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From left, Adrian Egolf and Luke Sorge star in BETC’s production “Nina Variations,” written by Steven Dietz. The pre-recorded production, inspired by Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” features five real-life couples playing the characters of Nina and Treplev. Streaming starts on Monday. (BETC/ Courtesy photo)
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Since the start of the pandemic, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company has kept fans of the arts entertained with its Ghost Light Series — varied online content that featured interviews with playwrights, a discussion with congressman Joe Neguse and even a montage of quirky quarantine fashion.

Starting Monday, folks can tune into “The Nina Variations,” a smart and novel reimagined adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1896 play “The Seagull,” by Steven Dietz.

Susannah McLeod (left) as Treplev and Chloe McLeod as Nina in a still from BETC’s “The Nina Variations.” The play, written by Denver playwright Steven Dietz, will be livestreamed starting Monday and features five real-life couples. (BETC/ Courtesy photo)

In the prerecorded show, that runs through Aug. 30, viewers will get to see five real-life couples perform the roles of Nina and Treplev. Dietz’s innovative reworking takes the original Russian play’s final scene and evolves it into 43 alternative versions as the characters question the true meaning of love — and whether they are, in fact, in it.

The scenes were shot in June and July at BETC’s East Studio in Westminster. Tickets are free with a BETC membership, $25 for an individual viewer and $45 for a household.

Also launching this month, BETC members will get to be a part of an ongoing script reading and discussion group — Lit Club — featuring scripts by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ playwrights. These cocktail-hour script chats will take place over Zoom and include recipes for featured libations.

Other upcoming offerings include a nationwide competition for parent playwrights and a free 10-session playwriting program where high schoolers and older adults create short plays, inspired by each other’s lives, that will be performed by BETC’s actors and streamed online.

Science Shorts, scheduled for November, will feature readings of four short plays by Colorado playwrights and four short talks by the scientists who inspired their work.

We caught up with BETC co-founder Stephen Weitz to find out about the latest production, an in-the-works piece of devised theater whose subject matter deals with the pandemic and racial unrest of 2020, and what it has been like trying to keep an arts organization afloat in the “new normal.”

Daily Camera: What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming productions of “The Nina Variations?”

Stephen Weitz: We are very excited about the release of this new project. Obviously, “digital theater” is a completely new forum for BETC. But it’s been a really exciting project and so wonderful to be back at creative work again after a long layoff. Steven Dietz is a good friend of the BETC family and we’re thrilled to be doing another play of his after presenting “Bloomsday” earlier this year. He’s a Denver native and we love bringing his work back home, as it were. I’m also so thrilled that we were able to hire five local theater couples to perform the roles. Not only does it provide so much insight and variety into the play’s exploration of love, but it allowed us to give some work to some amazing local artists. As you can imagine, being an artist is a tough situation right now and I’m so glad we were able to help some folks out. Finally, I hope that audiences will find some enjoyment and solace in the project. Being without live performance has been very difficult. This isn’t the same thing, of course, but I’m hopeful that it will fill the gap for a lot of our patrons.

Josh Hartwell (left) and Jim Hunt star in BETC’s “The Nina Variations,” written by Steven Dietz. (BETC/ Courtesy photo)

DC: I read that BETC will release “CO-2020,” a devised theater piece that pulls from actual interviews with Colorado citizens and local officials. What can viewers expect from this show and what motivated you to step away from fictional theater for a moment?

SW: As we were brainstorming about content for the remainder of the year, we felt this was an important moment to delve into the dominating issues of the year: the COVID pandemic and America’s reckoning with racial injustice.  Interviewing a broad swath of Coloradans has allowed us to gain so many insights into how these events have played out in communities around the state. These personal stories provide a whole different understanding of the monumental issues that surround us. I don’t know yet exactly what shape the final product will take. We have a core group of six artists who are working collaboratively to create the “script” and other elements of the eventual production. So I’m excited to see how that process pans out.

DC: I know the pandemic has been hard on all arts organizations. What are some ways fans of theater can support you now?

SW: Obviously, all arts organizations need support from the community right now. The No. 1 thing people can do is participate — buy a membership or ticket to the show. Not only does the cost of your ticket make a huge difference, but being able to demonstrate that we have buy-in from the community enables us to make a stronger case to funding and granting organizations.

DC: What’s the transition been like putting on shows virtually? Do you feel like streaming allows the art to reach more folks in a sense, or are you missing the actual curtain-drawn excitement that comes with opening night?

SW: It’s been a huge learning curve. We aren’t filmmakers and have had to pick up a lot of things on the fly. It’s exciting and allows us to make some artistic choices that would be very difficult to pull off in the theater.  And hopefully it will allow us to reach a broader spectrum of people who might not regularly make it to our physical address. But we certainly do miss live theater with an in-person audience. Nothing can really replicate that feeling. But we will keep doing our best to provide powerful entertainment until we can all meet again.

DC: Lastly, do you see BETC eventually doing any live performances that are socially distanced and safe at drive-ins, parking lots or parks?

SW: We don’t currently have any plans for that sort of programming, though it might be something we explore going forward.

 

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