By Dan Greeson
Nancy Engelken’s fascination with Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp began when she heard Andrea Marcovicci sing “The White Cliffs of Dover” during a faculty concert in the Julie Harris Theatre in 2004. The Wisconsin native was new to town, and she associated the tune with her late mother. “I was absolutely captivated by the magic of Perry-Mansfield right then,” Engelken says.
Engelken was named the school’s executive director last fall. She plans to strengthen the ties between Perry-Mansfield and the local community through low-cost programming and concerts.
“I’m working with donors to create a larger and more robust local scholarship fund for students in Routt and Moffat counties to ensure that local kids, particularly younger children, have the opportunity to attend day and residential camps at Perry-Mansfield,” she says. Plans are afoot to host local Girl Scout outings, plus animal tracking workshops with 4H, throughout spring.
“I did not come into this role to recreate something that has been done right for 102 years,” Engelken says. “I feel part of a living, breathing, evolving history here. Wherever you look at Perry-Mansfield, there is history.”
The school occupies 76 acres and houses 63 buildings, which need ongoing attention. The campus of Perry-Mansfield is on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes any structural upgrades a huge undertaking. Her first major task is a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of fixing the roof in the Julie Harris Theatre, named after the Broadway legend who was a student at Perry-Mansfield.
An experienced grant-writer, Engelken is applying for a National Endowment for the Arts grant for Perry-Mansfield faculty members to bring performing arts into South Routt and Hayden classrooms. “Imagine dance as part of physical education, lighting and set design incorporated into physics and math, and musical theater in English class,” she says.
Perry-Mansfield hosts Routt County sixth-graders as part of the Yampa Valley Science School, a program of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. “Nancy brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and intuition for bringing the world-renowned campus back to the level of performance and prestige that it is so well known for,” Gretchen Van De Carr, executive director of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps says.
Talks are underway to develop a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the Carpenter Ranch as the conservancy celebrates its 50th anniversary. The entities share a special relationship thanks to a historic friendship between pioneer rancher Ferry Carpenter and Perry-Mansfield founders Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield. The friends invited Agnes DeMille to attend a square dance party in Hayden, and she later said that evening inspired “Rodeo,” the classical ballet.
“We don’t rest on our laurels here,” she says. New works are created every summer at Perry-Mansfield, where modern dance was founded over a century ago.
Since becoming executive director, Engelken says she has been awestruck at how many young people’s lives have been impacted by their experience at the camp. “People comment on the magic they feel coming to Perry-Mansfield,” she says. “It isn’t just that they learned something new in dance or theater. It’s that they were able to grow as a young person and find their confidence. I want to be part of promoting that legacy.”
Throughout summer, visitors to the camp can join long-time local Karolynn Lestrud on a monthly historic tour or watch a work in progress on Tuesdays during free events.