When Stephen Weitz was a young boy growing up in Pennsylvania, he dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. Then life threw him a curveball and he discovered the theater.
Today, as producing director of the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC), he still deals with competition, lineups and the occasional metaphorical home run. He also still lives to hit one out of the park and leave the crowds clamoring for more.
“I started doing plays when I was in elementary school; my first role was Santa Claus,” Weitz recalls. “I went to college and got a degree and two Masters of Fine Arts. I started out as predominantly an actor. In recent years I’ve shifted to be a producer and director, which is exciting for me to be in a bigger role. I’m excited about the work we are doing. I don’t think people should have to travel to New York or even Denver to see top quality theater.
“If I’d had my way, I would have been a professional baseball player, but I don’t think I had those skills. I started college as a communications major and wanted to become a sportscaster. I wasn’t one of those childhood theater prodigies. I was very fortunate to have a professional theater in my community. Both my wife (Rebecca Remaly) and I started there when we were children and went back as adults.”
In 2004, Weitz and his wife moved to Boulder and co-founded BETC, which has made a name for itself the past eight years as a home for challenging contemporary theater. Housed at The Dairy Center for the Arts’ Carsen Theatre, BETC is no stranger to producing regional or even world premieres, including the much anticipated March debut of Pulitzer Prize finalist Dava Sobel’s “And the Sun Stood Still.” BETC is set to unveil its regional premiere of Sharr White’s “Annapurna” on Jan. 30.
The company’s work has not gone unnoticed, either by audiences or the National Endowment for the Arts, which recently awarded BETC a $10,000 grant to help stage Sobel’s play.
Earlier in the year, BETC received a $25,000 Boulder Arts Commission grant to create a “Star Power” series with the University of Colorado’s Fiske Planetarium. The series will incorporate the planetarium’s newly upgraded projection technology with live theater for shows beginning in fall 2015.
The company also was nominated for nine Henry Awards last spring and won for Outstanding Lead Actress.
“When we started the company (in 2006), there was sort of a dearth of contemporary adult drama in Boulder,” Weitz recalls. “Nobody was doing the work that we wanted to see in new plays and regional premieres. Since that time, other companies have grown up in the area, but we’re still the one leading the way with plays from Broadway and off-Broadway.”
Weitz concedes that partnering with the Fiske Planetarium will open new avenues for innovation. Yet, he scoffs at the notion that theater must become more like film and television to compete for audiences.
“I believe we have to embrace the things that theater can do that (film and TV) can’t,” he says. “Getting into a war where we try to create special effects onstage is a losing proposition.
“Theater has always been founded on the reality of a live moment; you are actually experiencing a live moment in communion with an audience. The audience is sharing the energy in the room. That’s what makes theater special and different from digital media. Theater is its own art form.”
Of course, all art requires new adherents, and Weitz admits that’s an ongoing challenge for the stage.
“The demographics for theater audiences are generally older, so we try to broaden that where we can,” he notes, citing the planetarium project as one way to reach young people. “It becomes a value thing.
When people are spending $25 or $50 (for a ticket), we have to make sure everything we put on stage (is of) the utmost quality.”
Weitz laughs when asked if his plate is too full. He and his wife have a 19-month-old son, and he directs outside projects, most recently “Jackie and Me” and “The Santaland Diaries” at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Yet, clearly BETC remains his primary passion.
“Our growth curve has been fantastic, and I hope down the road we’ll continue to offer more programs as we continue to grow,” he says. “Will we continue to add staff and ensemble members? I hope so. And I hope to see them compensated for the amount of work they do.
“Now that we have a child, it has changed how I experience a lot of art. I had always viewed ‘Death of a Salesman’ through the son’s perspective. I’ve rediscovered that play through new eyes.”
If You Go
What: The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s next production is the regional premeire of “Annapurna,” written by Sharr White
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 30-Feb. 16
Where: Carsen Theatre, The Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder
Info: 303-351-BETC (2382), thedairy.org or 303-440-7826