With the foundation of a 20-year artistic collaboration to build on, playwright and director Eric Prince and Wendy Ishii – founder and artistic director of Bas Bleu Theatre – have constructed a world premiere production for the Fort Collins theater community.
“Bas Bleu is promoting new and original writing that is not available elsewhere,” said Prince.
“Helping playwrights develop and refine their works has always been part of Bas Bleu’s mission,” explains Ishii.
“Blue Kitchen,” which the Liverpool-born Prince wrote to both feature Ishii on stage and to help celebrate Bas Bleu’s 25th anniversary season, tells the story of an Irish-American woman as she wrestles with the meaning of her cultural identity. As Ava, the protagonist, Ishii also explores “a woman’s abiding need to not only give love, but receive love,” Prince said.
The Irish flavor of “Blue Kitchen” also echoes how the creative relationship between Prince and Ishii got started, meeting in 1996 at an international theater festival honoring legendary Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. A year later, Ishii and Bas Bleu performed the American premiere for Prince’s play “Seance.” And in 1999 Prince become a CSU professor of theatre, and established its Center for Studies in Beckett and Performance, of which he is also director.
Because of the use of poetry throughout the production, it was natural to incorporate and celebrate music and poetry with an Irish craic (crack) as a prelude or opening act to “Blue Kitchen.” The point of craic is to “get you thinking, talking, and enjoying life,” Prince explains.
Included on the rotation for the Irish Blue Craic – a nightly showcase of different musicians and poets with the liveliness of an Irish pub — is CSU’s own provost and executive vice president, Rick Miranda, who will read on April 7.
Reflecting on what he hopes theatergoers take away from “Blue Kitchen,” Prince said, “Thoughts about the nature of how we live and how we relate to one another – and our human identities.”
Student, alumni involvement
Current CSU students and alumni are integrally involved in the production of Blue Kitchen, including theatre majors David Van Name as lighting designer and Cooper Adams as sound designer. Alum Robyn Cuthbertson (Dulye) is stage manager, and John Burns, who graduated last year, is now employed at Bas Bleu as production assistant.
Prince finds it very fulfilling to work alongside former and current students on projects such as Blue Kitchen.
“Our relationship is so much easier and closer to that of equals, being involved and committed from a belief and enthusiasm in theatre itself, as opposed to it being a required class or required practicum for a grade,” he explained. “Plus, I get to admire and respect the incredible skills our young people possess, clearly demonstrating they are ready and prepared for work in the industry itself, as well as contributing right now, artistically and creatively, to a significant local community enterprise.”
Since graduating in 2012, CSU Alum Robyn Cuthbertson has taught at Debut Theatre Company in Fort Collins, directing a full load of four classes; Cuthbertson teaches kids all elements of theatre – costumes, sound, set, lights, makeup, hair – concluding each semester with a play.
As a CSU student, Cuthbertson stage-managed a show at Bas Bleu, and has been asked back several times.
“When [Tricia Navarre] approached me to assistant direct/stage manage ‘Blue Kitchen,’ I jumped at the chance,” enthused Cuthbertson.
While at CSU, Cuthbertson worked with Prince in many different situations: as a cast member on Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht and Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare; she wrote her thesis on The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde as Prince’s dramaturg for the production; and, in 2011, she participated in CSU Theatre’s Study Abroad trip to London, led by Prince, which she remembers as a magnificent experience.
“I feel like I have a true understanding of the way Eric thinks from working with him so closely at CSU and also from the London trip in particular,” she explained. “It has been a wonderful few weeks with Eric and Wendy, and I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this show!”
For CSU theatre major Cooper Adams, this has been a rewarding senior year. Adams seeks outside work experiences and was also excited about the opportunity to work with Prince at Bas Bleu. “I like to work with a variety of directors so I know how to design for many different types of personalities and tastes,” he said. “Working outside of CSU is very interesting because I don’t have as many of the same resources as I do on campus and I have to be more independent with my design.”
Since “Blue Kitchen” is a premiere work, the need for autonomy was heightened for Adams.
“It has never been produced before, meaning there is nothing to reference and there is no ‘right’ way to do things,” he said.
And while this could be overwhelming for some students, Adams is embracing the pressure, realizing the impact his sound design could have on future productions of the show. “I can really have an effect on how the show may be produced in the future. I really enjoyed the process and the production.”
As the collaborative bond between Bas Bleu and CSU continues, students and alumni alike, including Adams, look forward to returning.
“I would definitely work on a show with Eric again, and I look forward to seeing how audiences react to it!” he said.
The Irish Blue Craic/Blue Kitchen is on the Tom Sutherland Stage from April 1 to April 30. March 30 is a free community preview (formerly student/educator night) and March 31 is pay-what-you-will night. Tickets are available from basbleu.org or (970) 498.8949 and cost $26 for adults, $20 for seniors, $13 for students and $10 for children under 13.
By Mishelle Baun, media specialist at Bas Bleu Theatre Company and Jennifer Clary Jacobs, director of marketing for the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at Colorado State University.