Margaret Hair: Bringing the stage to Steamboat

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Margaret Hair

Margaret Hair's column appears Fridays in the 4 Points arts and entertainment section in the Steamboat Today. Contact her at 871-4204 or e-mail mhair@steamboatpilot.com.

— Stuart Handloff remembers a simpler time: a time when Steamboat Springs nightlife was just getting started and there wasn't all that much to do.

"When I first moved here in Steamboat in the early 1970s, TV sucked, there was no Internet - the only thing there was, was music and theater," Handloff said, recalling the first few plays he produced in town. "We could put on any piece of melodrama crap - and we often did - and you'd get 500 people there. : We used to do a season of shows through the winter. You couldn't do that now in a million years."

Things have changed. But Handloff, along with school theater departments and occasional community stage projects, is hoping to tap into what made the shared experience of live theater such an easy sell to Steamboat audiences 30 years ago.

"If we can do softball here, if we can do classical music here, there's no reason we can't do theater," Handloff said. This summer, the longtime Steamboat theater enthusiast and recent alumnus of a graduate directing program at the New Zealand National Drama School will put on the 2009 Picnic Theater Festival, bringing Kiwi actors to Steamboat for three weeks in July to perform in a three-play, outdoor drama festival.

Coming up in the next week, the Steamboat Springs High School theater department finishes its run of Neil Simon's comedic play "Fools," with a show tonight and two Saturday. And starting Thursday at the high school, Mike Brumbaugh, in collaboration with Colorado Mountain College, will produce the Broadway musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

In almost two years studying directing in New Zealand, Handloff said he learned to see theater through a critical - but not cynical - eye, and the developed a renewed understanding for the lasting impact a play can have on an audience. The hope is to leave audience members with questions of their own, rather than providing answers, he said.

"That's when theater becomes more than just entertainment; it becomes an exploration of the unknown, something : unknowable that someone gets to wrestle with for the rest of their lives," he said. That transformation makes live theater a human experience, he said - one he hopes will translate in a summer of Spring Creek Park performances with the Picnic Festival.

"I think this year is going to be bigger and better than last," he said. The scope of performances this summer has expanded to include staging scenes at the Saturday farmers market in June and July, a scheduled children's show at Bud Werner Memorial Library and possible performances at downtown or mountain venues.

As he hopes the festival gains enough support to become commercially viable in the long-term, Handloff said he'd like to maintain the short-term luck of the 2008 run.

"We didn't have any rain, and we didn't have any dog fights," he said.

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