2015 True West Awards: Andre Rodriguez

by John Moore | Dec 27, 2015
True West Award Andre Rodriguez

Cast of Westminster High School's 'Just Like Us.' Photos by John Moore.

2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

​Today’s recipient:
Andre Rodriguez
Theatre Director, Westminster High School


Today’s award presenter:
DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore


One of the most dramatic moments on any Colorado stage this year took place not during a performance but rather at an awards ceremony. The Buell Theatre erupted when Andre Rodriguez of Westminster High School was named Outstanding Director at the Bobby G Awards, which honor achievements in Colorado high-school theatre.  Here’s a taste:

“Although our school district is composed of a large percentage of first-generation Americans and undocumented citizens, where poverty, violence and struggle seem to be common themes, our students are not defined by the struggles that many face on a daily basis, but by their hope, resilience and heart." (Click here to read more.)

Rodriguez has been at Westminster High School for three years. He has been nominated for Outstanding Director by the Bobby G Awards all three of them, and he won this year for Rent, the bohemian Broadway rock musical that explores homelessness and AIDS. From the start, Rodriguez has emphasized the importance of performance art that casts light on his students' real-world difficulties and triumphs - with an occasional High School Musical thrown in for fun.

Andre Rodriguez QuoteRodriguez makes relevant community service a part of every one of his productions. All of his Rent company members took part in service projects that addressed homelessness, poverty and LGBT issues.

“We traveled to Urban Peak, a homeless center for teens; we created a ‘Week Without Hate’ that created a dialogue about acceptance; we used art to create a conversation about LGBT issues,” Rodriguez said. “Rent wasn't merely a musical. Instead, it was an opportunity to use theatre for social change. It was a springboard that helped us serve our community in new and exciting ways.”

Last month, Westminster High School became the first school in the country to stage the DCPA Theatre Company's 2013 world-premiere drama Just Like Us. Journalist Helen Thorpe’s award-winning source novel, adapted for the stage by Karen Zacarías for the Denver Center, tells the true story of four Denver high-school seniors, all straight-A students, two with legal status and two without, and how their opportunities become divided by their immigration status.

The play was controversial, it was close to the bone,and it drew capacity audiences –  including two of the four real women whose stories informed Thorpe’s book.

"It was the perfect story for our kids because it is their story," said Rodriguez, a graduate of Pomona High School in Arvada and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

"Through our community's support, we were able to raise enough money to fund three students' DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) applications, which will give them a pathway to citizenship in 2016," Rodriguez said.

DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson paid a visit to the cast at their school and congratulated them for taking on Just Like Us.

“Theatre can build empathy and tolerance,” Thompson told them. “If you are doing a play and you feel their hearts beating and you can feel their heads working, I think it changes the world."

The cast of Westminster High School's 'Rent' performs at the 2015 Bobby G Awards. Photo by John Moore. The cast of Westminster High School's 'Rent' performs at the 2015 Bobby G Awards. Photo by John Moore.


Rodriguez inherited a drama program at a school where the arts education is considered a critical element in secondary education. He arrived at Westminster just two years after the school was razed and built back up from scratch to include a state-of-the-art, 850-seat performing-arts facility. Rodriguez succeeded the legendary Joanna Ramsey, who built the program over more than 30 years. The new theatre was recently dedicated in her name.

But enrollment is steadily declining in that part of Adams County, and nearby Ranum High School was closed and folded into the new, $90 million Westminster High, where a majority of  students face significant economic and social barriers every day. The new school chool was controversial because it adopted more real-world problem-solving into its curriculum than more traditional schools. Homework emphasizes collaborative projects to more closely model the outside working world.

Though students now flock to perform in Rodriguez's musicals, Just Like Us was the first non-musical play almost all of that cast had ever performed in. So he was not at all concerned whether it came off as great theatre. There was a greater goal: For them to have a life-changing experience.

“We did this play to communicate the idea to all students that despite all of the obstacles within our society, we can pursue our idea of the American Dream. We can go to school and further our educations," he said. "Even though our government is saying, 'You don't exist within our system,' this play is telling them, ‘There are options out there, and there is a path for you.' ”

The woman whose character is named Yadira said watching a performance of Just Like Us at Westminster High was an emotional roller-coaster; even traumatic at times. The woman whose character is named Marisela said she got the chills "because it's not just our story,” she said. “It's the stories of millions and millions of people and their families." (Click here to read more.)

Rodriguez met with some initial resistance from the Adams County School District about staging Just Like Us because the red-hot issue of immigration provokes such a strong response both ways. That he chose to go forward anyway, says Westminster High School teacher and parent Fran Groff-Gonzales, “is why he’s a rock star.”

Andre Rodriguez Bobby G Awards 600

Andre Rodriguez wins the 2015 Bobby G Award for Outstanding Director. Photo by John Moore.


ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, 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 around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore's daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org


THE 2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS
Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
Day 4: Laurence Curry
Day 5: Bernie Cardell
Day 6: Susan Lyles
Day 7: John Jurcheck​
Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
Day 9: DCPA Education's 'Shakespeare in the Parking Lot'
Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
Day 11: Shauna Johnson
Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
Day 14: Keith Ewer
Day 15: Allison Watrous
Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
Day 18: Emma Messenger
Day 19: Shannon McKinney
Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
Day 22: Scott Beyette
Day 23: Augustus Truhn
Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
Day 29: Mark Collins
Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company's Cabaret
Bonus: Donald R. Seawell

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  1. Nancy Magnusson | Dec 29, 2015
    Congratulations, Andre!

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    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.