• 2016 True West Awards: Michael Morgan

    by John Moore | Dec 04, 2016
    True West Awards Michael Morgan


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 4:
    Michael Morgan

    There is an everyman quality to actor Michael Morgan. Ironic, given not every man can do what he's done on area stages with uncommon consistency for 20 years. Morgan brings out the extraordinary in ordinary Joes.

    "Michael is an actor's actor," said Lynne Collins, the Arvada Center's new Artistic Director of Plays. "You watch him and you can’t help but go away thinking you really know whatever guy he’s playing. He’s just very relatable and accessible to an audience."

    But when you specialize in inhabiting regular guys, you don't often command the center of a story's attention. That all changed for Morgan in 2016, when he was cast to play two uncharacteristically larger-than-life characters: No less than Shakespeare in Bill Cain's period opus Equivocation for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and the smarmiest swindler in all of Moliere in Tartuffe, which launched the Arvada Center's new black-box repertory company. 

    Michael Morgan Quote Lynne CollinsTalk about two sides of the ethical fence: In Equivocation, directed by Wendy Franz, King James I commissions  Shakespeare - or “Shag,” as he is called here - to rewrite the history of England’s infamous Gunpowder Plot, the notorious conspiracy to blow up Parliament (with King James in it). Shag must decide whether to sell his soul or tell the truth and pay with his life. Tartuffe, on the other end of the ethical spectrum, is a religious hypocrite who lives off the largess of a gullible benefactor and thanks him for it by attempting to seduce his wife. Talk about range.

    The Boulder Daily Camera's A.H. Goldstein called Morgan "mesmerizing" in Equivocation. Westword's Juliet Wittman called him "gut-achingly funny" in Tartuffe.

    "What was so lovely about Michael in Equivocation was that Shag's desire to do the right thing came through so clearly, with a real and genuine heart," Collins said. "Whereas his Tartuffe was the opposite of that in every way."

    But funny.

    "Oh, he’s screamingly funny," Collins said of Morgan. "He has impeccable and unimpeachable comic timing."

    Morgan's breakout year included playing a lovable neat-freak in Buntport Theater's remarkable, gender-fluid world premiere of 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products, which took place almost entirely in a bathroom. He also played the chief slaughterer in Denver performances of Denise Gentilini's I Am Alive, a new musical that tells the story of the Armenian massacre. He was also tapped by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival to play Caius Lucius in Cymbeline and two roles in Henry VI Part 2.

    Perhaps the most remarkable part of Morgan's year is that he was a newcomer to so many of the companies he easily assimilated into. It's no small task to be asked to carry a show alongside former DCPA Theatre Company stalwart John Hutton (Equivocation) or to blend in as a guest artist with an ensemble like Buntport that has been creating new work together for 16 years. But with both companies, he fit right in.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    When Collins was hired by the Arvada Center to create a repertory company, she had the pick of the metro area talent pool to choose from because the precious few she selected would earn gainful employment for an entire season. And Morgan, she said, was not on Collins' radar when he walked in to audition.

    Michael Morgan Buntport Theater"He was not who I had in mind for the role of Tartuffe, but he killed that audition like no one I have ever seen," Collins said. "Because we were auditioning for the entire season, he prepared three short pieces, and I am telling you - I wish now I had a camera set up to record him for acting classes, because what he did was the textbook, perfect audition for a repertory season." That audition also landed him the upcoming role of Virgil in Bus Stop opening Feb. 24.

    Morgan was born in North Carolina and raised in San Francisco. His family moved to Colorado when he was in his teens and he graduated from Manitou Springs High School. He returned to Colorado Springs after graduating from Doane College in Nebraska, appearing in many productions around the city. For years, Morgan was often found backstage, working as a carpenter for companies all over the Front Range. He's also known in film circles for writing and producing his award-winning zombie web series After The Darklights.

    But in 2016, Morgan was meant for the stage. He presently can be seen this holiday season appearing in the original Christmas play called A Krumpus Story, a dark holiday comedy in which Santa is the naughty one. It's being presented by a new company called Boys Hair Club at Buntport. 

     

    (Pictured above right: Brian Colonna, left, and Michael Morgan in '10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products.')

    Michael Morgan/2016 at a glance

    • Buntport Theater’s 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products
    • Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Equivocation, Cymbeline and Henry VI, Part 2
    • Mile Hi Church's concert performance of I Am Alive  
    • Arvada Center’s Tartuffe
    • Boys Hair Club’s A Krumpus Story at Buntport Theater
    • Company member, Curious 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
  • In the Spotlife: Angela Mendez of 'Beauty and the Beast'

    by John Moore | Nov 25, 2016
    Angela Mendez in Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Christine Fisk
    Angela Mendez in Vintage Theatre's 'Beauty and the Beast.' Photo by Christine Fisk.

    (The DCPA NewsCenter regularly profiles actors performing in theatre productions throughout the state of Colorado.)

    MEET ANGELA MENDEZ

    Belle in Vintage Theatre's 'Beauty and the Beast,' running now through Jan. 15.

    • Hometown: Lakewood
    • Home now: Denver
    • High school: D’Evelyn
    • College: Regis University
    • Angela MendezWhat have you done for us lately? I played Jo in the Aurora Fox's Little Women, the Musical, and was part of the ensemble that traveled with Director Christy Montour-Larson to perform I Am Alive a musical about the Armenian massacre, at the Alex Theatre in Los Angeles.
    • At its core, what is Beauty and the Beast about? It's about getting to know people. Looking past what is on the outside and falling in love with what you find underneath. Well, that and dancing dinnerware.
    • Tell us about the challenge of playing your Belle: Like many of our audience members, I grew up watching the original animated version of Beauty and the Beast on endless repeat in my living room. If you say “Little Town, it’s a quiet village…” to a group of people, before long they will answer back every villager’s, “Bonjour!” and continue into Gaston’s “Right from the moment when I met her, saw her…”  without needing much prompting.  This is an iconic soundtrack that lives in our memory banks. With my character, Belle (originally voiced by Paige O’Hara), my determined task is to take what I loved about the original and then freshen her up and ground her in my life experiences. What is most important to me is to unearth what is not cartoonish in Belle’s story, but real and human and true.
    • What do you love most about the Colorado theatre community? Clay White, our director, has brought together the most warm and generous collective of people to bring this show to the Vintage stage. The production staff, crew and cast are all such exceptional people to be around. The glow they bring to a room is very real, and does not stop when we finish running a scene. When a room has that kind of palpable warmth, you get all the more excited to bring an audience into the experience.
    • Angela Mendez. Aurora Fox's Little WomenWhat's one thing most people don't know about you? I’m a bit of an ambivert - a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert qualities. I love people, but I often forget to ask them out to coffee.  So, if you ever need a listening ear, or a friend, hit me up. I like you. 
    • What’s one thing you want to get off your chest? Denver theatre family: Love your actors. Develop their talent. Mentor them. Teach them. Put food in their bellies. Give them dollars for their time. Kindle the sparks in an actor and you are sure to see that magic reflected on the stage and in the world.

    (Pictured above right: Angela Mendez, far right, with Jenna Bainbridge, Katie Jackson and Chloe McLeod in the Aurora Fox's 2015 'Little Women.' Pictured below: Mendez with James Francis in Vintage Theatre's 'Beauty and the Beast.' Photo by Christine Fisk.).

    Angela Mendez in Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Christine Fisk.

    Beauty and the Beast
    :
    Ticket information

    • Written by Alan Menken; Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Linda Woolverton
    • Directed by Clay White and Trent Hines
    • Through Jan. 15
    • Presented by Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St. in Aurora
    • Performances: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5
    • Tickets $28-$31
    • Info: Call 303-856-7830, or go to vintagetheatre.org 

    Cast List:

    • Angela Mendez (Belle)
    • James Francis (Beast/Prince)
    • Craig Ross (Maurice)
    • David Gordon (Gaston)
    • Ben Hilzer (Lefou)
    • Preston Lee Briton (Lumiere)
    • Caitlin Conklin (Babette)
    • Jeffrey Jesmer (Cogsworth)
    • Onna Poeter (Madame De La Grande Bouche)
    • Suzanne Connors Nepi (Mrs. Potts)
    • Sullivan McConell (Chip)
    • Ensemble: Michael Barlow, Court Clark, Jessica Clayton, Holly Joyce Dalton, Gina Eslinger, Katie Jackson, Kayla Mally, Jordan Manchego, Eli Stewart. and Ryan Walkoviak

    More 'In the Spotlife' profiles:
    Meet Lauren Bahlman of Wide-Eyed West's theMumblings
    Meet Mark Collins of And Toto Too's Lost Creatures
    Meet Carley Cornelius of Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' Constellations
    Meet Emily Paton Davies of Miners Alley Playhouse's God of Carnage
    Meet Sam Gregory of the Arvada Center's Tartuffe
    Meet John Hauser of Curious Theatre's Hand to God
    Meet Jeff Jesmer of Spotlight Theatre'sThe Crucible
    Meet Wayne Kennedy of BDT Stage's Mid-Life 2
    Meet Seth Maisel of Town Hall Arts Center's The Firestorm
    Meet Tim McCracken of Local Theatre's The Firestorm
    Meet Joelle Montoya of Su Teatro's El Sol Que Tu Eres
    Meet Anne Oberbroeckling of Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's Ripcord
    Meet Jessica Robblee of Buntport Theatre for All Ages' Siren Song: A Pirate Odyssey
    Meet Petra Ulyrich of Germinal Stage-Denver's Johnny Got His Gun
    Meet Megan Van De Hey of the Arvada Center's Sister Act
    Meet Sharon Kay White of the Arvada Center's I'll Be Home for Christmas

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Last year at this time, Sharon Kay White was in another Arvada Center holiday production, 'Irving Berlin's White Christmas,' with Paul Page. Photo P. Switzer.
  • 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.
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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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