“I may have been born on the other side of the world, but my heart has always been in the West.”
When she says she’s from the other side of the world, Carol Heuchan isn’t kidding: The professional poet and commentator for horse events is from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia.
Heuchan is here for the summer season, heading up the show “The West in Story and Song,” which is being performed at the Henry Strater Theatre through mid-Spetember. And aside from dealing with the altitude and her so-far-failed hunt for the elusive moose, Heuchan wrote the script for and emcees the show that features a new musical guest every week.
She also says that while it may seem odd for a woman from Australia to be heading up a show about the American West that’s performed in the American West, there’s a good reason for what she’s doing.
“What I say in the show is that sometimes when people lead extraordinary lives, they don’t realize how extraordinary they are. And it’s when somebody from the outside is looking in, that the events, the romance, adventure, the extraordinariness unfolds,” she says. “I’m soaking it in because I love it.”
The show starts with Heuchan telling the story of how the West happened, with the opening song, “Don’t Fence Me In.” And while the show is going on, there’s a screen at the side of the stage that shows photographs, from very early ones right through to more current times.
Heuchan then takes on her other persona as a poet, the talent that has led her into the world of cowboy gatherings, which has included visits to Durango.
“I got recommended to the National Cowboy Gathering in Elko (Nevada), and they invited me to come, and that was 10 years ago,” she says. “ I’ve been coming every year at least once or twice since, to various cowboy gatherings around the West of the U.S.”
For someone who grew up around horses and in love with the West, it’s no surprise she ended up doing what she’s doing.
“We’d have a jam session after a concert at other gatherings, and then they’ll start singing the real old cowboy songs, and I could see their eyes widen and look at me because I’m singing. And they’ll say, ‘How do you know that?’ that’s what I was raised with as a kid,” she says. “I grew up with all those cowboy songs. I’ve always been so in awe of, well, the U.S., but of the American West particularly. As far as the traditional cowboy, the stork just dropped me in the wrong place.”
Heuchan says that it’s not just tourists who are taking in the show. Locals are seeing it, too, she says.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘What you’re doing here is really important,’ she says. “That’s the serious side – apart from the fact that they say it was such fun.”