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Taking the stage by storm

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By Will Grandbois

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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For years, Lon Winston’s name has been practically synonymous with the Thunder River Theatre Company. This week, it’s official.

After the opening performance of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” on Feb. 24, the black box performance space at the heart of the building will be dedicated “The Lon Winston Theatre.”

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“I’m proud, of course,” Winston acknowledged. “It just says something so deep in my heart about giving to the community and all the people who were involved. If we don’t maintain the legacy and love of theatre, we’re going to lose something so important as a civilization.”

Winston founded Thunder River in 1995 and oversaw the construction of the company’s home at 67 Promenade during more than 20 years as the executive director.

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“We played everywhere, but in the back of my head, this theatre was sitting in Carbondale – it was just a matter of when and how,” he said.

“The Tempest” represents Winston’s return to directing after handing over the organization’s reins last summer.

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“People in theatre don’t ever retire,” he noted. “But this is the first show in 20 years that I get to get into the script without worrying about all the other stuff.”

It’s Winston’s third time taking on The Bard. He did “Macbeth” early on as a partnership with CMC, and more recently directed “Hamlet” to local acclaim.

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While he finds simply changing the setting of the plays gimmicky, he’s far from a purist.

“I think today the movers and shakers are doing with Shakespeare rather than just doing Shakespeare,” Winston observed. “I like making it palatable for a contemporary audience. The stories are universal and they dive into the human condition like no other.”

Savvy audience members might notice some gender bending in addition to an array of anachronisms, but the core arc and style remains intact. After more than a decade on a remote island, the sorcerer Prospero plots an escape for his daughter by conjuring a storm to bring those who have wronged them to his shores. In the process, he wrestles with his own angels and demons in the form of the supernatural denizens of his abode.

“It’s about reconciliation – though Prospero wants people to pay before he forgives,” Winston observed.

It’s also about relationships, as Jeff Carlson, who plays Prospero, explained.

“The people around him shape who he is and how he uses his power,” he said.

Chief among them is his daughter, Miranda, played by TRTC newcomer Gabrielle Bailes. But his own influence is strong in her, with few others to shape her.

“She was removed from society, and she wasn’t educated to be a woman,” Bailes explained.

If this is ringing bells from a high school English class, keep in mind it’s a different experience on stage.

“There isn’t anything we do that isn’t rooted in the text, but plays aren’t meant to be read – they’re meant to be performed. It’s not just saying the words. It’s delving into what they really mean,” Winston said. “The language is a barrier for many people, and you’ve got to really tell the story for the audience to understand it.”

“The Tempest” runs Feb. 24-25, March 3-4 and 9-11 at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 5. The cast includes Jeff Carlson, Trary Maddalone, Nathan Cox, Gabrielle Bailes, Dena Barnes, Owen O’Farrell, Gerald deLisser, Corey Simpson, Travis Lane McDiffett, Willie Moseley, Nick Garay, Dani Grace Kopf and JD Miller. On the technical and design crew are Sean Jeffries, Olivia Savard, Madeline Miles, Diane Johnson, Colin Tugwell and Megan Tackett.

Admission is $25 for adults, $15 for 20 and 30 somethings, and $10 for students. Information and tickets are available at thundrrivertheatre.com or by calling 963-8200.

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