• Statera Conference in Denver: Theatre has a problem. Women are the solution.

    by John Moore | Oct 15, 2016
    2016 Statera National ConferenceTo see more images from the opening day of the 2016 Statera Conference at the Denver Center, press the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    The American theatre has a big, systemic problem. And those attending the 2016 Statera Conference for gender equity in the American theatre have a simple, systemic solution:

    More women. On stage. Off stage. Writing. Directing. And, perhaps most important: In leadership positions.

    It is not new information that while females make up 68 percent of the average theatre audience, fewer than 25 percent of the stories they see are written by women. But Friday’s opening keynote address at the Denver Center laid bare some deeper statistical atrocities. For example:

    In 2013-14, 73 percent of the Artistic Directors and 62 percent of Executive Directors at leading U.S. theatres were white men. That’s unsurprising. But tellingly - and some might say “damningly” - 65 percent of those working in jobs just below leadership positions were women or persons of color. That means a majority of women already are in place for executive advancement - they just aren’t being rewarded for their experience when leadership jobs become available.

    In other words, said one woman in the conference crowd: “Women do all the work – and men get promoted.”

    A video look at Tira Palmquist's upcoming world premiere of 'Two Degrees' in Denver.

    Tira Palmquist, writer of the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere production of Two Degrees, acknowledged there are employment opportunities out there for women. “But it would be better to have better employment opportunities for women,” she said.

    “There is a clear glass ceiling,” said Sumru Erkut, Senior Research Scientist for the Wellesley Centers for Women. “And it’s not getting better. We have come to the conclusion that for a woman to lead a theatre, she has to start one. That's how she gets to be a leader.”

    Statera ConferenceBut Friday’s featured speaker Carey Elizabeth Perloff, who has been the artistic director of the esteemed American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco for 24 years, dared to imagine another kind of future for women in the American theatre.  

    “If we could change the gender balance across the board in the theatre from leadership to playwrights to directors to what is happening backstage, I truly think we would be telling more inclusive, more complex and more richly imagined stories,” Perloff said via Skype. “Therefore we would start to cast our net much wider in terms of audiences who are passionate about the theatre.”

    Perloff addressed more than 200 women (and a few men) who have gathered in Denver this weekend to strategize, commune, commiserate, network, workshop and rally for the cause of gender equity. Guests include playwrights, directors, actors, teachers, students and administrators from organizations as varied as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Baltimore Playwright’s Festival, Shakespeare Detroit, the Arvada Center, Athena Project, Colorado Shakespeare Festival and Center Group of Los Angeles.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “We believe the answer to gender parity in the American theatre lies in the philosophy of ‘top-down and bottom-up,’ ” said Statera Foundation co-founder Shelly Gaza of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. “Yes, we work to affect change at the top tiers of American theatres. But we are also working from the bottom up so that we, in a sense, meet in the middle to achieve parity.”

    Statera, by the way, is a Latin word for “balance.”

    Statera quoteThe DCPA makes a perfect host for Statera’s second national conference, Gaza said, because the Denver Center not only acknowledges the prevailing gender disparity in the American theatre, it is actively working to eradicate it.

    DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson drew applause when he announced that the Denver Center has recently changed one of its stated core company values to equity, diversity and inclusion. “I feel my most profound job as an Artistic Director is to offer windows on the world to audiences - and those windows have to reflect women in our society,” Thompson said.

    He introduced to conference attendees the now 11-year-old Women's Voices Fund, the Denver Center's $1 million endowment that makes directing and playwriting opportunities available to women.  Thompson pointed out that only about 15 of the company’s first 250 productions over 26 seasons were directed by women - and fewer than a dozen had been written by women. But in the 11 years since Thompson’s arrival, the Theatre Company has presented 26 plays by women - nine of them world premieres.

    Here are more key findings and killer quotes from Day 1 of the 2016 Statera Conference, which runs through Sunday at the DCPA:

    • “Until gender parity and gender equity are the norm, there will be a need for all of our passion and purpose and action,” said Statera CEO Melinda Vaughn, who is working for the day “when equal space and equal pay and equal opportunity are not ideals for which you have to fight or create - they are the expectation. That shift in expectation is powerful.”
    • Lucy Roucis, a longtime actor with Denver’s acclaimed Phamaly Theatre Company, which exists to create performance opportunities for actors with disabilities, acknowledged the loss just the day before of prominent Denver director and playwright Terry Dodd. “I saw Terry just last week, and we were talking about this very subject,” Roucis said. “Terry he told me, ‘Lucy, there will be equality in the theatre when there are more women producers. Women have to do it themselves.’ ”       
    • Jane Page, an original member of the DCPA Theatre Company in 1979 and most recently director of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer here in 2011, flew to Denver from Cairo to attend the conference, she said, ”because I feel very strongly about the issue of parity for women in theatre.” Page was accompanied by a college student from Yale she is mentoring at the conference. “After 40 years in the business, I think it's important for me to be a part of this conversation,” said Page. “But I also think it's important to hear from those young women who are just entering into the profession.” Page had been in Cairo directing a contemporary version of Tartuffe set in modern-day Orange County.
    • Carey Perloff tried to do everything right when she arrived at ACT in 1992, “but I did everything wrong instead," she said. She was convinced she would be fired after her first season in San Francisco - which makes her not uncommon among women, she said. “I felt how I think every woman leader feels, which is, 'When you fail, you fail for all women – and that when we succeed, it's luck,’ ” Perloff said. ”People told me, 'You have to stop saying that.' Because women always say they got lucky when they get a job. But men never do that. The fact is, men are hired on their potential, and women are hired on their resumes. And that makes our challenge that much greater.”
    • The beauty of being a leader in the American theatre, Perloff said, “is you get to choose the kind of plays you want to promote. I always said, 'It’s such a hard job, but at least you don't have to do Sylvia - that play where the woman plays a dog. When it's your own theatre, you get to say no. We are not going to do plays where women are tangential all the time. We're not going to do plays where women are demeaned. We are not going to do plays where women are two-dimensional. We are going to choose plays where there are women directors involved. And there are vigorous roles for women. And we are going to make sure that the backstage life has women.”
    • A priority of the Statera Foundation, Perloff said, is embracing the role of motherhood that often goes with artistic leadership. “Being a parent is like being in perpetual tech rehearsal,” Perloff said. “But you have to remember that while the days are long – the years are short. If you are a leader, you have more control over your own time and destiny, so it's all the more important for women to claim these leadership positions."
    • Sumru Erkut, the research scientist, said no woman needs to be told how difficult it is to maintain a work-life balance – especially in the arts. “I have to tell you - there is no conversation going on about the work-life balance in the American theatre,” Erkut said. “But it's a reality we have to confront. This is not just a women's issue. It's a human-being issue. We have to make it possible for the next generation to both work and be a parent.“
    • Among the more than 50 speakers and workshop leaders presenting this weekend are Actor’s Equity Association Executive Director Mary McColl and American social justice activist Chris Crass. Locally, speakers include DCPA Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson; Directors Christy Montour-Larson (Two Degrees), Ina Marlowe (The Glass Menagerie) and Geoffrey Kent (An Act of God); Actors Meridith C. Grundei (Frankenstein), Lucy Roucis and Lisa Young; and Educators Allison Watrous, Jessica Austgen and Gillian McNally.

    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.
  • Soggy skies can't shake 5,000 students' Shakespeare spirit

    by John Moore | Apr 29, 2016
    2016 DPS Shakespeare Festival

    Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos may be downloaded and recirculated with source attribution. Click on any photo to download.

    "April hath put a spirit of youth in everything." - William Shakespeare, Sonnet 98

    Michael Berger grew up with a stutter. On Friday, the high-school senior stood ebulliently in the rain and welcomed thousands to the 32nd annual Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival.

    A DPS Shakespeare 160"This is the greatest honor I have ever had in my theatre career,” said Berger, a senior at Denver School of the Arts who was chosen from hundreds of DPS students to perform as none other than the Bard himself at the festival’s opening ceremonies in Skyline Park.

    “My first performance as an actor was here. It was in the fourth grade, I was 8 or 9, and I performed Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 1,” he said definitively. “Because of that, I was inspired to continue in the theatre. And it was through Shakespeare that I learned how to speak clearly. So this is very much full circle for me.”

    The rain-snow mix didn’t dampen the students’ spirits, but the chill surely put the shake in the Shakespeare as nearly 5,000 chilly students from 80 schools in grades kindergarten through high school braved the cold to perform more than 640 short scenes, dances, soliloquies and sonnets on stages in and around the Denver Performing Arts Complex while bundled in an array of colorful costumes that were often covered in parkas.

    DPS Shakespeare Fetsival opening ceremonies: Micael Berger as Shakespeare, Vicky Serdyuk as Queen Elizabeth I, and DCPA CEO Scott Shiller. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
    DPS Shakespeare Festival opening ceremonies: Michael Berger as Shakespeare, Vicky Serdyuk as Queen Elizabeth I, and DCPA CEO Scott Shiller. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Denver Center or the Performing Arts CEO Scott Shiller served as Grand Marshall for the three-block opening parade alongside Berger and George Washington High School senior Vicky Serdyuk, who won the annual honor of playing Queen Elizabeth I at the oldest and largest student Shakespeare festival in the country.

    “Shakespeare was the first live performance I ever saw – and I was in daycare,” Serdyuk said with a laugh. “I remember that the actors talked funny, but that they made it sound so good.”

    Shiller told the students that by participating in arts-education programs like the Shakespeare Festival, studies indicate they will be more likely to graduate, enroll in college, contribute meaningfully to civic life and volunteer. “Plus, children who are exposed to live performance are 165 percent more likely to receive a college degree,” he said.

    Gillian McNally, who served as a festival adjudicator and general encourager, was undaunted by the cold. Despite the gloomy weather, she declared Friday to be the most beautiful day of the year.

    DPS Shakespeare Quote “This might be the only time most of these students ever perform on a stage in their whole lives – and we celebrate that,” said McNally, an Associate Professor of Theatre Education at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. “Just look at these wonderful, handmade costumes,” she added, indicating young students from the DaVinci Academy dressed as a human forest. “That tells me teachers collaborated with students and their parents, and they made something together. That’s what this is all about: We are making something together.”

    More than half of all students enrolled in Denver Public Schools speak English as a second language. Serdyuk says it makes sense that many DPS English teachers use Shakespeare as a language-learning tool in the classroom. “Shakespeare’s English follows a lot of the same rules as many of these students’ first languages,” she said. 

    Berger serves as student teacher for Denison Montessori School’s Shakespeare program.  He says Shakespeare is less intimidating for students whose native language isn’t English because they are already learning one foreign language – so what’s another? “It’s neat seeing kids learn to speak Shakespeare while they are learning English at the same time,” Berger said.

    Christine Gonzalez, who teaches kindergarten through 6th grade students at Denison, said Berger has been a big help to her students. “He keeps it light and fun and inspirational,” she said. “It’s easier to learn when you make it fun.”

    DPS Shakespeare Festival. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Mary Louise Lee, an accomplished performer and also the First Lady of Denver, addressed the crowd about the importance of arts education. “I am a proud product of the Denver Public Schools,” said the graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School. Lee, wife of Mayor Michael B. Hancock, has made restoring arts-education programs in schools her top priority since founding her nonprofit, Bringing Back the Arts.

    The DPS Shakespeare Festival draws students of all ages and experience levels. While hundreds were performing for the first time Friday, Denver School of the Arts senior Jimmy Bruenger was performing in his seventh DPS Festival.

    “I remember feeling nervous my first year because I was performing Shakespeare for the first time,” said Bruenger, who was born in Mexico. “But I looked around and I saw younger kids who were only 6 or 7 years old and they were completely into it. That gave me confidence that I could do it, too.”

    Seven years later, Bruenger is not only a recent winner of a True West Award and Denver Mayor's Award for the Arts, but also a full scholarship to the University of Oklahoma from the Daniels Fund. After he performed in his final Shakespeare Festival on Friday, he was off to star in the opening of a world premiere musical about the Armenian genocide called I Am Alive.

    DPS Shakespeare Festival. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. This is the first year the DCPA served as a full producing partner in the DPS Festival. The DCPA’s Education Department offered up its Teaching Artists to assist all 80 participating schools in their preparations for Friday.

    “We are proud to partner alongside the largest school district in the state,” Shiller said. “Colorado’s commitment to arts integration outpaces the national average in nearly every category. In fact, 64 percent of our high schools offer theatre education, just like our own Shakespeare Festival.”

    Friday’s crowd was peppered with prominent figures in the local theatre community. Susan Lyles, founder of the city’s only company dedicated to female playwrights (And Toto Too) was on hand to root on her son, Harrison Lyles-Smith, who played a shepherd with a wicked death scene in As You Like It.

    Lyles said Harrison and his 5th-grade classmates at Steck Elementary School have been practicing for two hours every Friday since February. “It has given him self-confidence and a fearlessness when it comes to Shakespeare that a lot of adults don’t have,” she said.

    DPS Shakespeare Festival. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Sara McPherson Horle, Executive Producer of The Catamounts Theatre Company of Boulder, happened to have a nephew in that same class at Steck. For her, one of the great rewards young Samuel Davis has gotten out of the experience is the lost art of listening.

    “You have to be self-disciplined to be an actor at any age,” Horle said. “Learning to listen is a huge thing, but especially at this age.”

    McNally said the emphasis of the festival is not on producing professional-quality performances – although many of the older students come awfully close. What the judges want more to encourage is passion, which leads to the development of useful life skills such as public speaking and boosted self-esteem.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    But occasionally there are performances that make even the Shakespeare purists turn their heads. DCPA Head of Acting Timothy McCracken was particularly impressed with the 3rd through 5th graders from Isabella Bird, a “heart-centered” community school where teacher Rebecca Sage says students are all made to feel valued for their own specific, individual talents.

    DPS Shakespeare Quote 2“The general clarity of their storytelling was astounding, and their delivery were astounding,” McCracken said after watching Sage’s students perform a Cinco de Mayo-informed take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Ricketson Theatre. “That was an amazing throughline for elementary-school actors." 

    Sage said her approach to the project was not unlike the approach of any director who takes on a full-fledged theatrical production: “It all starts with table work,” she said. That means working through the script with the students line-by-line, making sure they understand the meaning, the innuendo and most important, the comedy of the words they speak.

    Sage’s students fully bought into the project, she said, in part because Friday’s festival was only the start of their reward. Next week, the students will perform the full story back at the school for parents and friends. Sage said her students have been putting in half-mornings two days a week since January.

    “It was hugely gratifying for them to put in the work, both at home and at school, and then to get that kind of validation and respect once they got here today,” she said. “This whole experience is a huge incentive for them to continue doing things that challenge them and take them to their edge.”

    DPS Shakespeare Festival. John Hauser and Jenna Moll Reyes Shakespeare in the Parking Lot's Romeo and Juliet

    DCPA Teaching Artists John Hauser and Jenna Moll Reyes starred in Shakespeare in the Parking Lot's 'Romeo and Juliet' at the DPS Shakespeare Festival. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Also new this year was the evening Shakespeare After-Fest program, when arts organizations from across Denver came together to continue the celebration of the Bard. The program included music from DeVotchKa's Tom Hagerman and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, mini-performances from The Catamounts, The Black Actors Guild, DCPA's Off-Center, Stories on Stage and PHAMALY. DCPA Education also performed its hour-long production of Romeo and Juliet from its outreach program called Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.

    The First Lady of Denver left the kids with a Shakespeare quote whose authorship has been disputed over time – but its meaning was indubitably apropos for Friday’s occasion:

    “The meaning of your life is to find your gift,” Lee told the gathered crowd. “The purpose of your life is to give it away.”

    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.

    Our 2015 DPS Shakespeare Festival coverage

    Our 2014 DPS Shakespeare Festival coverage

    DPS Shakespeare Festival. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
  • Colorado's oldest theatre celebrates Artistic Director Tom McNally

    by NewsCenter Staff | Jul 31, 2015

    Dan McNally, left, as Nixon, and broether Tom McNally as Henry Kissinger in 'Nixon's Nixon' in 2011.
    Dan McNally, left, as Nixon, and brother Tom McNally as Henry Kissinger in 'Nixon's Nixon' in 2011.

    Editor's Note:
    The DCPA NewsCenter offers a weekly guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.

    By Gillian McNally

    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Gillian McNally GREELEY In the summer of 1988, we packed up a large U-Haul in State College, Pa., and headed back west to our home, Colorado. I remember venturing north up a dull, dusty, dreary Highway 85 and wondering where on earth our next chapter of life would be. We arrived in what was then a much smaller Greeley, Colo. The first show my dad directed that summer was The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash. Much like the characters in this play, we were searching desperately for hope. I couldn’t help but connect to Nash’s description of his play. He said:

    What happens to the people of the west — beyond the sudden poverty and loss of substance — is a kind of desperation. Rain will never come again; the earth will be sere forever; and in all of heaven, there is no promise of remedy. Yet, men of wisdom like H.C. Curry know to be patient with heaven. They know that the earth will not thirst forever; they know that one day they will again awaken to a green morning.

    Although not as severe, when we arrived at the University of Northern Colorado in 1988, the theatre program was at risk of a possible drought. With dwindling numbers and looming financial cuts, the theatre program, and its Little Theatre of the Rockies summer theatre company, could have possibly disappeared. Yet, like H.C. Curry, Tom McNally knew to be “patient with heaven.” He rolled up his sleeves and set out to create his “green morning” here with so many other talented artists at LTR. He has carefully built and tended this garden, this little piece of heaven for the arts here in Greeley, for the past 28 years.

    The Little Theatre Rockies is now the oldest theatre company in Colorado, and this summer is celebrating its 81st year. Tonight (July 31), we will honor Tom McNally for his dedication as Artistic Director of Little Theatre of the Rockies for the past 28 years. In that time, he has directed or acted in 39 productions. In 2012, he was awarded the Colorado Theatre Guild's Henry Award for Lifetime Achievement.

    At our core, theatre artists are storytellers. Through his magical gifts as both a director and actor, Tom McNally has been an amazing storyteller. Through his craft, he has transported us from the Dust Bowl Depression in The Rainmaker, to the hilarious new bachelors in New York City finding their way in The Odd Couple, to kidnapped hostages in Lebanon in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.

    And finally this summer, Greeley audiences sat in the living room with the Younger family as they struggled with racial prejudice in America in A Raisin in the Sun. Certainly a timely story to share just days after the church shootings in Charleston, S.C.

    Tom McNally. Photo by John Moore. The influence my dad has had on me is immeasurable. Something I’ve learned from him all these years is to choose stories that move us in a big way: Stories that must be told. Maybe it’s the Irish in us…

    My dad chooses stories of people going through the impossible, yet by watching their struggle, the audience leaves the theatre feeling hopeful and courageous to take on challenges in their own lives. These are the stories that Tom McNally chose to share at LTR over 28 summers.

    There was not a dry eye in the house as we watched M’Lynn lose her daughter much too early in Steel Magnolias. We admired the strength of Henry Kissinger as he stood up to the most powerful man in the world in the midst of the Watergate hearings in Nixon’s Nixon. We contemplated our complex relationships with our own parents in the final chapter of their lives in On Golden Pond. I watched as my dad experienced a small bit of healing as he directed stories very close to his life growing up. The hilarious family struggling to make ends meet in Over the Tavern poked fun at growing up Catholic in the 1950s, but also looked beyond the Father Knows Best façade to the dark and scary truths of an alcoholic father.

    These moments and many more are the stuff of legend.

    I am honored to help celebrate the amazing contributions of my dad. Because of his tireless dedication and amazing artistic vision, Little Theatre of the Rockies continues to be a theatre that tells stories that bring us together as a community to question, analyze and celebrate the human experience.

    About Our Guest Columnist:
    Gillian McNally currently serves as Associate Professor of Theatre Education and Head of Community Engagement and Programs for Youth at the University of Northern Colorado. At UNC, she teaches undergraduate and graduate level theatre educators and oversees the yearly production for young audiences. She holds an M.F.A. in Drama and Theatre for Youth from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a current Board Member of TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences)/USA.

    Previous Guest Columns:
    Margie Lamb on the Henry Awards: Something doesn't add up
    Bryan VanDriel on Lloyd Norton: A name that will live on in Greeley
    Jessica Jackson on Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
    Susan Lyles on 10 years of staging plays for women in Denver

    Be Our Guest (Columnist)
    The DCPA NewsCenter offers a weekly guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and proposed topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.

  • Denver Center getting teachers' blood boiling

    by John Moore | Sep 20, 2013



    More than 100 area high-school theatre teachers have taken over the Newman Building today for the annual Colorado Thespians Teachers Conference. It's an all-day opportunity for teachers to teach teachers more about the craft of educational theatre.

    Early, blood-circulating workshops have included "Theatre Games," led by Denver Center Theatre Academy teaching artist Allison Watrous, who soon will be appearing in the Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of "Just Like Us";  and "Voice and Movement for the Stage," taught by the University of Colorado's Tamara Meneghini, recent star of "The Great Goddess Bazaar" for the Bas Bleu Theatre Company.

    The conference continues all day today, with sessions planned on clowning and physical comedy (Justin Walvoord of the Aurora Fox's "Metamorphoses"); stage makeup (Ted Stark); Shakespeare Alive (Gillian McNally); movement for a new generation (Laurence Curry, Curious Theatre's "The Brothers Size"); and improv for all ages (Denver Center Theatre Academy teaching artist Jessica Austgen).

    The conference is hosted by the Denver Center's Education Department.

    Here are some more photos from the morning sessions. If we get the chance, we will pop down and take some more this afternoon.

    More info: www.cothespians.com




    Allison Watrous, above.



    Tamara Meneghini, above.





    Gillian McNally, above.



    Justin Walvoord, above.



    Teacher Jimmy Miller, left, with the Denver Center education department's technical director, Stuart Barr.

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.