The oldest year-round theatRE COMPANY on Colorado's Western Slope.
The Breckenridge Backstage theatre was once ... Rockpile Productions?
At least, that's what Shirley Martin called her production company back in 1974 when she got the idea to stage the melodrama Poor Pitiful Pearl in the Breckenridge bar, Singin' Sadie's Saloon. She cast a young newcomer to the area, Allyn Mosher, in the role of the villain. Neither performer was sure if anyone would show up to see the result of all their hard work and effort. But they needn't have worried. Locals and visitors alike flocked to the production which was a riotous, raucous affair with audience members hoisting beer mugs and booing and hissing and offering otherwise appropriate melodramtic comments to the troupe performing at the end of the bar. It was the last (and only) year of business for Singin' Sadie, but it was the beginning of a notable cultural tradition in Breckenridge.
Shirley owned a boutique called the Backdoor. The name "Backstage" was a natural derivation for the new year-round company she decided to form with Allyn. That first year, the newly christened Backstage Theatre produced three melodramas, a bedtime comedy "for mature audience only", and a Noel Coward play - all at the Breckenridge Inn (now known as the Breckenridge Mountain Lodge).
In 1976, the Backstage theatre was incorporated as Summit County's first non-profit and, with the help of local artisan Dan Milner, moved into a permanent, 74-seat theatre on the second floor of the Sterling Building (still located on the corner of Ski Hill Road and Main Street). According to The Rocky Mountain News, the stage had "barely enough room to fit a Volkswagen", but the group nevertheless produced a year-round schedule of large-cast musicals, mysteries, and melodramas. They soon added a classic film series and invited Dr. Kenneth Evans (who later founded the Breckenridge Music Institute) to host a chamber music series.
The performing arts had come to Breckenridge.
The early Backstage years were a time of innovation and growth. In 1976, Backstage initiated the first fund-raising auction in Summit County. Backstage also acquired the first Arts Liquor License in the state. In 1979, Joyce Mosher (who had met Allyn while he was stumping for Backstage support - and married him a few short months later) began a ten-year series of children's theatre workshops and productions, designed to encourage imagination, self-confidence, and a sense of showmanship by offering Summit County children, aged 9-14, an opportunity to learn the basics of stage technique. The program was recognized as one of the best in the state, and was funded by the Colorado Council on the the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
It was during this time that the Backstage Theatre began to garner attention from the Front Range in the form of favorable reviews from unexpectedly pleased Denver theatre reviewers. Word was out that a trip to Breckenridge was not complete without a visit to the Backstage!
Challenges in the early years.
Still, despite the accolades and achievements, those initial productions proved to be a challenge to create. For instance, when Summit county's population was less than one-tenth of what it is today, casting shows proved formidable for directors. Once, during a typical dearth of actors, a department store dummy was recruited to play the role of Higgs in The Real Inspector Hound. It was not unusual for the director, costume mistress, or props runner to pick up a script and take the place of a non-showing cast member. Everyone pitched in to make the productions possible. Allyn once had to bail an actress out of jail so she could make the curtain for a performance. Even Breckenridge's current mayor, Dr. John Warner, DDS, came to the aid of the Backstage. He was enlisted to improve the smile of one local actor whose appearance was less than, uhm, stageworthy.
The kind-hearted (some would say fearless) locals who were drafted to take part in the early shows were often young, hard-working entrepreneurs in search of new ways to sow some wild oats. However, their enthusiasm sometimes led to the inability to recognize the difference between stage play and the real thing. In fact after a particularly rousing stage fight in the 1978 production of The Fantasticks, one unfortunate actor went home with several cracked ribs! Happily, many of the reluctant actors have survived their thespian days and become leading citizens, successful art gallery owners, real estate agents, politicians, and restauranteurs.
The Golden Decades: 1980-2000
In 1980, Nick Marsch offered Backstage Theatre space in his new Village at Breckenridge development. Supported by grants from the Gates and Coors Foundation, as well as donations of money and services from hundreds of patrons, Allyn Mosher once more picked up the hammer and nails and created a new space for the Backstage. This beautiful and spacious (98 seats!) venue at the base of Maggie Pond was home to many delightful productions which charmed audiences who discovered this Rocky Mountain treasure, riveted them with stunning drama and suspense, and provided the kind of belly laughs you couldn't find anywhere else. In the following decade, twenty-eight stellar productions were mounted as the quality and professionalism of the theatre continued to grow along with the town of Breckenridge itself.
In 1990, after 15 years assuming any and all roles in the theatre, Joyce and Allyn Mosher invited Wendy and Bob Moore to assume the direction of the Backstage Theatre. Under Wendy and Bob's leadership, Backstage undertook an increased performance schedule and initiated both the KidsPlay series and the Backstage at the Riverwalk series - which was created to fund scholarships for Summit County youth interested in exploring the performing arts.
The Backstage began to compete in the Colorado Community Theatre Coalition, consistently winning high honors in all categories and advancing to the American Associate of Community Theatre's regional, national, and international levels of competition (our production of The Compleat Works of Wm. Shakespeare (abridged) journeyed to Thun, Switzerland to participate in the Internationalishes Amateur-Theater Festival).
During their nine-year tenure, the Moores - who had been a part of the Backstage since the early days - made invaluable contributions to the theatre's growth both in statewide recognition and as a vital element in the community.
On the Move.
In 2001, the Backstage Theatre lost its space at the Village of Breckenridge, but then-artistic director Jeremy Cole kept the theatre alive by staging shows in restaurants and bars across Summit County - performing from Copper to Keystone, Dillon to Breckenridge (no fewer than twelve shows were presented that nomadic year!).
A Backstage for the Backstage.
With an enormous amount of help from The Town of Breckenridge and architect Matt Stais, we opened the new Breckenridge Theatre (occupying the old Shamus O'Toole's Roadhouse) in December of 2002.
In 2004, an extension was completed to the structure which provided dressing rooms and storage space for the company.
In 2005, Christopher Willard came onboard as artistic director and created the critically-acclaimed Backstage Children's Theatre program, the New Voices playreading series, and supervised the transfer of several of our productions to venues outside Summit County. He has been instrumental in creating new plays which have since had their world premieres on our stage. He reinstated the Backstage Arts Scholarship program and developed a touring children's theatre program for Summit County.
Regional Awards and Continued Growth.
Mr. Willard continued to develop the artistic vision of the theatre, and his work was awarded with numerous Colorado Theatre Guild and True West awards. In 2010, the Backstage received the prestigious Colorado Theatre Guild Outstanding Regional Theatre Award as recognition for Willard’s quality productions.
In 2012, the Backstage Theatre officially changed its name to the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre (BBT) and in 2013 it hired Mark Lineaweaver as its first Executive Director. Soon after Town Council approved a $2.55 million renovation of the Breckenridge Theater. Construction on the building began in Spring 2015 and the Backstage once again traveled around Breckenridge and Summit County, performing live theatre in different venues including Colorado Mountain College, the old courthouse, Summit Middle School, and the Riverwalk Center.
The next chapter.
As BBT eagerly awaited its newly improved venue, it focused on developing its children’s education program and created the Student Theatrical Enrichment Program (STEP), an opportunity for young performing artists to perform their own Broadway musical. The program debuted in 2015 with 44 students, 3 shows and 900 patrons and has grown to 66 students, 5 shows and 2200 patrons in only three years. Popularity in the program has also increased the demand for summer camps. Student summer camp enrollment has increased from 40 to 125 over the same period.
In June 2016, the BBT launched the newly renovated Breckenridge Theater with expanded seating capacity, a brand new bar and lobby space, a stage house, and new dressing rooms.
The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre is honored to be the resident company of such a beautiful venue built by the Town of Breckenridge.