Story by Nicole Towne, SMTD Marketing & Publicity Intern
A few miles north of Colorado State University’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, nestled within the walls of a former 20th century factory, is Bas Bleu Theatre. The theatre, just across the train tracks from Old Town, is partnering with CSU students, faculty, and alumni to present Elephant’s Graveyard by George Brant.
Directed by CSU Acting Professor Garrett Ayers, Elephant’s Graveyard is a theatrical retelling of what happens when a circus arrives in a small town in Tennessee during the early 1900s. The play, based off a real town, a known circus, and a documented tragedy, is brought to life by a 13-member cast and the work on and off stage by various members of the CSU community.
Ayers recruited CSU’s Roger Hanna to construct the set and lighting designs, as well as costume shop manager Maile Speetjens to work on costumes and make-up. For both Hanna and Speetjens, the decision to work with Ayers was easy.
“We were considering this script for a future season here at CSU,” Hanna said. “I already knew the script; I knew that I liked it. I knew that I wanted to work on it. It was easy to say yes.”
Speetjens collaborated with Ayers on the 2016 spring musical Reefer Madness.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with him,” Speetjens said.
For Speetjens, Hanna, and Ayers, the process of taking the script and bringing it to the stage has involved considerable amounts of research into circus culture, history, as well as visual documentation.
Speetjens said, an important part of her job is making sure the costumes are both historically and regionally accurate.
“This isn’t an era I get to do all that often,” Speetjens said. “The teens just aren’t as common. So it’s really nice to be able to explore that silhouette a little more in depth, and circus costumes are always fun.”
During research, Hanna found that Elephant’s Graveyard, is just one of many ways the historical event is being portrayed.
“This story lives on,” Hanna said. “There are folk songs about it. There are doctoral thesis and books, and now there’s this play."
Hanna said it’s not unheard of for CSU students and faculty to be involved in the Bas Bleu Theatre Company, but not necessarily to extent of the participation in Elephant’s Graveyard.
In addition to Ayers, Hanna, and Speetjens, the cast consists of three current CSU students and two alumni. Offstage, the props master is a CSU student, and the production manager, as well as the dramaturge, are recent graduates.
Senior theatre performance major Kaya Rudolph is one of the three current CSU students taking the Bas Bleu stage. In the show, she plays the role of Hungry Townsperson.
“She’s a pivotal character in a way because she sees not only what has happened, but she remembers the entire story as it happened,” Rudolph said. “I like being this character because she’s very different from the other characters, and she is very observant of what they have to say and their sides of the story. It all comes together with her.”
Despite Rudolph’s success at securing a role in a theatre company outside of CSU, working for Bas Bleu was not something she expected.
“I never really planned on auditioning for any other shows (outside of CSU),” Rudolph said. “I was also scared to do that. I felt like that was too much of being a part of the adult world that I’m not ready to fully be a part of yet, but I feel that doing this has helped me put my foot in the door. So, I’m actually happy that I did it and let go of that fear.”
Elephant’s Graveyard will run from Sept. 9 through Oct. 8. It will offer a free preview on Sept. 7 and a pay-what-you-will showing on Sept. 8. Bas Bleu Theater Company is located at 401 Pine St., Fort Collins.