Countdown to Closure: Original cast member on marrow and forgotten riots

DAY 11
Director Ed Baierlein made up a placard for every one of his expected 45-plus actors who were to perform in “Offending the Audience.” Kenny Burt, who joined Germinal in its first season, had to drop out for a transplant.

By John Moore
Aug. 15, 2013

One of the many interesting aspects of embedding myself in the final production that will ever be held Germinal Stage-Denver was the fact that among the 43 invited cast members, four were part of the original cast of 10 who performed “Offending the Audience” in 1976.

DAY 39One performance sparked a spontaneous rebellion among the audience that began when a handful of spectators began heckling the performers, then joined them onstage and even physically threatened them. Eventually, according to a Denver Post news report, “virtually all the audience was participating in the chaos.” The incident prompted director Ed Baierlein to call a press conference to address the media’s interest in the story. How unprecedented was the uproar? Well, when’s the last time you can remember a local theater company having to (or should we say “getting to?”) call a press conference over anything … And the media showing up?

This 2013 farewell revival has not yet incited the same kind of reaction – although there was one heckler on Sunday night. And now only three members of that original cast are in the 2013 staging: Baierlein, wife Sallie Diamond, and Paul Caouette.

Kenny Burt, who started with Germinal in its first season in 1974, had to drop out just before rehearsals were to begin because he is now undergoing a marrow transplant. But he dropped me a line the other day to tell me about the good old days. (It might help for you to first read the cast taking on the question, “What the hell IS this play?”)

“I have two distinct memories that stand out,” Burt wrote. “The first was a night early in the run when, for the first time, we got someone who came with the preconception that this was a “happening.” Fairly early in the performance, I was downstage, and this guy — wearing a cap, I distinctly recall — stood up, walked onstage and put his hand on someone’s shoulder near me. I just thought, “Focus. Point of concentration. What are we going to do now?”

Burt doesn’t remember of this was the audience member who started “the riot.” “Frankly, I don’t remember ‘the riot,’ he said. “I just remember that silent, poor misguided guy.”

His second strong memory was from the night his parents came. “I was 26 or so, and my parents came to shows I was involved in pretty often,” he said. “My dad loved theater, but he was of the “Arsenic and Old Lace” era — and my mom came because I was her son.

“Ed had directed all the actors to wear a slack-jawed expression that never changed — an ‘expression’ that was as close to expressionless as one could be, while scanning over the audience section near us constantly. I remember looking at the audience, making eye contact with my parents and thinking, ‘I wonder what the (bleep) they are thinking? I bet they hate this.’ It was the second-most uncomfortable moment I’ve ever had — and not just in theater. The most uncomfortable moment was the night I had to be naked on stage and my father had come to the show. But that’s another theater, and another story.”

Burt knows there are a lot of people who hate “Offending the Audience.” “I’ve never understood that,” he said. I think it is (bleeping) hilarious and brilliant. I agree with Ed that it is an exceptional statement about the theatergoing experience. However, that said, I’ve never had to go watch it as the majority of people do, not knowing what they are getting into, and bringing inside themselves all the preconceptions that each individual undoubtedly does. Of course, (playwright Peter) Handke’s knowing that that’s what is going to happen is part of the piece’s brilliance. Plus, I started getting interested in theater when theater of the absurd was very popular, especially on college campuses.

“I still remember the sense of excitement that first seeing absurdist plays gave me, and ‘Offending the Audience’ is one logical extension of one of the themes of absurdist theater.”

According to Burt, Baierlein had scheduled another play for that time slot, but after the first read-through, he came to rehearsal and announced that the play was so unworthy of production that they were going to do “Offending the Audience” instead.

“I remember totally understanding his point about the original selection,” said Burt. “That I can’t remember the show’s title is testament to its unremarkability. On a personal note, though, I was deeply disappointed for myself. I had done the best audition I have ever done before or since for that damn show, and had been cast in a romantic lead role. This was a first — and last — for me.”

Burt first got involved with Germinal during a heady period for the theater.

“I distinctly remember working a rehearsal, running lights and thinking, ‘It’s just SO good!’ he said. “I thought I’d never seen acting of that caliber. To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen acting that is any better. It was very moving for me to be around people who were so dedicated to their craft. Further, for me at least, I felt like this was important work. World-changing, important work. It was a mission that had the power to change people’s lives. I was convinced of that in my heart.

“I don’t know if people, especially young people, feel that way about doing theater in Denver these days, but I did. I remember a few of us sitting around talking after a rehearsal one night during the first season, and Ed said, ‘I want to put ever other theater in Denver out of business.’ As much as I felt a sense of purpose in my involvement at Germinal, even I thought that he was overstating things just a tad — perhaps he was being a little ironic. But then he said, ‘No, I really do.’ It made quite an impression.”

“Offending the Audience”
Aug. 9-25, 2013
2450 W. 44th Ave., 303-455-7108 or germinal’s home page

 

Click here to subscribe to the CultureWest.org Monthly E-Newsletter

 

Additional coverage:

At “Terminal Germinal,” these walls CAN talk. Check out our photo essay of all the backstage quotes that have been etched into the dressing-room walls.

“Offending the Audience”: What the hell is this play?

Why dozens of Denver actors are oh so eager to offend you

 

 

How you can donate to the Denver Actors Fund

The new Denver Actors Fund is a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in sudden medical need. Photo by John Moore. To donate to the Denver Actors Fund, please go here (with our humble thanks):

“Offending the Audience”: What the hell is this play?

“Offending the Audience” will be the final play staged by Germinal Stage-Denver at its longtime home at 2450 W. 44th Ave. It runs Aug. 9-25, 2013. Call 303-455-7108 or go to www.germinalstage.com. Video by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Running time: 1 minute.

By John Moore
Aug. 6, 2013

DAY 40“Offending the Audience,” by Austrian Peter Handke, is sometimes called an “anti-play” because of its renouncements of theatricality.

From Wikipedia: In “Offending the Audience,” there is no plot. No story is being told at all. Instead, the audience is made aware that what they see is not a representation of anything else, but is in fact quite literal. The actors continuously repeat the point that this is not a play, and that nothing theatrical will happen.

WHAT THE HELL?

“Offending the Audience,” opening Aug. 9, will be the final production staged at the 40-year-old Germinal Stage-Denver’s 26-year home at 44th Avenue and Alcott Street in northwest Denver. Founder Ed Baierlein has gathered more than 40 iconic actors from every era of his theater’s history … and me … (for some still-unknown reason) … to perform it.

I posed many of these esteemed actors a single question: So what IS this play … in one word? You can for yourselves see how well they did with that strict assignment here:


Lawrence Allen and Melissa Pear:
Mind-blower.

Linda Barner: Mobius strip. (Editor’s translation: “A two-dimensional object that can only exist in a three-dimensional space.”)

Eric Field:
In one word: Magnificent.
In two words: Magnificent And
In three words: Magnificent, Astonishing, Wild, And . . .

Samara Bridwell: Jarring.

Paul Caouette: Meditational.

Kristina Pitt Garner: Ornery. But as a whole, and not while trying to memorize lines, I would say: Significant.

Katharyn Grant: “Offending the Audience” is pretty much everything about existentialism that Mike Myers was making fun of in his landmark “Saturday Night Live” sketch, “Sprockets,” but without the monkey. Some of it is really funny to me; some of it hypnotizes me; some of it is deeply moving and profound. It is by far the weirdest piece of theater I have ever done or seen.

Lori Hansen: Insane.

Steve Kramer:
In tribute to Laurie Anderson: Difficult Music.

Fred Lewis:
Incomprehensible.

Lisa Mumpton: This is a love letter to the audience, and it is a love letter to theater and what theater is. It is saying, “You are why we are doing this.” … And it is frickin’ hard to memorize.

Ed Sampson: The script is an introduction to live theater, leading us carefully back to the present moment. Sort of like a gracious host at a party saying, “This is the now. Have you met?”

Erica Sarzin-Borrillo: Mind-twisting.

Penny Stames: Wordy. … (Sent to you by a flock of tiny pigeons in a tiny little box.)

Carol Timblin:
As was said in the play “Amadeus” to Mozart: “Too Many Notes … ” (but in a good way).

Augustus Truhn: Condescending-ass-blood.

Suzanna Wellens: “It reminds me of a Noh play I saw in Tokyo. So my one word: “Noh.” Though I think it describes our production perhaps more than the script.”

Gina Wencel:
Vexatious.

Diane Wziontka: A cliff.

 

“Offending the Audience”
Aug. 9-25, 2013
2450 W. 44th Ave., 303-455-7108 or germinal’s home page

Previous coverage:

Countdown to Closure: My blog chronicling the rehearsal process

Why dozens of Denver actors are oh so eager to offend you.

Germinal Stage-Denver: Countdown to Closure. The whole photo series to date, with some additional outtakes.

The complete story on Germinal’s decision to vacate its home.

 

How you can donate to the Denver Actors Fund

The new Denver Actors Fund is a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in sudden medical need. Photo by John Moore. To donate to the Denver Actors Fund, please go here (with our humble thanks):


Click here to subscribe to the CultureWest.org Monthly E-Newsletter

Why dozens of Denver actors are oh so eager to offend you

DAY 22By John Moore
Aug. 5, 2013

If you think sitting through 80 minutes of a play called “Offending the Audience” might be tough on you … pshaw. You’re getting off easy. Think of the more than 40 veteran actors who have subjected themselves to more than a month of nightly lingual gymnastics; to brain-numbing, contradictory, circuitous and repetitious s-wordplay.

“Offending the Audience,” opening Aug. 9, will be the final production staged at the 40-year-old Germinal Stage-Denver’s 26-year home at 44th Avenue and Alcott Street in northwest Denver. (Read the complete story about Germinal’s decision to vacate its home here.)

“Offending the Audience” is an “anti-play” written in 1966 by Austrian Peter Handke. There is no plot. There are no characters. It is rather a kind of choral monologue that puts both audiences and theater itself in their improper places: On the defensive, shifting in their seats, and yes, perhaps maybe even mildly offended. Not necessarily because of its invective, but because it puts the artifice of the theatrical experience under the microscope with both proud condescension and avant-garde sentimentality. … Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Leroy Leonard

Leroy Leonard

So why do they do it? Why did dozens of actors heed director Ed Baerlein’s call to “leave ’em squirming”?

For Leroy Leonard, the seeds were sown in 1976. He was a 17-year-old senior at Alameda High School, where he was taught by Jim Hunt, recently awarded the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Life Achievement Award.

“But my first theater foray, where I got into my car and drove out to see a play on my own, was to see ‘Offending the Audience’ at Germinal Stage on Market Street,” Leonard said.

Three original cast members are back from that seminal 1976 production — Ed Baierlein, wife Sallie Diamond and Paul Caouette. Leonard is believed to be the only 2013 cast member who was an “Offended” audience member in 1976.

“I was completely confused,” Leonard said. “I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t really know what to think about it … so it was just very … confusing … for me.”

But having done so much theater at Germinal ever since makes this current endeavor exciting for Leonard. “To be a part of this show is very meaningful for me in a full circle kind of way,” he said.

“I am a very sentimental guy, so in the middle of the piece, when Ed talks about the plays that have been presented here, my tears are already welling in my eyes.”

When Carol Timblin, above, married Steven Kramer, the wedding party wore formal wear from the Germinal's George Bernard Shaw costume closet.

When Carol Timblin, above, married Steven Kramer, the wedding party wore formal wear from the Germinal’s George Bernard Shaw costume closet.

Don’t talk to castmate Stephen R. Kramer about tears. He’s been with Germinal for 28 years.

“This the first step in mourning for me,” Kramer said. “You know; it’s anger, denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It’s going to be hard.”

Baierlein was Kramer’s best man when he married Carol Timblin, also a 2013 “Offending the Audience” cast member, more than 20 years ago. “We wore Germinal formal wear at our wedding,” said Timblin, meaning that the wedding party wore costumes from the most recent George Bernard Shaw production at Germinal.

“The tough part for me in losing the building is that when my daughter, Chelsea, was born, we were working on ‘Woyzeck’ (by Georg Buchner), which I translated and directed,” Kramer said. “While we were working on the set, Ed actually would carry her around and show her all the pictures on the wall and sing to her. She was maybe 3 months old. She is 22 now.

“I had never heard Ed sing before. It was a softening that I had never seen before.”

Baierlein has promised that Germinal will continue as a nomadic company, but he’s nearing 70, and having had both hip and prostate surgeries, there are no guarantees.

“All we are doing is closing the building,” said Kramer. “We just need fewer seats. We are at 115 now, and that’s too many. The market won’t hold it. So we are looking for between 50 and 75 — and Ed is actually excited about finding a space. Every time he looks at a building, he sits down at a computer and he mocks it up. It’s really energizing him, and that is fun to see.”

But say for some reason … this is the swan song. If that’s the case, Kramer said, “I had to be here.”

Leonard says this final production in the old building feels right.

“I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to close the building,” he said, “than with a cast made up of so many people from all different phases of this theater’s history.”

Back to that original question:
Here are other cast members’ answers to the question, “So why are you doing it?

Linda Barner: After 40 years of involvement in theater in Denver, I had to be a part of this production because Germinal Stage-Denver has been a huge part of that theater experience. When we’re in “places,” and I look around at all my other casties, I see my life in Denver theater reflected back; it’s very much like a family reunion.

Paul Barner I: This is a unique production. Look at all the people here who have worked at Germinal. All these good people … I could not say no.

Paul Barner II: I am doing it for the money.

Laura Booze: This theater is part of Denver history, and having done several plays here, it is just important for me to see it close, and I am so sad that it is closing.

Samara Bridwell: I feel unbelievably privileged to be part of this show. I feel like a total cool kid. I’m stoked. I wish I had met Ed 20 years ago so I could have gained his knowledge over the years. But instead, I have too cram it all in now.

Paul Caouette: I was one of the original cast members (in 1976). But I’m not doing it now as a recapitulation. God knows it wasn’t “rewarding” from a traditional actor’s perspective … and I don’t expect it to be any different this time. But it fills my heart with glee each time I hear Ed chuckling as we go about with our invectives. It’s an honor to be part of this menagerie who have given life to Germinal Stage-Denver.

Sallie Diamond: I think I just to see everyone again till God knows when, and to see what the experience would be like to have a cast this rangey in such a comparatively (for Germinal Stage-Denver) free-form on the stage at once.

Eric Field: Ed Baierlein is a genius of theater and performance arts. He first cast me 24 years ago, essentially unschooled and untrained, and let me become a professional and effective actor (and showed me how), in show after demanding show, of all kinds and genres, with endless teachable (and taught) moments, insights, discoveries, honesties, high standards, artistry, idiosyncracy, and no bullshit. Work for Ed? Anytime. Do this brilliant, bizarre, joyous show? Yes, with him directing it. Join the cast of thousands? Wouldn’t have missed it for the world! (Especially all these talented, fun-loving, generous, high-achievement actors, many of whom I’ve worked with and love, many others I had always dreamed of sharing a stage with.) Do the last show at the Germ? My mom’s cousin was on the last plane out of Angkor Watt before the war closed in. The last rant out of GSD wasn’t even a doubt.

Katharyn Grant: I wanted to connect with the wonderful people I’d worked with at Germinal in the past, and honor a theater where I’d had so many profound experiences, both as a performer and as an audience member.

Paul Greengross: I’ll be coming out from Granada Hills, Calif., to join the cast on the final weekend. I hope I’m not offending the cast by barging in. I was involved in several shows in the 1980s. Germinal and Ed had a great impact on my development as an actor, so it’s important for me to be there at the end of this amazing run. I also want to be there to pay tribute to my late friend and comrade David Kristin, who passed away this past year. I’m looking forward to seeing my old acting buddies.

Lori Hansen: The Germinal Stage has been an integral part of my life for the past 14 years, having done 13 shows there. Ed is a brilliant actor and director and I learn from him every time I have the honor to be cast. I have the utmost love, respect and gratitude to the entire Baierlein family and they will always have a very important place in my heart. I wouldn’t have missed this last show for the world.

Elgin Kelley: I want to say goodbye to Ed, especially after all the great stuff Germinal has done. It was nice to be asked to be a part of this great community.

Patrick Mann: When Ed Baierlein calls you to be in the final show at “Terminal Stage-Denver,” you would be crazy to say no. It’s an honor to be a part of this theater’s history.”

John Moore (the only first-time Germinal actor in the cast): I was talking with Ed Baierlein about chronicling the final play at Germinal Stage as a journalist. By dropping into rehearsals from time to time, taking photos and videos, interviewing cast members. He said, “Great, you are in the show.” This has been my own personal year of saying, “What the hell?” So I said yes. After the first rehearsal, I wanted to punch the play in the face.

Lisa Mumpton: Because it’s the swan song. It’s the big event.

Melissa Pear and Lawrence Allen: Because it was an honor to be invited by Ed to be part of the last show at the historic Germinal Stage.

Erica Sarzin-Borrillo: It’s hard to resist Ed Beirlein when he says, “We can’t do this without you.” These days, I make it a rule to not do a play for the sake of “doing a play.” I have to find tremendous meaning that genuinely moves me, and that I feel certain will move an audience. This project was not about the play. It was not about the role … It was about Ed. Which is not to say it isn’t a fine play. But I’m here in gratitude after these many many years, having been embraced by the Germinal, and the kind home it I came to know it as.”

Penny Stames: I was a part of Germinal for several years starting in 1974, when it was a fledgling endeavor begun by a small group, including a dear friend and my guy at the time. I was primarily their costumer, but occasionally did small roles as well. When Ed phoned to ask me if I was interested, I first thought he was asking me to costume it. When he made it clear he wanted me to be a part of the actual “cast,” I couldn’t say no. How often do you get to be a part of something from start to finish? Germinal has been one of the most consistent venues for quality theater in Denver. To have been a part of it was an honor. To be a part of the last show a gift.

Carol Timblin: I’m here because Germinal is home; because it’s my family. My son pointed this out to me last night when he came by and said, “Wow, I know almost everyone These people are part of his life as well. Because it’s where I first worked with my (not yet) husband. Because I have loved all of the shows and knowledge I have gained here. and it’s good to have closure for the old place to set off into the new beginning … Because my heart is here.

Augustus Truhn I: Ed has always been a unique ambassador for theater in Denver. I would describe that style as “anything goes” theater. Ed was kind to me in the ’90s. He gave me some good roles and always has been a blast to work with. I feel like this icon of Denver theater is going away, and I want to be a part of it.

Augustus Truhn II: I am an insatiable sadomasochist. So coming back to Germinal and doing this play is totally getting me off.

Petra Ulrych: When you get invited to the last party, you should come.

Gina Wencel: Because Ed has given me such wonderful roles to play – some of my most transcendent acting experiences have come under his direction. I also adore Sallie and Tad. I wanted to show my support and gratitude by performing in this last show at the Alcott space.

Suzanna Wellens: After working so often at Germinal Stage, it would have been painful for me to miss this right of passage. And what’s more fun than taking on an outrageous artistic challenge? Especially in company with so many very smart and talented actors.

Diane Wziontka: As a single mom, I don’t get to play creatively very much. I am honored to be a part of the Germinal send-off.

There you have it. Come at your own peril. You have been warned. You are welcome.

“Offending the Audience”
Aug. 9-25, 2013
2450 W. 44th Ave., 303-455-7108 or germinal’s home page

 

Previous coverage:

Countdown to Closure: My blog chronicling the rehearsal process

Germinal Stage-Denver: Countdown to Closure. The whole photo series to date, with some additional outtakes.

The complete story on Germinal’s decision to vacate its home.

 

How you can donate to the Denver Actors Fund

The new Denver Actors Fund is a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in sudden medical need. Photo by John Moore. To donate to the Denver Actors Fund, please go here (with our humble thanks):


Click here to subscribe to the CultureWest.org Monthly E-Newsletter

Photos: My night at Germinal’s ‘Spoon River Anthology’

IMG_6317
Actor Jim Miller made spoons adorned with individual faces as opening-night gifts for every cast and crewmember working on the Germinal Stage-Denver’s “Spoon River Anthology.”

 

By John Moore
Feb. 15, 2013

Opening No. 27, Feb. 10: Germinal Stage-Denver’s final season in its longtime northwest Denver home continues with its third staging of “Spoon River Anthology,” Edgar Lee Masters’ look at small-town America through the eyes and epitaphs of its dead people. The building has been sold and will be renovated into mixed retail space after Germinal finishes there in August. After that, the company plans to occasionally perform in rented theaters around the city. “Spoon River Anthology” features Leroy Leonard, Jennie McDonald, Deborah Persoff, Jim Miller, Lisa Mumpton and Michael Gunst. Directed by Ed Baierlein. Through March 17 at 2450 W. 44th Ave., 303-455-7108 or germinal’s home page. Photo by John Moore of www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks to Ed Baierlein, Sallie Diamond, Tad Baierlein and Andrew Parker.

To see the our full photo series, “It’s Opening Night in Colorado Theatre,” featuring one intimate, iconic snapshot from 27 Colorado opening nights (and counting), click here.

Click here to subscribe to the CultureWest.org Monthly E-Newsletter

 

IMG_6438
The familiar and well-trod back entrance to the venerable Germinal Stage-Denver in northwest Denver. Open the door and you are welcomed by a waft of signature pipe smoke that has seeped into the walls over the years. The photo of founder Ed Baierlein working the box office, below, offers a major clue as to the origin of that.

 

IMG_6412

 

 

IMG_6308
The note that connects the two photos that hang above Germinal founder Ed Baierlein’s desk reads, “There are always two points of view regarding any proposition.” That’s a photo of a young Baierlein on the left. No word on the source of the photo on the right.

 

IMG_6424
Prominent on the Germinal’s wall of past production photos is one from the first time Germinal staged Edgar Lee Masters’ “Our Town”-like classic, “Spoon River Anthology,” in October 1980.

 

IMG_6343
The 2013 cast just happened to be rehearsing the very same seance scene that is depicted in that 1980 photo above.

 

(Please click below to go to the next page.)