" during the workshop this week. The ultimate goal, Clark explained, is to make the New Noises program in June be a Sundance Film Festival for theater, catering to multiple scripts at one time.
With this June's bill filled with the ASCAP-connected "Rodeo" and "Midwives," adapted from the novel by the award-winning playwright Dana Yeaton, Clark said Perry-Mansfield is taking a big step toward that goal.
Yeaton worked closely with friend and colleague Clark this week, rewriting portions of "Midwives" at the camp, seizing the opportunity of seeing the work on stage to spark his creativity.
"What's really unique about this is the quality of actors we have," Yeaton said of working at Perry-Mansfield.
Indeed, the performing arts camp has assembled a treasure trove of accomplished Broadway actors, including Diane DiCroce, who is currently on loan from the cast of the Broadway musical "Les Miserables"; Rick Hilsabeck, best know for his portrayal of the Phantom in the 1st National Company of "The Phantom Of The Opera"; and Patti Mariano, who has been appearing on Broadway since she was a child in such productions as "The Music Man," "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Godspell," just to name a few of the actors.
Yeaton said having this caliber of people to work with allows him to see and hear different ideas for the work, aiding in the workshop of the script.
That's exactly what the staff hopes to happen at Perry-Mansfield during New Noises workshops.
"Our purpose is to help the creative team; it's what New Noises does," said Andrew Levine, musical theater department head at the camp.
They are trying to create an environment for top professionals in theater to come to Colorado, be surrounded by, and maybe inspired by, the beauty of the Yampa Valley, meet and work with others in the field and produce quality work.
Lastly, all this happens during the first week of classes for summer campers. After meeting their teachers, the students will see them in action as part of the New Noises plays.
"Everyone wins in this situation," Levine said. "The students win and the faculty win."
Residents in the valley win, too. The week's work will be presented to the public this weekend. Though both shows are not complete and actors will read from scripts, it will be a rare opportunity for locals to see Broadway actors perform new works.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday is the "Midwives" performance and at 7 p.m. Sunday is "Rodeo."
Both will be at the Julie Harris Theatre.