Gunfights, mining and burros aren’t the only elements of Buena Vista’s history celebrated during Gold Rush Days. The madams of the early 1900s and their girls continue to have their own stories voiced in the popular “Madams of Central Colorado.”
Presented by Buena Vista Heritage, the show on Aug. 10 sold out and entertained a full house with Kathrine Perry as Cockeyed Liz, Renee Graner as Laura Evans, Whitney Tidwell and Lisa Wagner as Laura’s employees Laverne and Silverheels Jessie respectively, Bonnie Schwam as Lillian Powers, Evelyn Marshall as Belle Brown and Teresa Roorda as The Professor.
Prior to the show, some of the madams would walk through the room and briefly flirt with the men in the audience, reminding everyone of the show’s setting and lighting the atmosphere with some humor. Perry also sang as Roorda played some old-time tunes on the piano.
“I’ve always considered myself more of a singer,” Perry said. “I never was trained to either sing or act. I’m more comfortable singing. So one reason I sing before the show is it kind of relaxes me a little bit, but also I want to get everyone in a fun mood. I think I enjoy that part the most.”
Playing in front of an audience, especially such a large one, isn’t easy on the nerves for several of the ladies. Despite being more of an introvert, Wagner found herself talked into joining as Silverheels Jessie.
“When I told my best friend I was going to do this show, they were like, ‘What? You’re going to get up in front of people and talk?’ And I’m like, ‘I think so,’” Wagner said with a laugh. “I am so glad that I decided to do this. It’s so much fun.”
Getting to see her fellow actresses “blossom” into their roles has become another favorite part of the performance for Perry.
Each of the women took a turn telling the crowd about her life as well as a different aspect of life. For instance, Perry covered the basics, Schwam went over crib girls and hierarchy and Marshall addressed drugs. From the start, the audience was informed that every bit of information was completely true. “We don’t make anything up,” Perry said. “It’s all fact, and fact is stranger than fiction.”
Some of these facts are a delight for the women to share. For Schwam, her favorite moment is telling the audience how “I carved the initials above the door post so people know that we indeed exist. People seem to really resonate with that. It means that we mattered.
“I don’t think there’s anything else I would rather do than be a part of this. It’s so fun. People get to learn things that they never knew about life back in the day. These women were incredible, so I’m happy to play them,” Schwam said.
After the show, museum director Kiki Lathrop announced that the Masonic Lodge would be matching up to $2,000 for donations made to BV Heritage before Sept. 14.
The historical retelling of life as a “fallen angel” was made more authentic and enjoyable by women’s casual conversations, teasing jabs and flirtatious gestures. When the audience wasn’t laughing at the ladies’ storytelling, they were fascinated by the facts of their everyday life. Resident Suzanne Isenhower – and newcomer to the show – was one of many to learn something new that night.
“I loved it. It adds so nicely to the entire festival of Gold Rush Days,” she said. “I have been up here (in the museum) for a couple of other events. The room is well-used, the acoustics were fair. I love the local talent. We see so much local talent music-wise in our community, but the drama I haven’t seen before. I was really pleased with the talent of the drama.”
Also viewing his first Madams show, Howard resident Alan Rule felt encouraged to come and see the show after reading a book on Laura Evens. “I think they did a great job. The women are all gorgeous, very entertaining,” he said.
Perry had originally portrayed Cockeyed Liz in 2004 in a play by Marge Dorfmeister called “The Legend of Cockeyed Liz.” In the winter of 2006, Perry compiled the play for “Madams of Central Colorado,” then brought it to life in 2007. Ever since, the show has entertained and informed audiences while also raising money to support the museum and the town’s heritage.
Rather than audition for the parts, Perry simply chose people that she felt would play their parts best. Tidwell, for instance, was recruited from Perry’s physical therapist’s office. While panicking over not having someone to play Laverne, Perry noticed Tidwell.
“I looked at her, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous, and I go, ‘Could you be Laverne?’ And that’s how I got her… I had no idea if she could act or anything, and she’s been awesome,” Perry said.
Tidwell has since played Laverne for 8 years and has truly enjoyed it. “I get really nervous when we have large crowds like this, but it’s what we need to save the museum and save the heritage of this town,” Tidwell said.
She especially enjoyed moments like telling a man she’d knock his block off, as well as the surprise and confusion in the audience when a bell rings and Miss Laura asks her to service the “gentleman” waiting outside.
While their previous show this summer received a smaller audience, possibly due to poorer advertising according to Perry, the Gold Rush Show was exponentially larger and earned $2,445.
“The fullest house we’ve had in past years is about 110, only because we only had 110 chairs,” Perry said. “Now we’ve got more chairs.”
The women have been invited to perform the show at a historical reenactment event in Lamar, as well as for the statewide Rotary convention at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort.
“We’ve performed in Pueblo at the Pueblo Library, and they expected 40 people. People kept coming and coming, and they had like 110, with people standing around the walls. That was really cool. We don’t usually take the show on the road because it’s hard. We just take the basics and stuff. Anything that’ll make money for saving the building, because that’s my love,” Perry said.
Don’t miss the last showing of “Madams of Central Colorado” for 2019 at the Buena Vista Heritage Museum on Sept. 14. The show begins at 7 p.m., and the doors open 30 minutes for seating and entertainment. The talk is kept tasteful, but due to the subject matter children under 13 are not allowed.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the museum and the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce, or by visiting www.buenavistaheritage.org/Madams-of-Central-Colorado.