Boulder organization’s annual Local Lab expands, with things kicking off in December
One of the state’s top forums for new plays, Boulder’s Local Theater Company, is getting an early jump on things. In past years, Local would highlight three plays in progress during its spring Local Lab festival. That’s still happening, but there’s a trio of new works being presented in December, as well as several other “Pop-Up Lab” events in February and March.
December’s “Fall Lab” — set for Dec. 4-6, will feature three plays:
- Clown Lung by Steven San Luis
- Shells by Nick Chase and Roslyn Hart
by Stephanie Alison Walker, translated by Paula Pizzi-Black
To learn more, I had the chance to chat with Local Theater Company’s artistic director Pesha Rudnick; associate artistic director Nick Chase; and Betty Hart, associate artist who’s co-directing the overall festival with Chase. (Hart is also board president of the Colorado Theatre Guild.)
“The three shows are vastly different and edge into a territory of performance that the Boulder/Denver crowd doesn’t often see,” Chase said. “Shells is an edgy show that was started in downtown NYC and sits in that world where cabaret, comedy, theatre and live music intersect. Clown Lung is a hilarious play that finds a group of five performers switching between various identities. Abuelas, our virtual presentation, is an English-Spanish play that will include translations of both languages.”
Both Clown Lung and Shells will be presented live at Boulder’s Deviant Spirits (DV8), a queer arts space and distillery, with a live-streaming option. Abuelas will be live-stream only.
“The way the Lab works, and how the company functions, is we present it as a curated weekend,” Rudnick said. “So, if you’re an audience member for the weekend, you’ll see three different shows at different phases of development: a comedy, a show that’s dramatic, and probably one that doesn’t fit in any category that’s floating in the world of theatre but might be breaking the form.”
And, she added, “We always ask ‘why this play now?’”
Hart noted that the current state of the world is part of the equation.
“We’ve had great conversations regarding the pandemic,” she said. “Like, how many different ways has the world changed? And then we ask: Is the art reflecting that? The plays ask who we are as citizens of the world, they ask tremendous questions about who we are, about who we can become and who we want to be at this time.”
Shells, which Chase developed with longtime collaborator Roslyn Hart, has had other permutations, including a 27-run live series in New York centered around the title character Michelle “Shells” Hoffman. COVID offered a new opportunity to explore her story, and it landed in a curious place.
“We stepped back to ask where Shells is in the midst of the pandemic,” said Chase, who also directs. “Everyone was asking these questions, like ‘What will my life be like from now on, who am I in all this, who do I want to be emerging from this?’”
Shells, who’s an analyst at JP Morgan, chose a big left turn to help answer those questions.
“She does it absurdly by staging a cabaret show,” he said. “I think a lot of people doubled down on what they want the shape of their life to look like, and many people have an image of their lives they’re trying to will into reality. Shells has a very clear plan.”
Clown Lung, Steven San Luis’s full-length, drag-show comedy, is about a pizza delivery guy with a propensity for crying all the time. In an attempt to stop the tears, he journeys from a depressing circus to a lively funeral and places in between. Meghan Frank is the director.
“We’re excited to be working with her,” Rudnick said. “She’s great with movement, as well as the metaphor of movement and how it flows.”
The play, she said, has characters turning into different, non-human identities — jellyfish, primarily — as a way to challenge notions of binary gender.
“Steven’s script is grappling with identity — how they intersect and ricochet off one another,” she said.
Abuelas tells the story of an Argentine cellist living in Chicago whose life is disrupted by two strangers.
“We’ve always wanted to do a show that’s bilingual, as it speaks to a population in Colorado that may not take their art in English first,” Rudnick said. “It’s a beautiful piece by Stephanie Walker, who grew up in Boulder, and we’re excited to host both the playwright and translator from Argentina.”
All Lab performances end with an audience feedback session, which Rudnick says is a critical component.
“The post-show experience is integrated into every Lab, but it’s a real focus this year,” she said. “Betty is looking closely at the experience for the audience while asking what the artists need in those precious moments after the play ends.”
Rudnick said having Chase and Hart co-direct the Lab series is a new approach that’s worked out very well.
“It’s been an absolute joy,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll go backwards, especially as we continue to grow so exponentially in the past two years. We had been doing three plays a year and now it’s 10. It’s a neat season for audiences to go on a journey from Boulder to Denver to New York.”