Northern Colorado Theatre Companies Looking Past COVID-19

Cast of August Osage County. Photo courtesy of OpenStage Theatre.

Kate Forgach

You may have noticed not much is happening in the Northern Colorado theatrical scene, but there’s still plenty going on behind the curtains.

Colorado Gives Day on Dec. 8 offers us an excellent opportunity to get a status update on three well-known companies. We recently checked in with OpenStage, Bas Bleu, and Debut theatre companies and were delighted to find they are still hard at work.

OpenStage Theatre is hard at work preparing for potential productions this spring and celebrating their 50th anniversary (Yes, that’s 5-0!) in 2023. 

Producing Artistic Director Sydney Parks Smith proudly points to OpenStage’s recent fundraising brochure featuring a bevy of company members wearing boxing gloves.  

“The concept behind the brochure is that we are fighting for 50, fighting to still offer quality theatre into our 50th year and beyond,” said Parks Smith. “We are fighting for our artists, who are the soul and passion of our art. We are fighting for our audiences, who are the heart and lifeblood our art. And we are fighting for the joy and compassion that our art nurtures in the Northern Colorado community.”

Last year, OpenStage founders Denise and Bruce Freestone turned over the company’s reigns to the next generation, but the 2020 pandemic put a temporary kibosh on many of their plans. The company gave up its splendid new office and pared down the staff, but Parks Smith exhibits enough energy to make sure those boxing gloves stay firmly in place.

“I’m too stubborn to let OpenStage die,” laughs Parks Smith. 

OpenStage is hoping to produce outdoor plays for next spring, as well as a safe way to produce a play or two in Bas Bleu Theatre’s space at 401 Pine St., in the burgeoning Downtown River District.

“I think the thing that’s important right now is for local non-profits to help each other survive,” said Parks Smith. “Nobody wins when an arts group closes. The entire arts community is better with more culture.”

Meanwhile, Bas Bleu has begun work on outdoor spaces for use by Northern Colorado’s cultural community. 

Founder and Artistic Director Wendy Ishii said, “I recently had a crew of woodcutters out to open up my nearly three-acre (Laporte) property so we can do things in my yard. It’ll be a circle, and I’ll plant trees around it to set it off. We’ll also do a ‘faery’ garden for dark works, puppetry, and such.”

Ishii is talking with OpenStage and Debut theatre companies about using the space. “Perhaps we could perform in repertory, with each company putting on a show on different weekends.”

Also, Bas Bleu is in early discussions with Opera Fort Collins to perform the opera “Scalia/Ginsburg” in the circular space. The modern opera looks at the longstanding friendship between Chief Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Ishii’s motto for the year is similar to that of OpenStage’s “Fighting for 50.” 

“All year, I’ve been thinking about (playwright Samuel) Beckett’s quote from ‘Waiting for Godot’: ‘I must go on. I can’t go on. I will go on.’”

Debut Theatre is a young person’s theatre school and acting company, and the team felt it vital to find ways of working with social distancing and other COVID-19 requirements. 

“We are different from OpenStage and Bas Bleu in that our aim is to infuse passion for theatre in the next generation and build their theatrical skills,” said Co-founder and Artistic Director Lee Osterhout-Kaplan. “We’re not driven by the box office because all our shows are free, except for those produced at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center.”

When the world fell apart in March, Lee and her brother Gregg Osterhout decided it was vital to continue providing their students with classes and performance opportunities to help keep young actors connected, hopeful, and grounded.

Cast of Noises Off. Photo courtesy of OpenStage Theatre.

So Debut moved weekly rehearsals online for three months. 

“Sometimes we rehearsed, and sometimes the younger students simply showed off their pets, and the older ones talked about their feelings,” said Osterhout-Kaplan. “Everyone was scared, confused, and mourning the loss of personal contact, but happy to be together and not lose the show they cared about.”

In early June, the company, now marking its 30th season, began working in a portion of the old Coloradoan newspaper building at 1212 Riverside, which allowed classes to get together while exceeding all safety guidelines. 

For four days, Debut filmed shows at Bas Bleu Theatre and, two weeks later, enjoyed virtual watch parties.

As fall arrived, Debut turned to in-house-written scripts that could accommodate any changes necessitated by the pandemic.  

In addition to live-streaming productions, Fort Collins radio station KRFC 88.9FM aired Debut’s “Vintage Hitchcock: A Radio Play” in October and will do the same for their “It’s a Wonderful Life” radio play, airing Dec. 24. 

You also can see this Christmas classic during a live stream on Dec. 19, with repeat performances on December 20 and 21 via the Fort Collins Lincoln Center. 

To continue offering classes, producing shows, and working towards the future of theatre in Northern Colorado, all three organizations depend on the public’s largesse. Each Christmas season offers an excellent opportunity to do so during the annual, statewide movement known as Colorado Gives Day.


To make online donations to local nonprofits, visit: ColoradoGives.org

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