- Courtesy Springs Ensemble Theatre
Love theater? You'd do well to check out our regional go-tos.
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org) easily rates as the most well-known of our local theater institutions, with two stages to accommodate a variety of work — from one-person or small-cast shows in the upstairs music room to glamorous plays and musicals performed on the impressive mainstage.
Mining the best of our local talent, the FAC presents everything from classic musicals like last year's 9 to 5: The Musical — complete with glitzy dance numbers and spotless singing — to audience-interactive murder mystery comedies like Shear Madness and kids' shows like Junie B. Jones: The Musical, which highlight the venue's versatility.
The variety and quality make it an easy choice when looking for a night out on the town or entertaining guests. Also of note: the Deco Lounge, the FAC's bar, makes a mean cocktail.
Visitors to the Millibo Art Theatre (1626 S. Tejon St., themat.org) consistently praise it for its intimacy. While not small (the venue seats 100-plus), the MAT makes a solid effort to make its patrons feel like part of the family.
For instance, the "Kids First" series — which includes everything from clown shows by artistic director Jim Jackson to fairy-tale puppet shows by touring Paul Mesner Puppets — offers milk, cookies and crafts after each show.
The MAT's adult programs maintain a focus on new and original work. Sometimes that means premiere plays by prominent playwrights, such as this year's Heroines of Central Ohio by Chris Shaw Swanson. Often, new work comes from performing artists within the community, local acrobats, dancers and singers who contribute to the MAT's cabarets.
Overall, the MAT strives for variety, and they do it well.
TheatreWorks (Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, theatreworkscs.org) has been around since 1975, and its legacy is one of incredible growth and quality. This professional theater company is attached to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, so its work informs the quality theater education at UCCS while drawing on the resources of the college to enrich the experience of its attendees.
Its Prologue series brings in guest speakers to discuss themes in theater and in individual shows, and the town hall series has addressed issues of race and gender in theater.
With high-quality, high-budget productions, TheatreWorks presents classic stories like the upcoming production of Pride and Prejudice as well as more eclectic, even surreal works like last year's Constellations.
Well-loved by theater newbies and oldies alike, Springs Ensemble Theatre (1903 E. Cache La Poudre St., springsensembletheatre.org), never fails to present rich and vibrant shows. With one of the most consistent member-bases in town, you can always expect a powerful cast and solid direction.
As a smaller nonprofit theater, SET's budget should by all accounts prevent them from achieving the quality of work they do, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a thriftier theater. On a shoestring budget, they managed to put on a radical, all-female Titus Andronicus last year with as much fake blood and special effects as one could ask for. Plus, SET consistently presents period pieces like The Elephant Man and The Heir Apparent with custom-made costumes.
SET lies somewhere between a mainstay stage and an off-the-beaten-path enjoyment, but it's always worth a visit.
Some of the Springs' smaller theater companies take advantage of the freedom to explore the art of theater in new and exciting ways.
Funky Little Theater Company (2109 Templeton Gap Road, funkylittletheater.org), for instance, does something few companies in this town do with such intention: showcase marginalized voices. With a commitment to diversity, Funky consistently chooses plays that speak to (and from) different groups of people. Plus, nearly every play they put on is a regional or world premiere, like this year's [Record] [Transfer] [Erase], written by local playwright Jeremiah Miller, or 2015's Italy written by Colorado's own Michele Berdinis.
In 2016, Funky started the now-annual Spectrum: LGBT New Play Festival, which accepts submissions from all over the nation for short, LGBTQ-focused plays. And last year they hosted After Orlando, a national theater action that presented short plays in reaction to the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Artistic director Chris Medina told the Indy that Funky's upcoming season is going to be the "season of the female playwright," meaning every play in the season will be written by a woman. That's the kind of quality content we like to see.
Funky's a small theater, seating 45 at most, and its friendly, casual company members make it feel homey and comfortable. It's a great first theater experience for people who think (erroneously) that live theater is for fuddy-duddies. It's a theater run by and for the next generation of theater-goers, with a diverse mindset that should appeal to the artsier millennials among us.
Funky's experimental nature leads to some thought-provoking, intense or hilarious shows. Not a lot of companies have the courage to experiment, because by its very nature experimentation doesn't always work, so it's important to support those who continue trying something new.
Cottonwood Center for The Arts (427 E. Colorado Ave., cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com) has always been a mainstay of visual arts, but it also hosts three local theater companies that deserve some serious attention for doing the kind of work they do.
Star Bar Players, THEATREdART and COUNTER/Weight Theatre Lab are probably the most experimental theater companies in town, and they consistently produce excellent work that's a little different from what you may expect from theater. Not to say they don't add recognizable titles to their seasons, but when they do take on a familiar story, they usually do it in a new and interesting way.
Star Bar, for example, produced Quake earlier this year, a different kind of theater experience that blended poetic soliloquies with a surreal story of romance and identity, to great effect. And in June they will present a production of Hamlet that, according to the company, has a pretty interesting twist. Said twist hasn't been revealed yet, but we're waiting with bated breath to find out.
THEATREdART is a mix of pure creativity and experimentation. A devised performance of War of the Worlds last year featured interpretive movement set to the classic Orson Welles broadcast. Weird, but effective. That's just a fraction of what you can expect from these folks who also turned Crime and Punishment into a fantastically accessible piece of theater. This December, we're looking forward to THEATREdART's production of Angels in America. It sounds like it's going to be massive and beautiful, and something a little different for the company.
COUNTER/Weight somehow manages to balance low ticket prices (the lowest in the city for non-students, in fact) with the promise of quality work, producing some fascinating theater. Solaris, while unconventional, created a buzz around town as ambitious and well-executed sci-fi, and COUNTER/Weight's October production of Mackbet promises to be a nontraditional take on Shakespeare, which we are very excited to see.
Another fabulous reason to visit Cottonwood for theater is the fact that these companies don't operate in a vacuum. COUNTER/Weight's Ethan Everhart directed Star Bar's Quake, and COUNTER/Weight will collaborate with THEATREdART in July for a play called Petrograd. Plus, these companies share a similar actor pool, so you're likely to see some familiar faces. It's a definite theatrical family, and it's easy to feel like a part of it. Cottonwood's David H. Lord Theater, where these groups perform, is small and intimate, with creaky floors and free-standing chairs. It feels like the kind of space where experimental performance art happens.
While not always a traditional theater experience, the Cottonwood companies promise an artistic theater experience, which is equally as valuable.
Some performing artists don't have their own venue, or some venues act as nontraditional spaces, so here are some neat local theatrical experiences to catch.
Shakespeare at the Ranch (theatreworkscs.org)
TheatreWorks presents an annual summer production of a Shakespearean classic.
The location, Rock Ledge Ranch, provides an excellent backdrop with its beautiful historic buildings and rolling pastoral landscapes.
Last year's Antony and Cleopatra boasted an excellent local reception, which came as no surprise. Locals love this series.
This year's production hasn't been revealed as of this writing, but keep an eye out online for the announcement.
Peaks & Pasties (peaksandpasties.com)
This local troupe includes some of the sexiest, glitziest, most entertaining dancers in the area and puts on fantastic shows.
You can usually find them in special productions at the Zodiac Venue and Bar.
Some P&P dancers also perform in the Millibo Art Theatre's Circus of the Night or other cabarets.
If you want to get in on this burlesque action, they have opportunities to take workshops and classes in the art.
Iron Springs Chateau (ironspringschateau.com)
Nestled in the heart of Manitou, this venue provides a special treat — original, old-timey melodramas.
For those who don't know, melodramas give you the chance to boo villains, cheer for heroes and sing along to themed olios.
Successful melodrama takes a lot of over-the-top actors, costumes, singers and dancers. Iron Springs satisfies in all regards.
As the best melodrama theaters do, Iron Springs serves you dinner with your drama.
Our Shorts Are Showing (craft-pr.com)
Organized by Craft Production Resource, this yearly play festival takes short-play submissions from the community.
Our Shorts Are Showing trades venues yearly, but always provides multiple opportunities to see the work of local playwrights.
Some plays turn out funny, some tragic, but all of them provide a nice snapshot of our local theater community.
It usually happens sometime in September, so keep an eye on its website for details.
The Story Project (thestoryprojectsoco.wordpress.com)
It's hard to call The Story Project theater, but it is certainly a performing art, as local storytellers take the stage to talk about their lives.
The stage has hosted everyone from local politicians to urban farmers to comedians to community leaders.
Those familiar with NPR's Story Corps will have a good idea of what to expect.
Organized by Smokebrush Foundation and hosted by SunWater Spa, The Story Project is an intrinsic part of our local arts community.
Hear Here Poetry (hearherepoetry.org)
Hear Here provides incredible opportunities to local slam poets of all ages, including youth slams, adult slams and open mics.
Each year the organization puts together poetry teams to participate in national competitions.
Interested poets can also attend various Hear Here workshops to refine their craft — both writing and performance.
Hear Here is fully inclusive, with clearly established rules regarding respect for all people and all subject matter. Everyone is welcome.