Wthem the audience is first introduced to Vera Stark, she is the maid of a famous Hollywood actress. Over the course of a couple hours, we witness her rise to stardom.
The actors on the FAC stage have been immersed in Vera’s story since November, when auditions for By the Way, Meet Vera Stark were first hero. Director Betty Hart says the audition process has shifted in response to the pandemic, making casting more interesting — and at times, more challenging.
Because callbacks are being conducted virtually through Zoom, it’s more difficult for directors to gauge the chemistry between actors. “You never get to put them all together in a room. They are all meeting each other for the first time on the first day of rehearsal,” Hart says. “It’s very different. But it’s exciting.”
Things seem to have worked out, though. In fact, Hart’s favorite scene is the closing scene in Act I, where the entire cast is onstage together. (“All seven!” says Hart. “They’re beautiful.”) Four of the seven actors are from Colorado, and three of the four are from the Springs. The rest are from New York City.
Hart describes the play as an homage to Black actresses of the past, women whose careers were impacted by institutional racism: “When you think about your Hepburns, if you think about your Grables … these are women who were in their films, but we don’t know their names because they didn’t get to have the kind of careers [they deserved] because of race and the way the world worked at that time.”
The playwright, Lynn Nottage, uses humor as a tool to initiate conversations — about race, about gender, about socioeconomic status and power.
“Lynn asked some really great questions about … what do we want art to be? And what do we want America to be?” says Hart. “And I think she’s encouraging all of us to do things to help our country become better. Like our country is pretty amazing — and we need to do better. We need to do better in terms of how we treat women. We need to do better in terms of how we treat people of color. We just need to do better. And I think the play is encouraging us to consider how might we want to do that.”
According to Hart, there’s more to theater than just watching the action onstage. “Research shows audience members’ heartbeats sync up, our breathing syncs up,” she says. “It’s really powerful. We are beginning to have this communal experience.”
And at the core of theater is storytelling. When Hart talks about storytelling, she sidesteps the “foster connection/inspire conversation” Truisms. Instead, she calls it a “survival technique.” It’s a harsh, unfussy label — one that chips away at the conventional idea of the arts (and all its various forms of storytelling: theatre, dance, music, visual arts) as extraneous or nonessential. A well-executed story, whatever art form it lives in, has the power to impact the lives of the people who choose to engage with it.
We need to hear other people’s stories; we need to share our own stories. And especially during the pandemic, “we needed stories to be able to inhabit someone else’s life for a little while to be able to move through [our own],” Hart says.
At its best, theater is a community builder. “Hearing those stories helps us to be able to be more human, be more empathetic, be more kind, be more intelligent…,” Hart says. “The doctors are necessary. And so it’s really important that we really do think of the arts in terms of how can it be for all, rather than only for people of a certain socioeconomic class, or only for people of a certain age, or only for people of a certain race. We all need stories, and we always have.”
heart hopes By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is a story that will stay with the audience long after the curtain falls.
Celebrate Mardi Gras in Manitou Springs. First, there’s the Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo Cook-Off (75-cent tastings at 11 a.m.). Then, there’s the Carnivale Community Parade at 1 pm (this years’ theme: Mystical Manitou). Saturday, Feb. 26, downtown Manitou Springs. See manitousprings.org/carnivale-weekend for more info.
Mardi Gras Road Ride
Calling all bikers. Here’s your opportunity to Ride in the Manitou Mardi Gras Parade! Line up is at noon; the parade starts at 1 pm (Oh, and be sure to wear purple.) If you’re feeling up to it, join Buffalo Lodge Bicycle Resort’s pre-parade Saturday morning ride, or the post-parade after-party. Saturday, Feb. 26, 10 am to 9 pm at Buffalo Lodge Bicycle Resort, 2 El Paso Blvd. See tinyurl.com/mardigras-ride for details.
Wine Festival of Colorado Springs
The Wine Festival of Colorado Springs is back for its 30th anniversary. Sign up for world-class events, including a Spanish wine tasting seminar, a gala dinner and live auction — all benefiting the Colorado Springs Conservatory. Proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test is recommended. Thursday through Saturday, March 3-5. For tickets and more info, go to winefestivalofcoloradosprings.com.