Art News

Butterfly Effect Theatre Returns Home After a Season on the Road

Sam Gregory and Martha Harmon Pardee in The Children.
Sam Gregory and Martha Harmon Pardee in The Children. Courtesy of BETC
Just over a year ago, the husband-wife duo of Stephen Weitz and Rebecca Remaly changed the name of their Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company to Butterfly Effect Theatre of Colorado after re-thinking the company’s nature and purpose. After conducting virtual productions for the first year of the pandemic, last year BETC took a reconfigured truck to the road, and performances were held in parks, parking lots, libraries and schools. The process was challenging. “As soon as you put something on a truck, there’s a whole set of unknowns and obstacles,” Weitz observes. “Weather, traveling, traffic — the level of control goes down.”

But, thanks to government relief money and donations, the shows were free, and the tour enabled BETC to reach new communities and develop new audiences.

BETC is now returning to its longtime home in Boulder’s Dairy Center for the Arts with a full program of plays that begins on Thursday, September 15, with Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children. Weitz has had his eye on this play since before the pandemic, but it was already part of the Denver Center’s season for 2020 and 2021. After the pandemic closure, “they changed their mind,” says Weitz. “And we were very happy it came back to us.”

The Children takes place during a major disaster caused by a nuclear reactor at a power plant, when a retired nuclear scientist couple, both of whom were originally involved with the plant’s opening, are visited by an old colleague who wants them to participate in the search for a solution.

The play touches on the important topics of ecology and disaster, says Weitz, as well as “how people can work together to solve huge problems. It also asks the question of what we owe future generations during our decision-making process.

“All this is couched in a very real set of relationships,” he adds. “The playwright does an admirable job putting all that in something that feels organic and not preachy. It’s very serious but also contains a lot of humor.”

As for the rest of the season, Weitz says, “We look for a balance of things that are provocative, challenging, entertaining — sometimes just a fun night out. We embrace new works and these are all regional premiers.” The roster includes The Royale by Marco Ramirez, Ms Holmes & Ms. Watson by Kate Hamill and Eden Prairie 1971 by Mat Smart.

The Children marks our full return,” Weitz says.

It is also a return for Sam Gregory, who is reuniting with Martha Harmon Pardee. They notably played husband and wife in the now-defunct Paragon Theater Company’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The three-member cast also includes Gina Walker, who is new to the Denver theater scene. She is, says Gregory, “super great.”

Gregory encountered a serious professional setback at the end of 2021, when he was slated to play the role of Scrooge for the sixth time in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol. During a preview, he found himself onstage in front of an audience without his mic because of a mistake from a member of the wig and costume staff, and afterwards lost his temper. For this outburst he was summarily fired.

“I made a mistake,” he tells us, “and I think the action the Denver Center took was also a mistake. My mistake could have been a learning moment; we could have talked about it. But that was not the course the Center chose to take.”
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Gina Walker (left) and Martha Harmon Pardee in The Children.
Courtesy of BETC
Gregory has been one of Denver’s most respected actors and the recipient of multiple awards, gaining particular acclaim for his performance as Lucio in Kent Thompson’s Measure for Measure for the Denver Center in 2006. But after the incident, he contemplated abandoning his art. “I was in a dark place,” he says. “I was fully retired in my head. I thought, 'I can coach. Maybe I can transition into doing some directing.' As for the acting thing, I’m just going to do it in special circumstances. I don’t want to do it the way I did. I want it to be about the one experience. I don’t want to be in a room with a bunch of people trying to get the next job; I want it to be about the job we’re doing.”

But then, he says, “I heard from directors I hadn’t worked with for years, and theater companies sent all kinds of support. That gave me great strength.”

One of the artists he heard from was director Leigh Miller, who asked him to participate in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare in the Wild. The production was planned for a meadow in Centennial in August. “I told him, 'I don’t want to act but I’d be happy to direct,'” comments Gregory. “It was on a little stage between two trees. We ran some lights. There was no ticket charge — we passed a hat. You can use Equity actors if you don’t charge for tickets, and we did.

“We did the show because we wanted to give a gift to the community,” he continues. "We had people show up with dogs and frisbies and kids. Audiences kept building as word of mouth went out.”

Around 800 people attended, and “it was joyous and magical. We had people shouting 'thank you' at the end of the show. It reminded me of what theater is all about at a basic level—no money. Three boxes onstage and the actors were double cast. The play just rolled along. It was very painful to lose the work in Denver. This was a reboot.”

Gregory has known Weitz, who is directing The Children, for years, and has worked with him before. “I think he’s a terrific director,” he says, “and I just enjoy being in the room with him.”

Gregory is also impressed with the play itself: “The script is wonderful. It’s layered. It’s a study of generational issues, existential issues, environmental issues, all in one. And it’s funny, dark funny stuff. I think what is a good thing is that I’m now doing what I want to do.”

Weitz is also delighted to be working on The Children, which he says is “the kind of play you want to get back in the groove with.”

And he’s also immensely pleased with his cast: “They’re fantastic to work with. There’s a rich dynamic between the three characters and you get to see that unfold. All the nuances are exciting. It’s about grown children and grandchildren, generational love and conflict.”

The Children, September 15 through October 8, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder. Previews are September 15 and 16 at 7:30. Thursday through Saturday performances are at 7:30, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket prices vary.
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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman