Breaking news: Germinal Stage’s theater to close, but company will play on

Ed Baierlein moved his company to northwest Denver in 1987. The building will shutter in August. Photo  by John Moore.

Ed Baierlein moved his Germinal Stage-Denver theater company to northwest Denver in 1987. The building will shutter in August. Photo by John Moore.

 

By John Moore
Dec. 30, 2012

The definition of the word germinal is “embryonic,” and even at age 39, Denver’s venerable Germinal Stage-Denver theater company is about to take on a whole new life form.

Ed Baierlein on Friday completed the sale of his theater property at 44th Avenue and Alcott Street to Denver real-estate developer Jack Pottle for approximately $675,000. While the sale will mark the end of the building as a theater after 25 years and more than 130 productions in northwest Denver, “I stress that this is not the end, but rather the beginning of an exciting new phase in the history of Germinal Stage-Denver,” said Baierlein. He plans to continue to stage up to three quintessentially Germinal plays a year, but as rental tenants in area locations yet to be determined.

Pottle is a fourth-generation Denverite known in the neighborhood for developing Tejon34, a 28-residence property at the corner of 34th Avenue and Tejon Street. Pottle’s grandfather was a shoe cobbler who operated out of the northeast corner of the original Germinal building when it was constructed in 1926. In a sentimental twist, Pottle plans to re-open his grandfather’s cobbler shop in its original location. As a whole, Baierlein expects Pottle to redevelop the property “into a really interesting neighborhood feature,” one made up of mixed-use retail businesses anchored by a restaurant.

From "The Actor's Nightmare," earlier in 2012.

From “The Actor’s Nightmare,” earlier in 2012.

Baierlein will complete previously scheduled reprisal productions of “Spoon River Anthology” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” before ending his 39th season — and the theater’s present era at 2450 W. 44th Avenue — with a large-cast production of a title Germinal has never staged before, so that he can bring back together as many company veterans as possible for the building’s swan song. The leader in the clubhouse: Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” Baierlein had previously scheduled “Marat/Sade” for that slot, “but I don’t want to go out that way now,” he said.

For sentimental reasons, Baierlein also plans to host a limited return engagement of one of his favorite Germinal stagings, “Offending the Audience,” from 1976. That’s a 45-minute polemical lecture about theater written by Australian Peter Handke. “I think it should be done every 10 years, frankly, to remind people what the theater experience is all about,” Baierlein said.

The sale of the Germinal property ends a four-year ordeal in which Baierlein sought buyers who might keep operating his space as a theater. But the only remotely credible inquiry came from Paragon Theatre, a company that has since folded.

“I think of this as a rebirth,” said longtime Germinal actor Erica Sarzin-Borrillo, who will star in “Long Day’s Journey into Night” in May as matriarch Mary Tyrone. “The theater itself is kind of magical … but what is going on behind the scenes is another story.”

That other story, Baierlein said, is that the building is falling apart. So his choice was simple: Keep up with ongoing maintenance issues — and go belly-up — or sell the building, be freed from those financial constraints, and live on elsewhere.

“The burden of continuing repairs on our aging structure has become an impossible task for us to contemplate,” Baierlein said. The building has groundwater contamination from a dry cleaner that operated on the premises long ago, as well as asbestos lodged in the ground tiles. No one has ever been at any risk, he emphasized, but the new owner will have to deal with those consequences once he guts the interior.

Baierlein, 69, has directed most of the Germinal’s 325 productions and has acted in more than 100. “I don’t think there is another actor or director who works more than I do, as far as overseeing 100 performances a year in so many varying capacities, including designing,” he said. “It gets to be a treadmill.”

At an age when Baierlein would be excused for retiring to his favorite place next to a theater — “playing golf at Willis Case Golf Course,” he said — “I still enjoy directing and performing. I just think it is important for me to do what I want to do now, when I want to do it.”

Baierlein, wife Sallie Diamond and Ginger Valone opened the original Germinal Stage-Denver at 1820 Market St. on Nov. 7, 1974. It was then an 82-seat theater in a rundown Lower Downtown warehouse district. Baierlein moved to his present 100-seat theater in 1987.  Baierlein has always liked to call Germinal “the runt stepchild of  small, nonprofit theaters — a corner grocery of Thespis holding its own against the supermarkets.”

Ironically, the Germinal building was originally built as a Safeway store in 1926. Just before Baierlein moved in, it was being used as a tropical-fish emporium.

“The move from downtown was a wrenching experience, but we soon found that our designated audience came with us and supported us as never before,” Baierlein said.

He calls those early days in northwest Denver the Halcyon Days for his theater. Germinal has consistently offered audiences organic, disturbing and, above all, challenging works. The repertoire has included postmodern reinterpretations of classic writers Molière and Shakespeare, recent masters George Bernard Shaw and Luigi Pirandello, modernists Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, and cutting-edge contemporaries such as David Rabe and David Mamet. Mix in Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Kopit, A.R Gurney and Alan Ayckbourn, and Germinal has been nothing if not theater with chops.

“The plays I like all depend a great deal on language, and the playwrights value language in very different ways,” Baierlein said. “I think they are all kind of soft-edged, also, in that they leave a lot of room for interpretation. The plays that we have done are all actor’s pieces. None of them are directors’ pieces. And that’s because I value performance over all else.”

Jack Pottle

Jack Pottle

Pottle, the new property owner, developed his fortune over more than 25 years in the cable TV and telecommunications industries, most recently as the CEO of a telephone company he based out of West Virginia and sold in 2005. He graduated with a degree in political economy from Colorado College and received his masters degree in economics from the University of Colorado. He’s now a partner with Viridian Investment and has taken a special interest in what he calls the “careful redevelopment” of the Sunnyside neighborhood where his grandparents long lived.

Baierlein was named The Denver Post Theater Person of the Year in 2007, but Germinal has not been doing well at the box office the past three years, he said. “It was typical for us to draw 120 a night in the mid-1980s, but now we’re drawing 40.”

Baierlein has been running the theater these past few years with his wife and son, Tad. All three have taken halved salaries — or deeper — to keep the building afloat in recent years, he said.

“It’s not that people don’t love what we are doing,” Baierlein said. “It’s that the people who do love what we are doing are dying off.”

What happened? The stories that Baierlein most wants to tell, he said, the ones that felt fresh and new when he first started, are now largely 40 to 100 years old — or more.

“The stuff we were doing in the 1960s was never followed up upon,” said Baierlein, citing iconic Theatre of Cruelty writers Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook and Antonin Artaud. “Nobody wrote plays based on the things that we were learning about theater production and the value of performance in the 1960s, with the exception of people like David Rabe and, later on, Tony Kushner. All of our best writers now are either writing for the screen or writing novels. Now people only want to see the latest thing from New York — even when it’s a terrible play.”

Baierlein also points to rising ticket prices. Germinal’s have gone from $3.75 in 1974 to $23.75 today. That’s still modest by live theater standards, but still, Baierlein said, “Doing theater has become much more expensive than it ever should have. Here I am, almost 70 years old, and I have to consider whether I want to go out and spend $25 to go see the theater. That’s a lot of money. It buys me a lot of tobacco.”

He refers to his pipe smoking, and while faithful Germinal theatergoers surely will adjust to seeing Baierlein and his cast of regulars such as Terry Burnsed, Lori Hansen, Leroy Leonard, Sarzin-Borrillo and others on area stages, it will never be the same for future patrons as now walking into the back door of the Germinal and being overcome by that waft of Baierlein pipe smoke that is now seemingly leeched into the walls.

“That’s one of the hardest parts about moving again,” Baierlein said. “Wherever I go next …  they won’t let me smoke!”

 

FIVE  SEMINAL PRODUCTIONS IN GERMINAL STAGE-DENVER HISTORY:

“Spoon River Anthology,” by Edgar Lee Masters (returning Feb. 8-March 17)
“Don Juan in Hell,” by George Bernard Shaw
“Long Day’s Journey into Night,” by Eugene O’Neill (returning May 3-June 9)
“The Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams
“The Homecoming,” by Harold Pinter

GERMINAL STAGE-DENVER: SCHEDULE AND INFORMATION:
2450 W. 44th Ave., 303-455-7108 or germinal’s home page

Through Jan. 6, 2013: “The Long Christmas Dinner”
Feb. 8-March 17, 2013: “Spoon River Anthology”
May 3-June 9, 2013: “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”
July 19-Aug. 25, 2013: Title to be determined.

 

Ed Baierlein has resolved to keep his Germinal-Stage Denver company theater going into his 70th year, at new locations to be determined. Photo  by John Moore.

Ed Baierlein has resolved to keep his Germinal-Stage Denver company theater going into his 70th year, at new locations to be determined. Photo by John Moore.

Here are your 2012 True West Award Winners

Curious2012

 

By John Moore
Dec. 23, 2012

A diverse year on Colorado stages is reflected in the winners of CultureWest.Org’s 2012 True West Awards, with Curious’ red-hot art drama “Red,” the Arvada Center’s irresistible “Legally Blonde” and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s precision farce “Noises Off” winning for best drama, musical and comedy.

And the more some things change, the more some things stay the same. That’s the happy case for Curious Theatre, which only stages contemporary plays that are new to Denver. This year’s five offerings, book-ended by war plays and distinguished by a raucous collaboration with Colorado Springs TheatreWorks on a comedy looking into the real (fake) world of professional wrestling, earned Curious its seventh “best year by a company” designation in the 12 years of these awards, formerly known as the Ovation Awards.

In all, 18 companies won at least one True West Award. Curious leads the way with eight, including best actor and supporting actor awards for the only two members of its “Red” cast, Lawrence Hecht and Benjamin Bonenfant. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival was next with four.

It was previously announced that Boulder Ensemble Company co-founder Stephen Weitz has been named the 2012 True West Awards Theatre Person of the Year. Read more about that here.

Once again, readers were invited to weigh in to help determine their “reader’s choice” selections for 10 select categories. And in the two biggest, they chose Ben Dicke — director, producer and star of his own production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” — as theater person of the year; and the Arvada Center for best season by a company. The survey accepted only one response per computer I.P. address, and, in all, 1,282 voted.

A note on the True West Awards
All True West Award winners are determined by former Denver Post theater critic John Moore. Winners were chosen from among the nearly 100 productions seen anywhere in Colorado 2012. Here is the complete list of nominees and eligible shows. Once again, the best of the Denver Center Theatre Company was determined in separate categories  that are listed at the end of the following results.
weitzTPOY

Theater person of the year: Stephen Weitz, who founded the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company in 2006 with his wife, Rebecca Remaly, performed in five plays in 2012, directed three others and oversaw the Denver Center Theatre Company’s high-profile, community-wide staged reading of Dustin Lance Black’s “8,” a re-enactment of the federal trial that overturned California’s controversial Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. Read our full story on Stephen Weitz here.

Readers’ choice voting (based on 1,282 reader responses):

  1. Ben Dicke, 23.7 percent
  2. Stephen Weitz, 19 percent
  3. Brian Freeland and Eden Lane, 14.3 percent

Best year by a company:
Curious Theatre Company

  • “9 Circles”
  • “Becky Shaw”
  • “Red”
  • “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”
  • “Time Stands Still”

Readers’ choice:

  1. Arvada Center,  31.6 percent
  2. Curious Theatre, 26.3 percent
  3. Lake Dillon Theatre Company, 16 percent

TWA03

Best year by an actor (minimum three roles):
Jim Hunt: Boulder Ensemble’s “The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”; Lake Dillon’s “Sylvia”; Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”; Vintage’s “Becky’s New Car”; Backstage’s “A Christmas Carol”

Everyone should be as busy at age 69 as the affable Jim Hunt. This remarkably versatile veteran actor not only performed in five plays this year, he was employed by five different companies. Hunt, who worked alongside Nick Nolte at Greeley’s Little Theatre of the Rockies back in 1964, this year played a pervy academic, a bungling British actor, a dog-lover in the throes of a mid-life crisis, a wealthy car dealer and an iconic Scrooge humbugging in a land populated by life-sized puppets. While Hunt is now at an age when many of his contemporaries have earned the right to slow down, Hunt is out there reaching new heights and plumbing new depths with a cheerful sprightliness.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Brett Ambler, 27.6 percent
  2. Jim Hunt, 21.3 percent
  3. Benjamin Bonenfant, 19.1 percent

TWA04

Best year by an actress 
(Minimum three roles):
Rachel Fowler: Curious Theatre’s “Becky Shaw”; Local Theatre’s “Elijah: An Adventure”; Arvada Center/Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night”; Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

Rachel Fowler came to Denver in 2005 to log an award-winning performance in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s “All My Sons,” and that has been to the good fortune of Curious Theatre, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and several other local companies that have since benefited from her diverse repertoire. After her gut-scraping turn as a mother whose son has died in Curious’ “Rabbit Hole,” Fowler returned this year to play a wife whose questionable matchmaking skills go horribly awry in “Becky Shaw.” In the Arvada Center’s co-production of “Twelfth Night” with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Fowler fought against the comedy to bring real heartbreak to the role of Olivia, who pines for a boy she knows not is a woman. And she surprised again in Local Theatre’s world premiere of “Elijah: An Adventure,” as a 1922 Paris widow who proves to be far more complex than a mere grieving cougar. Fowler is the rare actor who stands both naked and strong on the stage at once, whether clothed or not.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Billie McBride, 38.1 percent
  2. Rachel Fowler, 27.5 percent

TWA05

Best drama:
Curious Theatre’s “Red”

When I saw “Red” on Broadway, I initially thought this was not so much a great play as a great oral argument,  the latest brilliant if didactic playwriting pontification on the compromises and contradictions of life as a tortured artist – however celebrated. The writing device was obvious: Put a fresh-faced student in the constant company of the great Mark Rothko, and let the famously self-absorbed abstract expressionist rant and rave on and on about a key transition in art history – that tipping point in the mid-1950s when Rothko’s generation, after having helped destroy surrealism and cubism, was now being superseded by the emergence of Andy Warhol and other pop-culture art revolutionaries. In the loving hands of director Christy Montour-Larson, this two-year dialogue between Rothko and his student came alive in unexpected ways, ebbing and flowing like brush strokes on a canvas, the actors infusing John Logan’s words with passionate and intelligent inspiration.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Curious Theatre’s “Red,” 33.8 percent
  2. Senior Housing Options’ “Driving Miss Daisy,” 28.2 percent
  3. Curious Theatre’s “Time Stands Still,” 24 percent

TWA06

Best musical:
Arvada Center’s “Legally Blonde”

In a year that left the best-musical field uncharacteristically wide open, this was the effort that remains vibrant, clever and — dare I say meaningful? — in my mind,  long after it has closed.  Smartly directed by Gavin Mayer, this effort was aided by a clever set design from Brian Mallgrave, costumes from red-hot Mondo Guerra and choreography from Kitty Skillman-Hilsabeck that by gave the storytelling a mile-a-minute pulse. A bi-coastal musical that plays out in a cramped dorm room, a men’s clothing store and in a courtroom has no business working on stage, but there is a giddy brilliance throughout this musical filled with surprisingly meaningful moments. Despite recent headlines about an Ohio high-school drama teacher who was fired for staging “Legally Blonde,” this is a girl-power musical the Arvada Center didn’t merely bleach over.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Arvada Center’s “Legally Blonde,” 32.6 percent
  2. Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “42nd Street,” 29.3 percent
  3. Town Hall Arts Center’s “The Who’s Tommy,” 23.5 percent

TWA07

Best comedy:
Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

Even though I didn’t feel I ever needed to see Michael Frayn’s tirelessly crafted, three (long) act British farce ever again, I am glad I did. Lynne Collins’ (near) perfectly cast production, staged inside on the University of Colorado mainstage theater, lives on in an era when new stage comedies rarely exceed 30 minutes anymore. Thirty years later, “Noises Off” just keeps coming, with a staging directed by Nick Sugar slated for the Lone Tree Arts Center in January, and a production by Fort Collins’ OpenStage opening in March.

Best new work:
Buntport Theater’s “Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone,” written by ensemble

From Westword’s Juliet Wittman: “Part of Buntport’s mission is to make art transparent. There’s no attempt at illusion or concealment: All the transitions and manipulations happen right in front of your eyes. ‘Tommy Lee Jones’ is, among other things, a meditation on the process of creation, the relationship between artist and audience, and the fact that a great work of art changes over time and is therefore never finished.”

Best actor in a drama:
Lawrence Hecht, Curious Theatre’s “Red”

The former head of acting instruction at the Denver Center’s late National Theatre Conservatory simply put on an acting clinic as the overbearing Mark Rothko. By turns muscular and bullying, Hecht berated audiences and scene partner Benjamin Bonenfant alike with a barrage of references spanning Yeats to Nietzsche to Shakespeare to Aeschylus. But the play’s master stroke is in how the two roles, as they must, eventually reverse. Only here, the teacher doesn’t so much become the student. Instead, the student comes to the epiphany that his teacher has become artistic roadkill. From Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post: “Hecht anchors ‘Red,’ capturing in his girth, his slouch, his high-minded riffs and low moods, the pained, necessary undertaking of the artist.”

Readers’ choice:

  1. Lawrence Hecht, Curious Theatre’s “Red,” 38.7 percent
  2. Michael Morgan, Curious Theatre’s “Time Stands Still,” 25.4 percent
  3. Dan O’Neill, LIDA Project’s “Auto-da-Fé,” 12.8 percent

Best actress in a drama:
Anne Oberbroeckling, Abster Productions’ “August: Osage County”

This was an acting challenge fraught with potential perils. In taking on only the most daunting female character written for the stage since Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — and for the first time by any local actress — Anne Oberbroeckling resisted the urge to merely imitate the brutally incisive portrayals you may have been lucky enough to see astonishingly delivered by Tony-winner Deanna Dunagan on Broadway, or by Estelle Parsons on the national touring production. Performing in the stiflingly intimate little Dairy Center, Oberbroeckling choose slow poison over the more venomous, quick-strike approach. In a role that also requires physical and verbal reactions to booze and pills like wobbling and slurring, Oberbroeckling delivered an unexpected performance that began with unsettling casualness and yet still left  everyone in her path just as cold and dead as if she had wielded a sledge hammer.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Rhonda Brown, LIDA Project’s “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” 33.9 percent
  2. Anne Oberbroeckling, Abster Productions’ “August: Osage County,” 25.2 percent
  3. Rachel Fowler, Curious Theatre’s “Becky Shaw,” 18.6 percent

Best actor in a musical:
Joshua Blanchard, Lake Dillon’s ”Kiss of the Spider-Woman”

Jailed on a trumped-up buggery charge and now being kept as a hapless prison pawn for a Machiavellian warden, Blanchard managed to capture both the horror of an inhumane incarceration along with the unbridled joy of movie escapism. His Molina recounts his fantastic love affair with a movie actress whose signature role was the embodiment of death. Here, her lethal kiss doubles as the savory sip of life.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Brian Norber, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” 36.4 percent
  2. Joshua Blanchard, Lake Dillon’s ”Kiss of the Spider-Woman,” 26.7 percent

Best actress in a musical:
Megan Van De Hey, Little Theatre of the Rockies’ “Next to Normal”

This multiple-award-winning actress returned to her alma mater at the University of Northern Colorado last summer, in effect to lend credibility and heft to a pared-down student production of this harrowing musical that recounts a bi-polar mom’s two-decade struggle with depression. I’m sure her castmates grew by leaps and bounds in Van De Hey’s  presence. But then again, anyone who saw her performance enjoyed a little clinic on just how this acting thing is done.

Reader’s choice:

  1. Brooke Singer, Ignite Theatre’s “Spring Awakening,” 28.2 percent
  2. Kathi Wood, Kathi Wood, Phamaly Theatre Company’s “The Little Shop of Horrors,” 22.4 percent

Best actor in a comic role:
Brian Colonna, Buntport’s “The Roast Beef Situation”

Colonna was at his blithesome best in this original period comedy that recounts the (sort of) true story of a British clown named Carlo Delpini, who was thrown in jail in 1787 for uttering the words “roast beef” on a stage without any music playing in the background. Seriously. But in this case,  jail became merely a playground for Colonna’s physical gifts.  From Westword’s Juliet Wittman: “In an inspired piece of mime, Colonna  demonstrates a comic bit in which he raises his right leg and uses it like a gun — not very effectively — and Erin Rollman promptly shows how it should be done, finishing with a loud and convincing gunshot. Colonna’s highly physical description of a traditional Punch and Judy show is also terrific.”

Best actress in a comic role:
Annie Dwyer, Heritage Square Music Hall season

For more than 20 years, there simply has not been a more consistently reliable funny woman on Denver stages than Annie Dwyer. And she is beloved by her longtime audiences accordingly. Maybe that has something to do with Dwyer’s long struggle with rheumatoid arthritis through more nearly 90 mainstage shows. But attributing her enduring popularity to that alone would do a disservice to Dwyer’s innate ability to make people laugh, whether playing a dim-bulbed gangster moll, a predatory sex villain or sending up pop-culture celebrities ranging from Cher to Mama Cass. She’s a true, one-of-a-kind Denver original.

Best supporting actor in a drama:
Benjamin Bonenfant, Curious Theatre’s “Red”

For a play that belonged from the start to Larry Hecht’s Mark Rothko, the fresh-faced Benjamin Bonenfant ultimately manages to wrest full possession of the proceedings the moment he utters the clarion line, “Not everyone wants art that actually hurts!” For a kid who just graduated from college in Colorado Springs, you might say Bonenfant is on a roll, having made his debuts this year on both the Curious Theatre and Denver Center stages. From Westword’s Juliet Wittman: “The self-effacing innocence Ben Bonenfant brings to the role of Ken makes the entire production sing, and the moment when he finds his voice is pure exhilaration.”

Best supporting actress in a drama:
Devon James, Curious Theatre Company’s “Time Stands Still”

There are just four characters in Donald Margulies’ contemporary story about a damaged couple of journalists just home from the Iraq war. And as Curious’ staging began, I was sure one of them would not survive the first scene. It was Devon James’ unsubtly named Mandy Bloom, a ditzy young blonde bimbo who is initially presented to us as the magazine editor’s prized possession of his cliched midlife crisis. You’re sure there is nowhere for this character to go. But thanks to James’ nuanced portrayal, greatly enhanced by her pairing with David Russell, the guileless Mandy comes to represent the real prize that so often eludes the cynical and jaded among us: That of the chosen, happy life.

Best supporting actor in a musical:
Seth Caikowski, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone”

As a skunked-haired Latin lothario, Caikowski was this production’s shot of comic adrenaline. Caikowski is a naturally gifted and self-effacing physical comedian who turns his every turn of phrase or body limb into a laugh line. From Kateri McRae of the He Said/She Said Critiques: “Caikowski managed to take a character just as two-dimensional and flat as the others in (the source musical), and turn it into a cramp-inducing character who combined the best of both Hank Azaria and Pepe Le Pew.” Added McRae’s writing partner, David Cates: “Caikowski’s performance is the funniest thing I have seen in the longest time and damn near stole the entire show. His wig. His accent. His perfectly precise physicality. Every element of his performance was pure brilliance.”

Best supporting actress in a musical:
Mercedes Perez, Lake Dillon’s ”Kiss of the Spider-Woman”

This longtime local favorite is the real deal, with three big-time Broadway credits to her name. While she brought nothing fancy to her portrayal of the weary mother of a gay, imprisoned son, she brought more than enough: Aching, honest and natural pain — no to mention the voice of an angel.

Best supporting actor in a comic role:
Geoff Kent, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

He’s nationally recognized as a certified fight choreographer, but Geoff Kent has been honing his acting craft for years with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and Denver Center Theatre Company. He’s a natural comedian, as he showed in high-profile Colorado Shakes stagings of  “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” It all paid off for him here playing both deadpan British actor Garry Lejeune and the fictional lothario character Garry plays in a disastrous show-within-a show called “Nothing On.” Kent’s scene partner was Jamie Ann Romero as a ditzy actress playing what the Boulder Daily Camera’s Liza Williams hailed as “a glorious homage to dumb.” As Garry tries to react to the unplanned spontaneous combustion taking place on-stage all around him, Romero’s Brooke Ashton is utterly incapable of going off-script. These scenes between Kent and Romero are all you need to know why “Noises Off” is still considered the greatest farce of the past 30 years. Added Williams of Kent’s performance: “I stopped being able to breathe because I was laughing so hard at some of his bits.”

Best supporting actress in a comic role:
Leslie O’Carroll, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

Carol Burnett is a treasure. But if all you know of “Noises Off” is her performance as Dotty Otley in the lousy film version, you have no idea how funny funny can be. If you saw O’Carroll play Dotty in Boulder, you know what we know: That sardines have never been so funny. The New York Times once called the character of Dotty a thankless role — that of the actress who, while playing a hapless maid, can never quite keep track of the sardines. But Dotty is a very important woman, The Times wrote. “Without Dotty, and without a real-life actress playing her to the hilt, ‘Noises Off’ couldn’t rise to the heights.” In Boulder, thanks to O’Carroll’s comic precision, it rose to the top of the Flatirons.

Best ensemble in a play:
Buntport Theater’s “Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone”

OK, so we’ve all enjoyed unexpected celebrity sightings. But only the Buntport Theater ensemble could turn an accidental spying of a solo Tommy Lee Jones standing in line for the Santa Fe Opera’s “La Bohème” into a full-length play — one with a life-sized puppet portraying Jones. Though mostly a monologue delivered by the puppet Jones, along with some occasional interaction with a diner waitress, you had to see Colorado’s most collaborative ensemble in fluid action to fully appreciate the stage grace they put on display here. While Hannah Duggan played the waitress, the puppeted Jones was brought to life by Erin Rollman (left hand), Evan Weissman (right hand) and Brian Colonna (head), with Erik Edborg sitting in full view voicing Jones’ words. It was amazing enough to see the puppet opening his pocket watch, eating a piece of pie, drinking coffee and rolling his eyes. But the ensemble’s coordinated communication of Jones’ signature stoic emotion was the kind of thing you can only expect from an ensemble that has been working together, side by side, for 11 years.

Best ensemble in a musical:
Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone”

The definition of a great ensemble is malleable. But in a musical, surely it must mean that all the parts work well together, without a weak link from the largest role down to the smallest. “Chaperone”  is an odd little musical in that the lead actor never really sings. But Brian Norber brought real truth and heft to the role of the so-called “Man in Chair,” an endearingly reclusive fan of trifling  Broadway musicals of the 1920s. Thanks to the magic needle on his turntable, the man’s favorite musical comes to life right there in his apartment. Down the line, Norber is well-supported. The show allowed for a plethora of spotlight-stealing scenes from a deep cast that included Alicia Dunfee as the tipsy (hence the title) chaperone, Seth Caikowski as a Latin lothario, Katie Ulrich as gymnastic bride Janet, and longtime BDT producer Michael J. Duran making  his return to the stage after a five-year absence by playing half of a vaudevillian baker-gangster team (alongside Wayne Kennedy).

Best director of a play:
Edith Weiss, Phamaly Theatre Company’s “Vox Phamilia: Cinco de Vox”

Whatever it says in the  playbook about what the duties of a director are, they can’t begin to encompass all that it must take Edith Weiss each year not only to cast a company of mostly novice handicapped actors, but also to train them in the difficult art of sketch comedy writing, as well as how to effectively perform it. For five years, Weiss’ annual sketch-comedy evenings have been the greatest form of theatrical escape for actors and audiences alike — they allow a group of handicapped actors to perform – by being themselves.

Best director of a musical:
Christopher Alleman, Lake Dillon Theatre Company, “Kiss of the Spider-Woman”

On the tiniest of playing spaces, Alleman managed to capture both the claustrophobia of  prison and the expansiveness of a Broadway musical by striking just the right tone of fantasy and fatalism. Alleman didn’t dwell so much on the geographic location of the story. Instead he used his deep ensemble to create an anywhere — and everywhere — account of political imprisonment. Whether by necessity or artistic choice, he ditched the live portrayal of the almost laughably written prison-warden character in favor of an ominous, unseen voice that breathed new, evil life into this manifestation of authoritarian power.

Best musical direction:
Donna Debreceni, Town Hall Arts Center’s “The Who’s Tommy”

To watch Debreceni conduct her live band to this quintessential, old-school concept rock album … Well, let’s just say you’d have to be a deaf, dumb and blind kid not to feel the complete, pure joy of it. Come to think of it, even if you were …

Best choreography:
Tracy Warren, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “42nd Street”

Let’s face it: People come to see “42nd Street” for the tap dancing. It’s no easy task both doing justice to Gower Champion’s signature choreography while also bringing new life to it, but Warren, who doubles as endearing gal-pal Anytime Annie in this staging, pulls it off. From Liza Williams of the Boulder Dairy Camera: “These early dance sequences demonstrated that the cast of this show has a high degree of technical achievement. The choreography was precise and complex and really highlighted BDT’s consistency in technical achievement, performance and overall production level.” As the song says, come and meet those dancing feet: You still can, as it runs through Feb. 16. 303-449-6000

Best use of multimedia:
Brian Freeland, LIDA Project’s “Add it Up”

Simply put, Freeland continues to change the game of theatrical storytelling by always upping the stakes with new multimedia innovations. His company’s “Add it Up,” an experimental freakout adaptation of Elmer Rice’s “The Adding Machine,” actually told the story of a condemned everyman we follow into the afterlife fairly faithfully. But Freeland’s unnerving intermingling of multiple live cameras projected onto angled, flowing bedsheets injected a haunting feeling into this telling that felt sort of like an alternate-universe “The Wizard of Oz.”

Best scenic design:
Peter J. Hughes, Drew Kowalkowski, Jeff Jesmer, Erika Kae and Katie Dawson, Abster Productions’ “August: Osage County”

I don’t now whether or why it really took five people to design this tri-level house that somehow fell  just into place in the decidedly “not tall” Dairy Center for the Arts. But the design not only worked, the team managed to (appropriately) turn the Weston staircase itself into one of the most menacing characters in the entire family. And in this family, that’s saying something.

Best costume design:
Ann Piano, TheatreWorks/Curious’ “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

One look at the professional wrestler Chad Deity’s skin-tight shorts adorned with gold dollar signs told you that fun was the order of the day for this most unusual and entertaining production. Expert opinion from award-winning costumer Kevin Copenhaver: “Ann’s work is funky and fresh, and the challenge of outfitting this piece had to have been a great one. Always good to step outside the box — or the ring.”

Best sound design:
Brian Freeland, TheatreWorks/Curious’ “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

It’s futile to try to separate Freeland’s fist-pumping sound effects with his pulsing video and live-feed story enhancement. It all worked together to help create the feeling that you were not sitting in a staid theater but rather in a stadium attending a live sporting event.

Best lighting design:
Shannon McKinney, Curious Theatre’s “Red”
Thanks to McKinney’s moody effects, red was not the only color of the evening. Her work on this show has now swept every award available to it so far — an amazing testament considering the hundreds of theatrical options this year.

BEST OF THE DENVER CENTER THEATRE COMPANY
(Note: I did not get to see the following DCTC productions this year:  “Two Things You Don’t talk About at Dinner,”  “Fences,” “Taming of the Shrew” and “Ring of Fire”)

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Best year by an actor (Minimum three roles):
John Hutton: “Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner,” “The Great Wall Story,” “The Three Musketeers,” “When We Are Married”

Hutton has proven there’s nothing he can’t (or won’t) do on a stage, but he’s been liberated in recent years from primarily playing dour, heavy roles such as the doomed father in “The Diary of Anne Frank” (to name one — of dozens). But since letting his hair down as Oberon in “a “Midsummer” a few years back, Hutton seems to be having much more fun. Whether playing the prototypically cynical yellow journalist Joseph Pulitzer (hey, why is it that journalism’s highest honors are named after him again?) to the unexpectedly unmarried silly fop of a Brit in “When We Are Married,” Hutton is really settling into his role as the company’s current, undisputed veteran leading man. Only, to our benefit, he’s hardly settling at all.

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Best year by an actress 
(Minimum three roles):
Kathleen McCall: “Heartbreak House,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “When We Are Married”

2012 was the year when everything came together for McCall, with just the right marriage of material and sensibilities. McCall got to show off at least three shades of comic grey in three very different but very endearing kinds of comedies.

Best production:
“The Giver”

“Heartbreak House” was just what the DCTC does best: A witty and weighty George Bernard Shaw parlor comedy. But “The Giver” gets the nod for the seeds it sowed for future generations of Denver Center audiences. At the performance I attended, the kids all had read Lois Lowry’s controversial book. They remained in rapt attention throughout the brief performance. And not only did many of them have salient discussion points to raise in the talkback afterward, many expressed controversial opinions about what the ending meant. This production proves once again that no one but no one gets the kind of effective performances out of child actors that director Christy Montour-Larson does.

Best new play:
Denver Center Theatre Company’s “The Whale,” by Samuel D. Hunter

It takes courage to stage the world premiere of a story that features a dying, 500-pound protagonist, but that courage was rewarded with perhaps the most compelling  storytelling of 2012. The metaphor may be obvious — he’s a beached whale, this morbidly obese man who yearns to re-connect with his bratty daughter before he dies. That daughter character is the play’s downfall, but the sweet, sad protagonist and his loving relationships with his nurse and a Mormon stranger give the play real girth. Hunter’s play is further evidence that most every decent play is, in some way, a variation on “Moby Dick” — that pursuit of the one unattainable thing that might make our lives complete.

Best actor in a play:
Timothy McCracken, “The Giver”

McCracken was simply the most unnervingly sweet and paternal baby-killer you could ever hope to (not) run into … on stage or off. From Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post: “McCracken gives a nice and therefore troubling turn as Jonas’ father. He has a gentle sing-song befitting his role as ‘Nurturer.’ And he appears boldly kind when he brings home a baby he names Gabriel and whom he hopes to protect from being released. And yet…”

Best supporting actor in a play:
Cory Michael Smith, “The Whale”

This is definitely the Mormon Age in the American theater, but Smith eschewed stereotype in playing the unlikely young missionary who appears on the front door of a home-bound man in the final few days of his life. Smith’s Elder Thomas becomes a surprisingly willing confidante to Charlie for reasons that get more compelling as the story goes along. I don’t mind telling you that Smith’s portrayal of the is-he-or-isn’t-he? Mormon prosthelytizer was my favorite performance by any actor in 2012. He had his role down to every muscle twitch, and so I was happy to see him hired to play the same role when the play was retooled by a new creative team for off-Broadway.

Best actress in a play:
Lise Bruneau, “Heartbreak House”

The company newcomer was here for a just a blink, but in her short time here playing Hesione, the decidedly bohemian daughter of a salty octogenarian, Bruneau made it plain that she is a sharp and ebullient actor who commanded the stage with twinkle and a smile.

Best supporting actress in a play:
Angela Reed, “The Whale”

Reed walked away with this award for her ferocious and loving work as a nurse with an undying loyalty to a dying patient. The Colorado native will be back next month starring in the national touring production of “War Horse.”

2012 SPECIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT TRUE WEST AWARDS:

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  • Bud Coleman: The chair of the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Theatre & Dance Department staged a remarkable production of “14” at the Kennedy Center College Theatre Festival in Fort Collins. The play recounts Brigham Young University’s use of  electroshock therapy in an attempt to change the homosexual desires of 14 young men in the mid-1970s. College or no, it ranks among my list of the best productions of 2012 anywhere.
  • Crystal Carter: The director staged the first-ever immersive, real-time adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody 1992 cult classic “Reservoir Dogs” for Theatre ‘d Art in Colorado Springs.
  • Ben Dicke: The producer, director and star of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson returned to perform just three weeks after a serious opening-night accident hospitalized him with four broken ribs, a head gash and a lacerated lung.
  • Cory Gilstrap: He designed a full menagerie of puppets that served as every support character in Backstage Theatre’s  “A Christmas Carol,” starring Jim Hunt as Scrooge.
  • Kevin Landis, TheatreWorks’ highly regarded Prologue series brings some of the nation’s most important theater artists, such as playwright  Sarah Ruhl, to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs each month. Coming in March: Michael Friedman, who wrote the “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” score, and New York’s Public Theatre artistic director Oskar Eustis, who is responsible for “Angels in America” ever being staged.
  • Eric Laurits: Ongoing excellence in stage photography.
  • The final class of the National Theatre Conservatory: The Denver Center’s 28-year old master’s program in acting closed, having graduated 255 alumni into the worlds of theater, film, television and theater education. The final grads were:
    Biko Eisen-Martin
    Courtney Esser
    Maurice Jones
    Amy Kersten
    ZZ Moor
    Chiara Motley
    Andrew Schwartz
    Matt Zambrano
  • Mackenzie Paulsen: Conceived the innovative shadow-puppet design for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at the Aurora Fox.
  • Philip Sneed and Tina Packer: Sneed brought the respected actor and director to Boulder to perform all five parts of her “Women of Will” cycle, which explored  all the women in Shakespeare’s canon. Packard unveiled a new hour-long episode each week for five weeks during the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season.

Stephen Weitz: 2012 True West Theater Person of the Year

weitzTPOY

By John Moore
Dec. 22, 2012

Perhaps the Weitzes should have a baby every year.

Stephen Weitz, who founded the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company in 2006 with his wife, Rebecca Remaly, performed in five plays in 2012, directed three others and oversaw the Denver Center Theatre Company’s high-profile, community-wide staged reading of Dustin Lance Black’s “8.” That was a re-enactment of the federal trial that overturned California’s controversial Proposition 8, which had banned same-sex marriage.

Rebecca Remaly Weitz, Stephen Weitz and son Jamison. Photo courtesy Stephen Weitz.

Rebecca Remaly Weitz, Stephen Weitz and son Jamison. Photo courtesy Stephen Weitz.

The variety and expanse of his work has earned Stephen Weitz CultureWest.Org’s 2012 True West “Theatre Person of the Year” Award, joining previous winners Maurice LaMee, Anthony Garcia, Kathleen M. Brady, Wendy Ishii, Ed Baierlein, Chip Walton and others.

And when Weitz says he could not have done it without his wife, he really means it. Remaly is the managing director of BETC (affectionately known as “Betsy”). She manages the financials, marketing, schedules — and she had a baby in May. “She does all the heavy lifting so I can keep my eyes on the artistic prize,” Weitz said.

Weitz performed in his own “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment” and directed BETC’s “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” “How the World Began” and “The SantaLand Diaries.” He also performed in “Elijah: An Adventure” for Boulder’s Local Theatre;  as well as the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night,” “Richard III” and “Treasure Island.”

But perhaps his proudest creative accomplishments of 2012 were workshopping the developing new script “And the Sun Stood Still,” by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dava Sobel (about the radical ideas of Nicolaus Copernicus); and directing “8” at the Denver Center, a reading that employed a mix of professional actors, politicians and local celebrities. “That was an important subject,” Weitz said, “and an important conversation for the community to have.”

Weitz, 39, has appeared in many plays for the Denver Center Theatre Company since he moved here in 2005 – first when he understudied for then-78-year-old Philip Pleasants in “King Lear.” “I was 32, and all of my daughters were older than I was,” Weitz joked (only he wasn’t joking).

That Weitz was chosen to helm “8” by the Denver Center’s Bruce Sevy and Emily Tarquin says as much about his burgeoning influence in the local theater community as any of his other accomplishments.

Stephen Weitz in the title role of "Hamlet" at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder in 2009. Photo by Glenn Asakawa,

Stephen Weitz in the title role of “Hamlet” at the 2009 Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. Photo by Glenn Asakawa,

Weitz grew up in Bloomsberg, Pa., as did his wife. They just never met until both, coincidentally, moved out of Pennsylvania. Weitz graduated from Ithaca College in New York, earned one masters with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and another at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He launched BETC in 2006 at a time when Boulder was probably least-deserving of its timelessly accepted reputation as a fertile and supportive home for the arts. “The Nomad Theatre had just folded, and there was a real dearth of small theater in Boulder,” Weitz said, leaving one of the state’s cultural hubs with just three theater companies — the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Upstart Crow and Boulder’s Dinner Theatre. Weitz saw an unfilled niche — and he filled it.

Weitz’s creative interests lie in both the very old and very new, which has resulted a wide range of both serious and comic works at BETC ranging from the classic “Crime and Punishment,” to this year’s modern-day creationism-in-schools drama “How the World Began,” to, hopefully as early as next season, the world premiere of “And the Sun Stood Still.”

Since the Weitzes launched their company with $20,000 and a dream, they have increased the size of the budget tenfold, now staging five plays a year with an annual budget of around $200,000. But Weitz calls that growth slow and steady. “You can only grow as fast as you can pay for it,” he said.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the Boulder theater scene has since flourished again, with the launches of the annual Boulder International Fringe Festival and edgy new companies such as Band of Toughs, The Catamounts, Local Theatre, Abster Productions, Obscene/Courageous Theatre and the lower-case square product theatre company.

But that growth does not paint a completely accurate picture about the status of theater arts in Boulder, Weitz said. “There has been a little renaissance of contemporary, devised work,” he said. But most of it is the result of maverick, raging, individual and independent artistic entrepreneurs such as David Ortolano, Emily K. Harrison, Pesha Rudnick, Amanda Berg Wilson and Abby Apple Boes.

“But we’re falling behind other cities in terms of facilities and (municipal) support for these new companies,” Weitz said, citing new $23 million arts centers in Parker and Lone Tree. Most every theater company that wants to perform in Boulder is necessarily based out of the pricey Dairy Center for the Arts, “and rent remains our single-biggest line-item expense,” Weitz said.

“There will always be hungry artists willing to take a risk in Boulder,” he said. “But you can’t take them for granted.” What is needed most, he said, is a larger commitment from the city so that “all this talent is being fostered into the making of a real cultural institution.”

Harrison believes Weitz and his company occupy an important place in the Boulder theater scene. “One of the things I love about theater in Boulder is how different the work is,” the square product theatre founder said, “and yet how well it all meshes together to form a really engaging performance landscape that values both traditional and experimental work. It’s a pretty rocking scene here in Boulder, and Stephen and BETC are a valued part of it.”

As an actor, Weitz has shown a broad swath of ability ranging from countless Shakespeare productions (I had the tiniest bit of fun at Weitz’s expense as The Denver Post theater critic when I noted that his bleached hair in Colorado Shakes’ 2009 staging of “Hamlet” made him look a dead ringer for James Van Der Beek) to a supporting role in this fall’s recent world premiere of “Elijah, an Adventure,” in which he played a  Jew-hating German opium den operator.

“Part pragmatist and part tortured artist, Stephen embodies what it is to love theater in Colorado,” said Local Theatre’s Rudnick, Weitz’s director on “Elijah: An Adventure.” “His voracious appetite for entertainment is infectious. And he’s a joy to work with, to boot.”

As a producer, Weitz launched BETC with the classic “Antigone” and slid right into John Patrick Shanley’s contemporarily savage “Savage in Limbo.” He’s been surprising — and challenging — audiences ever since. He has consistently given voice to some of the most nationally respected playwrights of the day, including Sarah Ruhl, Donald Margulies, Theresa Rebeck and Michael Hollinger. And he has smartly turned David Sedaris’ comically caustic holiday monologue “The SantaLand Diaries” into a four-year holiday staple. Like The Bug Theatre before it, “SantaLand” is the kind of audience favorite that can pay a company’s bills deep into the riskiest part of the season.

“There are a lot of theater companies out there,” Weitz said, “and I hope the one I am responsible for is of a quality that inspires people, and makes a difference in people’s lives.”

A NOTE ON THE TRUE WEST AWARDS:

All True West Award winners are determined by John Moore. In addition, readers were invited to weigh in on 10 select categories to determine their “reader’s choice” selections.

READER’S CHOICE VOTING FOR THEATER PERSON OF THE YEAR:

Top readers’ vote-getters:

  1. Ben Dicke, 23.7 percent
  2. Stephen Weitz, 19 percent
  3. Brian Freeland and Eden Lane, 14.3 percent

NOTE: The rest of the 2012 True West Award winners will be announced here on Sunday, Dec. 23. Here is a complete list of nominees.

THE BOULDER ENSEMBLE THEATRE COMPANY at a glance:
Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7826 or boulderensembletheatre.org

2006
“Antigone”

2007
“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” and “Savage in Limbo”
“The Glass Menagerie”

2008
“Copenhagen”
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”
“Fat Pig”

2009
“Stop Kiss”
“Morisot Reclining”
“Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” (performed for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival)
“The Sunset Limited”
“The SantaLand Diaries”

2010
“The Clean House”
“Doubt”
“The SantaLand Diaries”

2011
“Crime and Punishment”
“An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf” 
 “Mauritius”
“The SantaLand Diaries”

2012
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment”
“Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”
“How the World Began”
“The SantaLand Diaries”

2013
Feb. 1-16, 2013: “Ghost Writer”
March 22-April 6, 2013: “The Other Place”
May 3-18, 2013: “Bach at Leipzig”

 

Watch Stephen Weitz on “In Focus with Eden Lane””

After 136 years, my high school is finally building a place where kids can perform

"Uh ... what do you mean we can't print that in the Raider Review?"

“Uh … what do you mean we can’t print that in the Raider Review?”

By John Moore
Dec. 20, 2012

Longtime readers know I have a bit of a contentious relationship with my beloved alma mater, Regis Jesuit High School, where I was once valedictorian, senior of the year and, most proudly … voted the senior who throws the best parties! I recently got more than a little angry blowback from the present-day Regis community when I lovingly recounted our old rivalry with Mullen High School. Ah, good times.

I loved Regis for the open-minded Jesuit education it provided not only to poor white kids like the many mini-Moores, but to kids of several skin colors … not all of whom were recruited for sports. The school took the money and ran south in 1990 when a wealthy alum struck a major retail deal with the city of Aurora that required him to give back a certain amount of acreage for public use. The city suggested a park, but the alum decided instead to give the money to Regis in exchange for his name now being, shall we say, very prominent on campus. This is all water under the bridge but … our Regis was never the same.

Well, in one way. Even at its swank new academy-style campus in Aurora, Regis has never made much of a priority of the performing arts, which is amazing considering how many contributors to the arts the school has produced. We performed wherever we could, and the kids at the new school have had to perform in various places like the corner of the cafeteria, or now in a rented theater far across town. For a school with as much money as Regis has, it has never sat well with me that it has never made a real, a bricks-and-mortar commitment to arts education.

Until now. For the first time in 136 years and umpteen locations, the school is building its very first, bonafide performing-arts center, including a 500-seat, state-of-the-art theater. Which I think is pretty swell. Even though I’ve never been invited to a single reunion (though I have crashed one), I was recently asked by my pal Colin St. John, Regis’ fence-building and forward-thinking alumni director, to answer a few questions about this major news from an alum’s point of view. Colin would ask his questions via email, then I would rant about this or that, and he then would judiciously edit my nonsense into the following, safe-for-publication Q&A. I am not going to lie: My politically incorrect ways put Colin’s editing skills to the test. So, out of respect for him, I’m presenting his edited version here. (Now, if any of you would like to see the unedited version of what I had to say, you just let me know …) Enjoy!

An alumni perspective on the new performing arts center:

What were the arts spaces like when you were at Regis?

I remember as a boy going to watch my oldest brother Brian perform in the dumpy old gymnasium barn behind the Pink Palace. My first play was “Inherit the Wind” in the “new” chapel, which was no place to perform a play. But we got bounced out of there when the drama teacher found a half a can of beer in the light booth. By then, the new main high-school building had been built just north of the Pink Palace, but we were forced to perform in a lecture hall with no backstage. Just a storage room. A few years ago, I learned that Regis Jesuit was renting out the cavernous old theater at Colorado Heights University. That’s where my mom performed theater in college, so I’m guessing it isn’t in all that great of shape now. And I couldn’t help but notice it’s a 17-mile drive each way for them to and from school. Drama kids are always being asked to sacrifice like that, and it kind of stinks. Can you imagine putting the Regis football stadium in Wheat Ridge? This is why I applaud the school’s commitment to building a 500-seat theater for drama and music. I think having a first-class facility will not only encourage students to participate in theater arts, but will expose greater student audiences to the thrill of live performance. Both bring essential, lifelong benefits.

How vital do you see arts as part of an education?

I strongly believe the performing arts should be a required part of the curriculum just as much as math, science and physical education, I really do. This is an old stat, but drama kids outscored other students on the 2005 SAT by an average of 65 points in verbal and 34 points in math. Studies show drama kids have better reading comprehension, better attendance records and generally stay more engaged in school than those who don’t.

Do you think your arts education at Regis led you down your career path?

As the editor of the Raider Review student newspaper, I learned how to courteously edit other people’s work, and to develop my own writing style. Performing in high-school plays just made every aspect of high school better. While my parents were getting divorced, I buried myself in books (including, yes, my pocket New Testament), parties, the school newspaper and the drama program. I was looking for answers … anywhere. Somehow, I ended up being the valedictorian of my class, and for that I owe a great debt to Kim Smith (drama), Julie Martin (English) Kathy Madden (newspaper), and the chance I was given to play Walter Hollander in a stupid Woody Allen comedy. Performing kept me sane, it kept my studying, and it kept me laughing through many tears.

 Is there any one play you would like to see Regis students perform?

I have several dozen suggestions, and I’m guessing every one would probably get shot down. I hope every high-school kid gets the chance to perform in “Spring Awakening,” “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Next to Normal” and “The Book of Mormon” someday. I taught theater for a couple years at Holy Family and Machebeuf, and I know that to really show kids the incredible, visceral joy of performing, you have to give them material they can relate to, and will mean something to them in their everyday lives. Schools should not be afraid to let high-school kids explore sexual or violent content. As those studies shows, drama kids are the best kind of kids. They are in it for the right reasons. Let’s challenge them. They can handle it.

 

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Denver Center Theatre Company mourns death of Shana Dowdeswell

Shana Dowdeswell in  the Denver Center Theatre Company's "Two Things You Don't Talk About at Dinner." Photo by Jennifer M Koskinen.

Shana Dowdeswell appearing in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s “Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner” in January 2012. Photo by Terry Shapiro.

By John Moore
Dec. 17, 2012

The Denver Center Theatre Company is mourning the death of Shana Dowdeswell, who appeared in “Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner” in January at the Space Theatre.

Dowdeswell died of acute alcohol poisoning Dec. 12 after a night of binge drinking in New York City.

“It has taken me a few hours to even put any of this into words,” director Wendy C. Goldberg wrote on her Facebook page. “I think the simplest thing to say is, ‘Rest in Peace.’  We lost you way too soon.”

Added castmate Catherine E. Coulson: “This is an enormous loss for Shana’s family and for all those – including all of us – who love her. … May her memory be a blessing as we mourn the loss of a wonderfully gifted and generous young woman we were privileged to know.”

Dowdeswell played Rachelle in “Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner.” She plays a waitress in the upcoming film, “The Big Wedding,” and last year appeared on an episode of ABC’s “Body of Proof.” Her off-Broadway credits included the plays “Distracted,” alongside “Two Things” castmate Mimi Lieber; and “Substitution,” by Anton Dudley.

“Two Things” and “Distracted” were both written by Lisa Loomer.

Dowdeswell registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.39 at the time she was found.

Here are your 2012 CultureWest.Org “True West” Award nominations

 

The 2012 True West "Theater Person of the Year" nominees.

The 2012 True West “Theater Person of the Year” nominees.

 

By John Moore
Dec. 16, 2012

One of the hardest things about leaving The Denver Post was leaving behind the Ovation Awards, which for 12 years was my annual salute to what we perceived to be the best in Colorado theater for any given year. Then I thought, “Why not?”

I can only judge what I saw, and this year I saw only about 100 productions, far fewer than the average of 165 I had established for the previous decade. But, then again, there was that whole “almost dying” thing that cut into my theatergoing time. Still, 100 shows, as they say … ain’t nothing. While some understandably think awards have no place in the creative process, I think it is important to properly acknowledge and archive the year just past, for posterity and history. Theater companies also benefit from awards nominations in their grant-writing and fundraising efforts.

So with great apologies to the many actors and shows I did not get to see in 2012 (the list of eligible shows is posted at the bottom), I humbly present my agonizing, loving look back at another great year in Colorado theater. I say agonizing because the theater community never gets to see these lists before the edits begin, when there are at times as many as 30 names up for legitimate consideration in any given category. That’s the hard part. The good part is the five names you get to keep.

But a new era calls for a new name, so welcome to the 2012 “True West” Awards nominations.

This year’s expanded list of “theater person of the year” candidates is the most varied yet. Dozens of companies again received at least one nomination. Curious Theatre leads the way with 27 nominations, followed by Boulder’s Dinner Theatre with 18, the Arvada Center with 14 and Buntport with 13.

You can again vote for “reader’s choice” designees in a limited number of categories through Dec. 20. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2VHXY2J

Winners will be announced here next Sunday, Dec. 23. Congratulations to anyone who wrote dialogue, got up on a stage, or played in part in creating theater in 2012.

THE 2012 CULTUREWEST.ORG TRUE WEST AWARDS NOMINATIONS:

Theater person of the year:
Rick Bernstein and Paige Larson: Announced the transition of the leadership of Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden to Brenda Billings and Len Matheo, ending a run of 24 years of storytelling in west Jefferson County.

Abby Apple Boes: Created Abster Productions, which became the first local theater company to stage the Pulitzer Prize-winning “August: Osage County.” She also played oldest daughter Barbara.

Craig Bond: The founder of the 11-year-old Vintage Theatre completed the nearly $1 million purchase of its new home in Aurora, and immediately expanded programming, adding a secondary studio theater and a cabaret stage. Vintage gave a presenting home to local deaf and Asian theater companies. Bond’s own offerings included the two-part epic “The Cider House Rules” and the large-scale musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” He also took over as president of the Colorado Theatre Guild.

Ben Dicke: Dicke created his own company to present the Colorado premiere of the smart off-Broadway musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at election time. He waged a creative, year-long fundraising campaign that included him running for 24 hours on a treadmill on the downtown 16th Street Mall. The night Dicke was to open in the title role, he fell down a backstage trap door and was seriously hurt. Three weeks later, the show went on. As an actor, he also performed in the Arvada Center’s “Legally Blonde, the Musical” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Brian Freeland: The LIDA Project founder directed two original pieces for his own company, designed sound and multimedia for several other local companies, including Curious Theatre (“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”), Town Hall Arts Center (“The Who’s Tommy”) and Ignite Theatre (“Spring Awakening”). Just before the election, he took a sponsorship offer from the ACLU to produce “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” which sold out and had an extended run at the Aurora Fox.

Eden Lane: Entered her fifth season self-producing and hosting “In Focus,” a weekly television program covering arts and culture for Channel 12.

Christy Montour-Larson: Directed the Henry Award-winning “Red,” “9 Circles” and “Time Stands Still” for Curious Theatre, as well as “The Giver” for the Denver Center.

Mare Trevathan: A founding member of Local Theatre Company, Trevathan acted in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Richard III” and “Treasure Island,”  as well as Local Theatre’s “Elijah: An Adventure.” Trevathan, a member of Curious Theatre Company, is also the co-creator of the popular annual fundraiser: “Balls: A Holiday Spectacular,” at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret.

Jeremy Palmer: The Phamaly Theatre Company actor and writer won the Denver Foundation’s Minoru Yasui Volunteer Award, and Denver mayor Michael Hancock declared  Nov. 15, 2012, “Jeremy Palmer Day” in Denver. Palmer co-wrote and co-directed Phamaly’s sketch comedy “Cinco de Vox,” and he starred as the masochistic  dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Stephen Weitz: The Boulder Ensemble Theatre co-founder performed in his own “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment”; in “Elijah: An Adventure” for Local Theatre;  as well as in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night,” “Richard III” and “Treasure Island.” He directed the Boulder Ensemble’s “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” “How the World Began” and “The SantaLand Diaries.” And he directed the Denver Center’s far-reaching staged reading of “8,” about the legal challenge to a bill preventing gay and lesbian couples from marrying in California.

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Actor Brook Millard mourned with laughter, shock and tears

Brook Millard with his daughters, Lauren and Taylor. Photo courtesy of Lauren Millard.

 

By John Moore
For CultureWest.Org

Brook Millard

Brook Millard, an affable comic actor best known for bringing out the best in others on stage, has died at the age of 47. Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Feldman Mortuary, 1673 York St., in Denver.

“This is a huge loss for the world,” said actor Emily Paton Davies, who performed in three plays with Millard. “He was a gentle soul and a thoroughly good person. The world just can’t afford to lose people like him.”

Brook Adriance Millard was born Feb. 1, 1965, in Winnetka, Ill. After graduating from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, he served as a judicial clerk for two Justices on the Colorado Supreme Court. After a few years, he chucked his legal career to pursue a life in the arts as an actor and creative writer. He attended film school in New York before returning to Denver to perform as an actor, primarily for Denver’s late HorseChart Theatre Company.

Perhaps his most indelible role was as timid salesman George Aaronow in HorseChart’s 2001 “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Michael Morgan, who played opposite Millard as the Machiavellian Dave Moss, recalls rehearsing a dramatic scene with Millard at a diner, to great comic effect.

“We’d go to lunch and run lines from the play, and people would think we were actually talking to each other about how much we hated the fact we had to win this contest to keep our jobs,” said Morgan. He calls Millard an acting rarity — the straight man who could be funnier than the comedian.

Davies agrees that Millard could be pretty darned funny in his own right.

“I have his huge laughter problem as an actor when I know someone really well,” said Davies. “We were pals, and he was such a naturally funny person that it was difficult for me to keep a straight face around him because he made me laugh all the time.”

Millard performed in five plays for HorseChart, including “A View from the Bridge,” “Reckless” and “Henry V.” Morgan was introduced to Millard as an audience member, watching him perform a scene from “Henry V,” during which Millard came out with a flow chart, explaining to the audience all of the different relationships between characters and countries. “He did it like he was a third-grade teacher, and it was (bleeping) hilarious,” Morgan said.

“There is a short list of actors I feel absolutely comfortable with on stage, and Brook is one of them,” he added.

Aune fondly recalls Millard’s work in “Dead Monkey,” a brutally grotesque play about a childless Californian couple commemorating the death of their 15-year-old pet. Millard played a masked and surgically capped veterinarian who offers the couple several macabre suggestions on how to dispose of the expired pet — including eating it.

“There was one line he kept repeating throughout the play, and it was unnervingly, hysterically funny,” said Aune.

Millard performed in two plays for the Bas Bleu Theatre Company in Fort Collins – “True West” and “A Walk in the Woods.” “Brook was a joy to work with,” said Bas Bleu founder Wendy Ishii.

Aune describes Millard as “a completely trustworthy man and a totally genuine guy. He was honest but never, ever hurtful. He was the most self-effacing man I ever met, to the point where it sometimes made me concerned.”

Millard performed with Davies in her very first play in Denver, “The Mousetrap,” for the Westminster Spotlight Theatre, and in “Crossing Delancey,” for Kris Hipps’ Paper Cat Productions.

“Brook was one of the smartest, funniest, most sensitive guys around,” Davies said. But many people may not realize he was an accomplished writer as well. He mainly wrote humorous and poignant short stories with a cynical twist. He was in the process of finishing a collection of his short stories at the time of his death.

“I’m a big fan of Brook’s writing,” said Davies. “I think he’s up there with authors like Lorrie Moore and Augusten Burroughs (“Running With Scissors”). He could write about the most horrendous things in the most humorous ways.”

Millard was found Friday, Dec. 7, in his Capital Hill apartment. The Denver Coroner’s office says it may take up to 12 weeks to determine a cause of death.

He is survived by his two college-age daughters, Lauren and Taylor Millard; sisters Susan Lynch and Carter Filion; and brother Grant W. Millard.

“He loved his daughters very much, and parented them with humor and practicality and total acceptance,” said Davies. “It was great to see him interact with those girls. I remember a video he played for me of the three of them doing some sort of song-and-dance routine. Brook had a hat and cane and was fully committed to making a complete fool out of himself just so his girls would laugh. And they did.  A lot. He made everyone laugh with his self-deprecating humor.”

Michael Morgan, left, with Brook Millard in HorseChart Theatre Company’s “Glengarry Ross” in 2002.

 

 

 

The Edge Theatre is moving to new Lakewood digs

The new Edge Theatre at 1560 Teller St. will be built out of what is currently a free-standing office space in Lakewood. Photo by John Moore.

 

By John Moore
Dec. 3, 2012

The Edge Theatre will be moving 2 miles east to a new 99-seat theater in Lakewood to be built in a freestanding storefront at 1560 Teller St., founder Rick Yaconis announced at Monday’s second annual company holiday gathering, The Edgy Awards.

The move to just east of Wadsworth Boulevard on the north side Colfax Avenue will be effective with the March 31, 2013, opening of David Mamet’s “Race.” That means the final production at The Edge’s current home at 9797 W. Colfax Avenue (at Kipling Boulevard) will be the world premiere of local playwright Jonson Kuhn’s “Newark Violenta,” running from Jan. 4-26.

The move, which is expected to cost about $50,000, Yaconis said, was necessitated by code improvements ordered to the current site by the city of Lakewood. “And I wasn’t passionate enough about that site to put that kind of money into it,” Yaconis said, “so we decided to make the move.”

The new theater, at 3,000 square feet about one-third bigger than the current location, will have flexible seating that can be rearranged from show to show. Yaconis is partnering with 40 West, an all-volunteer, non-profit arts organization dedicated to promoting arts along West Colfax Avenue. The group is anchored by the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design and the new Lamar Street Light Rail Station. “The idea is to bring more upscale arts and culture to West Colfax, and get away from the pawn shops and tattoo parlors,” Yaconis said.

While the new space won’t have as much readily available parking as the current location, Yaconis told the Denver Business Journal he’s hoping to boost the company’s annual budget to $175,000 from its current $120,000.

Yaconis and his wife, Patty, took over the former E-Project Theatre in January 2011 with “Extremities,” followed by “Speed-the-Plow” and “Killers and Other Family.” That covered a raped woman who turns on her attacker; Mamets examination of Hollywood slime; and a lesbian couple sent on the run when a family member turns up.

At Monday’s Edgy Awards, Yaconis also announced the winner of “On the Edge,” the company’s just-completed, month-long new-play festival. It’s “Gifted,” written by Cherry Creek High and Brown University grad Carrie Printz. Her prize will be a fully staged production at the new Edge Theatre in the summer of 2014.

The play explores contemporary family relationships, cultural identity and how a young, gifted teen grapples with it all. Aseem Ganeshe, 15, never has been crazy about being gifted, nor is he thrilled about his multi-ethnic background. But when he gets a chance to be on a new reality TV show called “Stump the Brainiacs,” he sees a way to use his giftedness to his advantage. But his Indian grandmother from London has different ideas for Aseem — and his older sister.

The four finalists each were given staged readings over the past month, with both audiences and an invited judging panel asked to consider everything from theme to character development to writing quality to which story best aligns with the Edge’s name and stated mission to bring difficult, intense works to the stage. Yaconis is first to admit that “Gifted,” which is akin to a Neil Simon comedy with Indian protagonists, is probably the least Edge-like of the four finalists.

“The Edge is going to go out on a limb and take one of its biggest risks by doing a family-friendly comedy,” Yaconis said – with a bit of a chuckle. In the end, “Gifted” was the script most ready for full production, he said. “I think it’s a great summer show, and it provides a different perspective,” he added.

THE EDGE THEATRE
1560 Teller St., Lakewood, 303-232-0363 or the edge’s home page
Jan. 4-26, 2013: “Newark Violenta” (at 9797 W. Colfax Ave.)
March 1-31, 2013: “Race”
April 19-May 19, 2013: “The Shadow Box”
June 7-30, 2013: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
July 19-Aug. 11, 2013: “The House of Blue Leaves”
Aug. 30-Sept. 29, 2013: “The Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”
Oct. 18-Nov. 17, 2013: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”
Summer 2014: “Gifted”

 

The Edge’s “A View from the Bridge,” from earlier in 2012.