The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre is about to transport audiences to three very intriguing — and different — points in Breckenridge history. The first stop takes place in 1943, with “The 10th,” a show that revolves around the 10th Mountain Division soldiers, who played a role in the development of Breckenridge Ski Resort. “The 10th” opens Feb. 7 and runs through March 1, 2014.
The other two plays will run in upcoming seasons, but tickets for the “Ski Cycle Play Pass” are on sale now for $100.
The second play is a rowdy, hilarious look back on Breckenridge in the 1970s, called “The Roadhouse.” The third installment, “The Kingdom,” will tell the story of present-day Breckenridge. Overall, the three-part series shows the development of Breckenridge and the ski industry, as it follows a family’s life from 1943 to contemporary times.
Inspiration for the ski industry plays
A simple statue spurred the entire series. When Christopher Willard, the artistic director of the Backstage Theatre, first saw the bronze dedicated to the Soldiers of the Summit in Breckenridge, he began to learn about the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division, and he was forever changed.
“I wanted to find some way to pay homage to their sacrifices and the groundbreaking they did to make this area possible for all of us,” Willard said.
And so began his comprehensive theatrical review of skiing and the Breckenridge region.
He began by spending three hours at Camp Hale (located between Minturn and Leadville), “getting in touch with the ghosts of the place, letting the stories come to me,” he said. He read everything he could find about the era, in which soldiers trained for mountain battle in World War II, and also interviewed several veterans.
The story of “The 10th”
Though the characters of “The 10th” are fictional, permutations in each of them connect to veterans he spent time with, like Gene Goodman, a former Dartmouth ski racer; Bob Parker, a climber; and Sandy Treat, a world-class ski racer who leads fireside talks about the war years at the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail.
The story follows two soldiers — a mountain climber and a Dartmouth ski racer — as they train at Camp Hale to become soldiers in the legendary 10th Mountain Division. They end up in a squad splintered from a recent disastrous mission in the Aleutian Islands and riddled with egotistical Harvard and Yale graduates, as well as cantankerous muleskinners. In the midst of a six-week winter mission known as the D Series, “The 10th” theme revolves around family, faith and fortitude. It also lays the groundwork for “The Roundhouse” and “The Kingdom.”
“The 10th” has a cinematic style reminiscent of a Frank Capra film.
“It’s a story replete with sentiment, realism, and optimism like a typical Capra story,” Willard said. “It’s also a very funny play, so be prepared to laugh a great deal as well as shed a tear or two by the story’s end.”
How you can help
Currently, the Backstage Theatre is raising money to support extra cast members, which include actors from New York and Chicago, necessary to produce “The 10th.” Willard originally budgeted $24,834 for the production, but when he ran a workshop in December, he realized he needed more than 10 varied personalities to show how the band of brothers overcome their conflicts.
“The seminal scene in the show takes place when the two protagonist soldiers venture into Breckenridge and get a rude welcome,” Willard said. “It sets the stages for the rest of the shows in the cycle.”
The extra actors call for $3,000 more, and the Backstage has raised a little over $500 so far. To donate, visit the Backstage Theatre.
The essential role of the 10th Mountain Division
Most people don’t recognize what a key role the 10th Mountain Division played in both local and world history. The Army originally considered training at Camp Hale as an “experiment,” said Cindy Hintgen, of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, but more than 10,000 10th Mountain Division troops ended up fighting in the mountains of Italy. The 10th is best known for its nighttime assault to secure Riva Ridge from the Germans.
After the war, many veterans of the 10th returned to Colorado (and the greater Western U.S.) and became instrumental in forming the ski industry, Hintgen said.
The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance directed Willard to the 10th Mountain vets.
“The first person narrative from these vets is really powerful,” she said.
As soon as “The 10th” gets underway, Willard will continue writing “The Roadhouse,” which he says will be much more comedic than “The 10th,” even though this play has plenty of laughs. He’s writing “The Roadhouse” in a style similar to his favorite playwright, Lanford Wilson.
“This is going to be a terrific set of stories,” Willard said. “Not many theaters have the audacity to attempt something like this, but we felt it was important to do — not to mention perfect timing to help celebrate our 40 years of providing great entertainment in Summit County.”
To purchase tickets
Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for kids younger than 18.
Purchase tickets online at backstagetheatre.org or by calling (970) 453-0199, or by showing up at the theater an hour before the show.
The theater sells mixed drinks and snacks; its signature drink for this show is The Mountain Trooper, a Kahlua and coffee/hot chocolate delight. “The 10th” contains some adult language.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 7: Gala Opening, with champagne and appetizers provided by Salt Creek Steakhouse; Veteran Sandy Treat will also be in attendance. Tickets are an additional $10.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 8
7:30 p.m. Feb. 13-15; Feb. 13 is a Prologue Night with a pre-show discussion beginning at 7:10 p.m.
6:30 p.m. Feb. 16
7:30 p.m. Feb. 20-22
7:30 p.m. Feb. 27-28 (Feb. 28 is talkback night with the cast and crew — ask your questions!)
7:30 p.m. March 1