Backstage Theatre’s Jeremy Cole moving on
BRECKENRIDGE – Jeremy Cole, the charismatic artistic director of the Backstage Theatre who shepherded the organization through its most tumultuous years, is moving on after this summer season.Cole, the community theatre’s artistic director who also directs many of the shows, is moving to San Francisco with his partner, Brian Morran. Cole said Morran is selling his bed-and-breakfast and will rejoin the Merchant Marines in the Bay Area.Cole said he isn’t sure what the future will hold for him.”Good lord, if people knew what they were going to do next in theatre,” Cole said Thursday. “I’ll just toss my hats in and see if it falls in any rings.”Backstage Theatre board president Kelly Butler said Cole will be missed.”Replacing our artistic director we can do, but replacing Jeremy Cole? Never,” she said. “San Francisco is very lucky, but in Summit County we’ll really feel the loss.”The Backstage is already searching for a new artistic director, although Cole will remain in the position through August.”We’re taking applications for anyone willing to give up their lives,” Cole said with a laugh.
Era of changeCole began at the Backstage in January of 2001, not knowing that the theatre would soon lose its 98-seat space at The Village at Breckenridge – a space it had inhabited for 20 years and which had seen the production of dozens of successful shows. For the 28th season, Cole and the Backstage company had to make do with a variety of rehearsal and performance spaces, putting on shows in restaurants, churches, town halls and recreation centers, among others.”When we lost the space, we didn’t know what to do but I knew we didn’t want to go on hiatus until we found a space,” Cole said. “People would have thought the theatre had died or something.”So, they improvised and kept the theatre alive.”We rehearsed hither and yon,” Cole recalled. “It was a challenge, trying to figure out how to do things like arrange blocking for actors around tables in a restaurant.”It wasn’t until December, 2002 that the Backstage moved into the new Breckenridge Theatre in the former Shamus O’Toole’s pub in Breckenridge. Exciting and challenging though the nomadic years of the theatre may have been, Cole said it was good to be back in a dedicated performing space.”What he did was phenomenal,” Butler said of the transition phase. “He’s definitely going to be missed.”
IconoclastWhile many community theatres rely on tried-and-true plays people have heard of, Cole said his intent for the Backstage was to produce more challenging material. Upon arriving, he also altered the theatre’s schedule to do more shows with shorter runs in the winter season.”It was a challenge I set for myself when I moved up here,” said Cole, who’d already established himself in the Denver theatre scene and won the 2004 Denver Post Ovation Award for best director. “I didn’t want to do the standard community theatre cannon – nothing by Neil Simon or things like ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ or ‘A Christmas Carol.'” (The Backstage had previously done a number of shows by Simon, in addition to “Arsenic.” And Cole said they “broke the rule” and did “A Christmas Carol” anyway.)With the board behind him, Cole oversaw the production of a number of riskier shows, such as “Metamorphoses,” “Incorruptible” and “The Vagina Monologues.” With the theatre relying on box office receipts for much of its revenue, the risk was real, since it wasn’t always clear how the locals or the tourists would respond.”It was hot and cold,” Cole said. “‘Incorruptible’ sold like hot cakes, while ‘Metamorphoses,’ which was gangbusters in Denver – we couldn’t give seats away up here.”Even with the occasional disappointments, Cole said Summit County is “amazing” in terms of how well it supports two community theatres in the Backstage and the Lake Dillon Theatre.”It’s stunning,” he said. “Although it wouldn’t happen if not for the large numbers of tourists and second homeowners. It’s good to see that they go beyond the athletic pursuits and support the arts as well.”
Even so, Cole said the job of marketing theatre in the county is a difficult one.”We know how to get to the local audience pretty well, but getting to the people who are just here briefly – it’s tough,” he said. “And there’s an awful lot of other things going on, from the film festival, the NRO, the BMI; there’s a limit to how much people can go and see.”This summer, Cole will oversee his last productions at the Backstage, including “Kimberly Akimbo” and a doo-wop, 1950s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Then, it’s off to the Bay Area and an uncertain future that will no doubt land him at a theatre somewhere.”A year off sleeping sounds wonderful, too,” he said with a sigh. “But I’m already getting head shots done, and I’d like to find a (theatre) home somewhere. More often than not, the theatre finds you rather than the other way around.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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