BETC Takes Flight With New Name, the Butterfly Effect, and JQA
Aaron Posner’s JQA is a play about John Quincy Adams, generally regarded as an ineffectual president but a highly principled statesman. It has been hailed as brilliant by many critics who say the structure is interesting and the dialogue sharp, smart and contemporary.
Candace Joice, who directs the Butterfly Effect Theatre of Colorado’s production, says the play reflects “everything that’s been happening in the country” and should help us “to have harder conversations about things that need to be discussed. On the surface, it’s about John Quincy Adams — age ten to eighty — as he strives to figure out how to do good. But it’s not so much about just this historical person. The historical aspects take a back seat to something more interesting. It’s a different level of storytelling.”
JQA is the first in-person offering of the upcoming season from the group formerly called the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and known for fifteen years of smart, varied and intriguing offerings that range from Terry Johnson’s farcical and surrealistic Hysteria, about the dying thoughts of Sigmund Freud, to Anna Moench’s gentle father-daughter dialogue, Birds of North America. BETC also mounted a superb production of Posner’s Stupid F**king Bird a few years back.
The company’s new name isn’t the only change; its future will differ in significant ways from its past.
According to Stephen Weitz, co-founder with Rebecca Remaly, the aim is still to live up to BETC’s original motto: “Wonderful stories, wonderfully told.” But the company has also kitted out a truck with sophisticated tech and lighting, and is “hitting the road this summer with new programs and a new vision for theater in Colorado,” says Weitz. “How do we bring in different and diverse audience members, younger audience members, perhaps people who haven’t had serious theater available to them, and commit to taking our work to where these people are in their communities?”
Shows will take place outside around the state at colleges, recreation and community centers, and even a brewery. Sponsoring organizations provide playing space and help with marketing but pay no fees, and the performances are free to attend.
“We’re not controlling the audience in any way in terms of a fixed seating area,” says Weitz. “Bring your own chair and hunker down.
“We pay for the whole program out of cash reserves,” he adds. “We have pretty good support, and we faced the decision to hoard that money or use it to do something bold and innovative and try to make a difference.”
Later in the year and also in the next, BETC will continue to present some work indoors in its longtime home at Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center, though the season hasn’t yet been decided on.
The company has earned a devoted following in Boulder and has brought together a strong board and a talented group of theater artists over the years. Like all major changes, the new Butterfly Effect carries risk.
“The goal for this year is to capture as many different experiences as we can and test different models so we learn a lot in terms of what works and what doesn’t,” says Weitz. “One thing we’d like to focus on is expanding to more partnerships with organizations we don’t have as clear a relationship with. This year we’re going to places where we had contacts, but next year we’re moving forward.”
The focus this summer is on a single production, but Weitz hopes to create a repertory model for the future, mounting multiple productions and creating different offerings for different communities.
“When you undergo change and transformation, there’s always a risk,” he adds. “You’ve got to be true to your values. Certain longtime fans and supporters are not happy about our new direction, but we’re not going to be able to please everybody. If we hold back, we’re doing a disservice to the future of our art.
“I don’t look at it as a fundamental change in our aesthetic,” he explains. “We’re still going to do the kind of plays that speak to us — though obviously, in a park, the content may have to be made more palatable.”
Director Joice has worked with BETC as an actor before and done some directing, but JQA represents a major directorial step forward. When she was offered the commission, she says, she was delighted both by the company’s new direction and by the play itself. It is, she says, a smart choice for an outdoor venue.
“Aaron Posner writes big plays with big characters and writes with Shakespearean urgency,” she says. “This is not something to passively observe. Our play is Brechtian and presentational, and a perfect fit for an outdoor audience.”
Joice has been able to find theater and voice work through the pandemic year, and she also discovered a new passion: baking. Over the year, she created ethereal macarons, crisp outside, chewy within, and stunning savory breads.
“It’s very relaxing for me,” she says. “Another way to be creative. And I love treating people to nice things. There’s a primal thing about it, wanting to make people feel nurtured or warm.”
True to form, she took a strawberry teacake to the cast’s last rehearsal.
For a list of the summer’s performances and more information, go to the BETC website.