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Stage fight

With a scrappy (but still lovely) can-do spirit, performing arts groups enrich the region



There's no big opera house, or grand old theater, or, really, any landmark locally that would by itself insist that locals take heed of the performing arts. But the troupes and groups around here make sure it happens — even if it sometimes means carrying their own soapbox to the street corner.

Know your role

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company (csfineartscenter.org) is the best-equipped theater group, with its own stage at the FAC. In terms of budget and scope, it puts on the biggest productions around, relying heavily on an award-winning creative team. See the website for upcoming shows — it was staging Clare Boothe Luce's The Women as of press time — and note that during the summer, the FAC also hosts F.A.C.T.S., an integrated theater-training program for children 5 to 18.

Meanwhile, TheatreWorks (theatreworkscs.org) performs everything from classics and contemporaries to originals by artistic director Murray Ross and guests like Springs native Thaddeus Phillips. The professional ensemble, which operates out of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, also produces the annual Shakespeare Festival in August (recently returned to Rock Ledge Ranch), which kicks off each new season.

UCCS alums are behind Theatre 'd Art (theatredart.org), which will upgrade to a venue at the corner of Nevada Avenue and Bijou Street for its 2011-12 season with the aid of a Bee Vradenburg Foundation grant. The experimental theater company specializes in new and original plays, as well as those by contemporary playwrights. Coming in mid-2011: the annual Theatregasm festival and two originals.

The Bee Vradenburg Foundation also awarded Jim Jackson and Birgitta DePree, owners and founders of Manitou Art Theatre (themat.org), the $1,000 Bee an Arts Champion Award for "sustained, passionate and innovative leadership toward advancing the arts in the Pikes Peak region." The theater, which kept its name even after high rent chased it out of Manitou Springs a couple years ago, stages originals by the MAT crew and regular guests like Barry Smith and Bill Bowers as well as children's shows, an annual circus and workshops.

On the community theater scene, another Vradenburg grant recipient, the Springs Ensemble Theatre (springsensembletheatre.org) staged The Smell of the Kill in its new Cache la Poudre Street theater in March. And going two years strong after a year-long hiatus, the Star Bar Players (starbarplayers.org) staged Tracy Letts' challenging Bug to highlight its 2010-11 season.

Moving south to Pueblo, the recently re-vamped Damon Runyon Repertory Theater (runyontheater.org), named after the native son and Broadway playwright, leads the way. But the nearly decade-old Steel City Theatre Company (sctcpueblo.com) does more contemporary, sometimes edgier theater, and the 45-year-old Impossible Players (impossibleplayers.org) troupe stages an eclectic assortment of shows.

Cripple Creek is home to a beautiful remodeled 1890s theater, the Butte Opera House, which hosts the Western theme plays and originals by the Thin Air Theatre Company (butteoperahouse.com).

If it's an olio you crave back in the Springs, the 51-year-old Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Dinner Theater (pikes-peak.com/attraction/15.aspx) has you covered. The outfit presents melodramas with vaudeville-inspired acts and a sing-along. Drink up and enjoy the fun, April through October.

For a family-friendly experience of yesteryear, go to the Simpich Showcase Theatre (simpich.com) where the Simpich Marionette Repertoire performs classics like the Hans Christian Andersen Storybook and originals by puppeteer David Simpich.

Other kids' stuff: The Academy of Children's Theatre (aoct.net) offers year-round classes for ages 4 to 19, with performances at the end of each session. In 2010, a 19-and-up troupe called ACT II formed and began performing with ACT for the group's feature productions, held twice per year. And 7- to 18-year-olds can attend classes and summer camps, including Broadway workshops and playwriting, at AlleyCat Theatrics (alleycattheatrics.com). The youth theater company also stages periodic plays at the City Auditorium.

Finally, for an entirely different and certainly more adult stage experience, find the guys and dolls of Peaks and Pasties (peaksandpasties.com) glittering, shimmying and shaking what the Lord done gave 'em at local nightspots and at the Colorado Burlesque Festival in Denver, July 7 through 10.

Song and dance

The biggest dance event of 2011 — in fact, one of the year's biggest artistic events, in general — was scheduled at a site not typically known for dance. To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the FAC scheduled an April 19 appearance by the Martha Graham Dance Company. The world-renowned company performed on opening night back in 1936, and scheduled some of the same numbers for reprisal this time around.

That event was sponsored in part by the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre (csdance.org), which is known not only for its own dance performances, but also for master classes, scholarship competitions and an annual student recital. Look for its 2011-12 season to start in the fall.

You won't have to wait that long to see the Ormao Dance Company (ormaodance.org), which will perform at the Colorado College Dance Festival Summer Concert in July. The nonprofit, professional-level modern dance troupe celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and also offers classes — which will take place in a new downtown-area studio, thanks to fundraising capped by a (you guessed it) Bee Vradenburg Foundation matching grant.

If you're more moved by the way voices can jump and bound, you'll want to check out the Colorado Springs Chorale (cschorale.org), where 100-plus voices sing in harmony. The group performs five concerts a season, sometimes joining with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic or, as in mid-May, with the Air Force Academy Band.

And thanks to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," perhaps someday the AFA Band will perform with the men's chorus Out Loud (rmarts.org/outloud.php). Self-described as "goodwill ambassadors," the 60 members present "a positive image of the GBLT community" through song. Theirs is a pretty active calendar, with appearances at welcoming churches as well as theaters; check the website for details.

Classical education

When it comes to classical music, you have to start with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic (csphilharmonic.org), and not just because it's bringing famous violinist Itzhak Perlman to the Pikes Peak Center in 2012. Under the guidance of Nathan Newbrough, the collective has succeeded in making music accessible (via its Vanguard series and community outreach) and affordable (with $10 tickets to many shows). Retiring music director and conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith is tentatively scheduled to present The Farewell Concert the weekend of May 21.

Two weeks before that, the tireless and talented volunteers in the Pikes Peak Philharmonic (pikespeakphil.org) community orchestra wrap up their 2010-11 season. And one week before that brings the season finale for the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs (chamberorchestraofthesprings.org). Like the philharmonic groups whose members often play with it, the Chamber Orchestra offers low-priced tickets, and come September, it'll start up its 27th year as an orchestra with its first of five 2011-12 season concerts.

The Pueblo Symphony Orchestra (pueblosymphony.com), though 82 years old, is showing a surprisingly youthful and hip side these days. It premiered the Symphony Shuffle concert series in 2010, pairing classical music with other genres and edibles. Think: Bluegrass, Ballet and Bon Bons; Mariachis, Mozart and Macaroons; and Bel Canto, Bourbon Street and Buffalo Wings. More $10 tickets here, with a new-season lineup coming this spring.

Back in the Springs, the Colorado Springs Conservatory (coloradospringsconservatory.org) preps talented young musicians from preschool through high school for professional performance. The group performs solo and with groups like the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. On April 15 and 16, look for its fourth annual Beautiful Chaos performance, a collaboration with the Ballet Society of Colorado Springs (one of the area's many dance studios and performing ensembles) and Ormao.

Lastly, two local groups take classical music into more intimate venues. Hausmusik (coloradohausmusik.com) began hosting concerts in people's homes in 1992, allowing small audiences to gather with hors d'oeuvres, wine, music and conversation, reminiscent of hausmusik affairs in Germany. Still performing for audiences of around 70, the string quartet can be found in churches, too, and occasionally features special guests.

In 2006, UCCS music professor Abe Minzer and his wife began hosting Classically Alive (classicallyalive.com) at their home. The group performs mostly classical music and is occasionally accompanied by poets, painters and humanities scholars for salon events. They'll host a benefit salon, Opera Colorado, in May.

Joke's on ... who?

For its size, the Springs has at times hosted a disproportionate amount of improv groups; at one point, we knew of five. The RiP (theriponline.com) performs long-form, short-form and sketch comedy at the Manitou Art Theatre the first Friday and Saturday nights of each month, and the RiP and MAT will host the third annual Colorado Improv Festival from June 2 through 5.

Improv Colorado (improvcolorado.com) performances are "like a game of tag," says new artistic director Scott Nowlin. The group performs Friday nights at the Business of Art Center and hosts periodic open "improv jams" elsewhere. And the Stick Horses in Pants (thestickhorses.com), in biz since 2004, perform family-friendly improv regularly in a couple places, including The Broadmoor Hotel Theatre. According to their website, "Seniors love us because Matlock is only on three hours a day and they need some way to fill the rest of their time."

For more orderly comedy performances, Loonees Comedy Corner (loonees.com) brings local and national stand-up comedians to its 21-plus club Thursdays through Saturdays. Stargazers Theatre & Event Center (stargazerstheatre.com) hosts periodic comedy showcases of local talent. And local and national acts perform at the Pikes Peak Center (pikespeakcenter.com), Pueblo's Sangre de Cristo Arts Center (sdc-arts.org) and the Air Force Academy (usafaservices.com/academy-concerts).

— Additional reporting by Matthew Schniper

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