• 2016 True West Award: Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

    by John Moore | Dec 31, 2016
    True West Awards Billie McBride 800 2



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    2016 Theatre Person of the Year: Billie McBride

    When Billie McBride won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, she was convinced she would never work again. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, they think I am that old?'” she said with a caustic laugh. 

    Pshaw. McBride has barely taken a day off since. One rather wonders how she possibly found time in 2016 to have played seven leading roles and direct three productions from Fort Collins to Dillon to Colorado Springs. That’s 10 productions – for 10 different theatre companies – in 12 months.

    True West Awards Billie McBride Quote“She is, quite simply, the best around,” said Rebecca Remaly Weitz, who directed McBride in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s Ripcord. And that, quite simply, is why she is the True West Awards’ 2016 Theatre Person of the Year: She’s the best around.

    McBride, who has Broadway credits on and off stage, has now reached a certain age where she gets asked to play, well, “a lot of old ladies,” as she bluntly puts it. A lot of them. But in 2016, that meant bringing a dizzying array of women to life ranging in age from 70 to 91.

    OK, so McBride’s characters often share a few consistent personality traits. They tend to be a bit prickly, terse, cantankerous, curmudgeonly, feisty, annoying, bracing, nasty, sour, volcanic, difficult, acerbic and irascible. (Those are all words critics used to describe McBride’s characters in 2016 – “cantankerous” twice, that I could find).

    But it is important to note that she is not being typecast. “Billie is a genuinely loving, giving, wonderful person,” said Christopher Alleman, who directed McBride in The Velocity of Autumn for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. She’s just really good at acting cranky.

    Still, McBride’s 2016 portrayals represented a vast breadth of life experiences that informed every aspect of her fully fleshed characters. I mean, she did everything this year from jumping out of a plane to nearly blowing up her own son with a Molotov cocktail. Consider:

    • Driving Miss Daisy, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center: Daisy is a 72-year-old Jewish widow who embodies oblivious Old South racism in 1948 Atlanta.
    • 4000 Miles, Cherry Creek Theatre: Vera is a no-nonsense, 91-year-old New York grandmother, widow … and member of the Communist Party.
    • The Velocity of Autumn, Lake Dillon Theatre Company: Alexandra is an 80-year-old artist who has barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with enough explosives to take out a city block.
    • Outside Mullingar, Little Theatre of the Rockies: Aiofe is a tremulous, 70-year-old Irish widow trying to keep a leash on her admittedly “cracked” and obstinately single daughter.
    • The Last Romance, Senior Housing Options at The Barth Hotel: Carol is a prim, 79-year-old retired executive secretary who is slowly coaxed into a joyful awakening by a stranger in a park.
    • Ripcord, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company: Abby is an acidic, 80-year-old patrician whose boast that she is not afraid of anything is put to the comic test.
    • Lost Creatures, And Toto Too Theatre: Silent-film star Louise Brooks was a 72-year-old shut-in when British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan invaded her dingy little apartment, and somehow a love story ensued.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    In a recent essay about David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord – perhaps the slightest story among McBride’s 2016 catalog, Ellen Mareneck found unexpected depth in this Odd Couple meets Grumpy Old Men tale of two opposite women forced to share a room in a senior living residence. “Under the docile exterior of age, there is a ruthless drive to retain relevance and power,” Mareneck wrote of the play. But no words could better describe McBride’s ongoing importance to the Colorado theatre ecology.

    By simply doing what she does best year after year in a profession that doesn’t often value women, and in a society that typically renders older people obsolete, McBride stands in towering, empowering opposition to the norm.

    Perhaps the greatest achievement of McBride’s year was her unexpectedly gritty performance in Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn. There was nothing even slightly adorable about McBride’s portrayal of a declining woman locked in a bitter showdown with her family over where she will spend her remaining years. As soon as her estranged son arrives, the emotional bombs start detonating. The play has been praised for “touching a nerve that is exposed in many no-win debates across America over what’s best for a relative no longer at her sharpest.” McBride unflinchingly embraced her role as essentially a domestic terrorist with a profound absence of sentiment.

    "We knew as soon as we chose the play that we had to have Billie play the role,” said Alleman. “There wasn't any more thought put into it. Billie is incredibly talented, and she brought fierceness to the role.”

    True West Awards Billie McBride

    Top row, from left: Lost Creatures, Outside Mullingar.
    Second row: Driving Miss Daisy, 4000 Miles, The Velocity of Autumn.
    Third row: The Last Romance, Ripcord.


    Somehow McBride also managed to direct Lost in Yonkers for the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, Hello Dolly! for middle- and high-school actors at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, and the workshop production of a new play called The Closet by Siegmund Fuchs for the Historic Elitch Theatre.

    As a director, McBride is known for asking you to leave your toolbox at the door when you arrive at the theatre. Not the crewmembers building the set – the actors. Just like carpenters, all actors have go-to tactics they go back to again and again. McBride has a reputation for breaking actors of those safe habits like so many wild horses.

    “She is tough and yet incredibly kind,” said Jalyn Courtenay Webb, who hired McBride to direct Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers in Fort Collins. McBride, who has a long history directing for the Denver Children’s Theatre, has a special way with younger actors, said Webb, whose 11-year-old nephew won the role of young Arty. “She was really great at talking to him at his level,” she said. “She didn’t treat him like a kid or like an adult. She treated him like the actor he needed to be in that show.”

    BILLIE McBRIDE/At a glance:

    • Grew up in Le Roy, Ill.
    • College: Illinois Wesleyan University
    • Broadway credits: A Kurt Weill Cabaret, Production Supervisor, 1979; Torch Song Trilogy, Assistant Stage Manager, 1982; played June in Safe Sex with Harvey Fierstein, 1987
    • Made DCPA Theatre Company debut in 2015 playing straight-talking Willa in world premiere of Benediction
    • Selected local credits not mentioned above: The Arvada Center (The Women, Cabaret), TheatreWorks (The Lying Kind), The Barth Hotel (On Golden Pond), Miners Alley Playhouse (Grace and Glorie)
    • Currently a company member with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

    Video: Our 2015 'Meet the Cast' profile of Billie McBride:



    TRUE WEST AWARDS THEATRE PERSON OF THE YEAR/A look back
    2016: Actor and director Billie McBride
    2015: Donald R. Seawell: Denver Center for the Performing Arts founder
    2014: Steve Wilson: Phamaly Theatre Company and Mizel Center for Arts and Culture
    2013: Shelly Bordas: Actor, teacher, director and cancer warrior
    2012: Stephen Weitz: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company co-founder
    2011: Maurice LaMee: Creede Repertory Theatre artistic director
    2010: Anthony Garcia: Su Teatro artistic director
    2009: Kathleen M. Brady: Denver Center Theatre Company actor
    2008: Wendy Ishii: Bas Bleu Theatre co-founder
    2007: Ed Baierlein: Germinal Stage-Denver founder
    2006: Bonnie Metzgar: Curious Theatre associate artistic director
    2005: Chip Walton, Curious Theatre founder
    2004: Michael R. Duran: Actor, set designer, director and playwright
    2003: Nagle Jackson, Denver Center Theatre Company director and playwright
    2002: Chris Tabb: Actor and director

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: The women running theatre in Boulder

    by John Moore | Dec 30, 2016

    True West Awards Boulder women

    (Clockwise from top left: Rebecca Remaly Weitz, Emily K. Harrison, Amanda Berg Wilson and Pesha Rudnick. Inset right: Joan Kuder Bell as Mrs. Millamount in Upstart Crow's 'The Way of the World.')



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 30: The women running theatre in Boulder

    First off: Yes, there is something inherently wrong with singling out a group of successful women for their accomplishments based in part on their gender.

    Then again, when you have been systematically singled out for exclusion over decades in large part based of your gender, then perhaps the occasional exception to the unjust rule is something to celebrate.

    You may have seen the damning national stats: While women make up about 68 percent of all theatregoing audiences, fewer than 25 percent of the stories they see performed on American stages are written or directed by women. Further, 73 percent of all Artistic Directors and 62 percent of Executive Directors at leading U.S. theatres are white men. But did you know 65 percent of those working in jobs just below those leadership positions are women or persons of color? That means women and minorities do most of the work – and white men get promoted.

    True West Award Quote Boulder womenIt’s no wonder any self-starting woman with aspirations of running a theatre company would bypass the rat race and instead start her own.

    Call it an anomaly, a coincidence or a hopeful trend, but at a time when rectifying longstanding gender disparity is a major priority in the American theatre, one need only look to Boulder to find four distinctive theatre companies that were started or co-founded by creatively adventurous, collaborative women:

    (Photos above and right, clockwise from top left: Emily K. Harrison, Pesha Rudnick, Amanda Berg Wilson and Rebecca Remaly Weitz.) 

    The city of Boulder’s theatre roots run deep through the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, which turns 60 this summer; through Joan and Richard Bell’s Upstart Crow, which has presented classical theatre since 1980; and through BDT Stage, which has been staging Broadway-caliber musicals for nearly 40 years.

    But it is these four upstart women of the Boulder theatre community who have revived the city’s reputation as a culturally active and relevant hot spot. And for that, Duran says, Boulder is most grateful.

    “I am honestly blown away by all four them,” said Duran, who has been the Producing Artistic Director at BDT Stage for 13 years. “They are all so educated, and they have such amazing backgrounds in theatre and academia. These women are bringing brave new voices to the theatre and bringing different kinds of theatregoing experiences to Boulder audiences, and that benefits all of us.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The question is: Are these companies significant because they exist – or rather, is it significant that women brought them into existence? To Rudnick, it matters that women started all four companies because female theatre administrators are a collective rarity in the American theatre. “It matters because there is diversity in the female perspective, and feminism is rooted in humanism,” she said. “At Local Theater Company, we are interested in making theater that supports artists, our families and in telling stories that are inclusive and diverse.”

    Wilson knows one thing for sure: The question intself wouldn’t matter a bit if all four companies were not doing good and progressive work. “To boot: All four companies are dedicated almost exclusively to producing work that is new to Colorado,” she said. “All four companies are actively wrestling with how to address the emerging mandate that issues of equity and diversity must be addressed in the work and organizational structure of every theatre company. And all four are significant in this town and state because nationally, significant organizations that are also female-led are few and far between.”

    Our report from the 2016 Statera conference on gender parity

    And all four companies truly were firing on all cylinders in 2016. We asked each leader for a brief rundown of their accomplishments this year:

    BETC Vera Rubin. Michael Ensminger BOULDER ENSEMBLE THEATRE COMPANY, Rebecca Remaly Weitz: “We produced two word premieres (Vera Rubin: Bringing the Dark to Light and Full Code) and three regional premieres (Cyrano, Ripcord and Every Xmas Story Ever Told). We also workshopped a new play (The Madres) that has been selected as a finalist by the National New Play Network. We continued our successful annual co-production of The SantaLand Diaries with Off-Center at the Denver Center's Jones Theatre. Our support from the Shubert Foundation was increased by 50 percent, and I was the grateful recipient of the 2016 Emerging Professional Artist Award from the National Theatre Conference. We now have two full-time and three part-time employees. And our ensemble has grown to 23 fabulous people. (Photo: Mackenzie Sherburne and Chip Persons in 'Vera Rubin: 'Bringing the Dark to Light.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Catamounts The Taming. Michael EnsmingerTHE CATAMOUNTS, Amanda Berg Wilson: We produced two adventurous regional premieres by rising American playwrights (Jordan Harrison’s Futura and Lauren Gunderson’s The Taming). We served up three weekends of theatre, food and community though our original FEED series. We led young artists through the process of creating and performing their own work at Flatirons and Heatherwood Elementary schools. We received a three-year organizational grant from the Boulder Arts Commission, and our funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District increased by 58 percent. We hired our first employee (me!), and we moved our administrative headquarters from my damn couch to a sexy new co-working space. But what I am most proud of in 2016 is that we made a public commitment to increase the diversity in our programming and artists. (Photo: McPherson Horle in 'The Taming.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Local The Firestorm. Michael Ensminger. LOCAL THEATER COMPANY, Pesha Rudnick: As Local moves into our fifth season, we've renewed our fierce commitment to developing new American plays that address issues that are urgently “of the moment.” The Firestorm was a perfect example of that — it’s a new play by Meridith Friedman that addresses white privilege, racism and marriage during a heated election season. We added facilitated audience conversations that offer a platform for true, genuine dialogue. The Creede Repertory Theatre presented The History Room, which we first introduced during our 2016 Local Lab New Play Festival. Our new literacy program, Literature Live, will launch in February with a world premiere production of A Home in the Heart, an adaptation of Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street. It’s a stunning novel that explores immigration, coming-of-age and self-expression, and we will be presenting it for students, teachers and families in partnership with the Boulder Public Library. (Photo: Jada Suzanne Dixon in 'The Firestorm.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Square Product Cockroach. J Akiyama Kinisissquare product theatre company: We collaborated with Hoarded Stuff Performance on the world premiere of an awkward existential comedy called This Aunt is Not a Cockroach. We collaborated with Chicago’s The New Colony to produce two staged readings: Evan Linder's Byhalia, Mississippi, which we read as part of a simultaneous world-premiere Conversation here in Boulder, and our own original work called SLAB (about Hurricane Katrina), which we read at The Den Theatre in Chicago. We collaborated with Quake Theater on Ham & Millicent’s Boulder Arts Week Art Walk. And in the fall, we collaborated with the University of Colorado on a production of the Neo-Futurists' 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, which we originally staged in 2012. (Photo: Laura Ann Samuelson in 'This Aunt is Not a Cockroach.' Photo by J. Akiyama, Kinisis Photography.)

    Coming Saturday: The 2016 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year

    True West Awards. Boulder women. Amanda Berg Wilson. In October, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts hosted a national conference that addressed gender disparity in the American theatre. Much attention was paid to the particular challenge mothers face maintaining administrative careers while raising children. Berg said it is significant that most of the women who run theatre companies in Boulder are also mothers.

    “We lose too many excellent theatre artists to the necessities of family life because your child-bearing years unfortunately often overlap with some of your best creative and career-development years,” Wilson said. “And the low pay and long hours aren't terribly conducive to hiring babysitters who are sometimes paid more to watch your kid while you make your art than you are to make it. So to stick with it once you have kids takes a certain amount of ingenuity and grit and dedication to a vision — and hopefully a supportive partner. Women still labor under so many double standards when it comes to balancing work and family life. I'd like to think our community benefits from those of us who are willing to try to walk that tightrope.”

    (Photo above and right: Amanda Berg Wilson is not above mopping the floor after performances by The Catamounts. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS (to date)
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Warren Sherrill

    by John Moore | Dec 29, 2016
     True West Award Warren Sherrill


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 29: Warren Sherrill

    Ask those who know Warren Sherrill what makes him such a good director, and they'll tell you it's because he's such a brilliant actor. Ask them what makes him a good actor, and they'll tell you it's because he's such a brilliant director.

    He certainly proved both axioms to be true in 2016.

    "He knows how to communicate with actors because he has been there himself," says the star of his production of Medea, Karen Slack. "He takes care of his actors in a way that actors want to be taken care of," adds Josh Hartwell, who directed Sherrill in Casa Valentina.

    Sherrill didn’t need makeup or women’s clothes to win the role of a cross-dressing military man in The Edge Theatre’s bittersweet Casa Valentina, Harvey Fierstein's  true story of 1960s heterosexual men who sought out a safe haven to explore their feminine sides in the Catskill Mountains.

    Sherrill walked into his audition for the role “and he nailed it,” said Hartwell. Even without the accoutrement, “it came easy to him.”

    True West Warren Sherrill QuoteSherrill's character is a decorated Army veteran named Albert with a fondness for women’s apparel, quoting Oscar Wilde – and has an alter ego named Bessie. Sherrill could have easily played her for laughs, “but Warren connected right away with the fact that we had to feel her tenderness, sensitivity and realness,” Hartwell said. That’s what makes Sherrill both an award-winning actor – and director. “He has the unique ability to find the humanness in any character he plays, or helps another actor to discover,” Hartwell said.  

    Sherrill was named Associate Artistic Director of The Edge Theatre in May. His hiring was just the latest evidence that The Edge is stepping up in the local theatre ecology.

    2016 marked a welcome return to the stage for Sherrill, who had performed in only one production since the acclaimed Paragon Theatre he co-founded disbanded in 2011. He also played a key role in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s world premiere drama Full Code. Sherrill played a compassionate nurse who cares for a man in a coma while also juggling the two very different women who occupy this patient’s tangled romantic life.

    He’s been much more prolific in recent years as a director, and in 2016 he took on three very diverse storytelling challenges with The Edge Theatre’s Medea and By the Waters of Babylon, as well as The Avenue’s The Money Shot.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Medea is the classic tale of the baby-killing Greek wife who takes the ultimate revenge when her husband leaves her for a younger, hotter princess. By the Waters of Babylon, written by Robert Schenkkan (DCPA’s All the Way, The 12), recounts the steamy yet surprisingly complex encounter between a Texas widow and her Cuban gardener.  Both stories revolve around a powerhouse female character, and Sherrill was in his element keeping both of these deeply wounded women rooted in their basic humanity.

    True West Warren Sherrill Medea. RDG Photography. By comparison, The Money Shot might seem at first to be the anomaly of Sherrill's year. But Neil LaBute's snarky satire of two self-absorbed Hollywood couples is actually his comfort zone. The otherwise cuddly Sherrill has a long history playing with the kind of banal cruelty that LaBute, Jez Butterworth and David Mamet regularly trade in.

    One evident commonality about all three stories Sherrill directed in 2016 is that they each speak directly to the roles women play in society today. And each required imperial performances from Karen Slack, Patty Yaconis and Suzie Scott. Being able to communicate with different actors with different languages and different needs is perhaps Sherrill's greatest directorial strength, said Hartwell. And Slack (pictured at right in 'Medea') agrees.

    "I greatly appreciate the freedom he gives you physically," Slack said. "He doesn’t like to paint you into a box that you can’t get out of. He gives you a rough outline, and then he trusts you to fill the rest out. That’s a huge thing, to be able to trust that your actors are going to find where they want to be."

    Not having directed Sherrill before but long-knowing his work as a director, Hartwell said he went into Casa Valentina a little nervous. Unnecessarily, as it turned out.

    "Just like Warren trusts his actors when he is a director," Hartwell said, "He trusts his director when he is an actor."

    The Money Shot takes its title from an icky reference to porn films. (You can take it from there.) But even though LaBute not only bit but devoured the hand that feeds him in writing this play, Sherrill was nevertheless focused on achieving a recognizable truth with his actors at the Avenue Theater.

    "Warren has a real gift for guiding actors to find an honest portrayal of their characters," said Scott, who played a fading actor who cynically rebrands herself as a Hollywood lesbian with a website, fashion line, recipes, a trendy charity and a Malibu restaurant called ... Malibu - "because I like the word play!" 

    "When we were rehearsing an hysterically dirty scene," Scott said, "I remember Warren gently coaching us to not play the scene for laughs, but to just say the lines honestly and let the writing do the work. 'Trust me, it will be funny,' he told us. And he was right.

    "I loved working with Warren because he established a truly safe space where I felt free to dive into my own complex nature and recall those moments of desperation that shape us as artists when I was creating my character."

    He is, in short, added Slack: "Incredibly kind, a joy and a blessing to work with."

    Warren Sherrill/At a glance

  • Hometown: Denver
  • College: Colorado State University
  • Currently the Associate Artistic Director of The Edge Theatre in Lakewood. Former founder of the Paragon Theatre.
  • Notable roles have included Ashton Entertainment’s The Seafarer; Paragon's The Caretaker, The Real Thing and Jez Butterworth’s The Night Heron.
  • Notable directions have included The Edge's Jerusalem, and Paragon’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

  • ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS (to date)
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Sam Gregory

    by John Moore | Dec 28, 2016
    True West Awards Sam Gregory


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 28: Sam Gregory

    When looking back on the dozens of seminal roles Sam Gregory has played on Denver stages for 25 years, you would do well to start with the three unforgettable characters he brought to cagey life in 2016 with a full heart, precision comedy and at times blood-curdling abandon.

    This year, he played three indelible and full-bodied characters who are changed for the better and, in one case, for the much, much worse. That would be the white guy on the bus he played in Curious Theatre’s White Guy on the Bus, Bruce Graham’s incendiary new play that highlights the racial disparities we see every day in the news, on our streets and in our jails.

    True West Awards Sam Gregory. White Guy on the Bus. Curious Theatre, Michael Ensminger. Gregory plays Ray, a liberal and wealthy banker who for unknown (at first) reasons takes the same bus each week that passes the remote state penitentiary. Over time, he befriends a single black mother who takes this same bus to visit her incarcerated brother. Eventually we discover this affable-seeming man is actually a roiling powder keg who is hatching a plan to avenge the brutal murder of his do-gooder wife.

    The play is a timely and intentionally uncomfortable case study of white privilege, and Gregory’s Ray served as a particularly cold conduit for this much-needed confrontation with many hard truths about racism in America. It was all the more discombobulating coming from a nice guy like Gregory - and that was the point.

    “Sam Gregory stands astride the evening, fascinating to watch at every moment, whether he’s maintaining a civilized veneer or allowing flame-spitting anger to break through,” wrote Westword’s Juliet Wittman. Added Beki Pineda of GetBoulder.com: “The evening belongs to Sam Gregory. The dark side beckons - and he cannot resist.”

    (Pictured above and right: Sam Gregory and Jada Suzanne Dixon in Curious Theatre's 'White Guy on the Bus.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Read our recent profile of Sam Gregory

    Gregory followed that unnerving staging with two of the most high-profile performances of the year in local theatre, starting with Orgon in Moliere’s farcical comedy, Tartuffe. That production marked the launch of the Arvada Center’s new Black Box Theatre Company, which will now present its plays in repertory, mostly by a core company of recurring actors including Gregory.

    True West Awards Sam Gregory QuoteTartuffe is about a brazen con who pretends to be a devout holy man to swindle Orgon out of house, home … and wife! Orgon is a gullible bully who has only himself to blame for his comic predicament, "but instead he blames everyone around him,” Gregory told the DCPA NewsCenter. “He's full of bluster and self delusion.” But Gregory deftly managed to make his hilariously insufferable Orgon appealing to the audience as he was being mercilessly duped.

    Gregory came full circle at the end of the year when he took over for the legendary Philip Pleasants as Scrooge in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 24th seasonal staging of A Christmas Carol. It would have been a risk for any actor to try to don Pleasants’ Scrooge slippers, but audiences and critics alike responded positively to Gregory’s meaningful take on literature’s most notorious skinflint.

    “You need a Scrooge with intellect, depth and feeling,” wrote Juliet Wittman, “and Sam Gregory fills the bill.

    For a guy who played some bluntly irredeemable characters in 2016, Gregory’s Scrooge powerfully communicated Charles Dickens’ echoing mantra that no one is, in truth, irredeemable. “I hope the audience takes away that the very worst, most miserable, unhappy person that you might cross the street to avoid, can become a better person,” Gregory told Westword. “Scrooge is there to teach us that lesson.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    True West Awards Sam Gregory Gregory, who first appeared at the Denver Center in 1991, now has more than 45 DCPA Theatre Company credits to his name. Since the True West Awards began as The Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, Gregory has been singled out for “Outstanding Season by an Actor” a record five times. You don’t get those kinds of accolades working alone, and his newest director, Melissa Rain Anderson of A Christmas Carol, said Gregory is one of the most collaborative artists she has ever worked with, an actor both “generous with his gifts and astounding with his discipline,” she said. (Photo at right by Adams VisCom.)

    At one A Christmas Carol rehearsal, Gregory wondered whether he should take it easy that day, to pace himself for the grueling run of performances ahead. “He asked me if he should go by the numbers and possibly not take the full emotional journey of Scrooge that day. And I said, ‘Of course!’ ” Anderson said.

    “Well, it only took a few scenes in before he was fully weeping.”

    That’s Gregory.

    "He's an absolute professional," added Tartuffe director and Arvada Center Artistic Director of Plays Lynne Collins. "He always shows up prepared and asks the kinds of questions that keep everyone honest. He's also one of the few actors I know who will walk away from an easy laugh if he thinks it's not furthering the story."

    Next up for Gregory: Starring as Vladimir in the Arvada Center’s Waiting for Godot, opening April 21, opposite DCPA Education Head of Acting Tim McCracken, Josh Robinson (DCPA’s All the Way), Sam Gilstrap and DCPA Teaching Artist Sean Scrutchins. It is a play that Collins put on the Arvada Center season, she says flatly, specifically because she has Gregory to perform in it.

    Sam Gregory/At a glance

  • True West Awards Sam Gregory. A Flea in Her Ear. Hometown: New Haven, Conn.
  • College: Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.); Masters from Cal-Berkeley
  • More than 45 DCPA Theatre Company credits including A Flea in Her Ear in 2005 (pictured at right.) He is a member of the Arvada Center Black Box Theatre Company and will return to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the summer of 2017. He has also performed locally for the Curious Theatre, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and the late Paragon Theatre.
  • National credits include The Actor's Company Theatre of New York, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, San Jose Rep, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and more.

  • ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Jason Ducat

    by John Moore | Dec 27, 2016
    True West Award Jason Ducat


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 27: Jason Ducat

    If you listen closely, you can hear the echoing drumbeats of war still pulsing from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s sexy military epic Troilus and Cressida, courtesy of the busiest sound designer in Denver, Jason Ducat.

    True West Award Jason Ducat Quote“Special note needs to be made of the blaring horns and incessant drums of Jason Ducat's sound design,” wrote Scott Rochat of the Boulder Daily Camera. “When it's time to get down to the business of combat, the choreography and sound fill the stage with an infectious energy and sense of danger.”

    Designing sound is so much more than picking songs to play during interminable scene changes. The masterful sound designer creates a soundscape that sets a mood, that communicates emotions, that furthers the play’s themes, that talks to the audience and accentuates whatever the director is trying to get across, says Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s Stephen Weitz.

    Few are better at that than Ducat, who has been designing sound for area theatre companies for the past eight years. Above all else, adds the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Carolyn Howarth, “Jason possesses a keen ability to tell story through sound.”

    Our 2015 profile of Stage Manager Rachel Newman Ducat

    And he told a lot of stories in 2016. Eight in all, from Boulder to Denver to Colorado Springs. The rundown:

    • White Guy on the Bus, Curious Theatre Company
    • Cymbeline, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Equivocation, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • The Comedy of Errors, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Troilus and Cressida, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Antony and Cleopatra, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks
    • Full Code, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    • Hand to God, Curious Theatre Company

    True West Award Jason Ducat. Full Code. Casee Andree. Photo by Michael Ensminger. Two of the highlights from that list have to be his work on Troilus and Cressida and Full Code. Shakespeare’s seldom-produced war orgy. We’re talking the Trojan War, without a Trojan in sight. Seven years of carnal carnage (seemingly) over the abduction of Helen of Troy. What Howarth wanted from Ducat, she said, “was a pounding, percussive, martial soundtrack to amplify the war-time aspect of the story.” And he delivered.

    “Jason tweaks and twists his sound design to perfectly punctuate each strike of a sword and hit to a shield,” she said. “It's magical and exacting work, and his results are always extraordinary."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    For Full Code, a world-premiere play by David Valdes Greenwood about a man who has been in a freak accident, Ducat’s challenge was the opposite. He had to go small to somehow come up with an evocative sound that somehow captured the turbulence of a man trapped in a coma. Ducat’s sound design, wrote GetBoulder.com theatre critic Beki Pineda, “greatly enhances the startling changes the man is going through.”

    (Pictured above and right: Casey Andree in the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's 'Full Code.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    When picking a sound designer, said Weitz, director of Full Code, “you want someone who has all of the technical training, but more than that you want a collaborator who is flexible, takes feedback well and works well with the other designers on the creative team.”

    Weitz and Howarth both separately used that word when describing Ducat, “collaborator.” And to Howarth, “he is one of my very favorite collaborators.”

    Ducat hails from Ohio and has designed sound with the DCPA Theatre Company for seven years, with credits including Glengarry Glen Ross, When Tang Met Laika, The House of the Spirits, Lord of the Flies, Shadowlands, Reckless, Superior Donuts, Heartbreak House, and Othello. He started work today on his next project, the world-premiere play Two Degrees, opening Feb. 3 in the Jones Theatre. Ducat is also an Artistic Company member at Curious Theatre Company, where he has designed more than 20 shows, and he is the resident sound designer for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

    "Jason spends more time in the rehearsal room than any designer I know, and consequently always has a remarkably keen understanding of not only the play, but this particular production of the play," said actor and director Gary Wright. "That's what makes his work so alive. He not only has a great ear for music and sound, he has a great eye for truth and what's actually happening in the moment, and he has a great gift for helping to tell that story."

    The best that can be said of Ducat, Howarth said, is the best that can be said of any sound designer:

    “Under Jason’s designs,” she said, “Our productions come alive.”

    (And yes, it helps to have a solid iTunes library.)

    Jason Ducat/At a glance

  • Hometown: Bowling Green, Ohio
  • College: University of South Florida; MFA in Sound Design from Purdue University
  • DCPA Theatre Company Sound Designer for seven years. Now an Artistic Company member at Curious Theatre Company and resident sound designer for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival
  • He also teaches and mentors at the University of Colorado-Boulder and Metro State University
  •  Married to DCPA Stage Manager Rachel Newman Ducat, who is currently running An Act of God at the Garner-Galleria Theatre. They are the parents of twins.

  • ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Lon Winston

    by John Moore | Dec 26, 2016
    True West Award Lon Winston


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 26: Lon Winston

    Lon Winston was an Easy Rider kind of biker when he roared into the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1970s, revved his engines and, to the surprise of most everyone excluding himself … eventually started a theatre company.

    Over the past 21 years and 67 productions, Winston and counterculture creative partner Valerie Haugen brought David Mamet and Henrik Ibsen and Sam Shepard and Eugene O’Neill and even Akira Kurosawa to Carbondale through their Thunder River Theatre Company.

    True West Award Lon Winston QuoteWinston, 70, announced his retirement in June as Executive Artistic Director of the rebel troupe he turned into a home for serious and often challenging theatre nestled 170 miles west of Denver between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. The elevation of 6,200 is only slightly higher than the town’s population.

    “I feel like I’ve done the job I set out to do 21 years ago,” Winston told the Aspen Times. “I set out to create a theatre company committed to staging classics, contemporary works and original productions - and that was committed to talent in the Roaring Fork valley, emphasizing a professional standard.”

    On Feb. 24, Thunder River will re-name the “black-box” studio theatre he opened in 2006 as The Lon Winston Theatre.

    “Lon has been an innovative and insightful creative force in the Roaring Fork Valley for more than 20 years, and his creative vision continues to inspire our work,” successor Corey Simpson told the DCPA NewsCenter. “He is the epitome of an ‘actor's director’ who can find the unique way to work with each artist to reveal their best work. One of his artistic gifts has been his devotion to fostering the talent and artistry of the local acting community."

    Winston and his wife, Debra, first moved to Colorado in 1975. They left in 1980 when they were hired as theatre professors at Villanova University near Philadelphia. They moved back in 1992 with a dream to launch the Thunder River Theatre Company – the name came from the sheepskin trading business they had started to generate seed money for the theatre.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Three years later, they teamed with the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities and opened their roving theatre group that played in storefronts out of an 18-wheeler. The opening production in 1995 was the Mamet’s gender-baiting drama Oleanna, about a college student who induces a misogynist professor to reveal the worst part of himself. It starred DCPA masters graduate Maurice LaMee (future artistic director of the Creede Repertory Theatre) and his wife, Trary Maddalone.

    True West Awards Lon WinstonIt would be another 11 years before the company had its own bricks and mortar. For all 11 of those years, Winston worked for free. And for the five after that, he and Haugen split a combined annual salary of a whopping $15,000.

    “Lon is a true visionary,” Maddalone said. “When he saw the window of opportunity for building a permanent home for the theatre arts in the Roaring Fork Valley, he put all of his hope and energy into making the Thunder River Theatre Company a reality.” Her husband added "all of his passion, blood, sweat and tears" to that list of ingredients.

    On New Year’s Eve 2005, Winston opened the black box theatre his company has since called home. “That changed everything, having our own space,” Winston told the Aspen Times. “It allowed us to focus on raising the bar.”

    “Early on, he said, “we had this reputation as that theater that just does depressing plays,” Winston said. “If it wasn’t Fiddler on the Roof, then it was depressing. But over time, our audience started to get it.” In 2012, Thunder River won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Award for Outstanding Regional Theater.

     True West Award Lon Winston. The Lion in Winter. Trary MaddaloneMaddalone completed her own circle in 2014 by performing alongside Winston in The Lion in Winter (pictured at right).

    “That was a real highlight for me,” she said. “As a director and an actor, he's a wonderful collaborator. He listens so well. He sees so clearly. He's fun. He loves to look behind every corner of every moment in a script. He's one of my favorite scene partners.”

    Winston has directed the majority of shows for Thunder River and designed all of the sets until last year, along with acting in wide range of roles. He was known for hammering nails and manning the concessions stand during intermissions, said Andrew Travers of the Aspen Times.

    “When directing plays, Winston encourages actors to work with what he calls ‘informed vagueness’ - an approach rooted in dramaturgy and research but with openness to differing opinions and interpretations,” Travers said.

    True West Awards Lon Winston. Death of a SalesmanOn the business side, he ran the theatre the same way. Winston wanted anyone who got involved with his theater to feel like a contributor, not a puppet. “And that’s a huge reason, I think, for our success,” Winston said.

    Winston announced his intention to retire last summer while directing Rashoman, Kurosawa’s famous mystery that recounts four different eyewitness accounts of a samurai’s murder. In his review for the Aspen Times, Travers said Winston’s expert blurring of fact and falsehood made for “a riveting theatrical experience.”

    Maddalone praised Winston for cultivating "a wonderful team of artists and teachers, as well as board members and audience, with artistic partner Valerie Haugen right by his side," she said. "And now there's a beautiful facility in downtown Carbondale to show for all of his work.”

    Winston will stay involved with Thunder River as a board member, and he will direct Shakespeare’s The Tempest this spring - the first production after the theatre he started bears his name.

    “I want to be the guide on the side,” Winston told Travers, “not the sage on the stage.”

    Much of the reporting in the story above was compiled from an Aspen Times article by Andrew Travers, and a Roaring Fork Lifestyle article by Olivia Pevec and Nicolette Toussaint. Photo above and right: Lon Winston as Willy Loman in 'Death of a Salesman.' 

    Lon Winston/At a glance

    • Hometown: North Miami Beach, Fla.
    • Home now: Carbondale
    • College: University of Florida; graduate degree from the University of Connecticut
    • Former Theatre Professor at Colorado Women's College and Villanova University
    • Selected acting credits with Thunder River: Henry II in The Lion in Winter; George Burns in Passionate Collaborators: George Burns & Gracie Allen; Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman; Lee in True West; Teach in American Buffalo
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: John Hauser

    by John Moore | Dec 25, 2016
    True West Awards John Hauser


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 25: John Hauser

    If you were to call him Doogie Hauser, you would only be the latest. But given how well former child TV star Neil Patrick Harris’ career has turned out, John Hauser would surely take the compliment.

    We’re not saying Hauser is a kid. But his Biloxi Blues director Kate Gleason is saying that “as soon as John is potty-trained … he's gonna make a great actor.”

    True West Awards John Hauser QuoteSo he’s young. But there was nothing embryonic about his fully formed year on local stages: He starred in Biloxi Blues at Miners Alley Playhouse, and in Hand to God for Curious Theatre. He made a key appearance in Vintage Theatre's Rabbit Hole, and he performed as Romeo before 10,000 high-school students for DCPA Education.

    That’s a U.S. Army private who comes of age at Basic Training in Neil Simon’s 1943 Mississippi. A grieving, God-fearing teen in possession of (or possessed by) a devilish hand puppet. A guilt-wracked teen who plowed his car into a 4-year-old. And only the most famous lover in all of literature. Plus, he joined the cast of Off-Center’s immersive freakout Sweet and Lucky, and later understudied several roles in the DCPA Theatre Company’s Frankenstein.

    John Hauser may not be old. But as an actor, he grew up in 2016.

    “He’s so good, you forget how young he is,” said  Gleason, herself a 2014 True West Award winner. “I mean, he's barely teething, and yet he manages to find humanity in all his roles.”

    When DCPA Education Director Allison Watrous launched a new pilot program called Shakespeare in the Parking Lot in May 2015, she turned to Hauser first. A team from DCPA Education perform an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet on and around a beat-up old truck in school parking lots - sometimes four times a day. Meaning four times a day, students who otherwise might never be exposed to Shakespeare (or live theatre) crush on the Bard, crush on live performance and, invariably for some, crush on the actor who could win Prom King at just about every school he visits.

    “John is stunning as Romeo,” Watrous said. “He connects to the hearts and minds of the students through authenticity, vulnerability, humor, kindness and depth.” (Pictured below and right: John Hauser as Romeo. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Read our recent profile on John Hauser

    Hauser and his castmates, all skilled DCPA Education Teaching Artists, return to each school the next day for classroom workshops and ask students tough, ethically ambiguous questions that revolve around teenagers, their parents and issues of privacy and personal responsibility. The point is to help them better understand the issues at the heart of Romeo and Juliet. Because being a teen hasn't changed as much as you might think.

    True West Awards John Hauser Shakespeare in the Parking Lot"I am so grateful for John's energy and impact,” Watrous said. “He is a true talent.”

    Next semester, the team will tackle A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    Hauser did not just turn a finger up at his squeaky-clean image, but his entire right hand with Hand to God, Robert Askins’ profanely dark comedy about a troubled teen who is forced to join his mother’s church-led puppet group after his father dies. But when his foul-mouthed sock puppet Tyrone takes on a life of its own and begins to encourage all those around him to give in to their carnal desires, the teen starts to question everything he's been taught. 

    “John brings a true lightness to the room,” said Hand to God Director Dee Covington. “He is generous, reflective and tireless in his determination to not only conquer but totally devour the creative task at hand. He knew the mountain was steep and arduous, but I was so impressed by his ability to temper that slightly self-effacing inner critic with humor and fearlessness. His grit and heart are inspiring.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Westword theatre critic Juliet Wittman wrote: “Hauser does brilliantly in the schizophrenic role of Jason, fully inhabiting both the teen’s innocence and Tyrone’s savagery, skillfully manipulating the intransigent puppet.”

    True West Awards John Hauser Rabbit Hole In July, Hauser and his Rabbit Hole cast were honored with the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Outstanding Ensemble Henry Award (with Haley Johnson, Marc Stith, Maggy Stacy and Deborah Persoff). As the accidental grim reaper who devastates a family when their son runs in front of his car, “John Hauser manages to deliver a handful of wallops in his limited scenes,” wrote the Aurora Sentinel’s Quincy Snowdon.

    But perhaps the most impressive evidence of Hauser’s stellar year is simply his dream team of directors: Kate Gleason, Allison Watrous, Dee Covington, Bernie Cardell  (Rabbit Hole), Zach Morris (Sweet and Lucky) and Sam Buntrock (Frankenstein).

    “He is a lovely human being,” Covington said, “and he makes the world a more artful place.”

    And he's not slowing down in 2017. In January, Hauser will be playing Ken in John Logan’s acclaimed Red, the story of the temperamental genius artist Mark Rothko and his apprentice, at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre.

    (Pictured above and right: Haley Johnson and John Hauser in Vintage Theatre's 'Rabbit Hole.' Photo by Denver Mind Media.)

    John Hauser/At a glance

    • Hometown: Cocoa, Fla.
    • Home now: Denver
    • High school: The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs
    • College: Adams State University in Alamosa
    • Selected additional credits: The Few and Ambition Facing West for Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company; Jerusalem for The Edge Theatre Company
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Sharon Kay White

    by John Moore | Dec 24, 2016
    True West Award Sharon Kay White


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 24: Sharon Kay White

    Sharon Kay White is all kinds of funny – literally. Close-to-the-bone funny, rim-shot funny, vaudevillian funny. You name a style, and the dependable musical-theatre veteran knows a different way to make you laugh.

    White showed off at least three kinds of funny in three charmingly diverse performances in 2016. She nearly stole the show out from under infamous thief Frank Abagnale Jr. as the con man’s mother-in-law in the Aurora Fox’s Catch Me If You Can. She was just cheek-pinchable as the jovial cloistered nun Sister Mary Patrick in the Arvada Center’s Sister Act. And she brought the year home like the seasoned pro she is originating the role of a throwback variety-show sidekick in the Arvada Center’s world-premiere holiday musical, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. 

    True West Award. Sharon Kay White. Tim Howard. Photo by Christine Fisk. “You give that woman a song with a bit of sass and humor in it, and she’ll knock it out of the park every time. That’s her,” said actor Amy Board, her castmate in 2007’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical. “She knows how to set up a joke - and she knows how to drive it home.”

    Yes, White was every kind of funny in 2016. But there’s much more to her. White is a classic, old-school hoofer, Board said. But if you give her a chance to break your heart, then you had better grab a broom to sweep up the pieces. She brought Carol Burnett’s mother to gritty life in a memorable 2008 turn in Hollywood Arms, followed in 2011 by a riveting turn as the relentless social activist Emma Goldman in Ragtime.

    (Photo above and right: Sharon Kay White and Tim Howard in the Aurora Fox's 'Catch Me If You Can.' Photo by Christine Fisk.)

    “Sharon’s humor is well-known, but her excellence in dramatic roles is something many audience members don’t see coming,” said Arvada Center Artistic Producer Rod Lansberry. “Her work in Hollywood Arms still stands out as one of her strongest roles - as well as her Emma Goldman in Ragtime. We love her for her humor, but we admire her for her versatility.”

    Read our 'meet-the-cast' feature on Sharon Kay White

    Oddly enough, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts inadvertently changed the direction of White’s life forever in 1996. Not by hiring her to perform here, but rather by keeping her from performing here.

    Pop star Debbie Gibson’s national touring production of Funny Girl was supposed to be Broadway-bound. White, who was a member of that touring cast, had been a gainfully employed New York actor for years. She had starred as no less than Adelaide in a national touring production of Guys & Dolls, but Funny Girl was going to be her Broadway debut. Until late DCPA President Randy Weeks previewed the show in Minneapolis and was so unimpressed, he canceled the show’s upcoming Denver booking. And when Denver dropped out, the tour fizzled out.

    True West Award Sharon Kay White QuoteWhite took stock. She decided to exit the New York rat race and move to Colorado to live a more normal life. Why Colorado? “I saw picture of Colorado in a magazine on an airplane and said, ‘I am going there,’ ” she said.

    White came here intending to become a respectable Realtor – and she still is one. She has also had a reliable second career as a transcriber for all kinds of television shows – a job she can do from her home in Denver. But shortly after she arrived in Colorado, she got the acting bug again, and it has never left her since. She became a favorite of the now shuttered Country Dinner Playhouse, where she brought her Broadway-caliber Adelaide of Guys & Dolls to Arapahoe County. She also had memorable turns as a stripper in Gypsy and as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, among many others.

    “She is a rock star,” said Paul Dwyer, who co-starred and produced many of her shows there. “She can do anything.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    White started 2016 with her surprisingly affecting turn in Catch Me If You Can, which further solidified Tim Howard as perhaps the leading leading man among the local twentysomethings. “But the night belongs to Sharon Kay White as the blusteringly sexy comic tour de force, Carol Strong, the Deep-South mother of Abignale’s fiancé,” wrote Dave Perry of the Aurora Sentinel. “White is famous for making every role seem that it was written for her, and this one is a memorable escapade that encapsulates the best part of the show.”

    In Sister Act, based on the Whoopi Goldberg film about a loose-moraled singer who witnesses a mob crime and is sent into hiding in a convent, White played one of the many naive nuns whose eyes are opened to the excitement of the outside world. “She was just so freaking earnest in her joy, and it wasn’t for a joke,” Board said. “It was honest.”

    At the end of 2016, White had the rare opportunity to create a character from scratch in the Arvada Center’s just-completed new musical I’ll Be Home for Christmas. It is written by Kenn McLaughlin and longtime Arvada Center resident Music Director David Nehls, who has been developing the piece from scratch over the past several years. And from the first iteration of the show, White has been cast to play an actor in the Bright family’s 1950s televised variety show. But now it’s the Vietnam era, and the Brights’ grown-up, all-American son is coming home from war to appear in the family’s annual Christmas special. There’s tension on the set, and White is there to break it.

    Her character’s name is Carol Marie, but think Rose Marie in The Dick Van Dyke Show - with a killer voice. White is given two songs that humanize the loneliness of a single, middle-aged woman of that era at Christmas. But she's playing a character-within-a-character. Carol Marie, the actor on the show, turns out to be a happily married mother.

    To top off White's year, she was nominated in July for a Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award for her work in 2015's Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

    “In my humble opinion, Sharon Kay has some of the most sound, organic comic timing I’ve ever seen,” said Board. “And the amazing thing is, she was never taught comedy. Never once. It’s all her.”

    Sharon Kay White/At a glance

    • Hometown: Gilroy, Calif.
    • Home now: Denver
    • High school: Gilroy High School
    • College: Bachelor's of Science degree in Textile Science and Polymer Chemistry from the UC-Davis (California)
    • Coming up: She will be playing Elsa Maxwell in Cherry Creek Theatre's Red, Hot and Cole from Jan. 19-Feb. 26 in the Mizel Arts and Culture Center's Pluss Theatre
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Matthew Campbell

    by John Moore | Dec 23, 2016
    True West Awards Matthew Campbell

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 23: Matthew Campbell

    August Wilson wrote Two Trains Running. Pshaw, two. As Production Stage Manager for Sweet and Lucky, the DCPA’s first deep dive into off-site adventure theatre, Matthew Campbell kept 20 trains running at once as the massive, elliptical story played out in all corners of a 16,000-square-foot warehouse north of downtown Denver.

    Sweet and Lucky was essentially performed by three sets of actors separately and simultaneously. That meant Campbell had to manage 13 performers, six crew members and 72 audience members spread out in 20 smaller performing spaces. It was Campbell’s job to make sure all that constantly moving action never collided on the tracks.

    Check that. Campbell was the tracks.

    True West Awards Matthew Campbell Quote“When we were just beginning Sweet and Lucky, we knew that finding the right Stage Manager would be critical for the show’s success, because we have never attempted anything like this before,” said Charlie Miller, the DCPA’s Associate Artistic Director for Strategy and Innovation. In fact, this was the biggest physical undertaking in the DCPA’s nearly 40-year history.

    The original story, developed in partnership with New York's Third Rail Projects, is a mysterious exploration of memory that begins in a strange antique store where nothing is for sale. The audience is split into smaller groups and led into several different environments – a graveyard, a drive-in, a swimming hole and more – as they witness the relationship between one couple as it plays over several generations. But different audience members saw different actors tell that story, and in different orders. Thanks to the man behind the curtain, the audience never knew the other performances were even happening.

    True West Awards Matthew Campbell. Sweet and Lucky.“Not only did Matthew have to know where everyone was at any given moment, he had to know instantly what to do in any situation where something could go wrong,” Miller said. “If Matthew did not keep everything moving, the whole show might fall apart.”

    It never did. Not that there weren’t some close calls: Late-arriving patrons threw the entire machinery out of whack. Patrons gone rogue. Inevitable technical difficulties including overheating projectors and having to build emergency light cues in the makeshift performance space of a warehouse. Because the run was almost completely sold out and eventually extended several months, new cast members had to be rotated in. The job of any Production Stage Manager is to take cues from any given situation and react. What distinguishes Campbell is that he reacts quickly, kindly and decisively.

    “He is calm under pressure,” Miller said. “He was never fazed by the many unexpected challenges we faced throughout the process. He also made for such an incredibly positive and welcoming environment for all of the artists involved. We heard from so many cast members about how integral he was to the success of the show.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    One of those cast members was Meridith C. Grundei, who said Campbell was “beyond amazing” throughout the run. “He has a great temperament and a great sense of humor balanced with a professionalism in tense situations that put everyone at ease,” she said.

    Campbell was always the first to arrive and last to leave, and he rolled with every unexpected punch that came his way.  After the show’s first two-show Saturday, for example, Campbell waited with a member of the bar staff who was stuck at the warehouse past midnight waiting for an Uber car ride that never arrived. Eventually, Campbell gave her a ride himself. That meant Campbell didn’t get home to his wife and children until after 2 a.m. And yet, he was back at the warehouse at 9:15 the next morning to unlock the building and start another day. On schedule, as always.

    True West Awards Matthew Campbell Believe it or not, Sweet and Lucky has been made into a graphic novel. (Or at least the cover.) And if you look closely at the illustration to your right created by crew member Lauren LaCasse, who's the nerve center of Sweet and Lucky? It's the otherwise unseen Campbell.

    At one time, Campbell was a performer. While still a lad of Littleton High School, he was in the the ensemble of a production of Story Theatre that christened the Dorie Theatre at what is now the Su Teatro Performing Arts Center.

    But over time, his passion took him backstage. One of his early career highlights was serving as Production Coordinator at the 2007 Colorado Festival of World Theatre, an international event that drew Stephen Sondheim, Patti Lupone, Marin Mazzie, Donna McKechnie and other greats to Colorado Springs.

    Campbell has now been a Production Stage Manager with the DCPA Theatre Company for seven seasons. Recent credits include As You Like It, Lord of the Flies and Other Desert Cities.

    But DCPA Associate Production Manager Melissa Cashion says hiring Campbell to be the Stage Manager for Sweet & Lucky “was about the best hire I have ever made in my career.”

    And like many of those who serve in the always invisible and often thankless job of Stage Manager, Cashion said Campbell is an unspoken hero of the DCPA. 

    Photo gallery: Sweet and Lucky

    Sweet & Lucky

    Photos from Off-Center's production of 'Sweet and Lucky' in a RiNo warehouse north of downtown. To see more, click the 'forward' arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams VisCom.


    Matthew Campbell/At a glance

    • High school: Littleton
    • College: Graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with an emphasis in Technical Theatre, Directing and Acting
    • College: Masters degree in Theatre Arts with an emphasis in Stage Management from the University of Iowa
    • Stage Manager or Assistant Stage Manager for the DCPA Theatre Company since 2010
    • Other local experience: Colorado Shakespeare Festival (2013-15); Arvada Center (2007-13); Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (2008-10); Country Diner Playhouse (2003-07)


    Video bonus: An introduction to Sweet and Lucky:



    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Gabriella Cavallero

    by John Moore | Dec 22, 2016
    A True West Awards Gabriella Cavallero 10 800

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero

    Gabriella Cavallero has been a steady presence on area stages since graduating from the Denver Center’s National Theatre Conservatory in 1992. She co-founded the Modern Muse Theatre Company and has continued to regularly perform with the DCPA Theatre Company, Arvada Center, Aurora Fox, Stories on Stage and others, all while raising a family and working a steady career narrating more than 900 books for the Library of Congress through Denver-based Talking Book Publishers and Books to Life.

    Though she didn’t go anywhere, 2016 still felt like a high-profile return for the popular actor, who was the beating heart of Curious Theatre’s first two chapters in The Elliot Plays. That’s Quiara Alegría Hudes’ trilogy following a Puerto Rican soldier raised in Philadelphia who is sent to Iraq.

    But for all the good work she does as a performer, Cavallero makes an even bigger impact in the community touring Cuentame un Cuentino, her original bilingual musical for elementary-school students.

    With fellow actors Elizabeth Rose, Jose Guerrero and musician Tony Moralez, Cavallero brings her creation to some of the area’s most fiscally depleted schools. One typical visit this year was to Schenk Community School, where 80 percent of the 264 second- through fifth-graders speak English as a second language, and 98 percent depend on free or reduced-price lunches.

    The musical, presented in partnership with Stories on Stage, is made up of both published and original stories that address the experience of those who come to the United States as outsiders. Cavallero, the daughter of Argentinian parents, was born in the Bahamas, raised in Puerto Rico and graduated from Vassar College in New York.

    True West Awards Gabriella CavalleroCavallero estimates her show, now in its fifth year, has been seen by 8,500 students, most of whom speak English as a second language - many of them children of immigrants. “These are kids who otherwise would probably never go to the theatre at all,” she said.

    Some of the stories are silly and others are metaphorical, such as “The Woman Who Outshone the Sun (pictured above and right). It’s about a mysterious woman who arrives in a village in the mountains near a flowing river. All of the wildlife and animals are drawn to her, but the villagers fear her supernatural powers, so they drive her away. But the river so loves this woman that it follows her, leaving barren land behind. "So there is a drought, and the people come to realize it was what they did to the outsider that caused them to be thirsty and starving,” Cavallero said. 

    Some stories are deeply personal anecdotes, such as Guerrero’s first-hand account of being made to feel stupid by other children in his neighborhood because he spoke with a thick accent. "He tells the kids in our audiences, ‘Don’t ever forget that your voice is important, and that you have to speak up. It doesn’t matter what language it is - you are powerful,' " said Cavallero, who notices that oftentimes, it is the teachers who are brought to tears by the end of the show.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “We hope to empower these children to hear their own stories in a way that they can understand,” she said.

    As an actor, Cavallero has performed in a wide range of productions for the DCPA Theatre Company over the years, including Just Like Us, Living Out, Garbo in My Eyes, A Christmas Carol and Cyrano. But this year, she took center stage at Curious Theatre.

    Cavallero played a healer named Ginny in the opening play of the trilogy, Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, which focused on three generations of one family serving in war. Cavallero exuded warmth and strength sharing how, as a nurse in Vietnam,  she would try to comfort dying soldiers in their final moments. Westword’s Juliet Wittman called her performance “a lovely, warm portrayal of a woman whose words are like the healing herbs with which she treats her wounded son.”

    Cavallero returned to Curious later in 2016 in Water by the Spoonful as Ginny’s sister, Odessa, a woman who runs a chat room for recovering addicts after a tragedy disconnects her from her own family. “This chat line is really her lifeline to stay clean herself, and to be able to help other people who were in her place,” she said in an interview with Westword. “Little by little, you realize that we have to take care of each other in this world.”

    True West Awards After OrlandoAlthough Cavallero does not appear in the upcoming third chapter of Curious’ trilogy, The Happiest Song Plays Last, she will host an evening of music and conversation with the Harlem Quartet on Jan. 8. The program will spotlight the music in Hudes’ plays. Cavallero, whose parents are both pianists, will lead the conversation.

    Cavallero also keeps busy as a voice and dialect coach for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Curious Theatre and the Arvada Center. And she is a coach for a company called ARTiculate: Real&Clear, a team of performers who empower people by helping them to find their most authentic voice in public presentations and elsewhere. She is also an artistic associate for Boulder’s Local Theater Company, and this year also performed in Benchmark Theatre's After Orlando, the local theatre response to the worst gun massacre in U.S. history (pictured above right.)

    Video bonus: 'Meet the cast' video from 2013:



    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Jeffrey Neuman

    by John Moore | Dec 21, 2016
    True West Award. Jeffrey Neuman

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 21: Playwright Jeffrey Neuman

    Today's True West Award presented by Leslie C. Lewis, Haley Johnson,
    Susan Lyles and Emma Messenger

    When the annual True West Awards invited the public to submit names for consideration in November, Jeffrey Neuman started popping up like popcorn. His plays have been performed on four continents, but he is beloved by the local theatre community because he’s the rare playwright who's also a tireless community builder.

    Neuman entered 2016 on a high. His new play Exit Strategies, winner of the Edge Theatre’s new-play competition, had just completed its well-received debut production. But now what? For a playwright, working toward the next performance opportunity can be just as grueling and time-consuming as the writing itself.

    But Neuman is constantly working to broaden opportunities for all Colorado writers. He is, actor Emma Messenger says, “an instigator of other people’s talents.”

    True West Awards Jeffrey Neuman Quote“Jeffrey has done more than anyone to activate, elevate and bring cohesion to the Denver theatre community, all while creating some of our region's best new work himself,” said local playwright Leslie C. Lewis.

    Neuman, Lewis and Alice Miller are co-founders of the Rough Draught Playwrights, which for four years has hosted quarterly gatherings that give local playwrights the opportunity to hear excerpts of their developing plays read aloud by professional actors in a supportive, public setting. (With beer!)

    This year, Neuman and his friends got even more proactive by co-founding Dirtyfish Theater, a collective of seven local playwrights who will no longer sit around waiting for theatre companies to pick their scripts for production. Instead, they work together to stage their own works themselves. Their debut production in March, Wedding Cake Vodka, was an evening of their short plays. Why name the new company Dirtyfish? “Because in today’s theatre, playwrights are too often nothing more than unwanted leftovers, the dirty fish of the theatre,” says co-founding member William Missouri Downs. “Will this collective last? We don’t know. Will it succeed? We don’t care. Will every play be brilliant? No. But for one brief moment, the bottom-dwellers of the theatre will stage the plays they want to stage without getting permission from the usual chaperones of the theatre world.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The word “co-founder” shows up a lot on Neuman’s resume. In 2016, he joined the co-founding efforts of Rachel Bouchard and Haley Johnson to launch the new Benchmark Theatre as Director of Literary Management. On behalf of Benchmark, Neuman and Kate Folkins immediately spearheaded a local response to the massacre at an Orlando nightclub that left 103 dead or wounded.

    True West Awards Jeffrey NeumanThe ongoing national initiative is called After Orlando. In most cities, one theatre company has hosted an evening of short plays written in response to the terrorist attack. But Benchmark instead rallied a dozen local theatre companies to join them, making the Denver event a true celebration of collaboration and unity in the face of unspeakable evil. And it never would have happened, said Johnson, without the tireless efforts of Neuman and Folkins. “They truly embody artists and collaborators,” she said. “We're so lucky to have them involved in Benchmark.”

    True West Award. Jeffrey Neuman. John IrvingProfessionally, Neuman rolled along in 2016. Exit Strategies was nominated for a Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award for Outstanding New Play. His On The Horns of a Dilemma was a finalist for FUSION Theater Company's national new-play festival in Albuquerque, and Dangling Participles, his short play about grammar and sex, was presented at a festival in San Diego.

    Neuman also facilitates literary events for the Denver Post's esteemed Pen & Podium series and in September led a 90-minute discussion with the great John Irving (The World According to Garp) at the University of Denver’s sold-out Newman (no relation!) Center.

    (Photos above and right: Jeffrey Neuman reads from one of his developing works at a recent Rough Draught Playwrights event with actor Andrew Uhlenhopp. Photo by John Moore. Also: With John Irving at the 'Pen & Podium' series at DU.)

    Jeffrey Neuman/At a glance

    • Originally from Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
    • Received his masters degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Colorado-Boulder
    • In 2000, he was commissioned by the Denver Center’s Wilbur J. Gould Voice Research Center to develop and direct Paul Revere: The Voice Heard ‘Round the World, an outreach program designed to teach children about vocal health. The piece was performed in elementary schools, reaching more than 40,000 students.
    • Nominated for the 2012 Heideman Award
    • Recently published Modern Goddesses: Two Short Plays of Mythic Proportions
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

     
    True West Awards Jeffrey Neuman. Matthew Lopez

    Above: Jeffrey Neuman takes advice from DCPA Playwright in Residence Matthew Lopez ('The Legend of Georgia McBride') during a workshop at the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit. Below: Alice Miller, Leslie C. Lewis and Jeffrey Neuman, founders of Rough Draught Playwrights, hosting the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit's local Playwrights' Slam. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.) 

    True West Awards Jeffrey Neuman. Rough Draught Playwrights


    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS

    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Diana Ben-Kiki

    by John Moore | Dec 20, 2016
    True West Awards. Diana Ben-Kiki. Emily Van Fleet. Matthew Gale Photography

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 20: 'Wig Goddess' Diana Ben-Kiki

    True West Award presenter: Arvada Center Artistic Director of Plays Lynne Collins

    Her official title is “Wig Master.” But Diana Ben-Kiki, a 23-year veteran of the DCPA Theatre Company, prefers the more gender-correct (and apropos) title of “Wig Goddess.” She’s built 1,500 heads of hair since being promoted to her disputable job title in 1998.

    “Everyone knows she’s the best,” said Arvada Center Artistic Director of Plays Lynne Collins.

    Ben-Kiki’s goddess title (and wrists) were put to the test in a busy 2016. But her virtuosic coiffures for Sweeney Todd, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol and the Arvada Center’s Tartuffe had heads turning all year. Not only for their singular style, but for how they so evidently helped actors to communicate their characters.

    True West Award. Diana Ben-Kiki QuoteBen-Kiki has produced 135 heads of hair in 2016 alone, led by 60 for A Christmas Carol. Some are recycled from previous productions, and many are original works of art. Some are both. Among the 45 wigs she created for Sweeney Todd was Johanna’s gorgeous golden, flowing blonde cloud of hair. Also the barber Pirelli’s daringly blue streaks that perfectly accented the color of his outrageous costume. And then there was the mad Beggarwoman’s imposingly wild mane. Could any keen and longtime observer of Theatre Company productions have possibly recognized Kathleen McCall’s fiery postiche as the wig Ben-Kiki first fashioned for the Marquis in the Theatre Company’s 2001 production of Cyrano? Or that the color of the wig fairly matched that of the caged songbird Johanna, who turns out to be her daughter? Such are the subtleties of her often outrageously ornate craft.

    What Collins appreciates most about Ben-Kiki, she said, is that she works really hard, and she is really well-liked.

    “When she did Tartuffe for me, which was a very big wig design show, she was also in the midst of Frankenstein for the Denver Center,” said Collins, who put Ben-Kiki’s name up for today’s True West Award. That’s 20 wigs for Frankenstein and six for Tartuffe.

    “One of the things that blew my mind is how she kept the ball rolling on both shows at the same time,” Collins said. “She was spread so thin, and yet you would never know it from her demeanor or the quality of her work.”

    Collins’ favorite wig for Tartuffe was the one imagined by costume designer Clare Henkel for the sweetly dopey character of Mariane, earnestly played by Emily Van Fleet.

    “Emily’s wig was a character in the play unto itself,” said Collins. What she loved most about it was the exaggerated hair bow on the back of her head. The bow is a concept Ben-Kiki first played with for an earlier staging of A Christmas Carol. “I just thought it would be perfect for Mariane,” Ben-Kiki said. “It was kind of fun and goofy, and because the production was such a highly stylized comedy, I felt like I could go a little over the top.”

    True West Awards. Diana Ben-KikiAn assortment of photos from Diana Ben-Kiki's wiggy year. Top: Sullivan Jones as the mad scientist in 'Frankenstein.' Middle, from left: 'A Christmas Carol' wigs; Samantha Bruce as Johanna in 'Sweeney Todd'; Sam Gregory as Scrooge. Bottom: More wigs from 'A Christmas Carol.' Photos by Adams VisCom and John Moore.


    Her personal favorite wigs of the year, however, were those she made for the two actors who alternated in the roles of the Scientist and Creature in Frankenstein, Mark Junek and Sullivan Jones. Director Sam Buntrock’s newly animated Creature was hairless, but Ben-Kiki’s hairpieces for the mad-with-power Doctor Frankenstein greatly helped the actors (and audiences) distinguish their dual portrayals.

    Ben-Kiki's success and longevity in her chosen craft is all the more impressive given that she is entirely self-taught. She learned the basics from a book, and she sold her first mustache a month into her solo apprenticeship.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Ben-Kiki hails from West Hartford, Conn., and came to Colorado in 1992 to attend massage school. She joined the DCPA in 1994 as part of the backstage crew for the world premiere of Black Elk Speaks and assisted on wigs for the next three seasons before officially assuming her status as the DCPA’s resident hair deity. Over the years she has also worked with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival as well as the Arvada Center and Theatre Aspen – she designed wigs for both of those latter companies’ milestone productions of Les Misérables.

    She says audiences probably would never guess that most stage wigs (or hers, at least) are made of real, clean, sanitized and de-loused human hair. Yes, there are companies that provide her with human hair. She begrudgingly incorporated some synthetic hair into her A Christmas Carol wigs only because the show often has as many as 10 performances per week, and synthetic wigs do not require as much maintenance.

    While the volume of Ben-Kiki’s work is impressive in its own right, she has but one simple barometer for measuring the success of her own work. 

    “How do you know a wig is good?” she says. “It’s simple: If you don’t know it’s a wig, then I’ve done my job.”

    How to make a wig/At a glance

    • The Costume Designer presents a sketch that includes a vision for the character’s hair. The wig designer’s job is to bring it to life.
    • A molding of the actor’s head is taken with Saran Wrap and tape.
    • The wig designer settles on a base color.
    • The hair is painstakingly hand-sewn into ventilating lace, often in intervals of eight non-stop hours a day until completed.Ben-Kiki credits her assistants for their help in getting the job done. "Team work, you know," she says.
    Video bonus from 2008: Diana Ben-Kiki on the art of making wigs:




    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

     

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Yolanda Ortega

    by John Moore | Dec 19, 2016
    True West Awards Yolanda Ortego. Su Teatro

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 19: Actor Yolanda Ortega

    Yolanda Ortega has created unique and interesting roles on Su Teatro’s stages for 42 years. But Executive Artistic Director Anthony J. Garcia considers her work in Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima this year to be no less than “the performance of a generation.”

    Su Teatro is Colorado's "Locally Grown, Nationally Known" Chicano theater company based in its own performing-arts complex at 721 Santa Fe Drive. Ortega revisited two epic and signature roles in 2016, both spiritual guides of a kind: Tia in the massive original musical El Sol Que Tu Eres (The Sun That You Are), and the titular Ultima in Su Teatro’s polarizing stage adaptation of Anaya's novel, the most widely read in the Chicano literary canon since its publication in 1972.

    And Ortega played them just a few months after having had a double knee reconstruction in September of 2015.

    True West Awards Yolanda Ortego. The Sun That You Are. Photo by Steven AbeytaThe Sun That You Are is Garcia’s contemporary, bilingual reimagining of the Greek Orpheus-Eurydice myth infused with Aztec traditions such as the Day of the Dead. The result is a gritty adventure complete with drug lords, sassy gringas, mysticism and ruminations on the origin of love. With Ortega by his side, Orfeo must calm trembling mountains and ride enormous turtles on an epic journey toward the story’s inevitably tragic confrontation. It was introduced in 2005 as the most ambitious undertaking in Su Teatro’s history.

    Bless Me, Ultima is Anaya’s seminal coming-of-age story in 1940s rural New Mexico that has been both banned and celebrated for daring to show a protagonist who not only struggles for his Chicano identity, but with his deeply ingrained Catholicism.

    (Pictured above and right: Yolanda Ortega and Miguel Martimen in 'The Sun That You Are.' Photo by Steven Abeyta.)

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Ortega has been an ensemble actor with Su Teatro from its earliest days, one of the theatres born of the national protest movement of the early 1970s that used storytelling as a tool for radical social justice.

    Yolanda Ortega QuoteGarcia admits the movement was initially male-centric, from playwrights to actors. But Ortega hung in there, making the most of whatever roles she could get, eventually developing into a leading lady who has since tackled some of the great roles in the canon such as Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Federico Lorca’s Bernarda Alba. “It is that weight and experience and importance that Yolanda brought to her portrayal of Ultima,” he said.

    "The first and most obvious impression is Ultima’s presence. Yolanda enters with great carriage. Ultima is special and blessed by a spiritual power that commands respect and attention. That might be a difficult level for a lesser actor to reach.”

    But what particularly impressed Garcia was her interactions with a 9-year-old castmate named Christopher Pettis. “They were conversational and intimate,” Garcia said, “sometimes so quiet and intense that we feel we are intruders.

    "My fellow directors from around the country who have seen Yolanda perform are always taken with her ‘economy of action.’ Because of her tremendous presence, Yolanda can make so much happen with less. She is always at the center of the play without calling any attention to herself.”

    Anthony J. Garcia: On moving from marginalized to mainstream

    Ortega studied Public Administration at the University of Colorado Denver, which led to a 32-year career with Metropolitan State University of Denver. That means she both studied and later worked on the very same Auraria campus that displaced the bulk of Denver’s Mexican-American community nearly 50 years ago.

    Su Teatro was born, in large measure, from the broken promises of that angry time, and the company has worked over the decades to reunify the Westside community with its roots there, the spiritual center of which remains St. Cajetan’s Church on the Auraria campus. Ortega was a central figure in the difficult ongoing process of healing, and while she retired in 2004 as Metro State's Vice President of Student Services, she maintains an emeritus position with the university. She is now the owner of Encantada Catering, Inc.

    Yolanda Ortega/At a glance

    • High School: Dover (Delaware)
    • Colleges: Arkansas State, Wesley College (Deleware), Arkansas State and the University of Colorado Denver
    • Radio: Co-host of Cancion Mejicana on Sunday mornings on 89.3 FM KUVO
    • Career: Vice President Emeritus of Student Services at Metropolitan State University of Denver
    • Ongoing public service:  Special events programmer for Clínica Tepeyac (health services for the underserved). Serves on the Board of Directors for Escuela Tlatelolco (Denver Public Schools' alternative education for young Latinos). She is a  Governor’s appointee to the Auraria Higher Education Center Board of Directors and she also serves on the Denver Mayor’s Commisson on Cultural Affairs and Denver Latino Commission.
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

     

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Miriam Suzanne

    by John Moore | Dec 18, 2016
    True West Award Buntport Miriam Suzanne

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne

    The Colorado theatre community has come a long way in terms of flipping audience expectations regarding race and gender. The DCPA Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol features a bi-racial Cratchit family. The Arvada Center had both a husband and wife share the role of a dominating matriarch in its recent farce Tartuffe. The Edge Theatre’s Casa Valentina told the true story of 1960s heterosexual men who gathered in the mountains to explore their femaleness. The year ended with a raucous Denver visit from Hedwig (and her Angry Inch) preaching the rock gospel that while we are all different – we're also exactly the same.

    True West Award Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival has been gender-swapping for years – Karen Slack, for example, played a particularly feral Cassius in Julius Caesar. The company more fully embraced the concept last summer with a topsy-turvy staging of The Comedy of Errors that had the two leading couples trading genders. Women played the warriors Ulysses, Agamemnon and Aeneas in Troilus and Cressida. And there will be more gender surprises to come next summer, Producing Artistic Director Timothy Orr promises.

    (Pictured at right: Carolyn Holding as Antiphola, usually Antipholus; with Christopher Joel Onken as Luciano, usually Luciana, in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's 'The Comedy of Errors.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.)

    Gender-swapping and color-irrelevant casting have become in some ways a measure of any theatre company’s present commitment to diversity and inclusion. But gender-swapping alone does not even begin to address the far more complex and far less-explored issue of gender fluidity in the American theatre. There have been virtually no stories about people whose gender identities either vary over time, or come to include a combination of identities.

    Buntport Theater, ever on the vanguard of the humane exploration of what is possible in the theatre, broke all kinds of new ground in 2016 by giving wholly original voice to a closeted trans woman in its latest original production, 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products. It’s an adaptation of Miriam Suzanne’s Riding SideSaddle, an unconventional novel written on 250 randomly shuffled notecards.

    Suzanne was assigned male at birth - but part of her transitioning process has been coming to understand that she always was a woman. So she does not talk in terms of a "before" and an "after" in her journey. Instead, she speaks of completion – of confirming who she always was. “I did not want to tell the story of transition, or what it is to be trans, or how medical transition works,” Suzanne said of her memoir. “There is no transition in this story - only magic.”

    And Buntport could not have chosen a better time to bring her story to the stage than in 2016, when the fight for LGBTQ rights escalated into what Time Magazine declared “The National Battle of the Bathroom.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “Trans people are in the middle of a strange cultural moment in America — suddenly the center of attention for better and worse, yet rarely able to tell their own stories,” Suzanne said. “When a new movie or show comes out with trans themes, we are often more terrified than excited. Being in the spotlight is not the same as being seen.”

    Either by coincidence or prescience, Buntport’s story also takes place in a bathroom. Friends come and go about their daily hygienic routines while staring into an unseen mirror exploring sexuality, identity and the role that appearance plays in society. All while Suzanne’s three-person band, Teacup Gorilla, provides live music — from the bathtub.

    True West Awards Miriam Suzanne Quote The ensemble story features a narrator, a neatnik and a lesbian couple, but at the metaphorical heart of it all is Sam (Diana Dresser) and Herman (Erik Edborg). They represent the Greek myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, in which the two sexes  - and indeed these two characters – gradually merge into one. Now that’s gender fluidity.

    “The play is about the type of love that often gets put on the back-burner in our society because we are constantly told that we are only looking for this one true love,” said 10 Myths cast member Erin Rollman. “The point we’re trying to make with the blending of characters is that you can’t necessarily get all your intimacies from one person.”

    That does not mean the point of the play is about sexuality. Suzanne wanted to tell a story that assumed queerness from start to finish, while giving the characters free reign over their identities. “I wanted queerness to go deeper than gender and orientation — into the way we think about bodies and relationships — without ever becoming the focus of debate or the defining feature of a character's life,” she said.

    Juliet Wittman of Westword wrote: “10 Myths makes us think about the dizzying variety of possible physical variations to human genitalia and their spiritual and psychological consequences. The usual categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ are just too simplistic.”

    Despite the groundbreaking nature of Buntport’s production, Rollman is the first to admit that telling one trans person’s story is just a start. The next includes getting more trans actors on-stage and fully participating in the storytelling.

    But the umbrella is getting larger. At the end of 2015, Local Theatre Company cast a trans actor to play a boy in Faith. Next month, local journalist and former Broadway performer Eden Lane will return to the stage in a play for the American Repertory Theatre called Trans Scripts, drawn from dozens of interviews with trans women. It runs Jan. 19 through Feb. 5 on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Mass.

    Miriam Suzanne/At a glance

    • College: Goshen (Ind.) College
    • The LIDA Project: Former Technical Director
    • Teacup Gorilla: Multi-Instrumentalist in the band
    • Author: Riding SideSaddle
    • Web site: miriamsuzanne.com


    True West Awards Buntport. 10 MythsBrian Colonna, Hannah Duggan and Erik Edborg in Buntport's '10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products.'

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

     

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Colorado Shakes' costume dream team

    by John Moore | Dec 17, 2016
    True West Awards. Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Costumers

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival's

    2016 costume designers

    In the summer of 2016, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival told stories that were bloody, bold and resolute. Not to mention steamy,  sexy … and at times even funny. But the actors didn’t tell those stories naked. (It only seemed like it at times.)

    True West Awards EquivocationCostuming has long been a design strength of the nation’s second-oldest Shakespeare Festival, which will turn 60 in 2017. But costuming was a particularly effective storytelling tool last summer in a Boulder lineup that included lesser-known tales Troilus and Cressida, Cymbeline and a new play about an attempt to coerce Shakespeare into writing propaganda for the king - alongside a fresh, gender-swapping take on The Comedy of Errors.

    Producing Artistic Director Timothy Orr calls the trio of Meghan Anderson DoyleHugh Hanson and Clare Henkel and  “a dream team of costume designers.”

    “They are all so creative that they can be hugely helpful in developing how we tell a story sitting right alongside the director,” Orr said.

    (Above and right: Hunter Ringsmith and Michael Morgan in Equivocation. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen).

    While very different in style and aesthetic, this threesome shares a great commonality in skill and high standards. Together but separately, they helped their directors and actors transport audiences with their finery from the erotic carnage of the Trojan War in Troilus and Cressida to the untamed mythic forest of Cymbeline to jazz-age Paris in The Comedy of Errors - in which women played the two romantic leading men, and men played the two romantic leading women. Quincy Snowden of the Aurora Sentinel wrote: “Meghan Anderson Doyle’s outlandish outfits deserve special note for their eye-popping grandeur.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Probably the most eye-catching design in an impeccably cultivated season was the look Hanson created for Troilus and Cressida, one of Shakespeare’s more jumbled stories that director Carolyn Howarth set in a dystopian, war-torn world on the verge of apocalypse. Never let it be said that these actors sweltered under the weight of their bulky, ornate costumes under the hot Boulder sun, as so often has been the case over the past six decades.

    True West Awards Timothy Orr QuoteThis "futuristic ancient" Greece of Howarth’s imagination was a place where the players have been at war not for seven years “but for maybe 700,000 years,” Orr said. “They just keep fighting — and having sex.” And let’s just say Hanson made sure they looked ready for action on or off the battlefield.

    “The characters’ outfits would be as much at home in the 12th century as the 25th,” wrote Gary Zeidner of Boulder Weekly. “There’s a definite Mad Max aesthetic going on — including a punk-rock Cassandra — and it works.”

    Orr said the art of costuming is an especially important art form to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival because of the expanse of its glorious, 1,000-seat Mary Rippon Amphitheatre on the University of Colorado campus. “Costumes are such a vital tool in helping us to tell our stories,” Orr said, “and having designers of this caliber working here makes all the difference.”

    Colorado Shakes 2016 costume designers/At a glance

    • Meghan Anderson Doyle: 2016: A Comedy of Errors. 2017: The Taming of the Shrew. Doyle also has been a Costume Design Associate for the DCPA Theatre Company since 2006, with 12 show credits including the recent Fade, Tribes and The Glass Menagerie. She graduated from Denver's North High School, the University of Denver and received her M.F.A in Costume Design from the University of Florida.
    • Hugh Hanson: 2016: Equivocation, and Troilus and Cressida. 2017: He has designed 11 shows for Colorado Shakes since 2013 and is an Associate Professor of Costume Production at Carnegie Mellon University.
    • Clare Henkel: 2016: Cymbeline. 2017: Julius Caesar. She has designed shows for Colorado Shakes since 2007, and also has designed shows locally for the DCPA Theatre Company, Arvada Center. Phamaly Theatre Company, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Colorado Springs Theatreworks. Graduated from the University of Evansville.


    Video bonus: Meghan Anderson Doyle on DCPA's The Glass Menagerie



    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Daniel Langhoff

    by John Moore | Dec 15, 2016
    Daniel Langhoff

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff

    When a man is diagnosed with cancer, he tends to take stock. Make a bucket list. Daniel Langhoff made a bucket list of dream roles - both of them dreamers: Tateh, the immigrant single father in the epic musical Ragtime, and the chivalrous knight Don Quixote in the epic musical Man of La Mancha.

    Both characters are kind, inventive men who see the world not as it is, but how it should (or could) be. “They are both Daniel,” said director Kelly Van Oosbree, the director of both productions for Performance Now Theatre Company in Lakewood.

    Daniel Langhoff picked the year he got his life back to have the year of his life as an actor.

    A Daniel Langhoff QuoteA year ago, when Langhoff was just beginning a six-month round of chemotherapy, he got word that Performance Now would soon be staging Ragtime. He called Van Oosbree to express his interest in playing Tateh, the poor inventor who rises to become one of the most prominent silent-film directors of the era.

    “I remember thinking, ‘How in the hell is this going to happen?’ ” Van Oosbree said. This was December, just a few months after Langhoff married, became a father and was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. Van Oosbree knew he had just begun chemotherapy.

    “I couldn’t wrap my brain around it because if were in the same situation, I wonder how I would even cope,” she said. “But Daniel did not let cancer stop him from doing anything.”

    Quite the contrary. Langhoff had surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes in October – then immediately joined the cast of the DCPA Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol, fitting rounds of chemo into 10-show weeks at the Denver Center. Then, on to Ragtime.

    Langhoff, 41, had strong sentimental and professional reasons for wanting to play Tateh.

    He had played the homegrown terrorist known as “Younger Brother” in a remarkable production of Ragtime for the Arvada Center in 2011, and he now wanted to complete the circle by playing Tateh for Performance Now. Like Tateh, Langhoff was now a first-time father, having welcomed daughter Clara into the world with wife Rebecca Joseph earlier in the year.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “As a father and a dreamer, Tateh was a role that speaks to him,” Van Oosbree said. As surely will the  imprisoned author Miguel de Cervantes, the chivalrous and blindly hopeful dreamer who sees beauty in brokenness and uses the power of storytelling to save his own life. Langhoff, in his own way, has used storytelling, insistent optimism, the love of family – and amazing advancements in medicine – to save his own.

    Arvada center 40. Daniel Langhoff. Provided by the Arvada Center, Matthew Gale Photography 2016.In July, he was declared cancer-free. He celebrated by performing as a featured vocalist in the Arvada Center's 40th anniversary concert outdoors alongside fellow big-time local musical-theater stars Megan Van De Hey, Lauren Shealy and Stephen Day, accompanied by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. (Picture above by Matthew Gale Photography). He then played the Rev. John Hale in Arthur Miller’s classic The Crucible for Firehouse Theater Company. The minister is the dupe who comes to Salem intent on seeing witchcraft at play. Currently he's appearing in the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's regional premiere of the madcap Every Christmas Story Ever Told though Dec. 24. After Man of La Mancha (Jan. 6-22), he will join the ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar for the Arvada Center (March 24-April 16), then perform the music of Johnny Cash in Ring of Fire for Vintage Theatre (June 23-Aug. 6).

    Daniel Langhoff and Anna Eastland in Ragtime. Photo by Rachel D. Graham PhotographyVan Oosbree said it was a coup for her to get Langhoff to even audition for Ragtime. Not because Performance Now doesn’t do great work, but because it’s not a place where an actor makes a living. “And Daniel was making a living as an actor,” Van Oosbree said. “You come to Performance Now because you love it, and Daniel loved it. It really, really meant something for him to play Tateh – and it meant something to all of us that he wanted to do it here.

    “Daniel doesn’t care about the money. He cares about doing thought-provoking, meaningful theater.”

    But there’s no question, Van Oosbree said, that Langhoff’s battle with cancer enhanced his portrayal of Tateh. It made his performance somehow deeper and richer; sweeter and more soulful, she said.

    “I think anyone who goes through something like that realizes how important and brief our time is,” she said. “And that makes you more grateful for the time that you have.”

    Langhoff is not winning a True West Award for overcoming cancer. He’s winning a True West Award for overcoming cancer as a new husband and father, all while conquering one big role after another, and maintaining an uncommon kindness and humility throughout.

    (Photo above and right: Daniel Langhoff and Anna Eastland in 'Ragtime.' Photo by Rachel D. Graham Photography.)

    Daniel Langhoff/At a glance

    • High School: Cherry Creek
    • College: Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
    • DCPA connection: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre; A Christmas Carol for the DCPA Theatre Company
    Daniel Langhoff and Lisa Kraai in The Crucible. Photo by Christine Fisk.
    Daniel Langhoff and Lisa Kraai in Firehouse's 'The Crucible.' Photo by Christine Fisk.


    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

    Video: Daniel Langhoff presents Community Impact Award to Denver Actors Fund:

  • 2016 True West Award: Charles R. MacLeod

    by John Moore | Dec 14, 2016
    True West Charles MacLeod

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 14:
    Lighting Designer Charles R. MacLeod

                             Presented by Director Geoffrey Kent

    Charles R. MacLeod has been the DCPA Theatre Company’s resident lighting designer for 34 seasons, but 2016 offered new challenges and new spaces. He created the lighting effects for the epic political drama All the Way in the Stage Theatre. He achieved a dreamy new look for The Glass Menagerie in the Ricketson Theatre. And like The Almighty Himself, he created light for the cabaret comedy An Act of God at the Garner-Galleria Theatre. All big, but manageable challenges for the easygoing Aurora native.

    Charles MacLeod Quote But then there was Sweet & Lucky, Off-Center’s deep-dive into off-site adventure theatre. Off-Center is home to the DCPA’s more adventurous homegrown programming. Sweet & Lucky was the largest physical undertaking in the Denver Center’s nearly 40-year history – a peripatetic tale that took place in a 16,000-square-foot converted warehouse on Brighton Boulevard.

    And just how big is 16,000 square feet? Big enough to hold five Space Theatres.

    “This was a massive undertaking unlike anything we have ever attempted here before at the DCPA,” MacLeod said.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The story, created in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Third Rail Projects, was a treatise on memory set in a speakeasy antique shop. Audiences were greeted with a cocktail, then led to a funeral in the rain. As they travelled from room to room, from a swimming hole to a drive-in theatre and beyond, they were really venturing into a labyrinth of unreliable fragments of time.

    True West Charles MacLeod All the WayIt was MacLeod’s job to help create an ethereal and yet nostalgic and somehow familiar world with his lighting, working in close concert with an accomplished creative team that included Lisa Orzolek’s magnificent scenic design, Meghan Anderson Doyle’s costumes, Sean Hagerty’s sound and Charlie I. Miller’s video. The show was written, choreographed and directed by Colorado native Zach Morris and performed by an almost entirely local cast.

    MacLeod then infused The Glass Menagerie with a modern visual twist: The stage floor was made up of 81 milky tiles on top of individually lit boxes. The effect made the claustrophobic Wingfield living room feel suspended in air, as if floating like a cloud. But MacLeod’s crowning achievement had to be his lighting of the titular menagerie itself. In most other stagings of the play, Laura’s precious glass figurines are often small and sequestered to a stationary table. “Our menagerie was pretty unconventional,” MacLeod said. “It was made up of nearly 30 individually suspended glass pieces that Laura could walk in and out of as if surrounded by a floating cloud of memory.”

     True West Charles MacLeod MacLeod also took pains to ensure that not a single set piece cast a shadow of any kind, heightening the sense that the story was playing out in an unreliable reality.

    “Charles is just so (bleeping) good. I love him for his whole body of work,” said Geoffrey Kent, who put MacLeod’s name up for True West Award consideration. And it’s a big body of work, encompassing more than 310 productions since MacLeod was named the DCPA’s resident lighting designer in 1987. Kent is the director of his most recent (and ongoing) effort, An Act of God - a clever comedy in which God returns to Earth to set the record straight about what he really meant when He laid down His often misinterpreted Ten Commandments.

    Art and Artist: A profile of Charles MacLeod

    True West Charles MacLeod Kent said he especially appreciates MacLeod’s acumen and humor during “tech rehearsals,” which are important but tedious exercises in fine-tuning every last technical detail of a production.

    “Charles makes tech better for everyone,” Kent said. “He has the unparalleled combination of skillful eye, dedication to minutiae and a razor-sharp wit that keeps the room positive and active. He's the first to arrive and the last to leave, and he fixes problems before I've even seen them.” 

    Photos, from top: All the Way (Photo by Adams VisCom); Charles R. MacLeod makes for an illuminating presenter at the 2015 Bobby G Awards (Photo by John Moore); The Glass Menagerie (Photo by Adams VisCom).


    Video bonus: An inside look at the making of The Glass Menagerie



    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • 2016 True West Award: Patty Yaconis

    by John Moore | Dec 14, 2016
    True West Awards. Patty Yaconis. Edge Theatre

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 15:
    Patty Yaconis

                             Presented by Actor Emma Messenger

    For a glamorous woman, Patty Yaconis certainly takes on a lot of unglamorous work as Managing Director of The Edge Theatre, from hauling laundry to cleaning toilets.

    “But sometimes it's the quiet woman behind the man who deserves a bit of appreciation,” award-winning actor Emma Messenger says of the other half of the Yaconis power couple not named Rick. “Patty is there night after night acting as a beautiful hostess for the company, and she’s there long after the lights go down making everything continue to run smoothly for the actors.”

    True West Awards. Patty Yaconis Quote. Rick and Patty Yaconis took over the E-Project Theatre in Lakewood and renamed it The Edge Theatre in 2010 with the stated objective of lifting it from the overcrowded pack of small, similar neighborhood troupes in the Denver area. And while The Edge retains some enduring and endearing characteristics of a neighborhood community theatre, it has taken large and unmistakable steps toward its stated goal – namely in the regular hiring of top directors and actors and continuing to present challenging and often provocative fare.

    Rick Yaconis was recognized for his part in The Edge’s continued upward trajectory with a True West Award in 2014. This year, the spotlight shifts to his wife, who was responsible for 2016 being designated “The Year of Women” at The Edge. It was a commitment that not only gainfully employed many of Colorado’s best female actors, but it kept the audience’s focus on important women’s issues while re-familiarizing them with some killer historical figures such as Medea and Marie Antoinette.

    As The Edge’s in-house dramaturg, Patty Yaconis searches out quality and important roles for women, said Sherrill, whose hiring as Associate Artistic Director in May was one of The Edge’s biggest coups of 2016. “Patty’s mantra is, ‘Let’s get these strong, talented women into The Edge Theatre and let them do their thing.’ ”

    This year, a lot of really strong, talented women did their thing at The Edge – most of them portraying a wide variety of female protagonists trying, in their own and very different ways, to start their lives anew. Women like Karen Slack, Missy Moore, Emma Messenger and Shannan Steele, for starters. Here’s a sample of the breadth and variety of the work they took on in 2016:

    • Missy Moore won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Award for her performance as a bottled-up and broken-down ex-convict trying to start her life over in Marsha Norman’s Getting Out.
    • True West Awards. Patty Yaconis. Photo by Brian Landis Folkins. Powerhouse and powder-keg actor Karen Slack took on no less than the scorned, child-murdering mother in the bloody Greek tragedy Medea.
    • Patty Yaconis herself took on the monster challenge of playing a wealthy Texas widow who turns to her surprisingly complex Cuban writer-turned-gardener in Robert Schenkkan’s steamy romance By the Waters of Babylon.
    • Shannan Steele played a checkered young mother whose Upper West Side life goes scratch just as quickly as an errant 8-ball drops into a side pocket when she crosses paths with a dangerous man from her past in the angry rock musical Murder Ballad - a first for The Edge.
    • Moore was back in high heels and runway kimonos in Marie Antoinette, David Adjmi’s contemporary take on the spoiled and fated young queen of France who pays dearly for her extravagance and artifice.
    • Emma Messenger, who has won four True West Awards in the past three years alone, wrapped the audience around her little finger without even leaving the couch in the one-woman play I’ll Eat You Last, a comic monologue about a self-invented woman in the boys club of Hollywood agents.
    • This year The Edge’s focus on women even extended to men. Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina told the remarkable, true story of 1960s heterosexual men who regularly escaped to an inconspicuous bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains to temporarily escape being … well, men.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Part of what makes Patty Yaconis so beloved by the ever-growing inner circle at The Edge Theatre, Sherrill said, is that she lives her life with such total and apparent joy - evidenced most recently by her decision to train to become a certified pole-fitness instructor at Tease Studio in Denver. That’s quintessential Patty Yaconis.

    “I took it on as a whim as a birthday present to myself,” she said in a recent interview with the Women's Radio Network. “I promised myself that I would always try to do something new every birthday. Pole fitness was addicting from the very first time I tried it not only because it was a great workout, but because I just felt this immediate high. It left me in such a good mood.”

    But Yaconis is rarely - if ever - not in a good mood, said Messenger, which is only one more reason she is so adored. Another is for the way she treats others.

    “Patty is a truly kind and caring person to all of the artists here at The Edge,” Sherrill said.

    Read about Rick Yaconis' 2014 True West Award

    True West Awards. Patty Yaconis Quote. Rachel D. Graham Photography

    (Photos, above and right: Patty and Rick Yaconis at the 2016 Henry Awards. Photo by Brian Landis Folkins. Above: M. Scott McLean and Patty Yaconis in The Edge Theatre's 'Casa Valentina.' Photo by Rachel D. Graham Photography.)


    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride


    Video bonus: John Moore's look back at the opening of The Edge Theatre in 2010:

  • 2016 True West Award: Jonathan Scott-McKean

    by John Moore | Dec 12, 2016

    True West Awards Jonathan Scott McKean



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 12:
    Jonathan Scott-McKean

              Today's True West Award Presenter: Mark Collins

    Sometimes you design a machine that spews out violent projectile fake vomit – and it wins you an award.

    You might say Jonathan Scott-McKean blew chunks in 2016 – and that's a very good thing.

    True West Award Jonathan Scott McKean The endearingly named Vomitron 5000 was his invention for Miners Alley Playhouse's 2016 production of God of Carnage. It’s about two uptight couples who meet to discuss a playground fight between their children. In a key scene, the fault line between the couples splits open – literally – when an anxious Annette (Emily Paton Davies) vomits all over her hosts’ precious rare books.

    Scott-McKean’s mandate: The act of vomitage should look as real as possible - and the discharge would have to cover the coffee table in front of the wretching actor - so we’re talking about a 4-foot trajectory.

    Davies – and Scott-McKean – delivered a spectacular bit of barfing.

    True West Awards Little Shop. Jonathan Scott-McKean

    Scott-McKean is the Managing Director at Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden, but there aren’t many Managing Directors whose duties include building, lighting, sound design, running each show, making programs – and bartending. This year, Scott-McKean also conceived his own original vision of the plant monster for Little Shop of Horrors. And he designed a set that somehow accommodated the very large comedy You Can’t Take it With You on the playhouse’s very small stage. In July, he won Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Award for his Pump Boys and Dinettes sound design.

    (Pictured above and right: It's suppertime for Carter Edward Smith as Seymour in Miners Alley Playhouse's 'Little Shop of Horrors.' The plant was designed and built by Jonathan Scott-McKean. Photo by Cody Schuyler.)

    Scott-McKean was put up for True West Awards consideration by actor Mark Collins, who won one himself last year. Collins, also a former theatre critic for the Boulder Daily Camera and a member of the God of Carnage cast, was impressed at how Scott-McKean solved the space problem for You Can’t Take It With You by designing what he called “a magical centerpiece dinner table,” around which the entire story played out. The dinner table is perhaps the ultimate symbol of the American family, “and that got at the essence of the play,” Collins said.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    But the coup de grace of Scott-McKean’s year had to be the Vomitron 5000. Or, as Collins and Company call it, "The V5K."

    “Jonathan worked with the actors until The V5K was suitable, and the moment it came to life, it always propelled the show forward,” Collins said - we’re assuming with pun intended. “He's a problem-solver, master-builder and he understands story.”

    Scott-McKean, a native of Conifer, was a longtime designer at Miners Alley Playhouse before joining the transition team with Len Matheo, Lisa DeCaro, Jim Billings, and the late Brenda Billings when founders Rick Bernstein and Paige Larson stepped down in 2013. His wife, Elizabeth Scott-McKean, is Associate Managing Director.

    “We call Jonathan the evil genius,” said Artistic Director Len Matheo. “In every play I have directed since taking over here, Jonathan has been my key collaborator. He is an integral part of our successes.”

    Video: A graphic demonstration of the Vomitron 5000:

    Here's a graphic (fair warning!) video demonstration of the Vomitron 5000 designed and built by True West Award winner Jonathan Scott-McKean for Miners Alley Playhouse's 2016 production of 'God of Carnage.' The actors are Emily Paton Davies, Lisa DeCaro, Mark Collins and Augustus Truhn.

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

  • 2016 True West Award: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson

    by John Moore | Dec 11, 2016
    True West Wilsons  Leslie O'Carroll. Steve Wilson. Tartuffe




    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 11:
    Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson

                   Our two Madames in Arvada Center's Tartuffe

    Leslie O’Carroll already was having one of the best years of her life as an actor when it happened: The actor’s dream - and nightmare - all at once. She was wanted in two overlapping shows this fall: The Arvada Center’s Tartuffe and, for the 18th time, the DCPA Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol. Rehearsals for one would start before the other was scheduled to end. Usually in such bountiful circumstances, the actor is forced to choose one job over the other.

    But Tartuffe director Lynne Collins came up with a titillating solution: What if O’Carroll’s husband, Steve Wilson, took over her role as the battle-axe Madame Pernelle for the final two weeks of Tartuffe when it came time for O’Carroll to return to her wildly popular annual romp as the Denver Center’s jovial Mrs. Fezziwig? 

    True West Awards. Steve Wilson. Leslie O'Carroll. Tartuffe.Moliere is known for grand comic twists, and they don’t come any grander than this: A husband subbing for his own wife. Tartuffe is subtitled The Imposter, after all.

    Madame Pernelle is the imposing matriarch of the household that comes fully under the spell of a sanctimonious and piously fraudulent houseguest named Tartuffe. She eats up every word the smarmy hypocrite says until he is inevitably exposed as a con – and she as a dowager dupe.

    But the result was casting – and comic – genius. Especially when Wilson took to the stage and uttered Madame’s immortal words: “Appearances can deceive, my son. Dear me, we cannot always judge by what we see."

    (Photos above right, from top: Leslie O'Carroll in 2016 productions of 'Mrs. Mannerly' with Graham Ward (photo by P. Switzer); 'Waiting for Obama' with Luke Sorge (photo by John Moore); and 'A Christmas Carol' (photo by Adams VisCom).

    Read our full interview with Steve Wilson

    Wilson and O’Carroll met as masters-degree students at the Denver Center’s former National Theatre Conservatory. She has performed steadily with the DCPA Theatre Company for 25 years, along with other local companies. Wilson was the longtime award-winning artistic director for the Phamaly Theatre Company, which creates performance opportunities for actors with disabilities. He is now the big-shot Executive Artistic Director of the Mizel Arts and Cultural Center.

    Wilson was fully on board to play Madame Pernelle in drag – that is, until he came home from his costume fitting. “He told me, “What have you gotten me into?” O’Carroll said with a laugh.

    Wilson approached what might have been a mere gimmick with utter seriousness. He memorized his lines four months in advance. "My goal was for people to not even realize that she was being played by a guy," Wilson said.

    For castmate Sam Gregory, who played the hilarious fool Orgon, the transition from one Wilson to the other was seamless.

    “I thought they were both really funny,” Gregory said. “I thought Leslie was lighter in her comic take on the character, and Steve was more strident in his - both of which worked in different and surprising ways.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “The most remarkable thing was how they both learned from each other," Gregory said. "Steve would watch Leslie do her thing for a while, and then Leslie watched Steve do his thing - and they would critique each other in the most brutally honest terms. And consequently, they would both return even funnier performances.”

    Also remarkable, he added, was how long it took Wilson to get into makeup. “That may have been a record,” Gregory joked. “Of course, he was transforming himself into my mother - which is quite an event.”

    True West Award. Steve Wilson. Leslie O'Carroll. 2016 was very good to O’Carroll. She starred as an imperious teacher of children’s etiquette in the Arvada Center’s nostalgic comedy Mrs. Mannerly, then joined an all-Colorado cast in New York for Waiting for Obama, which explored gun issue through the lens of a Colorado Springs family. Claire Martin of The Denver Post called O’Carroll “an immensely gifted comic actress who played Mrs. Mannerly to perfection,” while New York critic Dylan Arredondo said O’Carroll “turned out a show-stealing performance” in Waiting for Obama. Then came Tartuffe and A Christmas Carol, which runs on the DCPA's Stage Theatre through Dec. 24.

    Wilson said playing "dual-ing" Madames did not get weird back at home when he started to wear the heels in the family. They never actually even dressed up as Madame Pernelle at the same time because they essentially shared the same costume. And by all reports, no one watching was traumatized by Wilson's turn as the overbearing grand-matriarch. Except for perhaps the couple’s teenage daughter, Wilson said with a laugh.

    Wilson did take away one important lesson from the experience. “I have respect for all women,” he said. “Especially their wardrobe difficulties.”

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

    Video bonus: Leslie O'Carroll performs A Christmas Carol' ... in 5 minutes
     
    From 2013: Veteran Denver Center Theatre Company actor Leslie O'Carroll, who has appeared in 18 productions of "A Christmas Carol," performs Charles Dickens' classic as a solo piece ... in just five minutes.

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    ABOUT THE EDITOR
    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

    DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.