On the day I spoke with artistic director Michael J. Duran to discuss the upcoming reopening of BDT Stage, Alicia Meyers, longtime actor-director-choreographer for the company, was in the hospital undergoing a double mastectomy.
“When I first got here in 2003, Ali was my go-to person,” recalls Duran. “I rely on her for so much, and I can only hope for the absolute best for her. Selfishly I need her — not only professionally, but as a friend. She’s been there from the very beginning, and I’m forever grateful to her.”
A fine singer, graceful dancer and strong presence, Meyers tends to own any stage she steps onto. BDT patrons may remember her as the evil, many-armed Ursula in The Little Mermaid, singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” — my six-year-old granddaughter certainly does. Over the years, Meyers played everything from a charming and deceitful Sally Bowles in Cabaret to Chicago’s cynical, world-weary Velma to a player in Midlife, a slight, comic sketch piece in which Meyers’s performance of a song called “Biological Clock” — in which her character, frantic to have a baby, attempts to nurse her own purse and to bully, seduce and coerce a date into giving up his sperm — rocked the evening. It’s rare to see an actor as crazily and shamelessly pulling out all the stops, and the result must have rung dozens of bells for any woman who’d ever yearned for a baby.
“I don’t know what I would have done without my family at BDT Stage,” Meyers told Westword a couple of days after her surgery. “Not only financially, but the constant care, being in touch with me, keeping me strong and keeping me on my feet and keeping me fighting. The support came from every department in that theater. From the second they found out, they gathered around me and kept me safe.”
Meyers also received strong financial support from the Denver Actors Fund, founded by John Moore to help protect and provide for the theater community.
Meyers was diagnosed in mid-August, and five months of chemotherapy followed. “I managed to catch COVID in those months. It was a really mild case; I felt I had a cold,” she said. The surgery was prophylactic, to prevent a recurrence, and will be followed by radiation. “I’m not interested in doing this again,” she remarked tartly. But she is interested in getting back on a stage.
Early last year, BDT Stage was fully staffed and rehearsing a much-anticipated production of Ragtime. The company has long been a Boulder favorite, providing chorus-line glitter, insane comedy, fine music and excellent performances for decades. But on March 15, 2021, Ragtime was canceled the night after it opened, and the theater shuttered.
Over the summer, Duran was able to stage a handful of outside concerts — safely distanced, with food boxes provided — but by the beginning of fall, he realized that few customers were willing to come inside to view a production. In September, with only two people left on a staff he’d tried to keep intact, he made the decision to close. “Even I have not been on staff since the end of September,” he says, “though I’m still working.”
But now, four in-person concerts are planned for April, starting with dueling pianists the Barton Brothers (April 2 and 3) and followed by vocal band Face (April 9 and 10), Chris Collins and Alex Mitchell in A Tribute to John Denver (April 15 through 17), and Queens of Song, with Anna High and Sheryl Renee (April 30 to May 1). The small-cast favorite Forever Plaid gets a full production May 7 through June 27. Audience members will be asked to order their entrees and desserts when they make reservations in order to minimize interaction with cast members who will still serve the tables: Getting to chat with the performers has always been one of BDT’s best perks.
"I’m reticent,” says Duran. “But I’m more hopeful than before — at least we’re moving ahead. It depends on how many people we can get into the theater. We’re doing everything Boulder County asked us to do and following the recommendations of the CDC. We’ve got tables designated for seating and tables where you can’t sit, to keep everybody safely distanced. People are masked up except for eating and drinking. Forever Plaid has a small cast: four guys, a piano and a bass player, maybe a drummer, too. We’re putting the performers way upstage, 25 feet from the closest audience members.”
The return is possible in large part because of two grants, one from the City of Boulder, another from Colorado Creative Industries; there was also a GoFundMe campaign for BDT Stage. “We were able to help employees who needed food or had medical issues,” says Duran. “It helped take some of the stress off the owners, Judy and Gene Bolles, and also meant the company can plan new shows and hire staff.
“Boy, did we feel the love,” Duran adds.
Still, there are questions about how BDT Stage can come back to life. “Are we going to be able to get enough people into the theater to sustain us through the next several months?" wonders Duran. "I’m hoping that once more people get vaccinated, we’ll get up to our normal speed and continue the way we’ve always continued. Right now, we’re starting slowly.”
In addition to a strong relationship with Boulder audiences, the company has nurtured a tight group of artists, many of whom have been working there for decades. Meyers’s association with BDT Stage, for example, dates back some 25 years.
This means BDT Stage is as close as theater can come these days to having a resident company. Over the years, new performers have come in as necessary, bringing new pulse and energy, but the longevity of the regulars has been a plus for both them and their audiences. Patrons have been able to watch their favorites transitioning from wide-eyed ingenues into parents and grandparents on stage. You saw Brian Norber, a wolfishly handsome leading man some years ago, later giving a moving performance as the gay, middle-aged, melancholy lead in The Drowsy Chaperone. (Norber is now working in California, but his ties to BDT remain strong.) Having played the cocky young lead in Carousel, Wayne Kennedy graduated to the pathos of Amos Hart in Chicago, whose song, “Cellophane,” communicates the aching sense of invisibility caused by his sexy young wife’s coldness and infidelity. Some company members — Scott Beyette, Kennedy, Meyers — also turned their talents to directing or tech work that, accompanied by tips for waiting tables, gave them a relatively stable income.
Working with other actors they’d known for years also allowed these performers to explore, find new rhythms and deepen their craft — and the audiences benefited.
The group has stuck together through the plague year. “We have our Facebook group page to keep people up on the latest developments,” says Duran. “We did a Zoom meeting last week. People are very much in touch. We have our dysfunctional moments like any family, but it’s a tight, tight group. A lot of these folks have taken other jobs; they have to survive, have to pay their rent. But I’m hoping once we get back up and running, they can come back to us.
“I’ve been doing this pandemic alone at my place,” he adds, “and it really feels good to have purpose again and know we are putting people back to work. We’ve just sent out an e-blast video that says, ‘The intermission is over, ladies and gentlemen. Please return to your seats.'"
Having to close down last year was very difficult, Meyers says: “It was sad to work on such an amazing show as Ragtime and not be able to pass the message along; it’s such an important message right now. But theater is always developing, over and over again, even without a harsh thing like the pandemic, and the shutdown bonded us more solidly than ever before.
“You know, it’s like any relationship. You look back and you have to acknowledge the bad, too," she continues. "But we are a united force, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep going. We have so many talented people, and it’s very fortunate to be part of the kind of company where you trust every individual, and when you have a vision together, you know it’s going to work.”
For tickets and information, call 303-449-6000 or go to the BDT Stage website.