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A previous Square Product Theatre production (photo courtesy of Michael Ensminger)

Best Bets: “This Aunt Is Not A Cockroach”

The show—which opens at Wesley Chapel in Boulder this weekend—combines theater and dance for a uniquely rewarding performance. 

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If my life experience so far is anything to go by, your late twenties are a time of uncertainty. There seems to be an undercurrent of constantly questioning where you are and what you’re doing around this age. Are we in the right jobs? Is Denver where we want to call home? Are we making any sort of difference in the world? Is this where we’re meant to be? Can someone just tell us what to do?

Two Boulder-based creatives found themselves having similar thoughts. Emily Harrison, producing artistic director of Square Product Theatre, and Laura Ann Samuelson, of Hoarded Stuff Productions, decided to collaborate and turn those internal debates into a public performance. The result: This Aunt Is Not A Cockroach, which opens on Thursday, April 28. A blend of acting and dance, the production incorporates life’s many gray areas, with the audience never knowing the two characters’ names or exactly where the narrative takes place. (Harrison, it’s worth noting, will be donning a cockroach costume for most of the show.) What we do know is that they’re neighbors. They don’t know each other very well, but they both seem to be experiencing doubts about their life choices. Their discussions may mimic ones the audience has had with their own friends or significant others or children. “They’re sort of existing in this state of limbo—geographically and as far as what their purpose is,” Harrison says. “It’s very much a meditation on, ‘What am I supposed to be doing with my life?'”

Both Square Product and Hoarded Stuff are known for playing with the traditional expectations of theater and dance to craft wholly new interpretations of the mediums. Cockroach closes Square Product’s 10th season; the three-person troupe focuses on creating new works or producing regional premieres from American playwrights that challenge audiences. (Harrison is also the director of Boulder Arts Week.) Samuelson, a dancer and choreographer, is similarly focused. She performs, teaches, creates new pieces (sometimes in collaboration with other artists and organizations), and curates the work of others. She’s particularly interested in the ways that language and movement can coexist without one medium dominating the other.

Working together was an entirely different experience for both of them. “I’m a very text-based performer—that’s what I know and feel safe with,” Harrison says. “Laura Ann is a dancer. So a lot of the material was developed in rehearsal. She’d think of an idea and start moving, and I’d watch and free write and see what happened [and vice versa].”

Though both refer to their work as experimental, they mean it in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily follow expected storytelling structures. Cockroach, for instance, is not a linear tale. It’s not plot-driven—it’s concept-driven. This is a show where you will leave with just as many questions as answers; you zoom in on a moment in the characters’ lives and then you leave. You won’t know exactly where they end up—this isn’t an ending tied into a neat little bow—but you will understand what they’re going through. “It’s an opportunity to peel back things that I think we’re all struggling with,” Samuelson says. “How do we make things better than they already are?”

Details: This Aunt Is Not A Cockroach plays Thursday through Saturday, from April 28 to May 7, at the Wesley Chapel in Boulder. All shows begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door; Thursday productions are two-for-one.

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