By A. H. Goldstein, Boulder Daily Camera (Read the original.)
The final leg of the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s tenth season has played out on a diverse range of stages.
In January, the troupe mounted Vera Rubin: Bringing Dark to Light at the Fiske Planetarium. The show fused old-fashioned stagecraft with cutting-edge technology, making full use of Fiske’s stunning optics and effects to summon the jaw-dropping scope of the known universe.
For their production of Aaron Loeb’s taut thriller Ideation in February, the company went in a completely different direction, taking a site-specific tack and running the show in the cozy confines of actual Boulder board rooms.
That unpredictability is set to persist in BETC’s final production of the season, an updated take on the story of the warrior poet Cyrano de Bergerac by contemporary playwrights Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner. For Cyrano, the BETC crew will travel farther afield than ever for a two-week run at the Lone Tree Art Center’s 500-plus seat main auditorium.
“It does give us a certain sense of pride that we can do this,” said Rebecca Remaly, director of Cyrano and BETC ensemble member. “Give us the resources, give us the space and we can do it. We can go small, we can go nontraditional.” She added, “No one who has followed BETC has ever seen us on this scale.”
But the final production of the troupe’s milestone season is about much more than simply proving their ability to pull off a large-scale show. Most immediately, Cyrano represents a new partnership between BETC and the creative brass at the Lone Tree Arts Center, a venue that’s almost 50 miles from the ensemble’s traditional home at the Dairy Arts Center. The two-week run of Cyrano offers a chance to share BETC’s unique creative approach with a brand-new audience.
“It gave us an opportunity to expand the style of what we normally can do, to take advantage of being in this big, beautiful theater,” said Stephen Weitz, BETC producing ensemble director and founder. Weitz is also playing the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac. “We get to introduce who we are.”
But the show represents another big step for BETC, which takes pride in its focus on contemporary work and intimate, ensemble-based theater. The show at Lone Tree will give the troupe the opportunity to tackle a story that goes back more than a century, a tale that boasts considerable mythos, poetry and an impressively romantic pedigree.
Sure, the adaptation is a new take on the classic story by two accomplished, contemporary playwrights, and the BETC production will feature a cast of less than 10, rather than dozens.
Even so, this show will offer the crew an opportunity to explore some new creative routes.
“One of the wonderful things about this script is that they’ve retained the beauty of the poetry and the passion of the story and of the characters while making it more accessible,” Remaly said.
“But it’s not a contemporary version of ‘Cyrano’ … It’s not anything that I feel like it will be strange to people who see classical theater often.”
That means that the show will feature all the swordplay, wordplay and unbridled romance of the original 19th-century play by Edmond Rostand. And the BETC crew has drawn on contacts familiar to Boulder theatergoers to help bring that mood to the Lone Tree stage.
Geoffrey Kent, longtime company member and fight coordinator for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, is coordinating the martial elements of the play. Along with Benaiah Anderson, the CSF’s resident armorer who’s also playing De Valvert in the show, Kent has worked hard to invest the action with authenticity.
That commitment has come in a wide range of fight scenes, including a sequence that sees Cyrano staving off 100 combatants with a single sword.
“There’s a very famous moment in the story where Cyrano fights 100 people and he wins. I’ve never staged it. I’ve never been in a script that expected it. This script stages it. This script wants the audience to see it,” Kent said. “We’re doing it with a cast of eight — it’s the challenge of making five or six fighters look like 100 fighters.”
That effect comes through a combination of choreography, costumes and careful character work. Actors summon different mannerisms and affectations to suit dozens and dozens of fighters. They mix up their onstage personas to properly convey an angry mob.
“As a fight director, composing a 100-on-one fight is a lot like Cyrano composing poetry,” Kent noted. “We’re doing things I’ve never tried before.”
That commitment to maintaining a small, ensemble feel is one of the ways “Cyrano” stays grounded in BETC’s overriding artistic philosophy. While the troupe is excited about making a shift to a bigger stage and a new audience, they haven’t forgotten their guiding principles.
They haven’t forgotten about their core base, either. Though the show will run miles from their normal stomping grounds, BETC brass has made a focused campaign to bring their most loyal audiences with them for the trip to Lone Tree.
“We are actually making a concerted effort. We’re doing the ‘BETC Bus to Cyrano’ through a private charter bus company for one of the performances,” Remaly said, adding that the bus ride, on April 23, will feature dramaturgical lectures about the history of the play. Those discussions are bound to explore the heart of the title character’s motivations.
“He’s passionate about everything — doing the right thing, standing up for what is good and what is true,” she said, adding “Who is this mythical creature who would do something like that? That it is really something to think about and question.”