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Violinist Erik Fellenstein leads the musical ensemble for Discount Ghost Stories.EXPAND
Violinist Erik Fellenstein leads the musical ensemble for Discount Ghost Stories.
Michael Ensminger

Discount Ghost Stories Sets Colorado History to Music

Discount Ghost Stories: A Colorado Folklore Concert begins in the Colorado childhood of Jessica Kahkoska, an actor, writer and dramaturg with a love for the state's wild places and hidden history. While the concept for the immersive work is Kahkoska’s, a gang of collaborators have pitched in to bring the play to life.

Now the show, which recently made waves at a staged reading at Local Theater Company’s Local Lab new-play festival in March, will open for previews on June 8 with a full production under the stars on the cozy patio of Boulder’s Trident Booksellers & Cafe. Discount Ghost Stories, with a book by Local Lab founder Pesha Rudnick and Rob Wright, music and lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen and development and direction by Austin Regan, officially opens on June 13.

In the beginning, “I built it out of a love of true Colorado folklore and those parts of the history of our state that are not in the public eye,” Kahkoska says. “I grew up in Colorado, and multiple stories in the show were told to me by my dad while we were driving around or on a backpacking adventure. They are true Colorado highway conversations, the kind that start with, ‘One time I heard this story…,’ and go on from there.”

Alexander Sage Oyen and Jessica Kahkoska perform at the Local Lab workshop reading of Discount Ghost Stories in March.EXPAND
Alexander Sage Oyen and Jessica Kahkoska perform at the Local Lab workshop reading of Discount Ghost Stories in March.
Michael Ensminger

The ghost stories alluded to in the title belong to lesser-known Colorado historical figures: Clara Brown, a former slave and eventual Gilpin County community leader who became the first African-American woman to arrive in the state during the Gold Rush; Chinese immigrant and Denver laundry owner Look Young; Ute Indian chief Tabernash; and Clifford Griffin, a Silver Plume mine owner and violinist with a tragic backstory. Their narratives are all retold in song.

Kahkoska was deliberately looking for characters like these as she researched the idea for Discount Ghost Stories. “I am always a fan of forgotten shadow history — voices that find themselves in the margins,” she explains. “My initial interest was in Clifford Griffin from Silver Plume. My dad put that story on my radar. I was also interested in stories about women and people of color. All of the stories in Discount Ghost Stories work in dialogue with the history of Western expansion — who it was for and who it wasn't for.”

Music is also integral to the performance, which is billed as a concert, demanding creative casting that could handle the vocal and instrumental rigors of a live score. To that end, Rudnick explains, “We have five master musicians — people who are able to play instruments very aptly and be strong actors, as well.” Led by actor and accomplished violinist Erik Fellenstein, the ensemble boasts talent to spare, lending a powerful musical complement to the show’s storytelling.

Erin Willis and Erik Fellenstein perform at the Local Lab workshop reading of Discount Ghost Stories in March.EXPAND
Erin Willis and Erik Fellenstein perform at the Local Lab workshop reading of Discount Ghost Stories in March.
Michael Ensminger

“The idea is to let audiences feel Colorado history rather than learn it,” Rudnick adds, and Kahkoska agrees: “It’s about archival history, but it’s also stories about ghosts, playfully worked so that people speak with ghosts, and ghosts play instruments.”

And it’s also a concert: “Just because they're ghost stories doesn't mean they're not true,” Kahkoska adds. “It will have the energy of sitting around a fire, having a drink and listening to tall tales.

“There’s a ghostly element of lingering energy or emotions,” she continues. “Local has given me a great opportunity to ground these stories on their home turf — especially on the back porch of Trident, in a hybrid space that opens people up to consider music, stories and Colorado history in a way that’s not just one thing.”

Discount Ghost Stories opens for four nights of previews on June 8, 9, 11 and 12; opening night is June 13, and regular shows run through June 29 at Trident Booksellers and Cafe, 940 Pearl Street in Boulder. All shows begin at 8 p.m. Find tickets, $20 to $45, at eventbrite.com. Go to Local Theater Company’s website for more information.

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