If Jessica Kahkoska had pitched her theatrical concert about the East Troublesome Fire in 2019, she thinks it would have been too unbelievable.
The idea of a megafire breaking out during a pandemic would have been a stretch — until it actually happened in Grand County.
“Wild Fire,” written by Kahkoska and directed by Chris Coleman, follows the lives of eight people through the devastating week surrounding the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.
“This project was built out of a desire to respond and to hold space for what I believe is probably one of the biggest things on Colorado peoples’ minds, which is wildfire,” Kahkoska said.
The story was inspired by real testimony from more than 30 interviews, recorded as part of History Colorado’s Museum of Memory Initiative.
Kahkoska is a Colorado playwright who has spent the last nine months researching and writing this theatrical concert. She also has personal experience dealing with wildfires after the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire raced toward her and her family in Colorado Springs.
“I think it completely rocked my world,” Kahkoska said of the Waldo Canyon Fire. “It completely shifted my worldview. It’s a grief that, obviously, I’ve been thinking about a lot more in the last nine months, but it’s just a perpetual loss even when it’s something that’s resolved in some capacity.”
The show follows a fire marshal, park ranger, reporter, rancher and other evacuated residents through the momentous week. To help tell the story, the show includes a folk score performed by the “Wild Fire” cast and written by Colorado artists Cary Morin, Chimney Choir, Daniel Rodriguez, Elephant Revival, Gregory Alan Isakov, and SHEL.
For Coleman, the show highlights the horror and loss that happened that night, but also the community ties that grew stronger through the ordeal.
“I really hope that (the audiences) feel a sense of the incredible resilience and the incredible sense of community that emerged when people needed to help each other out,” Coleman said. “That is the truly moving part of it, the unbelievable heroism of regular people in this state.”
The show was commissioned by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts but will be performed across the state. There will be four shows, each at a different location, including one in Grand County. They will be:
• 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at Levitt Pavilion Denver;
• 7 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Dillon Amphitheater;
• 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Rendezvous Event Center at Hideaway Park in Winter Park;
• 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Amphitheater at Las Colonias Park in Grand Junction.
Tickets go on sale June 23, starting at $30 each. A portion of sales will go toward the Grand Foundation’s Wildfire Emergency Fund. Up to 1,500 free tickets will be available to firefighters across the four performances, which will be distributed via lottery.
Coleman explained that because the concert will be performed at outdoor venues across the state and was developed over a relatively short period of time, “Wild Fire” is different from anything the DCPA has attempted before.
For people who lived through the East Troublesome Fire, Kahkoska hopes the show gives voice to both the hurt caused by the fire along with the closeness the community gained from it.
“It’s also difficult to quantify the loss of 200,000 acres or a house or a trail that you love,” Kahkoska said. “I hope that this piece can offer an opportunity for that loss to be named a little bit.”
For those less knowledgeable about the East Troublesome Fire, Coleman hopes the story brings some mindfulness about the far-reaching consequences of this event.
“One of the things for me that the piece revealed is that the destruction from this wasn’t cleaned up and restored over night,” Coleman said. “It’s going to be years, years before it’s fully restored. Families are still trying to stand back up from the impact of it. That was something that was not at all on my awareness. I hope that it raises some awareness on that front.”
In addition to the four performances, DCPA is partnering with History Colorado to host two memory workshops on June 19 and June 29 as part of History Colorado’s Museum of Memory Initiative. Participants in the workshops are invited to contribute their lived experiences with wildfires to Colorado’s official historic record and hear the stories of others.
Learn more about the events at www.historycolorado.org/events or submit personal stories of living with wildfire through an online form. For more information on “Wild Fire,” go to www.denvercenter.org/wildfire.