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Friday, October 21,2011

Colorado history revealed

Theater troupe performs a people's history of Colorado

By Steve Weishampel
When people say “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” it’s meant to be a bad thing. Note the word “doomed.” But for those involved in the upcoming stage production A People’s History of Colorado, that might not be the case.

The improvised, cast-directed play by the Romero Troupe depicts lesser-known historical events in the state that highlight issues of power, privilege and race and class conflict. It shows at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Boulder Unity Church, 2855 Folsom St., as a benefit for Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

Romero Troupe includes about 30 performers who collaborate and decide on scenes to comprise the play, but they aren’t scripted. The actors are all amateurs, founder and actor Jim Walsh says.

Part of the point of the play, Walsh says, is to use the history to inspire people today.

“The way people view the present is deeply rooted in the way they view the past,” he says. “If we shake up the way they see the past it can really shift how they see the present.”

For Walsh, who founded the troupe after realizing that performing plays about history was helping his university students learn, the actors can serve as models for the audience in a way.

“When they come to our shows what they’re seeing are 30 people who use theater as a way to find their voice,” Walsh says. “We’d like to think that’s inspiring people to go out and find their voice. Our shows are about that: to feel empowered in one’s own present life.”

The performance will benefit the RMPJC, a Boulder-based non-profit focused on creating a culture of peace. Betty Ball, the center’s co-administrator, says teaming with the Romero Troupe has been successful for RMPJC in the past because plays can bring excitement to history.

“It’s just really amazing and exciting to get in touch with these events that are really important, but that get very little media play,” she says. And the RMPJC’s goals fall in line with the Romero Troupe’s, she says.

“It fits with our mission to look at these periods of injustice and the people who were trying to rectify it, and gain inspiration from that to fight against injustice today,” Ball says. “We’re never going to have peace until there’s justice.”

Ball also says the Romero Troupe isn’t just about history. There are lots of valid lessons for today’s social conflicts, like the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“I’m very excited that people everywhere are uniting under this banner that we have to get rid of corporate control,” she says.

Walsh agrees that the play’s message applies to the protests.

This particular show is all about social movements — movements for justice, for workers’ rights, for peace — and they all tell a story of a long history of people in this state who weren’t afraid to get out on the streets and create change and find solidarity, which is exactly what the occupy movements all about,” he says. “The play makes people see the movement as part of a larger arc of struggle.”

“This is an opportunity for the 99 percent of the people to unite and take back their power,” Ball says. “When people take their power, change happens.”

And Walsh says those who aren’t on the same side of the political aisle don’t need to stay away. “Even though our shows are political, I think our message is very positive. It’s not by nature an offensive message. We tend to celebrate people who have courage, and that appeals to anyone.”

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