From a creative cocoon to a ‘Butterfly’: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company comes out of the pandemic and rebrands

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Courtesy Michael Ensminger/BETC
Gin Walker, Martha Harmon Pardee, and Sam Gregory are the cast of BETC’s “The Children” by Lucy Kirkwood.

During the beginning of the pandemic, amid restrictions and shutdowns, the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company packed their stuff up, took their show on the road and went into a creative cocoon. Now the group has come back home as a butterfly.

Producing Artistic Director Stephen Weitz said the theater company made an initial pivot similar to other arts organizations by offering virtual programming at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It turned out to be a blessing … of sorts. 

“One of the small silver linings of the pandemic was that we got some time to think about who we were as an organization and who we wanted to be,” Weitz said. “And sometimes, that's the kind of thing that gets lost in the day-to-day bustle of running an arts organization.”

The thought led the company to the idea of a touring theater truck. 

“When we launched that, we felt it was a great time to also reexamine our mission, our values, our vision, and, and really come to terms with the who we wanted to be coming out of the pandemic,” Weitz said. 

Associate Artistic Director Heather Beasley said expanding across the state allows the company to build new connections.

“We really did have a chance to reach different segments of the Colorado community than our company had before with works that they otherwise would never have seen or might never have encountered,” Beasley said. “And the opportunity to work with the writers leading into the world premieres was really a great connection between our new play development efforts and those larger company efforts to try to reach different and more diverse audiences around the state.”

Finding new audiences wasn’t the only thing that leaders of the theater got to do during the pandemic pause. It also allowed them to consider what they do and why, even down to how they are named.

“And as part of that, we decided to rebrand the company in part, because we were serving a bigger slice of Colorado and different audiences and not so bold, exclusively,” Weitz said. “And we wanted our name and our mission to reflect that.”

That new name: the Butterfly Effect Theatre of Colorado. The mission: create an inclusive environment for a diverse array of artists and audiences. 

Now as BETC begins a new season with a return to a traditional theater space, it also has a new vision.

“Our vision is theater as a catalyst for a better world. And I think that's actually a great segue into our first play: “The Children,” by Lucy Kirkwood. And I think it's exactly the kind of play that suits that vision statement,” Weitz said.

“The Children” was inspired by the resilient reaction of the Japanese people to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in that country. 

“One of the things that I really appreciate about this story is it's a story of hope that something individuals choose to do can still make a difference,” Beasley said. “And I think people really need to hear that message because it's so easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of what we've all been enduring.” 

Cast member Sam Gregory says every line in the play means something. 

“There's no wasted dialogue. It's lean, it's tight. Every moment builds on each other and every moment's necessary,” Gregory said. “You know, the best constructed plays really don't waste language. And this play does not waste language. It's also complicated and funny and dark and mysterious. So I couldn't say no. The part is too good.”

Gin Walker, who plays Rose in the show, said she was “blown away” by the script.

“There's so much depth in this play. It's just astonishing both in terms of the relationships between these three individuals, but also so much more in terms of the situation they find themselves in the environment, in the specific moment, and the wider implications and contexts, in the country and the world,” Walker said.

Still, despite things looking up for the Butterfly Effect Theatre of Colorado, pandemic challenges remain. Weitz said he thinks now is actually a more stressful time for arts organizations than during the past 18 months of the pandemic. 

“It's all the investment, the money when you haven't had revenue for an extended period of time. It's the uncertainty about how much of your audience is gonna return, how willing people are gonna be to, to come back to that environment,” Weitz said. 

Weitz says artists need patron support now more than ever.

“I would just say, if you have a favorite arts organization, whether it's us or somebody else that this is a great time to go see their programming, to be part of what they're doing to let them know that you're there and you wanna be part of it,” Weitz said. “Because we wanna see you back.”

“The Children” by Lucy Kirkwood from the Butterfly Effect Theatre of Colorado plays through October 8 at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder.