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‘Dude, It’s Boulder,’ brings city’s history to the Dairy’s stage

Written by Jane Shepard, the production shows Boulder through 10 decades, features 75 characters

Roz Bard and Tim Riley as residents of Boulder’s dilapidated ‘Jungle Town’ during a reheasal for Viva Theater’s production “Dude, It’s Boulder.” The stage play, written and directed by Boulder native Jane Shepard, shows the city through 10 decades and spotlights 75 characters. The production opens at The Dairy on Friday and runs through Nov. 30.
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Boulder, with its coffeehouse culture, bohemian tendencies, unrelenting natural food movement and focus on healthy living, has earned quite the reputation of going against the grain — or discarding the wheat-filled variations of it all together, hashtag gluten-free. It’s the land of craft beer and granola. Yoga pants and hemp fabric. Where people think out of the box and where a man, on the Pearl Street Mall, can be found contorting himself into one.

Boulder native and award-winning writer Jane Shepard has penned a love letter to the “25-square-miles surrounded by reality” in her fittingly-titled production, “Dude, It’s Boulder.” The stage play, that made its debut at eTown Hall in 2013, takes audiences on a freewheeling journey through 10 decades with 75 intriguing characters. From Chief Niwot to Ethel French, a “Daily Camera” society columnist from the 1930s and 1940s, one never knows who will be spotlighted under the glow of theater lights. The Viva Theater show, that brings some of Boulder’s forgotten historic figures to the forefront, opens at the Dairy Arts Center on Friday.

In 1985, Shepard left “The Bubble” for The Big Apple where she submerged herself into the world of theater and film. Her screenplay, “Freak City,” was produced as a Showtime original movie starring Samantha Mathis, Estelle Parsons, Peter Saarsgard, Marlee Maitlin and Jonathan Silverman. Her script was nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award.

We caught up with Shepard to uncover what inspired her to move back to her hometown after 25 years in New York City, what audiences can expect from the upcoming shows and what she sees for the future of Front Range filmmaking.

Costumer Elaine Niesen helps Katherine Campbell, who will play Mary Rippon in “Dude, It’s Boulder,” get into costume as stage manager Ana Lucaci looks on. The show that chronicles Boulder through 10 decades opens at the Dairy Friday. Previous productions in 2013, at eTown Hall, sold out.

Daily Camera: Do you remember a time when you knew that storytelling would be your life’s work?

Jane Shepard: Well, I always knew it would be a creative life. It’s just inherent in me. Writing stories, making projects happen, drawing, acting, making music and films, it’s what I’ve always done. I call it having a “balanced creative eco-system.” When you’re young, people say, “Pick one thing and get really good at it.”  And I did. I picked acting. Then I picked writing. But the rest of my arts, they never stopped. It’s really this past year that I’ve realized, I’m not only allowed to do them all, it’s what I do. I adore applying those arts to telling stories. I was glad for the 10 years I spent concentrating on playwriting, though. The meaning is in the material, and if I have a life’s work maybe it’s to encourage an exploration of what makes our lives meaningful. The human journey.

DC: Your play “Dude, It’s Boulder” premiered at eTown in 2013 with sold-out performances. Have you added any material to it since that time? What can audiences expect from the upcoming production?

JS: Oh, yes, there was a character I longed to have in the 2013 production and I just ran out of time. Viva Theater was so fantastic to commission my dream project: writing a play about my hometown and its history. But none of us anticipated what it would be to research all of Boulder’s history and write a play of it in five months. So, in this new production, I got to write Ethel French. Columbia Cemetery does this fantastic event around Halloween called “Meet the Spirits,” where actors stand in the graveyard, in costume, and embody people buried there. That’s where I learned about Ethel French. She was the society columnist for the “Daily Camera” in the ’30s and ’40s.  But she was disabled, bed-ridden, and did all of her research on the phone, and all of her writing lying down in bed with a big old typewriter suspended above her. And I’m so glad she made it into the show this time, her scene turned out to be where the central dramatic conflict finally gets addressed. I don’t know, maybe I couldn’t have written that scene in 2013, because I understand the play’s theme more clearly this time around. And then putting it into the hands of someone as gifted as actress Simone Key is such a delight. Simone has the scope to master the comedy as well as Ethel’s fierce intellectual prowess.

Byron Thompson, a Viva Theater actor in “Dude, It’s Boulder,” finds entertainment in a 70s leisure suit as Tim Riley and Henry Kroll look on. The play opens Friday and runs through Nov. 30.

DC: As someone who was raised in Boulder, what would you say you love most about “The Bubble?”

JS: Well, good question. And I really had to think about that for the play. Having grown up here, and being in New York for 25 years, and then moving back at age 50, I saw it with both the new eyes of a more seasoned adult, and with the loving eyes of my childhood. I wanted to know its whole story. Boulder is so many things. It always has its absurd elements, and astonishing aspects, and a scary underbelly, such as its racial history.

As I wrote the play, it came to me that Boulder has always had a certain amount of cultural collision. Growing up here in the ’60s, it was the hippies versus the establishment, but much earlier it was the Native Americans versus the whites, and then the university with its intellectuals coming into a farming/ranching community. I’ve realized those cultural collisions are part of what keeps the city on its toes.  There’s always someone blowing cold air up Boulder’s skirt. Keen points of view in debate. I think Boulder will be Boulder as long as there is that.

DC: What’s the most rewarding aspect of playwriting and screenwriting?

JS: Hitting age 30, I suddenly realized I was spending a long time getting good at what I did, that I was spending my life on it.  And that’s sobering, ain’t it?  But I was doing what I did. It made me feel that if I was going to tell stories, they better be worthwhile, mean something, contribute a little something to the human journey, to our search for meaning. And when you accomplish that, you not only entertain people, but you touch them. You give them some catharsis, or some affirmation of their journey, or acknowledgement of their struggle. And they walk away a little freer, or with a new point of view, or a little pearl of truth to hold onto. And that is deeply satisfying.

DC: Lastly, I read that it is a goal of yours to found a production company that will shoot feature films in the area. What inspired you to want to pursue this venture?

JS: When I was 19, I worked on a western film shooting here. I had to get up early and drive to Central City and get the coffee started. Driving up Boulder Canyon, with the fog lifting, on my way to work with other artists on shooting a film in the mountains — nature, art and community. It don’t get any better. Boulder has a national reputation, and the arts are part of its identity. It should absolutely have a film production company. It has the talent, and individuals capable of funding it. It should have a company that makes films as distinctive and startling and compelling as our city.  But the one critical element is a good script. When I turned 50, I decided I was of an age to do the work I loved in the place I loved. So I came home. Full circle. Nature, art and community.


If you go

What: Viva Theater presents: “Dude, It’s Boulder”

When: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, (*additional dates through Nov. 30)

Where: The Dairy Arts Center’s Grace Gamm Theatre, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Cost: $17-20

More info: thedairy.org/event/dude-its-boulder/2019-11-22

 

 

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