• 2017 True West Award: Kenny Moten

    by John Moore | Dec 07, 2017
    2017 True West Award Kenny Moten. Photo by John Moore

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 7: Kenny Moten

    Motones vs. Jerseys
    Miscast 2017
    Aurora Fox Cabaret Series
    Owner, Narrative Creative Consulting

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    If you think being a performer is hard, try being a performer and the owner of your own entertainment and consulting company. Kenny Moten makes the transition from actor to producer to businessman and back again in same manner that often describes his rich singing voice: Smooth as silk.

    Moten is among the very few performers who also knows how to run a business.

    Kenny Moten“It’s rare because owning an entertainment business is brutal in a way that is very different from the way performing is brutal,” said Moten’s frequent creative partner — and employee — Jalyn Courtenay Webb. “When you’re the boss, you are not only responsible for yourself, but for the people you hire and the team you put together. But Kenny has just the right temperament for it. He does everything with integrity. He’s a solid human being.”  

    Moten is the creator and owner of Narrative Creative Consulting, which presents entertainment events and uses various art forms to help clients ranging from National Jewish Hospital to Snooze Eatery to the Denver Center shape their narratives, customer service, employee training and brand strategies.  

    Moten is also the co-creator, director, writer and a featured performer of a clever new musical form called Motones vs. Jerseys. In July, it was up for three Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards, including Outstanding Musical, for its nearly sold-out run at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins.

    In September, Moten lent his support (and that smooth-as-silk singing voice) to the Denver Actors Fund by appearing in Miscast 2017 as one of the three Fionas singing I Know It’s Today from Shrek the Musical. In October, the Aurora Fox turned to Moten to launch its risky new monthly cabaret series with 12 O’clock Tales: An Evening of Songs and Stories. Both shows sold out, which Webb said is further indication of Moten’s popularity as a performer — and his business acumen. Both come from more than 20 years as a professional performer, Webb says.

    Kenny Moten Miscast 2017“Kenny’s name is synonymous with excellence, and people know that in our community and beyond,” she said. “He was not going to do his show in an empty house — and he certainly did not.”

    Moten caps a remarkable 2017 with a return next week to Motones vs. Jerseys as part of a unique new creative partnership with BDT Stage in Boulder. "MvJ," as the kids call it, is a feel-good, nostalgic evening featuring the music of Motown and The Four Seasons — along with their many ancestors and descendants — in a good-natured competition. After two teams of four performers each rock out a playlist spanning Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Bruno Mars and many more, the audience chooses a winning team using their cell phones to vote.

    (Pictured right: Kenny Moten with his 'Miscast 2017' co-stars, Margie Lamb, left, and Hope Grandon. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter,)

    It’s a concept Moten first developed with Chris Starkey, now of Imprint Group DMC. After several refinements, Moten unveiled a slick new version of the show last year at the Midtown Arts Center, where it received a standing ovation “every single night,” said Webb, who is both the show’s Music Director and nightly emcee. “And let me tell you, I’ve never seen that happen at any dinner theatre before in my life.”

    Motones vs. Jerseys opens on Dec. 10 and will play on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights through Jan. 23, playing in rep the rest of the week with BDT Stage’s holiday staging of Annie.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Moten, who is originally from Hagerstown, Md., graduated from Highlands Ranch High School and the University of Colorado Denver. He transitioned from Barnstormer to leading man with a remarkable 2005 performance in Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the late Country Dinner Playhouse opposite now Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee. Westword’s Juliet Wittman called Moten not only “a wonderful singer with a voice full of poignancy and power,” but also “a charming and seductive performer who brings impressive precision and a smooth, lean elegance to the stage.”

    Other major credits include Swing at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Altar Boyz at the Clocktower Cabaret, but it wasn’t long before Moten was off to New York. He re-settled in Fort Collins a few years ago and has since been on a roll that has not only furthered his personal and professional interests, but has gainfully employed dozens of local actors and crew members on his many public and corporate projects.

    “The thing I love about Kenny is that he’s so fun, but he’s also completely no-nonsense when it comes to the work,” said Webb. “He expects the highest quality and the highest level of performance possible from his performers, and we respect that. He knows what he wants — and he goes out and gets it."

    John 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.

    Motones vs. Jerseys: At a glance

    • Dec. 10-Jan. 23
    • BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
    • Performances Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings. Dinner seating begins at 6:15, with the show to follow at 7:45
    • Featuring Brian Cronan, Will Hawkins, Brian Jackson and Jacob Villareal as The Jerseys, and Christian Mark Gibbs, Anthony McGlaun, Kenny Moten and Alejandro Roldan as The Motones.
    • Call 303-449-6000 or bdtstage.com


    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'

    The True West Awards, now in their 17th 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 2017 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

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

    Video bonus: Motones vs. Jerseys at the 2017 Henry Awards

  • Directors talk tough with local actors: Get to class!

    by John Moore | Jan 19, 2016
    Continuing Classes Forum

    Photos from the recent communitywide forum on the need for continuing education among local theatre performers. To see more photos, hit the 'forward' button. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Local theatre directors and producers had a provocative message for Colorado’s teeming talent pool at a specially called forum last week: “Get to class.”

    Representatives from Colorado theatre companies large and small gathered at Cap City on Jan. 12 to light a fire under the creative community.

    “We’re good,” said longtime BDT Stage Artistic Director Michael J. Duran. “But good is not good enough.”

    Producers sense a complacency settling in over the acting community because, ironically enough, the local theatre ecology is so healthy. There are more than 50 theatre companies in the metro area, and more than 100 statewide, which means there are plenty of shows - and plenty of roles - to go around.

    But if you want the jobs that actually pay more than gas money, the actors were told in the complete absence of sugar-coating: They need to be continually honing their craft.

    “I think the problem is our community doesn’t think they have to work that hard because they are working all the time,” said choreographer Piper Arpan. “If I am working all the time, then there is a sense then that I must be good enough.’ ” 

    Doctors and attorneys are required to participate in continuing education to keep their licenses, but nothing obligates an actor to continue taking dance, voice or acting classes. "Why is that?" Duran said. "Athletes don’t stop practicing when they turn pro."

    But as long as actors continue to be cast in shows, why should they bother with the time, expense and inconvenience of classes?

    Read more: Audition advice from the experts

    Duran had a rather pointed response: Just because actors are working does not mean they are they are getting better by merely working. Worse, Duran said, many don’t even seem to want to get better. And that is being reflected in the quality of productions theatres are putting on local stages.

    “Every one of us (producers) makes concessions and lowers our expectations for our shows,” Duran said. “We dumb it down because we don’t have the dancers to make our shows what they could be. Listen, just because you are cast in a dance show does not make you a good dancer: It makes you a warm body.”

    Tim McCracken QuoteWell, if that doesn’t make a warm body hot … to trot … to class … what will? That is the question.

    “How do we find the competitive edge within ourselves?” Duran said. “How do we create the desire to improve just for the sake of getting better at what we do?”

    Arvada Center Artistic Director Rod Lansberry told the gathering of about 40 that every casting director goes into every audition hoping that any given actor will be amazing. After all, you would then be the solution to the director’s problem. But wishing doesn’t make it so.

    “We want you to have those skills that we need,” Lansberry said. “But you have to bring them to us. We can’t give them to you.”

    This was an uncommonly blunt forum presented by Duran in partnership with the Colorado Theatre Guild. Others who spoke either in person or by proxy included Charles Packard of the Aurora Fox; Chris Starkey from AXS Group; Gloria Shanstrom and Pat Payne of the Colorado Theatre Guild; Jalyn Courtenay Webb from the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins; Ali King of the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown; directors Nick Sugar (Town Hall Arts Center’s Violet”) and Spotlight's Bernie Cardell; Arvada Center choreographer Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck; BDT Stage's Matthew D. Peters, Jessica Hindsley and Scott Beyette; and other interested individuals.

    And the tough love didn’t get any less tough as the evening progressed. For example, Lansberry told attendees that the buzzword today is “triple threat.” As in, “If you want to work in this town, you have to be able to do all three well,” Lansberry said of acting, singing and dancing. “They don’t have shows coming out that are not for triple threats.”

    Starkey took that one step further. “Now you actually have to be a quadruple threat,” he said, “because more and more, shows are calling on performers who also can play their own musical instruments.”

    Once the ABC message got through – “Always Be Classing” – the conversation turned to practical matters, such as: Are there a variety of classes out there available to be taken (there are); how is a potential student to know where they are (read on); and who’s to say the investment will eventually pay off? (No one honestly can.)

    Tim McCracken, the new Head of Acting for DCPA Education, took the opportunity to introduce those in attendance to the breadth of year-round classes the Denver Center makes available to more than 68,000 every year, covering all disciplines, experience levels and age groups.

    “I think in the past there has been this notion that the DCPA is somehow separate from the rest of the theatre community, and that could not be further from the truth,” McCracken said, citing a whole host of the community’s most prominent performers who also work as Teaching Artists for the DCPA. As for any perceived cost barrier, McCracken spoke of scholarship opportunities that can bring the cost of classes down by as much as 75 percent.

    “We want more inclusion with the entire Denver theatre community,” McCracken said. “That’s our goal.”

    Michael J DuranArpan ran down a range of metro area dance companies that offer lessons for all abilities, and Hindsley and Peters spoke of continuing classes held at BDT Stage as well. By the end of the evening, a Facebook page (The Denver Area Actors Continuing Education Forum) had been created that is dedicated to informing potential students about class opportunities. There was also preliminary talk of a more organized repository, perhaps one to be taken on by the Colorado Theatre Guild’s web site.

    “So I would suggest this is not question of opportunity,” Arpan said in conclusion. “It is a question of motivation.”

    This is not a topic of conversation you can start within the local theatre community without opening up a Pandora's Box of ecology-related questions, such as: Why can’t more theatres afford to pay a living wage? Why do the biggest theatres feel they must cast from outside the metro talent pool? How can a mid-size market like Denver make it more attractive for our most talented performers not to leave for New York or Los Angeles? Each is worthy of its own forum.

    But as the discussion pertains to classes, Duran reiterated his staunch belief that the quality of theatre on our local stages would be much higher if every singer, dancer and actor took it upon themselves to continually work on their craft.

    “The thing I think we need to figure out,” Duran said, “is how to make people hungry to be better.”

    WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS TOPIC?
    Please enter your comments at the bottom of this story. 

POPULAR POSTS
 
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.