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For 'Theatre-Hikes Colorado,' All The Forest's A Stage And Zombies Are Everywhere

On a sunny September afternoon, an odd lot makes its way up the Enchanted Mesa Trail at Boulder's Chautauqua Park. A zombified Boy Scout troubadour softly strums a guitar while guide Jillian Price leads an eager group of theater fans to a forest clearing for the first act of 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

"We always like to say we have one of the best set designers in the world," said Price, remarking on the beauty of Boulder's open space.

It's not your traditional production but it works, as Theatre-Hikes Colorado isn't your traditional theater troupe. There are no chairs, no curtain, and the stage is the great outdoors. As a bonus, theater patrons that trade their high heels for hiking boots also get tips to survive should the undead rise up.

  Sacrificing the weak, kung fu and romancing the zombie are some of the skills demonstrated on the one-and-half-mile trek. Even the dress code could be considered another survival tip against the walking dead.

"Oh, dress down," Price recommended. "You want to wear comfortable clothes. This is not a black-tie event so most of our audience members, and indeed many of our actors, wear sneakers, shorts, t-shirts. Windbreakers and jackets if it gets a little chillier. But, comfort is key."

The rules are a little more relaxed with Theatre-Hikes Colorado. Eating and drinking during performances is actually encouraged. You are on a hike after all. Photos are totally fine. At each stop, while the scene plays out, audiences sit on blankets, rocks or chairs they've brought with them. When the scene is over, it's time to pick up and move on to the next location.

"Unlike a normal theater where everything is very formal and rigid and the audience sits quietly and only claps at the end, the audience members can participate and interact with their surroundings and with the scenery," Price said. "They can expect more feedback directly from the actors as opposed to being on a stage set apart."

Credit Jim Hill / KUNC
Boulder open space provides the backdrop for '10 Ways To Survive The Zombie Apocalypse' during a Theatre-Hikes Colorado performance. The trail serves to 'move' the story along and scenes such as this one are performed in clearings off-trail.

The Boulder troupe actually has its roots in concrete, beginning 13 years ago in Chicago. An actress from the Chicago program moved to Colorado, took a hike at Boulder's Chautauqua and thought the location would make an ideal backdrop for performances.

"I love the fact that we're really pure theater," said actor, writer and director Patti Murtha. "I feel like it's guerilla theater. We prove the idea that all you really need to do theater is actors and audience and space."

Murtha said being able to roll with whatever happens is key to being part of this group. Whether that's playing a Starbucks barista zombie or something a little more traditional.

"(You need) a willingness to deal with anything that comes up," she said. "Spiders. Bugs. Sitting on cactus. Dogs walking into scenes."

And yes, cactus encounters do happen. Once, Murtha accidentally laid down on one during a scene. "Yeah, that was not fun," she said.

For Longmont couple Jocelyn and Donnie Minette the idea of combining some of their favorite things – theater, zombies and the great outdoors – was a lot of fun.

"I kind of liked the free-range acting," Donnie Minette said. "It was nice. I liked the interactive part to this – having to stop and, you know, enjoy nature a little bit."

Credit Jim Hill / KUNC
The zombie troubadour Boy Scout leads the way for the hiking group, strumming all the while.

Their one complaint? The pacing. For the hike, not the play.

"(It was) a little slow for us," Minette said. "But, you know, you had to let the actors get up there."

Actor Mauro Segura, who played one of the survivors, said a show like this takes a bit of endurance, particularly when you're running from zombies.

"You have to be in better shape than you might think," Segura said. "You have to get used to doing a scene and then running up to the next setting, doing that over and over again."

It's also important to be willing to be part of something that – amongst the hikers, runners and weekend warriors – might seem a little strange to others on the trail.

"Um, it's a mixture of amazement and wonder and wow those people look weird," joked Price about the looks they get during shows. "Not every day you see a zombie boy scout with a guitar hiking up Chautauqua."

Performances of 10 Ways To Survive The Zombie Apocalypse hike every weekend at the Boulder Chautauqua through Oct. 25, 2015.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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