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The Spark ignites the love of theater with multigenerational casts, diverse programming and more

The Boulder-based nonprofit's production of 'Little Shop of Horrors' opens Saturday

Choreographer Sydney Suter, center, gives notes to cast members while running through scenes before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer” on July 23 at The Spark in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)
Choreographer Sydney Suter, center, gives notes to cast members while running through scenes before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer” on July 23 at The Spark in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)
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Since opening its doors in May 2019, The Spark has solidified itself as one of Boulder’s most unique arts venues.

Cast members run through scenes before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer” on Friday, July 23, 2021, at The Spark in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

Still evolving, the 4,600-square-foot space, anchored by two studios, hosts everything from figure drawing marathons to most recently an array of plays brought to life by members of its youth acting company.

“We always wanted The Spark to be a community space that not only housed our own musical theater company, but also a space for the Boulder arts community,” said Dillon Kenyon, The Spark’s co-founder and executive director. “I had met so many wonderful performing artists in Boulder, and many struggled to make a living off of their art alone. Studio and theater space is limited and expensive in Boulder, so we wanted to give artists another location that is accessible and welcoming to do what they love.”

Much work went into transforming the bare-bones industrial space into the inviting center it is today, complete with an open-air theater that seats 75 and a lobby inspired by eclectic modern art galleries.

Cast members Sophie Huisken, right, and Sarah Atkinson try to keep it together while running through a scene before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer” on Friday, July 23, 2021, at The Spark in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

“The Spark started as a giant warehouse with one small bathroom,” Kenyon said. “Everything else we put in ourselves.”

Earlier this summer, The Spark entertained audiences with the sea-themed comedy “The SpongeBob Musical” and “Lightning Thief,” a production that fused Greek mythology with an original rock score.

While “Lightning Thief” has wrapped, “The SpongeBob Musical” can be seen at 1 p.m.  Aug. 4 and at 8 p.m. Aug. 6.

The Spark was the first in the area to bring these plays to the stage, and staff members hope to continue to deliver a rich and varied repertoire to patrons.

“Our main stage series focuses on musicals, and we like to offer a little something for everyone — youth and adult audiences alike,” said Mary Beth Ward, director of operations who has worked in youth theater for close to 20 years. “While this season is fairly traditional — ‘Into the Woods’ and ‘Matilda’— we are not afraid to push the envelope at times and make our voices and those of our community heard through our art.”

The center’s latest offering, “Firebringer,” — running at 8 p.m. Friday and Aug. 13 — humorously pairs a cavewoman theme with feminist undertones.

“We want people to laugh,” Kenyon said. “‘Firebringer’ is a story of a women-led prehistoric tribe that has to come together to learn how to adapt to fire. It has a surprising blend of slightly crass dialogue and really beautiful music with sophisticated choreography. It makes for a very entertaining production.”

Cast member Claire Leon, playing the part of Ducker, puts on lipstick while backstage before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer” on Friday, July 23, 2021, at The Spark in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

“Little Shop of Horrors” — an ‘80s musical that centers around a nerdy florist and his plant’s constant cravings for human blood — will open Saturday with performances at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.. Additional shows are Aug. 7. Tickets range from $16 to $22.

“We chose ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ as our more classic musical for a couple of reasons,” Kenyon said. “It has wonderful music, and the story is just wild enough that it is not too heavy. It also has roles for a diverse cast. It is important to us to be producing theater that has great roles for actors of many different races. Race equity in the theater world is going through a big shakeup, and we are actively working to be an inclusive community.”

The Spark has cast Denver-based vocalist and songwriter Rajdulari — an artist heavily inspired by songstresses Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Chaka Khan — as Audrey II, the larger-than-life vampiresque Venus flytrap.

Rajdulari — a graduate of Berklee College of Music, who spent years in NYC honing her craft — brings a new essence to the fierce botanical character that has mostly previously been portrayed by men.

“We are excited to have her in this role,” Kenyon said. “The Spark is a women-run and -led company, so when we can continue that through our casts we do. This summer was almost entirely women on the creative teams, from our stage managers to our set designers.”

Choreographer Sydney Suter watches and gives notes to cast members while running through scenes before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer” on Friday, July 23, 2021, at The Spark in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

With elaborate stage sets, vibrant costuming and passionate multigenerational casts, a Spark production is one sure to leave a lasting impression.

“We want audiences to become immersed in wonderful theater,” Kenyon said. “That is what good theater is all about. You forget you are watching a show and you are just enjoying yourself.”

As a child, Kenyon said she used to spend hours putting on plays in the living room of her home in Ojai, California, so it’s fair to say she caught the directing bug early on. She still steps into the role of director and also gives voice lessons.

She has assembled a crew — musicians, choreographers and theater pros — to offer a comprehensive experience to all who enter the space at 4847 Pearl St. Unit B4 in Boulder.

“I was excited to join the administrative team at The Spark because they take a unique approach to youth in theater,” said Ward, who previously worked as manager at Rocky Mountain Theater for Kids in Boulder/Denver. “The Spark’s programming best serves students who are already passionate about the performing arts and who may be preparing for higher education and eventually a career in the arts. Spark students benefit from a collegiate style of training where working professionals shape curriculums from their experience working in the field.”

Cast members prepare backstage before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer” on Friday, July 23, 2021, at The Spark in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

Collaborations with established local theater veterans and Broadway stars provide the crop of up-and-coming thespians with invaluable experiences.

“I love when adults come to work with The Spark for the first time, and they are completely blown away by the work ethic and talent of Spark students,” Kenyon said. “I love seeing the students feel so proud about the work they did that matches the levels of the professionals they perform with.”

From intensive workshops in which participants sharpen their vocal and hip-hop skills to ones focusing on the ins and outs of backstage tech, The Spark makes sure to cover it all.

“These students learn that theater requires dedication and hard work, but it is extremely rewarding when their hard work pays off,” Kenyon said. “This confidence students gained in the theater infuses everything else in their lives, and that is the most rewarding part of what I do.”

As pandemic restrictions start to loosen, this nonprofit is excited to host more events at the multipurpose space.

As part of The Boulder Fringe Festival, Spark will host “Home: Containment & Freedom” starting Aug. 12. The performances — by Karl Baumann and Selena Milewski — incorporate poetry, prose, dance, circus and music into an intriguing production inspired by the domestic captivity brought on in 2020.

“We are an active nonprofit organization, and when we have an even bigger solid donor base, we have many plans to continue to make the space even better,” Kenyon said. “We would love to host bigger events and music concerts regularly.”

A variety of rental pricing for different venue needs— including classes, performances and exhibitions — makes the space accessible to a wide range of creatives.

Cast members dance in unison while running through a scene before a performance of the comedy musical “Firebringer”on Friday, July 23, 2021, at The Spark in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing the work is never done,” Ward said. “At The Spark, we welcome change as a sign of progress. As goals are reached, new challenges are created, thus new support structures must rise. I look forward to seeing how this accessible resource, The Spark, will serve our community in the coming years.”

In addition to supporting the efforts of The Spark by signing up for a class or purchasing a ticket to an upcoming show, donations are always being accepted online to further the center’s growth.

“I would love The Spark to be a go-to place for all artists and patrons of the arts in the area,” Kenyon said. “We want The Spark to be used by the greater Boulder community and be an asset for these arts organizations.”