Boulder’s Upstart Crow was first formed in 1977 but disbanded after one show, Euripides’ The Trojan Women. In February 1980, a special event at The Nomad Players led to its revival. The play was Vain Flourish of My Fortune: Margaret of Anjou, scripted from Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays and Richard III by Joan Bell. One of the actors involved in that production said, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to produce a play. How would I go about doing that?” or words to that effect, and the Upstart Crow rose from the ashes (yes, crows can do that, too).
In May of 1980 we performed Congreve’s The Way of the World at the Community Free School, then in north Boulder, in a space with brilliant blue walls and blue and green shag carpeting—and doors leading onstage that if you weren’t careful, might lock behind you. The show was set in the Roaring Twenties as fitting the play’s moral climate (our second production of the play, in 1989, was set in the Sixties) and as being cheaper to costume than the Restoration. The rest of the season included such tried-and-true crowd pleasers as an evening of one acts by Eugene Ionesco and an obscure late play by Henrik Ibsen; also the world premiere of the four-act version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The company was originally formed as a for-profit venture (what innocents we were then!) but by the middle of our second season we had received our tax-exempt status and incorporated as a nonprofit.
The Crow is an actors’ company; just about everyone who directs, costumes, builds sets, runs lights, and takes tickets for us also appears onstage. We choose plays that depend on their language more than their spectacle; plays that can be considered classics regardless of when they were written.
Affordable performance space is scarce in Boulder. After a season and a half at the Community Free School, we bounced around, performing in local churches, a middle school gymnasium, and even the City Council Chambers. Sets had to be portable, as it was not uncommon for the space we performed in Saturday night to be used for coffee hour Sunday morning (which meant taking the set down after a performance and putting it back up again for the next performance). Late in 1984 we moved into the short-lived Upstart Crow Theatre (the Fire Marshall had issues with the space) and in less than a year we were homeless again. At the beginning of 1986, in the middle of our 6th season, we became one of the resident companies at The Guild Theatre in northeast Boulder and performed there until the end of our 17th season in 1997. Then we moved into the Dairy Center for the Arts (the two theatre spaces there were originally built and managed by The Guild) and we’ve been there ever since.
Shakespeare is our favorite playwright; in fact the name Upstart Crow comes from the first contemporary mention of Shakespeare. We’ve done 35 productions of 25 of his plays. We’ve also done 14 plays by Shaw, 6 each by Ibsen and Chekov, 5 by Synge, 4 each by Miller, Williams, Anouilh, and Ionesco, and 3 each by Whiting and Moliere.
There are actors in the company who have been members from the very beginning, and some with more than seventy Upstart Crow productions on their resumes. (There are a few costumes that have been in that many productions, too.) Over all, about 300 actors have played about1,700 roles; but a quarter of the total roles have been played by eleven actors. Apparently familiarity breeds nepotism: some of our company members have raised theatre babies who are now performing with us. Our production of She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith that opened our 29th season featured three parent-child pairs of actors.