Performers Lee Smith-Gibbons, left, and Ryan Richards run through a scene for the 2008 Picnic Theater Festival, which will be held in Spring Creek Park this weekend.

Photo by John F. Russell

Performers Lee Smith-Gibbons, left, and Ryan Richards run through a scene for the 2008 Picnic Theater Festival, which will be held in Spring Creek Park this weekend.

Playing outside the box

Picnic theater festival brings comedy, drama, cultural exchange


— There was a time when going to the theater meant going to eat and drink and talk to your neighbor, and maybe watch a play. Stuart Handloff would like to bring Steamboat Springs back to that time.

Reviving his Great American Laughing Stock Co. for three weeks in July, Handloff has organized a three-play community theater festival. The atmosphere will be relaxed and family friendly, and, most important, it will be outdoors.

"It's getting theater out of the box - there's no venues, but even if there were, I would still want to get out in the open," Handloff said. The festival fulfills Handloff's community requirement for his graduate directing program at the New Zealand National Drama School. It also fulfills some of the needs of the local performing arts community, he said.

"I've been involved in community theater here since 1972, and I've seen it ebb and flow. And I think it's on the crest of a wave," Handloff said. Handloff invited six actors from the New Zealand school to spend two months in Steamboat rehearsing and performing, and he said having them here will provide an element of cultural exchange. He hopes the festival will become an annual event and eventually will draw local interest and talent.

"He's using them to sort of send this project off, and hopefully as it builds the locals will be a part of it as it grows," festival actress Amy Pottinger said. The festival will run a weekly cycle of three plays: a musical comedy version of "The Three Musketeers," a collage of Shakespearean scenes, and "Skung Poomery," a children's theater piece.

"Certainly, there is a cultural exchange element, and there's a local community theater enhancement element," Handloff said. "I think we worked to do something that is kind of a family-oriented experience."

Being outdoors, there are plenty of outside elements - weather, dogs, noise, trees, rivers - that present unusual challenges, and Handloff hopes he has planned for most of them. The theater company will have bug spray on hand at the performances, and it has a rainout plan that includes weekend afternoon and Monday evening performances. Handloff has arranged parking at Steamboat Springs High School, and the acting company will entertain audience members on the walk up.

"I think what we're trying to do is to create a different kind of theater experience that is different to Colorado in general," actor Ryan Richards said.


Tall_Poppy 8 years, 8 months ago

I saw this crew perform at the Art Depot a few weeks ago. They must have just arrived from New Zealand. Anyway, they were AMAZING. I hope their performances at Spring Creek will be well attended. Kudos to Mr. Handloff!


Stuart Handloff 8 years, 8 months ago

Picnic Theatre's A Fun-Filled Festival

Friday evening saw the opening performance of the Great American Laughing Stock Company's 2008 Picnic Theatre Festival in Spring Creek Park. Parents, kids, and adults were treated to a bit of Kiwi magic in the form of Kapa Haka and traditional Maori songs along the brief walk from the Steamboat Springs High School parking area to the park. Upon arrival the guests spread blankets and chairs, dug into their tucker and beverages, and enjoyed an hour of laughs and pure entertainment.

Amidst the splendor of the park on a mild summer evening, Asa Tofete, Sophie Hambleton, and Byron Coll (plus a mysterious stranger to be named later) provided a marvelous blend of melodrama, slapstick, improvisation, commedia dell'Arte and musical theatre. They call themselves The Three Musketeers but all play multiple roles in the production. Each character openly attempts to make their alter ego the most dangerous or attractive to the audience. Tofete is a real crowd pleaser playing both one of the heroes and the villainous Cardinal Richelieu while threading his way over, under, around, and through the audience. Coll provides the sole musical accompaniment on his guitar and serves as a brilliant comic foil to the evil Richelieu and the vivacious Hambleton. Her clever ripostes and comic asides to the audience are totally engaging. All three have strong voices and are completely at home with the musical theatre elements of the production.

The Picnic Theatre Festival continues throughout the month of July on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings at 6pm in the Spring Creek Park location. Saturday evenings you can enjoy the romance of Shakespeare in a collection of scenes entitled Love in the Woods and on Sundays the company presents a clever play on words for children of all ages in Skungpoomery. Arrive early (by 5:45pm), park at the high school parking lot near the football field, and you can enjoy an unusual and spiritually moving native Kiwi welcome to the evening's performance during the walk up to the park. As for the mysterious stranger in The Three Musketeers? Join the audience next Friday evening and you may find it is you!


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