by A.H. Goldstein, Boulder Daily Camera (Read the full article.)
The political screeds that got Olympe de Gouges condemned to death were part of a much broader push for social justice and equality.
De Gouges met her grisly end on the guillotine in 18th-century France. She was one of the countless victims of the bloody stretch of the French Revolution fittingly known as the Reign of Terror. Her capital crime officially was her authorship of plays and public postings that called into the question the legitimacy of the revolutionary government, but her transgressions had deeper roots.
“She went to the National Assembly, she took what the revolutionaries had crafted and she turned it around and presented it as a message regarding the rights of the female citizen. That was the beginning of her march to the guillotine,” said Rebecca Remaly, who plays de Gouges in the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists, which kicks off Sept. 14. “She advocated for equal pay, equal representation, rights to inheritance, parental rights for women. She was a revolutionary in her own right. I think that women have a lot to thank her for.”
The Revolutionists is the first in a roster of 2017-18 shows that reflect under-represented points of view, according to Remaly, BETC’s managing director, and Stephen Weitz, the troupe’s producing artistic director. Besides The Revolutionists, the lineup includes the world premiere of Anna Moench’s Birds of North America; the regional premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj; and the regional premiere of Bekah Brunstetter’s Going to a Place Where You Already Are. In addition, the troupe will revive its long-running holiday tradition of staging David Sedaris’ The SantaLand Diaries — co-produced with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Off-Center program — and it will mount a second holiday show, Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!).
Most diversity in BETC’s history
Apart from the fun, familiar holiday shows, the season includes new works that tackle themes ranging from gender equality to climate change to religious uncertainty. On a deeper level, BETC producers say, these shows all point to conflicts that arise from differing viewpoints.
That’s no accident — in assembling the season last year, the company wanted to stress messages of empathy and diversity, themes that have taken on much more urgency in the current national political climate.
“We wanted to focus on building bridges,” Weitz said. “I think it’s something we all have to face right now. As an artistic organization, as things were unfolding over the last eight to 10 months, we had some internal conversations about who we wanted to be in this climate.”
The discussions came back to inclusiveness, a priority they wanted to honor in measurable ways. For the season debut of The Revolutionists, for example, BETC assembled an all-female production staff to complement the show’s all-female cast.
“Four of the six plays this year are written by women or persons of color. We have the most diversity within our cast members in our history. It’s something we’re very conscious of,” Weitz said. “We want to share the human experience … I don’t think of it in terms of being aggressive or preachy — that’s not the point. We want to show our audience the variety of life that is out there.”
The stories of the upcoming season certainly sum up variety. The Revolutionists unfolds in 18th-century France while Birds of North America examines a contemporary father-daughter relationship affected by present politics and scientific realities. Guards of the Taj takes place on the eve of the opening of the Taj Mahal while Going to a Place Where You Already Are examines a modern couple experiencing shifting views of religion and spirituality.
Each of these pieces include a clash of viewpoints and a conflict of perspectives. Each offers reminders about the importance and power of accepting different opinions.
“I think just like practicing anything, empathy is the same way. If you don’t continually check in with yourself, your sense of empathy can start to atrophy,” Remaly said. “There’s a real freshness to these stories, and that’s a reason why I’m so excited to get more people into the theater. I think it will change their understanding of what’s possible within the walls of a theater and what is possible on the stage.”
Holiday shows, the gateway drug
After 12 seasons, BETC producers have learned the value of mixing familiar artistic cues with world and regional premieres. The Santaland Diaries has become one of BETC’s staples, and its concurrent production in Denver with the holiday comedy Every Christmas Story Every Told (And Then Some!) is a valuable bridge to more challenging fare for theater newcomers.
“I think of the holiday shows as kind of a gateway drug,” Remaly said. “You have to have a balanced season so that we can earn the right or privilege to be able to do a play like Birds of North America, which is essentially a risk.”
But that brand of risk is worthwhile to the BETC creative brass, especially when the ultimate goal is encouraging a sense of empathy and understanding for Boulder audiences. The human experience encompasses many views and many stories, Weitz said, and one of BETC’s tasks is to bring that breadth to the stage.
“We’re trying to open doors, we’re not trying to punch people in the face,” he said. “We’re looking for openness, empathy, togetherness. If you want divisiveness, there’s enough of that out there.”