Local nonprofit VOICES will premier their upcoming project, “Wetlands,” at the Thunder River Theatre Company (TRTC) building on April 29 at 7:30 p.m. The show is repeated on April 30 at the same time and on May 1 at 6 p.m. A final performance will be held at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen on May 7 at 7:30 p.m.
The mission of VOICES is to encourage collaboration between diverse groups of people and amplify underrepresented voices within the community. This show will be directed by Renee Prince, with the assistance of Gabriela Alvarez Espinoza.
“Wetlands” is a collaborative project by 10 local women in the Roaring Fork Valley and is described by their website as a “kaleidoscope of a show” incorporating movement, music, nature puppetry and the human voice to spotlight how deeply connected we are to one another and the natural world. Some pieces in the show will also deal with heavy topics, such as abuse, isolation and other turmoils wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The show is being formulated through a theater process called “devising.” This means that it is still being created even as rehearsals commence. There is no pre-written script, just monologues, scenes and other creative anchors.
Speaking with Prince and ensemble members Marcia Weese, Toddy Walters, Flor Pastrana, MinTze Wu and Stage Manager Dani Taylor, they chatted in-depth with The Sopris Sun about its contents and the process.
“Having the freedom to create what we want for our stories is really nice,” stated Pastrana. “I am grateful to be here again. We are hoping to connect with the audience and, hopefully, they’ll feel the courage to come out and speak their truth.”
According to Prince, “Wetlands” is an original piece that has been two years in the making. Production and in-person collaborations, which VOICES relies on to create original content, were put on hold when the pandemic began.
Before COVID, the organization was working toward its second annual Women’s Voices Theater project, following up on a successful event in 2019. Eight local women planned to bring to the stage their varied work. In lieu of a live event, the performers produced a special podcast titled “The Collective Pause” that aired on KDNK on Mother’s Day, 2020.
In 2022, the nonprofit was able to regroup in-person, and the idea for “Wetlands” was born. According to Prince, this show is something that “audiences haven’t seen before.”
“Every time we do this there are real synchronistic connective threads that start to happen that start to build organic throughlines,” she said. “That is always such a satisfying thing.”
MinTze Wu, who will present an original piece about her time in a COVID isolation ward in Taiwan, called the show “an ever-evolving project,” adding, “We are not so much thinking about what we want to perform but what story do we desire to tell?”
The idea behind the title comes from natural wetlands acting as a filter for water runoff, so that it goes out the other side clearer than when it came in. Wetlands are also generally safe places for animals to rest, nest and nurture themselves.
“I thought of the wetlands as being a metaphor for what women do instinctively, which is to empathize and take on other people’s hurt and filter it,” stated Walters.
Weese added to that statement, pointing out that “because it is a filter of sorts, we as women often take on abuse that we wouldn’t normally stand for — and I think this is a very important part of this production. You’ll see several pieces addressing this.”
The ensemble credits Renee as being a “leader with the flashlight” during the creation of this project. Without a traditional script to follow, production has relied on collaborative efforts that also honor the creative autonomy of all involved.
“To be able to sit at the table and watch this tapestry unfold is so beautiful,” reflected Taylor.
The whole ensemble is staying true to the idea of amplifying personal voices, rather than playing characters written by someone else. As Prince mentioned, “Storytelling suffocates stereotyping. When you see someone in the wholeness of who they are, it is impossible to limit perceptions based on one attribute they have.”
To purchase tickets for “Wetlands,” visit voicesrfv.org where links to both TRTC and the Wheeler Opera House are available. TRTC requires proof of vaccination and recommends masks be worn during performances. The Wheeler Opera House also requires proof of vaccination or proof of negative COVID results that same day.