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.
Steamboat Springs 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.