Actors Will Ferrie, foreground, and Steven Fox perform in a PopUp Theatre play staged at the Community Creative Center in Fort Collins. Photo courtesy PopUp Theatre

New theater group popping up – but where?

FORT COLLINS — A new theater company is making its mark in Fort Collins.

Less than a year ago, PopUp Theatre made its debut with Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This.” Staged in the galleries at the Community Creative Center, the new company set an expectation of the unexpected by deliberately not choosing a traditional theater as its home. In fact, PopUp has no home. A significant part of the company’s vision is to find venues that fit the production, creating an immersive experience for the audience.

For “Burn This,” that experience was achieved by recreating a New York City loft space, enhanced by the soaring ceilings, massive columns and openness of the 1903 building that once housed Carnegie Public Library and the Fort Collins Museum. Local singer-songwriter Nancy Just sat in the audience and performed original compositions between scenes. Rather than making their entrances and exits from off-stage wings, characters came and went through the audience.

“I wanted the audience to really feel like they were in a modern-day loft,” said founder and executive artistic director Christopher Huelshorst. “The expansiveness of the Community Creative Center lent itself perfectly.”

Transplanted nearly three years ago from Kansas City, Huelshorst saw that Northern Colorado was ripe for edgier, more experimental theater.

“The audiences wanted it and the actors were looking for different opportunities,” he said. “So, I took the leap.”

Leap No. 2 was the provocatively titled “Cock.” Mounted in ArtLab Fort Collins, a storefront art space, “Cock” is a twist on the classic boy-meets-girl story. In this play, written by Mike Bartlett, boy leaves boyfriend; boy meets girl; boy and girl fall in love; and boy must decide with whom to walk off into the sunset. (Spoiler: somebody leaves in tears.)

The set Huelshorst designed was minimalistic. Stacked sandbags were laid out in a circle, creating a cock-fighting ring, where the players circled warily — sizing each other up, assessing the competition, with the audience seated on all four sides of the stage. With only 50 seats per performance, the audience’s experience was as intimate as the story line.

In a community that has its share of theater companies, with longstanding players OpenStage and Bas Bleu having starring roles, is there room for another cast member?

“Absolutely,” said Huelshorst. “PopUp is not trying to fit into the same space as the more traditional theater companies.

That’s just not who we are. We’re pushing the art form to different places; almost like exploring these new, undiscovered lands, and we’re bringing the audience with us.”

PopUp’s next production, to open Aug. 19, is an interpretation of the classic Peter Pan story. “Peter/Wendy,” written by playwright Jeremy Bloom, explores the darker themes of the J.M. Barrie novel. Presented in the Merchant Room, an attic space above Walnut Creek at 222 Walnut St. in Old Town Fort Collins, the low-tech production relies on a whimsical bed as its only set dressing and acts as Captain Hook’s pirate ship and Mermaid Rock. Sound and music are designed by D.J. Avalon.

A Director’s Dinner on Aug. 20, featuring sophisticated versions of children’s favorite foods —elks in a blanket, a grown-up mac and cheese and themed cocktails curated especially for the event — will be PopUp’s first venture into the fundraising arena. The organization currently is pursuing nonprofit status.

In a city with a population numbering nearly 160,000, Fort Collins is home to several theater companies. In addition to OpenStage and Bas Bleu, both of which have established seasons of several productions each, there is Fort Collins Children’s Theatre, Midtown Arts Center, Encore! Encore!, Debut Theatre and Foothills Civic Theatre. Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado mount several student productions every academic year. Farther south, Loveland boasts Loveland Stage Company and Loveland Community Theatre.

According to a report generated by Colorado Creative Industries, Larimer County cultural nonprofit organizations saw revenues of $12.7 million in 2014. November’s ballot will include a proposed tenth-of-a-percent sales tax earmarked to fund a countywide Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, projected to raise $6.6 million in its first year if it is passed by voters.

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