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Colorado Experience comes to Steamboat Springs

Julia Ben-Asher/For Steamboat Today
The producers of the Colorado Experience film a songwriting class at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.
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If you go:

What: “Colorado Experience” episodes screening

When: Doors open at 5:30 p.m., screening at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14

Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.

Tickets: Free

— The fourth season of the Emmy Award-winning Rocky Mountain PBS series “Colorado Experience” is taking a road trip.

The series creators will premiere two never-before-seen episodes of historical documentaries in Steamboat Springs, where one of the episodes was based. The films will be shown Wednesday, Dec. 14 at the Chief Theater.

Perry-Mansfield episode

Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp is the oldest continuously-operating performing arts school and camp in the U.S.

The organization was founded in 1913 by Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield, who with the help of the Perry family acquired a 15-acre ranch in Strawberry Park for the campus in 1914. The organization is still based there today, attracting thousands of dancers, singers, equestrians and other artists from across the globe to learn, teach, develop and create.

If you go:

What: “Colorado Experience” episodes screening

When: Doors open at 5:30 p.m., screening at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14

Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.

Tickets: Free

“One of the really cool things is it’s known as the birthplace of modern dance,” said the series’ producer and director, Mariel Rodriguez-McGill. “That pioneering spirit, to go from something like ballet, that’s a little more structured, to go to something that’s more about freedom of expression like modern dance — it makes sense that this would happen in the Wild West.”

The school’s history is one that will appeal to anyone in the area. Charlotte’s sister, Marjorie, convinced legendary ski jumper Carl Howelsen to move to Steamboat, and she was named to the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. The campus’s Cabeen cabin, built in the 1880s, is the one of the oldest standing structures in Routt County.

In the 1950s, the school’s dancers would lead square dances downtown and perform at the Chief Theater for the community. Area ranchers consistently donated horses for a summer for the equestrian program — sometimes riding horses from Pleasant Valley all the way to campus, according to Perry-Mansfield Executive Director Nancy Engelken.

Locals Holly Williams and Karolynn Lestrud and a committed group of local residents led an effort of bake sales, small donations and larger grants in the early 1990s to purchase the school from Stephens College in order to keep it operating. Both were interviewed for the episode.

“It’s amazing to me when I talk with a number of long-time families in Routt County, and they tell me stories of connections of their families to Perry-Mansfield,” Engelken said.

In a time when many arts organizations are losing funding and closing their doors, Nagler Engelken noted, Perry-Mansfield is stronger than ever. Next year, the organization will celebrate its 104th summer.

“Our students continue to make history here every summer,” Engelken said. “It isn’t just about Charlotte and Portia — (the episode) really captured history of today.”

Engelken, current students and alumni will participate in a Q&A session during the event; a reception will follow the screening.

Suffrage episode

Series organizers took note of the spirit of women working together toward a goal in the Perry-Mansfield episode and decided to continue the theme by pairing that episode with a second episode focusing on suffrage.

Colorado was the first state to pass women’s suffrage by a single-issue popular vote, but the road to get there was long and arduous.

“These women had to stand up and go to the mining camps across Colorado and convince men that women should vote,” Rodriguez-McGill said. “The men had to vote to allow the women to vote.”

“It’s interesting to see how these stories all around the state link together,” she added.

For example, Charlotte Perry’s father owned a decent amount of the Steamboat-area coal mines and railroads, which contributed to Charlotte being able to acquire the land for the Perry-Mansfield campus as well as travel throughout the state to build the organization.

Suffragettes also owe a piece of their success to their access to railroads, which helped them to convince many of the Coloradans — male coal miners — to vote for women’s suffrage.

Common threads and links between stories only grow as one learns the intricacies of state history.

Beyond a 10-stop road trip to kick off its fourth season, the series’ creators are also partnering with schoolteachers to create curricula around these episodes to be used in classrooms.

Episodes are also available to the public at rmpbs.org/coloradoexperience/home/.


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