Nestled in Steamboat Springs, far apart from the glitz of Broadway and Hollywood, the Perry-Mansfield School of Performing Arts recently wrapped up its 100th summer season. By all accounts Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield, who lived to be 94 and 92 respectively, would be more focused on the century ahead than the one the curtain has closed on. “I think the vision that the ladies came up with was so compelling and so sound,” said Karolynn Lestrud, a 23-year volunteer and member of Friends of Perry-Mansfield.
“They called it the brotherhood of the arts believing that a dancer is a better dancer for studying acting and that an actor is a better actor for studying dance.”
“The ladies,” as they are affectionately referred to, forged the idea of a summer arts camp in the great outdoors in 1910 while studying performing arts at Smith College in Western Massachusetts. In 1913, with $200 they bought 15 acres in Perry’s native Colorado and a home for their idea.
Perry-Mansfield students are taught dance, theater, music, visual arts and horseback riding by world renowned instructors.
“[Nice] girls didn’t wear ethereal costumes and dance barefoot,” said Mary Mansfield VandeHooten, a descendant of Portia Mansfield. “They were way before their time I think. They were very out in the forefront.”
Their vision has had a profound impact on the performing arts.
Today, students from across the country and the world study at Perry-Mansfield. You’ll find a healthy range of ages from 8 to 20, including Sydney Suter, 16, of Boulder, Colo.
“When you think of, like, acting and dance and the entertainment world and you think of New York and all the buildings and the busy city life,” said Suter. “But it’s nice to come here and get a different sense, like, really get in touch with where you actually came from, which is all nature.”
Rhythmic Design, a dance originally created in 1928 at Perry-Mansfield, was thought to be lost to the ages. As serendipity would have it, a dance score and music was discovered in advance of the 2013 100th anniversary season. Instructor Meghan Grupposo helped to re-stage the piece as part of the dance camp's centennial celebration. Although it may appear simplistic, it is technically very complex to perform.
Perry-Mansfield was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and is home to some of the oldest buildings in the state. Through the years, the camp has grown from its original 15 acres, and one building, to bucolic and breathtaking 70-plus acres and 65 buildings.
When the camp began students stayed in tents, they now sleep in simple cabins. Buildings that were added, most in the early-to-mid 20th century, were humble and rustic. “Cabeen,” is the oldest building on the property. Initially a homesteaders cabin, it became the home of Charlotte Perry. It now houses some faculty members.
“It is pretty amazing to me the quality of the construction,” said Edward Watson, Perry-Mansfield facilities and operations director. “They are 70, 80, 90 years-old,” and still in use.
Through the years, those tied to the camp helped launch the Colorado Council of the Arts; a nationally recognized rating system for horsemanship; and a community college that became Colorado Mountain College at Steamboat Springs.
“Both Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield really believe, and I do too, that the practice of creativity , whatever its form, changes who you are and the world that you live in,” said Joan Lazarus Perry-Mansfield executive director.
By Carrie Saldo
Arts District is a collaboration between KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS, and KUVO.