• 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

  • Avenue Theater's new era begins with 'ComedySportz of Denver'

    by John Moore | Oct 21, 2017

    'ComedySportz of Denver' opened last night. Photo courtsey The Avenue Theater.
    'ComedySportz of Denver' opened last night. Photo courtesy The Avenue Theater.

    Jane and Dave Shirley promise to bring laughs and an educational component to venerable boutique theater. 

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The ever-resilient Avenue Theater has a new lease — and a new lease on life — even as the neighborhood surrounding it on 17th Street continues to burgeon into one of Denver’s hottest commercial and residential districts.

    The 32-year-old boutique theatre that moved into its current home off Logan Street in 2003 has re-emerged this week as a home for comedy and comedy theatre, said Jane Shirley, who became president of Avenue Theatre Group in 2012 with her husband and business partner, Dave Shirley. In something of a Dickensian miracle, the family that owns the building is holding the rent stable even though the going rate in the neighborhood has skyrocketed. That means the mighty little theatre that has had more near-death experiences than Harry Houdini lives to fight and frolic for another day.  

    ComedySportz Jane Shirley.  “Dave and I have been involved with the Avenue Theater for a long time now, and we have always felt like the brand here has to be comedy,” Jane Shirley said. “That's what it once was, and what it wants to be now. So we want to continue with that.”

    The Avenue’s new era officially launched last night with the opening of ComedySportz of Denver, a popular improv-comedy format that pits two teams of comedians against one another like in a sporting event. “It’s a fun, fast-paced comedy show that's great for the whole family and great for groups of all types,” said Dave Shirley.

    Each night features six improv experts competing for laughs and points, with Jane Shirley serving as the referee. It’s her job to keep things going at a fast clip by essentially stopping improv gone wrong, right in its tracks. “The referee gets to say, ‘OK, we're done with that,’ and move on,” she said. “It’s up to me to keep the energy going forward and to create an entertaining show for the audience.”    

    Anywhere from seven to 12 games will be played during each match, drawn from a pool of more than 100 improv games. Every show is different, with different players, different games and different audiences supplying suggestions. The fans judge the scenes and games, and ultimately they decide the winners and losers.

    ComedySportz was started in 1984 by a group of Milwaukee comedians including Dick Chudnow, Bob Orvis, Brian Green and others. The Shirleys were part of the group that introduced ComedySportz to Denver at the Wynkoop Brewery’s legendary Impulse Theatre in the early 1990s. The Shirleys went on to open the Rattlebrain Theatre – now known as the Clocktower Cabaret — in the D&F Tower.

    “This format has been polished and perfected by other ComedySportz theatres around the country, so all we have to do is plug in some of Denver’s best improvisers and we’ll have an incredible night of comedy,” said comic Jessica Austgen, past president of the Denver Improv Festival, a DCPA Teaching Artist and writer of the recent Galleria Theatre hit comedy DragOn. “I think it’s a perfect fit for The Avenue.”  

    The Denver roster will expand and rotate depending on actor availability. The roster includes Kerstin Caldwell, Michael Collins, Heather Curran, Chris Gallegos, Adrian Holguin, Leanne Jewell, Jeff Kosloski, Allison Learned, Brian McManus, Royce Roeswood, Dave Shirley, Skip Stewart, Sara Vandas, Meredith Winfield, Jon Wilkerson, and Cult Following veterans Austgen, Nanna Thompson (pictured below and right), Sara Vandas and Chris Woolf.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    As a pioneering female improv comedian who cracked into ComedySportz at its inception in Denver, Shirley was shocked when she auditioned actors to join her in ComedySportz of Denver.

    ComedySportz“When I was at Impulse, I was the only woman most of the time,” she said. “But when I showed up for our auditions, half the place was women. Things have changed so much. The other thing that amazes me is that the comedy scene isn’t as cutthroat or competitive as it used to be. It’s clearly become a community. So what we have the opportunity to do now is show how all these diverse and talented people who have such different backgrounds and experiences can come together and create something unique.”

    The Shirleys hope ComedySportz catches on and becomes a permanent but flexible offering at The Avenue. For example, the Shirleys have now been staging their twisted holiday sketch comedy Santa’s Big Red Sack for the past nine years now. When they bring it back to The Avenue from Dec. 1-24, ComedySportz will move to a temporary late-night slot, then return to early evenings in January.

    Moving forward, the other huge programming emphasis for Jane Shirley, a former principal at Aurora’s William Smith High School — better known as “Last Chance High School” — will be to introduce a robust educational component that will provide area students who have little or no previous exposure to arts education with both the encouragement and the tools to simply create. Shirley’s day job is as President of a company called Catapult Leadership, which exists to fix problems in education and transform schools into dynamic learning communities.

    “I want kids to come here who have never had an opportunity in the arts before,” she said. “They've never had piano lessons. They've never had anyone take them to the theatre. It doesn't matter how good they might be — they will never get into a dance program because no one has ever taught them how to audition. So the idea right now is to use The Avenue very intentionally as way of connecting with these schools and to craft a core program that becomes part of their DNA. Because right now we are graduating kids who are trained to take tests, to replicate somebody else's work and to comply. There is no risk-taking. There is no living with an unfinished product. You go into schools today and you see all these kids who are being told to sit down and get on a computer and practice some (bleep) stuff. Which means there are a lot of people out there now who can't create anything, who can't think for themselves and who can't have a conversation about anything.”

    Shirley is already forming programming partnerships with nearby Rise Up Community School and Denver Public Schools’ DC-21 High School. There will also be a high-school league component of ComedySportz, which will allow improv teams from schools across the city to compete with one another.

    “The questions we are asking are, ‘How do we engage our youth? How do we elevate their voices?’ ” Shirley said. “Because they are the ones who are going to be in charge someday.”

    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.

    ComedySportz: Ticket information

    • Presented by The Avenue Theater, 417 E. 17th Ave.
    • Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 25; 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Dec. 1-24; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 29-30; 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Dec. 31
    • Prices: $15 - $20
    • Tickets: Call 303-321-5925 or go to http://www.avenuetheater.com
    Upcoming: Santa's Big Red Sack, Dec. 1-24
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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.

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