Telluride Academy’s Mudd Butts: 33-Year History + Way Forward

Telluride Academy’s Mudd Butts: 33-Year History + Way Forward

The latest production of the Telluride Academy‘s 33rd annual Mudd Butts Mystery Drama Camp takes place Thursday, August 1 and Friday August 2 at 6 p.m., and Saturday, August 3, 5:30 p.m. at the Michael D. Palm Theater. Tickets $15 for adults; $5 for kiddos at the door.

Please scroll down to watch the videos and listen to what Mudd Butts’ guiding angels Sally Davis and Kim Epifano have to say about their three decades guiding young lives in theater arts and life in general. Somehow the two have managed to retain the innocence of youth, but still possess the wisdom of miles on the mountain. Mudd Butt alum and executive director of the Telluride AIDS Benefit, Sarah Gluckstern, weighs in on how being a Mudd Butt impacted her life.

Kim Epifano, Propmeister Mike Stasiuk, and Sally Davis, the unholy trinity behind the Mudd Butts. for three decades – and counting!

The history is no mystery. In Telluride, it is the stuff of legend.

One sunny July day, a group of very lucky kids in Telluride got to do what other lucky kids have done for 33 years: slide down muddy Coronet Creek into the experience of a lifetime. Time for the Mudd Butts Mystery Theater Troupe’s annual performance.

Yes, you read me correctly. The Mudd Butts just turned 33.

Help the Mudd Butts celebrate three decades of life-changing theater arts by attending this year’s production, a remix of a tale inspired by “1001 Arabian Nights.”

In the original story, King Shahryar kills a new wife every night because he is totally insecure and fears she will stop loving him. But his new bride, Shahrazad, has a clever plan to save herself. Her nightly stories – of Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba, and many other Middle Eastern legends of heroes and villains – prove to be so engrossing, the murderous ruler has to postpone her execution again and again…

It was clearly Shahrazad or a really good shrink.

Fair warning: when the curtain comes down on Saturday, it is the end of an era. However, here Alexander Graham Bell’s old trope applies: “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

“We are celebrating the 33rd and final year of the Mudd Butt Mystery Theater Troupe. Many years of performance magic in Telluride and international trips have deeply changed and enriched our lives. None of it would have been possible without the Telluride Academy and all of the amazing students, families, and community in the US and abroad. This is not a goodbye, but an evolution. In 2020, be on the lookout for shorter creative workshops focusing on theater, dance, music and improvisation with some of the Mudd Butt team,” said The Team.

Pulling back the curtain on the history of the Mudd Butts, the idea of creating a drama camp for kids in Telluride had been blowing in the wind. In 1987, the seed took root: the Telluride Academy, then under the auspices of director Wendy Brooks, effectively became the troupe’s producer. Sally Davis and Kim Epifano (and John Fago, who is no longer directly involved) became co-directors. Mudd Butts thrived and grew: one spin-off, Mudd Butts International, acted as a diplomat without portfolio, forging relationships and developing mutual understanding and respect for young neighbors around the globe through the medium of theater.

The Telluride Academy’s Mudd Butts has operated as a four-week theater intensive covering all aspects of what it takes to make a play happen.The month-long intensive for kids ages 10-13 has covered all aspects of theater arts including games, script- and song-writing, street theatre, improv, dance, voice, prop-making, and marketing – sometimes even stilt-walking.

But that’s only what has been described in the Academy’s brochure.

It is the program’s off-piste claims that mattered in the long run.

For years, Sally Davis, a musician, theater director, performer, and arts educator, and Kim Epifano, an award-winning choreographer, director, performer, vocalist, educator, and their closest collaborator, sculptor and propmeister extraordinaire Mike Stasiuk, have been harmonizing with the chorus of educators who make strong arguments for the halo effect of theatre education and activities: enhanced creativity, problem-solving, focus and perseverance, non-verbal communication, ability to receive and metabolize constructive feedback, ability to work well with others, and an understanding that actions have consequences.

Read between the lines then and it becomes clear that young people fortunate enough to have participated in the Mudd Butts wound up acquiring invaluable and indelible life tools. Kids have met their inner artist while developing confidence and discovering ways to laugh at themselves and navigate the mind field of group dynamics. What the directors have long been after is broadening kids’ horizons about social, political and environmental issues. Through the Mudd Butts experience, kids have travelled from a local address on to the world stage with greater poise and self-confidence.

“We love the collaborative aspect of our work: young teens creating with adult artists. Our focus has always been experimentation, self-exploration, and a combination of art forms,” explained Sally and Kim.

Over the years, the group has brought in numerous guest artists from around the globe and are always blessed with the return of some of their graduates, who never fail to roll up their sleeves to help.

“In the end, the work transforms us all and challenges everyone one of us creatively to push the envelope, ” continued Sally and Kim. “Mudd Butt actors have given us new perspective on just about everything in the world. Our Mudd Butt International trips have added an incredibly rich layer to the overall Mudd Butts experience, unique for all involved.”

That said, a picture is worth, well, you know…

Mudd Butts (and Mudd Butts International) over the years:














More on  the key players on the Mudd Butts team:

Sally Davis:

works as a musician, theater director, and arts educator in Telluride, Colorado. She also directs theater productions and conducts residencies and workshops in schools and communities around the world.

Sally is a recipient of the Telluride Institute Visionary Award and has received five Just for Kids Foundation grants. She is co-artistic director of The Mudd Butts Mystery Theatre Troupe and Mudd Butts International. She is also director of Circus Holus Bolus, Moving Mountain Theater, both of which are Telluride Academy productions.

Her children’s theater projects have included: Telluride Institute’s Wild Mountain Puppet Theater, Telluride, CO; Norwood Elementary School, Norwood, CO; Naturita Elementary School, Naturita, CO; Wilkinson Public Library, Telluride, CO; Cesar Chavez Elementary School, San Francisco, CA; San Francisco Youth Theatre, S.F., CA; Stonington Opera House, Stonington, ME; New Durham School, New Durham, NH; The Children’s Storefront School, Harlem, NY; The Ah Haa School for the Arts, Telluride, CO; Telluride Mountain School, Telluride, CO; Bay Area Discovery Museum, S.F., CA; and many wonderful theater adventures with Mudd Butt International, including Immouzer Kandar, Morocco in Spring of 2019.

Her performance work has included: “Last Blue Couch in the Sky”, directed by Kim Epifano, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, S.F., CA.; “San Francisco Trolley Dances” and “Heelomali“ with Epiphany Productions, S.F., CA.; musical collaborator with Bart Hopkin and Krys Bobrowski, Center for New Music, S.F. CA; “Planet Protectors,” “How Clowns Got Their Red Noses,” and “Field Trip,” with Telluride Repertory Theatre’s ACTion Tour; ”New Islands” and “St. Adolf’s Ring” with composer Terry Riley, Tokyo, Japan, USA and Bern, Switzerland ; “Body Tjak” with Keith Terry and I Wayan Dibia, USA and Indonesia; “Lunatic Girl”, “Sonic Luminescence” and “Einstein’s Daughters” with Kim Epifano, S. F., CA; and “The Mission is Not Impossible” with composer Peter Whitehead, S.F. CA.

Her collaborative video works created in Telluride include: “Tomboy Bride,”‘Who Lives Here,” “The Mountains Are Calling,” and “Meetings with Remarkable Kids.”

Kim Epifano:

is a choreographer, director, performer, vocalist, educator, curator, producer, and collaborator. Since 1997, she has been artistic/executive director of the San Francisco-based Epiphany Dance Theater, which creates thought-provoking, accessible dance performances and educational programs building understanding across cultures and ages.

On the stage and in the street, illuminating the ordinary and the extraordinary, inspiring social change using art as a vehicle, Epiphany has produced and created “Botany’s Breath” set in the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers;“Solo Lo Que Fue” in the border town of Mexicali, Mexico; and “Fears of Your Life” with developmentally disabled artists.

The annual, free San Francisco Trolley Dances was founded in 2004 and is called “Art For Citizen’s” and “A Gift to the City” by the audience. SF Trolley Dances received SF Weekly’s “Best Transit City Ballet” award. This year, 2019 celebrates 16 years of SF Trolley Dances.

Kim was part of the creative team with Rhythmix Cultural Works choreographing “Island City Waterways/Crab Cove 2017 and 2018.” She was presented by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco for the “Last Blue Couch in the Sky” with a prestigious grant from the Gerbode Foundation Choreography Commissioning Award, as well as receiving an Isadora Duncan Choreography nomination.

Kim is artist-in-residence since 2012 through YBCA in the SoMa district in SF at Bessie Carmichael School where she teaches storytelling, dance, theater and visual arts.

Since 1986, Kim Epifano has been co-artistic director of Mudd Butts Mystery Theatre Troupe and Mudd Butts International.

She received her MFA in choreography and interdisciplinary performance from UC Davis. Kim was recently a master teacher and adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Lines Ballet, and ODC Dance among other institutions.

Mike Stasiuk:

is a multimedia sculptor who lives and maintains a studio in Portsmouth, NH. His found- object works are represented in private and corporate collections including Wellington Management and New England Biolab. He is also featured in the Schiffer Found Object Art 1 and 2 books.

Michael works with a child-like sensibility fueled by many years of teaching and collaborating with children and adults. He has been a theatrical prop master for the Mudd Butt Mystery Theatre troupe in Telluride, Colorado for 28 years. The last 23 have included residencies collaborating with children and adults around the world to bring characters of all sizes to life in a variety of materials.

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