• 2017 True West Award: Colorado Theatre Person of the Year Regan Linton

    by John Moore | Dec 30, 2017
    2017 True West Award Regan Linton

     

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Regan Linton

    Colorado Theatre Person of the Year


    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    We’ll never know whether Phamaly Theatre Company would have survived 2017 had Regan Linton not been here. She was here. And one of the nation's signature theatre companies is still here. And that's why Linton is the True West Awards' 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year.

    For 28 years, one of Denver’s crown jewels has produced professional plays and musicals exclusively for actors with disabilities. But at this time a year ago, it was in catastrophic financial trouble.

    Regan Linton True West Award Quote Photo by John MooreLinton, a former core company member who went on to become a shining national example of what begets opportunity, had just been named Phamaly’s interim Artistic and Executive Director to fill a short-term leadership vacuum.

    Linton’s appointment was a cause for celebration. Not only had the Denver East High School graduate helped elevate Phamaly’s game as an actor with wrenching performances in musicals such as Side Show and Man of La Mancha, she came home with serious cred. In 2012, she became the first paralyzed student ever to be enrolled into one of the nation's top master’s conservatory programs when she was accepted at the University of California San Diego. And in 2015, Linton became the first actor in a wheelchair ever to be hired into the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival's year-round repertory company since it was founded in 1935.

    Today, Linton is a highly respected actor, educator and prominent voice for disability inclusion in the national theatre community. And when she accepted the one-year Phamaly assignment last year at age 34, Linton became the first person in a wheelchair ever to lead a major U.S. theatre company as Artistic Director, according to Theatre Communications Group.

    Then came the sticker shock.

    “I immediately became aware that the company was not in as healthy a financial position as I had thought,” Linton said. Phamaly's annual operating budget had more than doubled over the previous seven years, to $850,000. But revenue had not grown proportionally. Just two months into the job, Linton realized Phamaly was facing an immediate $100,000 shortfall.

    (Story continues after the photo gallery below.)

    Photo gallery: A look back at Regan Linton's year (and years) with Phamaly:

    Regan Linton: 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year
    Photos from Regan Linton's first year as interim Artistic and Executive Director of Phamaly Theatre Company, followed by additional photos from years past. To see more images, just click on the image above to be taken to the full gallery. Photos by or compiled by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Linton attacked the problem swiftly, first by shaving the upcoming budget. She scrapped expensive plans to stage Peter Pan with wheelchairs flying over the DCPA’s Stage Theatre. A Shakespeare collaboration with a New York company was put off. And then, on March 28, Linton took a deep breath and released an uncommonly forthright public statement bluntly telling supporters that without an urgent cash infusion, Phamaly would be bankrupt by July 1. And that was just to make it to the summer. “We were really more like $250,000 in the hole,” she said.

    The most important thing to Linton was being open and honest about the situation. “If we were going to go down, then we were going to do it having been completely transparent with every one of our supporters,” she said.

    But, it turns out, It’s a Wonderful Life ain’t just a holiday movie.

    Phamaly’s “Sunny Tomorrow” campaign didn’t just raise $100,000. It raised $108,000, thanks to more than 325 individual donors. And that still takes Linton's breath away. “I feel like that wasn't just people saying, 'We love this theater company.’ It’s deeper than that. I feel like they were saying, ‘People with disabilities are valuable.’ And as a person who lives with a disability, that's really, powerfully meaningful to me.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Just a few weeks after the campaign ended, Phamaly netted an additional, record-obliterating $60,000 from its annual gala — up from $35,000 the year before. And then Annie, which Linton chose to present instead of Peter Pan, drew 6,700 to the Stage Theatre. That’s nearly 20 percent more than the previous Phamaly attendance record.

    Janice Sinden Regan Linton QuoteAll three of those things had to happen, Linton said, for Phamaly to fully climb out of the hole it was in. And all three did.

    But Phamaly didn’t get the backing it needed on sentiment alone. It got it because it was Linton who went out and asked for it, Denver Center President and CEO Janice Sinden said.

    “Regan is a determined, passionate woman who leads with her heart, but always with an outcome in mind,” Sinden said. “She was uniquely situated to lead this campaign because of who she is and what she means to the community. She leveraged smart relationships to drive this turnaround.”

    Boy, did she. The first call Linton made was to Sinden’s predecessor, Daniel L. Ritchie, a longtime Phamaly supporter who cut Linton a $10,000 check just 20 minutes after sitting down with her. The Harvey Family Foundation then agreed to match up to $35,000 in new donations, a goal that was reached in just 17 days.

    But Linton’s greatest fundraising achievement of 2017 came at the end of the year, after Sinden facilitated a visit with William Dean Singleton, retired chairman of The Denver Post and newly named Chairman of the Bonfils Foundation. They hit it off, Sinden said, because the two share a powerful commonality as former able-bodied persons now living with mobility challenges.

    Life changes in the ordinary instant

    Regan Linton HospitalLinton was a 20-year-old undergrad at the University of Southern California when her spine was wrecked in a fraction of an instant on a rainy Santa Monica Freeway. Linton was in the back seat of a car that was stopped for a vehicle that had been abandoned in the fast lane of the highway. The car behind Linton, filled with five sorority sisters, hit her at full speed.

    Linton no longer feels sensation below her chest. And yet, whenever she prepares to go on stage, she playfully says, “I can still feel butterflies.”

    Singleton is a newspaper magnate and cattle rancher who founded MediaNews Group, the fourth-largest newspaper company in the U.S. by circulation, with The Denver Post as its eventual flagship. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, which has slowly robbed him of his mobility, and today he gets around in a motorized chair.

    (Story continues after the video.)

    Video bonus: Regan Linton wins 2017 Spirit of Craig Award:

    The video above was played at the annual PUSH Gala for Craig Hospital in April with the announcement of Phamaly Theatre Company Executive and Artistic Director Regan Linton as its 2017 Dave and Gail Liniger Spirit of Craig Award winner. Video provided by Craig Hospital. To watch Linton’s acceptance speech, click here

    “They hit it off when they met,” Sinden said, "and Dean immediately saw an opportunity to help.”

    On Oct. 11, Singleton presented Linton with the Fourth Annual Dean Singleton Legacy Grant, a $50,000 gift made through the Denver Post Community Foundation. “It was very emotional for both of them,” Sinden said.

    A Regan Linton and Dean Singleton“I couldn’t be more proud of our grant recipient this year, for what Phamaly does to inspire people to re-envision disability through professional theatre,” said Singleton. “Phamaly provides such a benefit to the metro-Denver community.”

    Linton called the grant “an incredible honor for Phamaly.”

    In just six months, Linton implemented a campaign that moved Phamaly from the financial brink to something akin to stability. And that, said former Phamaly assistant stage manager Max Peterson, is an astonishing accomplishment.

    “I had both the pleasure and the anxiety of watching Regan and (Director of Production and Operations) Paul Behrhorst walk through that whole mess,” Peterson said. “It was inspiring to see their determination and persistence to bring that company all the way back. The blood, sweat and tears were real — and the stakes could not have been higher.”

    Meanwhile, back on the stage

    A Regan Linton Theatre Person of the Year Ytue West Awards Photo by John MooreLest we forget: While this was going on, Linton also had a company to run, both as Artistic and Executive Director.

    In February, Phamaly presented George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion at the Aurora Fox, followed by the record-breaking run of Annie at the Denver Center and, last month, Phamaly’s annual original sketch comedy called Vox Phamilia at Community College of Aurora.

    (Pictured at right: Regan Linton backstage with the cast of 'Annie' on opening night. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Linton pushed herself to her physical and mental limits in 2017, in part because she also chose to direct Annie on the largest stage in Phamaly history. Linton began to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all as preparations for Annie approached. “The stress of even thinking of Phamaly going away was emotionally taxing for me,” she said. "It all finally caught up to me. I was a mess.”

    One of Linton’s smartest moves of the year was calling on former longtime Phamaly Artistic Director Steve Wilson to co-direct Annie with her. “Wilson knows to his bones what directing disabled actors entails: The difficulties many face, the need to work without sentimentality or condescension, and to treat his actors as the artists they are,” wrote Westword’s Juliet Wittman, who called the resulting production “Ready, willing … and very able.”  

    MacGregor Arney and Regan Linton Curious Incident Mixed Blood Photo by Rich Ryan Linton kept her own acting skills sharp in 2017 by performing in two major productions for the Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis. In February, she played the governor of California in a site-specific immigration play called Safe at Home that was set and performed at a local baseball stadium. And just last month, she returned in one of the first regional stagings of the big-buzz play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Star-Tribune theatre critic Chris Hewitt said Linton was excellent as an autistic boy’s calm, compassionate teacher.

    (Pictured at right: MacGregor Arney and Regan Linton in 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' for the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. Photo by Rich Ryan.)

    As Linton reflects back on her year now, she won’t say she saved Phamaly Theatre Company. But Behrhorst will.

    “I say it because it is true,” Behrhorst said. “Of course Regan didn't do it single-handedly. But from the start, she gave the community, the actors, the board and the staff something to believe in. Regan didn't back away from the problem. She gave us new life."

    Sinden sides with Behrhorst.

    John Moore’s 2005 Denver Post feature on Regan Linton

    “Regan came home and she brought both thought leaders and community leaders to the table who invested in the future of this organization," Sinden said. "Regan put Phamaly on a trajectory for long-term success. And only she could have done that.”

    All of which is only part of the reason Linton has been named the 17th annual Colorado Theatre Person of the Year. She not only saved a theatre company. She not only preserved future performance opportunities for persons with disabilities that do not exist elsewhere. She saved something that is part of the city's soul.

    Regan Linton. Craig Hospital PUSH Gala Photo by John Moore“There's a lot of great theater that happens in Denver,” Linton said. “However, one-fifth of the population of the United States identifies as having a disability. So if you don't have that identity prominently represented in your local theater, then you are missing out on a whole subset of what it means to be human. And that's what I think people would have missed out on if Phamaly had gone away. They would've missed out on this unique experience that opens your eyes to something you just don’t see anywhere else.”

    Linton’s 2017 odyssey has changed her career itinerary in ways that are not yet clear, even to her. Her initial one-year appointment is now entering its 15th month. She says she is very close to hiring the company’s next Executive Director. So what does that mean for Linton, who officially lives in Montana now, while maintaining a second artistic home in Minneapolis?

    “It means I will be around for the near future, at least,” she said. “I feel committed to Phamaly, and I want to see Phamaly succeed. To me, that means following through with my commitment to make sure the company is in a good place if and when I move away. And I don't think that work is done yet.”

    Asked to assess where she is at as 2018 begins, compared to the start of the year, Linton laughs. “Well, I'm not nearly as much of a mess as I was,” she said. “But most of all, I will say I am proud to be part of Phamaly living on, and I'm proud to be part of leading Phamaly into its next chapter.”

    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 

    Regan Linton: 2017
    •  Artistic and Executive Director for Phamaly Theatre Company
    •  Winner, 2017 Spirit of Craig Award READ MORE
    •  Played the Governor of California in Mixed Blood Theatre's Safe at Home in Minneapolis
    •  Co-Directed Phamaly's mainstage production of Annie at the DCPA's Stage Theatre
    •  Played Siobhan in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nght-Time for Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis


    The True West Awards' Theatre Person of the Year / A look back

    • 2016: Billie McBride: Actor and director
    • 2015: Donald R. Seawell: Denver Center for the Performing Arts founder
    • 2014: Steve Wilson: Phamaly Theatre Company and Mizel Center for Arts and Culture
    • 2013: Shelly Bordas: Actor, teacher, director and cancer warrior
    • 2012: Stephen Weitz: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company co-founder
    • 2011: Maurice LaMee: Creede Repertory Theatre artistic director
    • 2010: Anthony Garcia: Su Teatro artistic director
    • 2009: Kathleen M. Brady: DCPA Theatre Company actor
    • 2008: Wendy Ishii: Bas Bleu Theatre co-founder
    • 2007: Ed Baierlein: Germinal Stage-Denver founder
    • 2006: Bonnie Metzgar: Curious Theatre associate artistic director
    • 2005: Chip Walton, Curious Theatre founder
    • 2004: Michael R. Duran: Actor, set designer, director and playwright
    • 2003: Nagle Jackson, DCPA Theatre Company director and playwright
    • 2002: Chris Tabb: Actor and director

    Phamaly Theatre Company: Coming in 2018
    • April 14-22: Romeo & Juliet, at the Dairy Arts Center
    • July 12-Aug. 5: Into the Woods, at the DCPA's Space Theatre
    • Oct. 18-Nov. 11: Harvey, at the The Olin Hotel Apartment, in partnership with Senior Housing Options
    Information: 303-575-0005 or phamaly.org

    Selected recent NewsCenter coverage of Phamaly:
    Photos: Phamaly Theatre Company's amazing opening-night tradition
    The triumph of Phamaly's not-so-horrible Hannigan
    Pop-culture Annie, from comics to Broadway to Jay-Z
    Phamaly gala, campaign raise $200K, ‘save the company’
    Phamaly launches emergency $100,000 fundraising campaign
    Regan Linton accepts Spirit of Craig Award
    Regan Linton returns to lead Phamaly in landmark appointment

    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's 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

  • 2017 True West Awards: Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill

    by John Moore | Dec 30, 2017
    2017 True West Awards The Breakouts  Jeremy Rill Steven J. Burge

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 30: The Breakouts

    Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill


    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill are very different performers. Think Sean Hayes and Frank Sinatra. Burge will shock you into gut-busting laughter, while Rill will make you swoon. If Burge is the flamboyant life of the party, then Rill is more, say … sunset on the beach.

    “If there is a spectrum,” said director and actor Robert Michael Sanders, "those two are on the opposite ends of it.”

    The comedian and the crooner.

    Steven J Burge and Jeremy Rill But these two emerging actors have far more in common than you might think. Both had big-time breakout years on Denver stages in 2017 — and both were separately described as “the nicest guy in Denver theatre” in interviews for this very story.

    Something's gotta give.

    Steven Cole Hughes, Burge’s castmate in the Denver Center’s extended hit comedy An Act of God, goes so far as to declare with dead-on eye contact that “Steven Burge is the nicest guy working in the American theatre today. Period.”

    Even Hughes’ 2-year-old daughter, Birdie, backed her father up.

    “Hey Birdie, who is this?” Hughes said, pointing to a poster for An Act of God. The child’s face immediately lit up. She pointed to a photo of Burge playing no less than God Himself, and she declared enthusiastically: “Steven!”

    “She’s 2,” Hughes reiterated. “Even the 2-year-olds love Steve Burge.”

    That’s high praise (or short praise, come to think of it) for Burge, who has been working his way up to this moment with one joyful performance after another since moving from Iowa in 2003, most often in extroverted comic roles. Highlights have included playing Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors and conquering the epic challenge of playing 40 roles in the one-man comedy Fully Committed. In 2012, Westword’s Juliet Wittman flatly declared, “Steve Burge is one of the funniest actors anywhere.”

    Says his friend and fellow actor Shannan Steele: “I love watching him delight in making others happy.”

    But Burge’s body of work has revealed far greater range and uncommon emotional honesty in stagings such as Dog Sees God at The Avenue Theater (I called him "triumphant" in The Denver Post) and Curious Theatre’s Speech and Debate. No matter how big the character Burge is called upon to play, “you always know there's a real and very interesting person underneath," Wittman wrote.

    (Story continues after the photo.)

    Steven J. Burge United in Love Photo by John Moore
    Steven J. Burge co-hosted the 'United in Love' benefit concert with Eden Lane that raised $40,000 for The Denver Actors Fund.  Photo by John Moore.


    But Burge’s steady career trajectory took a turn for the skyward late last year when he was hired by Director Geoffrey Kent to be the understudy for An Act of God, a pointed social comedy in which God comes down to Earth in human form to set the record straight about the misguided ways in which we sometimes act in God’s name. When Broadway and TV star Wesley Taylor’s contract expired, the Denver Center did not seek out a similarly big-named national replacement. It already had Burge, who smoothly ascended to Almighty status for what turned into an extended run at the Galleria Theatre. The role called on all of Burge’s comic skills, as well as his uncommon gift to make people listen and laugh, even when they might not like what he is telling them. Burge had An Act of God audiences eating out of his holy goblet.

    To say that Burge made an impression in his Denver Center debut would be an understatement.

    “Steven has spot-on comic timing, a fantastic voice and the best rehearsal attitude and esprit de corps I know of,” said Kent. “He improves the quality of everything he touches.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    A few months later, Director Ray Roderick punched Burge's ticket for an immediate return trip to the Galleria Theatre in the musical comedy First Date. Gigs at the Galleria are considered jackpot jobs among local actors because they generally come with a minimum six-month contract.

    Burge plays many characters in First Date, most notably the quintessential gay best friend of a young woman who’s just starting to brave the dating pool. The reason Burge succeeds at taking such a stock character and making him meaningfully connect with an audience, says Steele, is his willingness to bring his authentic self to all his roles.

    “The thing you need to know about Steven is that just beneath his hilarious and charming exterior is a beautifully tender, vulnerable, compassionate and generous person,” she said.

    “Steven is the opposite of an old soul. He is brand new to his world ... and his childlike wonder and joy are palpable.”

    800 Red Hot and Cole Cherry Creek Theatre Jeremy Rill Phot by Olga LopezHe’s now being rewarded for paying his many dues, and everyone agrees — it could not be happening to a nicer guy. For years, Burge has been known for saying yes to anyone who asks for his time and talents. This year, he co-hosted a benefit concert at the Lone Tree Arts Center that netted $40,000 for the Denver Actors Fund, and Miscast 2017 at the Town Hall Arts Center, which raised $7,000 more. He also has kept the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards buzzing along since 2012 with his unpredictable comic energy as co-host with GerRee Hinshaw.

    "To me, Burge encapsulates the heart and soul of the Denver theatre community,” Kent said. “He volunteers for almost every arts organization I can list. If Denver were to elect a ‘Theatre Ambassador,’ he would have my vote.”

    Also receiving votes for Nicest Guy in Denver Theatre would be Jeremy Rill, an Arkansas native who already was a big deal in the lofty Chicago theatre scene when he moved to Colorado for love. And it didn’t take long for people to notice.

    “It's that voice,” said his frequent director, Kelly Van Oosbree. “The richness and his absolute control of it is remarkable. The first time I heard Jeremy open his mouth, I said, ‘This guy is going to be big.’ You just can’t deny that voice.”

    Coming Sunday: 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year

    The Performance Now Theatre Company in Lakewood was the first Colorado company to catch wise, casting Rill in the regional premiere of Jane Eyre (Edward Rochester), Guys and Dolls (Sky Masterson) and Ragtime (Younger Brother). By then it was becoming pretty obvious to anyone within earshot that Rill was going to be a man in demand this year.

    Jeremy Rill Miscast Photo by John MooreA lot more people know “that voice” after it opened up and sang for the first time on four different metro stages this year. Rill started out playing no less than Cole Porter himself in the Cherry Creek Theatre Company’s Red, Hot and Cole at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, landing quite cozily among a star-filled cast that included Steele alongside local big-shots Seth Dhonau and Lauren Shealy (both now co-starring with Burge in First Date), Damon Guerasio, Stephen Day, Matt LaFontaine, Sharon Kay White and several others.

    Rill then earned karma points for life when he was asked to join the ensemble of the Arvada Center’s Jesus Christ Superstar after the actor playing Judas had to leave the show for medical reasons. That set off casting dominoes that ended with Rill stepping onto one of the biggest theatre stages in the state a mere four hours before the first performance in front of an audience.

    There’s a reason Arvada Center director Rod Lansberry turned to Rill, whom he had never before cast, when the chips were down, Van Oosbree said. It’s that Sinatra cool.

    “If someone ever asked me to do something like that, I would have said, ‘No, thanks,’ ” Van Oosbree said. “But Rod knew Jeremy could handle the pressure. And he did.”

    That may be one reason karma has smiled back on Rill, who will return to Performance Now to play Cinderella’s prince in Into the Woods opening Jan. 5 at the Lakewood Cultural Center. He then joins the cast of the Arvada Center’s Sunday in the Park with George — and on the first day of rehearsal this time. Rill will play Louis, fiancé of the model who attracts the eye of an artist based on Georges Seurat.

    Superstar led to the 2017 performance that will put Rill on every director’s radar – and wish list — for years to come. Van Oosbree tapped Rill to head another dauntingly loaded ensemble in Stephen Sondheim’s Company for the Aurora Fox that included Shealy, Heather Lacy, Lindsey Falduto, Carolyn Lohr, Rebekah Ortiz, Heather Doris and many others.

    (Story continues below the video.)


    Video bonus: Jeremy Rill performs 'Everybody's Girl' at Miscast 2017:




    You knew going in that Rill would bring any production of Company to a thunderous finish with his take on the forceful ballad “Being Alive.” But what separates a good Company from a great one is an actor who understands that Bobby’s journey is a serious rumination on the relative pros and cons of choosing a married or solitary life. Rill allowed himself to get fully lost in his journey — which at times meant going inside and checking out from the Aurora Fox audience altogether.

    Turns out, as Van Oosbree plainly puts it: Jeremy Rill is not just another pretty voice.

    “He’s also a really good actor,” she said. “He found the vulnerable in Bobby and the underlying pain that I think sometimes goes missing in other performances. The easy thing would be to make Bobby a fun, jovial bachelor, but that’s just not who this man is. Jeremy was clever and he was sexy and he was charming and he was cynical and he was sad. He was all the things. He just killed it.”

    Wrote Ramsey Scott for the Aurora Sentinel: “Jeremy Rill nails the mix of aloofness and emotional despair that plagues his character throughout the show and matches it with a voice that deserves to be the center of attention.”  Added Wittman for Westword: "Jeremy Rill has a richly melodious and supple voice that’s sheer pleasure to listen to."

    Norell Moore by Jeremy RillAnd Rill’s artistry, by the way, is not limited to the stage. He’s also a disarmingly effective portrait photographer who is known for bringing out an astonishing clarity of character in a single frame. Look no further than his revealing portrait of fellow actor Norrell Moore (right) soon after she started chemotherapy for breast cancer.

    “I mean this as no disrespect to any other photographer,” said Sanders. “But if you put 100 random actor headshots in a pile in front of me, I could easily pick out the ones taken by Jeremy because he has such a distinctive style behind the camera. He just has a way of making actors look their best. Maybe it’s because he’s one of them. But somehow he manages to put a sparkle in the eye of every single person he photographs.”

    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 

    Steven J. Burge: 2017
    • The Almighty in DCPA Cabaret’s First Date
    • Co-Host, United in Love benefit concert
    • Co-Host, Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards
    • Co-Host, Miscast 2017
    • Multiple roles in DCPA Cabaret’s First Date

    Jeremy Rill: 2017
    • Man 1 (Cole Porter) in Cherry Creek Theatre’s Red, Hot and Cole
    • Ensemble in Arvada Center’s Jesus Christ Superstar
    • Aurora Fox’s Company
    • Emile de Becque in Platte Valley Players' South Pacific (concert version)
    • Performed in Miscast 2017 for the Denver Actors Fund

    Steven J Burge GerRee Hinshaw 2017 Henry Awards BLF Photography
    Steven J. Burge and GerRee Hinshaw co-hosting the 2017 Henry Awards. BLF Photography.


    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's 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)

     

  • 2017 True West Award: Buntport Theater

    by John Moore | Dec 27, 2017

    2017 True West Award Buntport Theater Zeus Crud Poe

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 26: Buntport Theater

    The Zeus Problem
    The Crud
    Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    When you’ve done what Buntport Theater has done for 17 years, the worst thing that could possibly happen would be for complacency to settle in.

    Not in them. In us.

    Buntport has been such a consistent contributor to the Colorado creative ecology that I sometimes wonder whether audiences might eventually (and perhaps even naturally) begin to take what they do for granted.

    What they do is make the magical look mundane time and time and time again. But this is a condition which must be guarded against at all costs. Because to normalize what Buntport does would be like normalizing … I dunno. Butterflies.

    Buntport The Zeus Problem Jim Hunt QuoteThink about it: Now entering its 18th year, Buntport is older than all but 20 Denver metro theatre companies. In that time, these five uncommonly compatible college pals have conjured, written and staged 45 original, intelligent, accessible and often very funny full-length theatrical productions. From scratch. Collaboratively, without designated writers, directors, designers or even janitors. "We do it all. Because we love it," says, well ... one of them. Because another thing they do collaboratively is ... talk about themselves.

    Think about that: Forty-five distinct, form-bending stories unlike anything any other company brings to any Colorado stage. Often while employing old-school Eastern European transformational theatre techniques they were introduced to at Colorado College.

    The Buntport Five — Brian Colonna, Hannah Duggan, Erik Edborg, Erin Rollman and Samantha Schmitz — have pretty good heads for business, too, having long ago turned working at Buntport into full-time employment, thanks in large part to rentals and supporting monthly and children’s programming that keeps people coming back to the iconic warehouse theatre in the Santa Fe Arts District whenever the company is between mainstage shows.

    The three new works Buntport entered into the canon in 2017 well-demonstrate everything they do right as an artistic collective — even when not everything they do necessarily comes out just right. That’s part of the fun. The Zeus Problem was metaphorically political — or as political as Buntport gets, which usually isn’t all that much. The Crud was a theatrical adventure and party game of epic scale: The company bought a random storage locker at an auction and committed to building an entire play around whatever contents they found inside, sight unseen. Next was Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat, an unabashed Halloween comedy that was intentionally about as scary as a trip to Boston Market. (So you'll have to apply your own personal experience to that barometer.)

    Read more: The Buntport ensemble talks about The Crud

    That’s the thing about these sweet smarty-pants: They can fly 6 feet over your head one minute and go 6 feet under the next depending on where their present creative whim wants to take them. All they ask of audiences is that you meet them halfway. So that's ... 3 feet, over or under.

    “The most remarkable thing about Buntport to me is that they start over every single time. It’s like they always return to Ground Zero,” said Buntport guest actor Jim Hunt. “And they put themselves at incredible risk with their audiences because they don’t say to people, ‘If you liked what we did last time, then you are automatically going to love what we are doing this time — because what we are doing this time is unlike anything we have ever done before.’ ”

    Buntport Poe The Buntporters began preparations for 2017 with a plan, which they promptly threw out with the bathwater after the presidential election. And it was an intriguing plan. Buntport shows often begin with one company member stumbling onto a really interesting bit of otherwise useless trivia — which they then build an entire show around. Colonna, for example, latched onto the discovery that child murderer Nathan Leopold (of Leopold and Loeb infamy) was also an ornithologist who kept 3,000 bird specimens in his home.

    Now that sounds like the quintessential premise for a new Buntport play. But it never happened because Donald Trump won the election.

    (Pictured above and right: Erin Rollman (as The Suit) with Hannah Duggan as a grieving cat owner and Brian Colonna as a creeper wearing Baltimore Ravens boxers in 'Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat.' Below: Erik Edborg in 'The Crud.') 

    “When they realized the play would be opening within days of the inauguration, they felt it would be unconscionable if they didn’t do something that was more closely related to the way people were feeling at the time,” said Hunt, a Colorado Theatre Guild Life Achievement winner they had asked to play famous lawyer Clarence Darrow.

     

    Buntport. The CrudThey still wanted Hunt — they just no longer wanted Darrow. So instead they cast him as Zeus, the vainglorious and hotheaded ruler of all other gods, in The Zeus Problem. Then they asked the esteemed and ever-erudite actor with the somewhat British sensibilities to, oh … let’s run down the list: Pull his pants down, fart, dance on a table, chew on a heart, repeatedly brag about his manhood and grab his testicles — a lot. Hunt’s Zeus was a charmer with the audience, too. Particularly when Hunt said to them: “You violent things. You dim lights. You armored and inedible vegetables. You (bleeping) artichokes.”

    What he was not doing was an impression of you-know-who.

    “They told me, ‘You are playing a crazy, childlike god. You are not playing Donald Trump.’ They did not want me to mimic him. They did not even want me to watch him on television because they didn’t want it to bleed into the performance.”

    The setting for the play was sort of a dinner party. At one end of a long table sat an amiable Henry David Thoreau (Colonna) working on his boring translation of AeschylusPrometheus Bound. At the other end was Prometheus (Edborg), who was chained to his rock, condemned by Zeus to a life of torment for the crime of stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man. Duggan played a giant eagle who unenthusiastically snacks on Prometheus’ continually regenerating heart and liver. And then there was Rollman as a beautiful maiden named Io (pronounced I.O.) whom Zeus transformed into a cow to prevent his wife, Hera, from picking up on his lust for her.   

    So what you had with Zeus, Hunt said, “is a crazy god who behaves like a temperamental, narcissistic child. Who was mad with power and armed with lightning bolts. Who chained a man to a rock as punishment for wanting to liberate all mankind. Who turned a beautiful woman into a cow for his own selfish pleasure. Who could do absolutely anything he wanted, and absolutely no one could stop him.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    And if that sounds vaguely similar to someone who appears regularly in your daily Twitter feed, then that’s all on you. But Westword’s Juliet Wittman went there. “Zeus’ clownish and impermeable ego is irresistibly reminiscent of the current president’s,” she wrote. “Except that Jim Hunt is a whole lot funnier.”

    BuntportTo Hunt, “The genius of the play is that it never directly commented on what was going on in the world. It was not trying to change or solve anything. And yet so many of the people who came to our play told us, ‘You gave me a container for me to put my frustration in for 90 minutes. You gave me a place to laugh and have fellowship.’

    “To me, that is the genius of Buntport.”

    (Pictured at right: Buntport's four performing members with their self-chosen celebrity doppelgängers, from the top: Erik Edborg: Jim Carrey, Hannah Duggan: Tina Yothers, Erin Rollman: Rowan Atkinson and Brian Colonna: Jim Belushi.)

    The rest of the year was closer to Buntport’s more expected, unexpected form. In The Crud, the crud that filled the stage became a universal metaphor for the crud on our floors and in our heads and out in the world. The ensemble brainstormed the plot of the play (subtitled Hoarder's Delight) based on what they found in the storage unit they bought. The resulting play explored the nature of memory, the transience of "having," our relationship to technology, and our need for play and fantasy.

    And the unapologetically funny Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead, and So Is My Cat featured a quintessentially original Buntport staging device — Rollman coming to life as a man’s suit. Craig Williamson of the North Denver Tribune called the dead-cat play a return to Buntport's funny roots, "but it still manages to make the audience think about the nature of life, and especially what it takes to make life meaningful."

    Our look back at the 2006 end of Magnets on the Fridge

    So that was Season 17, which was one of Buntport's best yet. And yet, despite years of critical praise, more awards than they have places to put them and a fiercely loyal core audience base, Buntport seemed to be flying somewhat under the radar this year. For example, much thoughtful media and social attention was paid over the past year to the leading contributors of new work among Colorado theatres. And for the most part, none of it thought to include Buntport — the most prolific producer new work by any company in Colorado — in the conversation. Has Buntport become a thing that we, gulp, now take for granted?   

    Buntport Magnets on the Fridge“I do think that Buntport remains somewhat underrated," Hunt said," even as they have become a kind of a staple over all these years."

    To be fair, Buntport doesn’t always start over with every new project. Sometimes they repeat themselves — to their fans’ delight. They have been clamoring for the return of Buntport’s brilliantly stupid monthly sitcom Magnets on the Fridge, about a group of 20-something friends who have a book club even though they don’t read books. And they shall be rewarded, once a month, starting Jan. 3.

    (Pictured above and right: The 'Magnets on the Fridge' cast in 2003.)

    Magnets debuted in 2001 and ran for 65 episodes over five years, nearly all of them packed to the alleyway. Like the Friends/Seinfeld TV series that inspired it, Magnets introduced a group of vapid 20-somethings doing nothing. And the new Magnets no doubt will re-introduce a group of vapid 40-somethings doing nothing. Probably brilliantly.

    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

    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's 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

  • 2017 True West Award: Meridith and Gary Grundei

    by John Moore | Dec 22, 2017

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS Gary Grundie Meridith C. Grundei

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 22: Meridith C. Grundei and Gary Grundei

    The Catamounts
    Naropa University

    DCPA Theatre Company
    Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    Bar Choir
    Stories on Stage
    The Singing House Productions
    Pipedream Productions
    Visionbox Studio

      Local Theater Company
    Theatre Playback West

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Gary and Meridith C. Grundei are proof that the couple that rocks together, rolls together.

    On Sept. 29, the free-spirited pair packed up a used R.V. and hit the road with their daughter to travel the United States and Mexico for a year. They’re having what they are calling “an improvised year” in what already has been a fairly improvised life together so far.

    The Grundeis are couple of unconventional artists, and nothing if not an unconventional couple. Meridith is a director and Gary a composer, but both are performers to the bone, and neither is confined to a single discipline. For example, one of their popular fringe acts has them playing a brutal, drunken couple hilariously called Jack and Coke.

    Burns and Allen, they are not. Funny, they most definitely are.

    GerRee Hinshaw, who partners with Gary on a traveling rock flash-mob called Bar Choir, calls them The Fabulous Grundei Duo: “They are the rare couple who can collaborate with each other and still be friends — and keep all their other friends,” she said.

    One of their points of connection, says Amanda Berg Wilson, Artistic Director of the Boulder-based collective known as The Catamounts, is that they both have strong and compatible but individual artist identities.

    “Meridith has a very playful sense that dovetails nicely with Gary’s improvisational taste in music and art,” Berg Wilson said. “They’re always up for an adventure as artists and in life, and this road trip is certainly proof of that.”

    Their first stop was for their daughter to meet her birth family. Subsequent adventures already have been had in Georgia, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Florida and two unexpected weeks in Nashville following a breakdown. But the unexpected is kind of the point. Friends believe, but no one is ever really sure, that they are presently in Mexico.

    Meridith C. and Gary Grundei True West Award Photo by John MooreThe Grundeis hit the road at the height of a prolific period of ongoing and eclectic creative activity spanning theatre, music, academia, improv comedy, performance art and more. Their list of creative undertakings for 2017 is all the more impressive given they did it all in only nine months.

    Topping that list is Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage for The Catamounts at the Dairy Arts Center. This was truly event theatre: A blood-pumping, leather-clad, sexy-weird gypsy-punk musical adaptation based on the ninth-century epic poem, backed by a live band playing an original score written by the composer of Broadway’s The Great Comet of 1812.

    Meridith was the director while Gary was music director, bandleader and even the actor who played King Hrothgar of the Danes in sexypants. He was the embodiment of a true rock star as the king who entreats Beowulf to get rid of the man-eating monster Grendel.

    In most musicals, the man at the piano sits at that piano and plays. But Gary Grundei just plays in every sense of the word. On stage and in life.

    “He jumped fully into it,” Berg Wilson said. “He had a great sense of humor about it. He’s a super-compelling performer with this fabulous, unique voice.”

    Berg Wilson called Beowulf “très Catamounts.” Westword’s Juliet Wittman called the free and fierce evening “a throbbing and raucous experience.” And that Meridith Grundei could take credit for the show’s precision, flow and eye appeal.

    Beowulf. Catamounts The staging earned a whopping nine Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award nominations for The Catamounts, including best musical. Both of the Grundeis were individually nominated.

    Both Grundeis are in equal but separate demand. Beowulf was fully Meridith’s idea, one that was four years in the making. One of the reasons her husband decided to go all-in on it himself was the rare opportunity to work together with his wife on an extended theatrical project. At the time, Gary was composing music for the DCPA Theatre Company's provocative church-service play The Christians. But he declined a tempting offer to also play with the onstage church band he put together each night so he could do Beowulf with his wife instead.

    Gary separately collaborated on two other cool 2017 creative partnerships: First was Visionbox’s workshop production of a complex new musical called The Wild Hunt written by popular film actor Bill Pullman (currently starring in The Ballad of Lefty Brown). The other was the creation of a tantalizingly titled new musical called "__________”, An Opera with acclaimed local actor Ethelyn Friend. Grundei conducted live, improvised music at each performance in a Victorian house in old-town Lafayette for what was later described as "a singular opera experiment that found that sweet spot between Gertrude Stein, Spike Jonze and Kendrick Lamar."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Meridith, meanwhile, is an actor, director, improviser and public-speaking coach who created her own traveling corporate training company called Red Ball Speaks. She played Curtis (Petruchio’s servant) in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s The Taming of the Shrew last summer and later accepted Pipedream Productions’ community-wide challenge to perform the one-person play White Rabbit Red Rabbit script unseen before opening an envelope containing that script before an already gathered audience.

    In September, she helped the second-year MFA students at Naropa University stage the devised piece Under Construction, written by Charles Mee, again with her husband as music director and sound designer.

    The Grundeis both have long ties to the DCPA Theatre Company. Gary started as a paid intern in 1997 and soon was hired on a big-shot sound designer. Over the years, he often has been commissioned to compose original scores for productions ranging from Plainsong to Shakespeare’s As You Like It to The Christians. Meridith has appeared in three Denver Center productions as an actor, most recently in Frankenstein and Off-Center’s Sweet and Lucky.

    True West Grundei Gary’s other great musical love is an irregular bit of flash-mob fun called Bar Choir with Hinshaw, host of the enduring monthly Freak Train at The Bug Theatre. “Choir is that thing you didn't know you need in your life,” Hinshaw said. “But once you've had it, you crave it at random times in your day.”

    The idea: The hosts put out an invitation on social media encouraging singers of all experience levels — including none — to show up at a hipster bar such as Syntax Physic Opera, learn three tunes from rockers who have included Pat Benatar and The White Stripes and, after a bit of instruction, perform them for a generally blown-away happy-hour bar crowd.

    Gary Grundei’s invitation for one and all to join in on the next Bar Choir (whenever that might be) is pretty much his clarion call for living an artistic life.

    “Everyone has a voice,” Grundei said. “If you can talk, you can sing. If somebody at some point in your life told you that you can’t sing, what the (bleep)? Are you going to believe that? The more you sing, they better you get. So come (bleeping) sing with us.”

    If life is an unpainted canvas, then the Grundeis are evidence that life is also a not-yet-traveled highway.


    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.


    Video bonus: Our visit to Bar Choir at Syntax Physic Opera


    To read more about Bar Choir, click here

    Meridith C. Grundei: 2017

    • Directed Beowulf for The Catamounts
    • Performed in Stories on Stage's Mother's Day program
    • Played Curtis in The Taming of the Shrew for Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Facilitator for Pain Management, a devised piece for Local Theater Company
    • Performed Red Rabbit White Rabbit for Pipedream Productions
    • Directed Under Construction for Naropa University masters students

    Meridith Grundei, a native of Fort Collins, has performed for the DCPA Theatre Company in Frankenstein, and for Off-Center in Sweet & Lucky and SWEAT. Other Theatre credits: The Misanthrope (American Conservatory Theatre), God's Ear, Messenger #1, Failure...A Love Story, Mr. Spacky, Mr. Burns, The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen, Spirits to Enforce (The Catamounts), Faith (Local Theater Company) and House of Yes (square product). Recipient of the 2011 Camera Eye Award and nominated as Best Actress in a Comedy by the 2012 Culture West True West Awards. She is married to frequent DCPA Theatre composer Gary Grundei.

    Meridith Grundei and Gary Grundei as Jack and Coke. Photo by John Moore.Gary Grundei: 2017

    • Composed music for workshop production of The Wild Hunt, by Bill Pullman, for Visionbox Studios
    • Composer of The Christans for DCPA Theatre Company
    • Music Director, Band Leader and performer (Rothgar) in Beowulf for The Catamounts
    • Co-host, Bar Choir (ongoing)
    • Music Director of Under Construction for Naropa University masters students
    • Composed music for Stories on Stage's Making Merry holiday program

    Gary Grundei, who is from Ohio, is a composer, pianist and teacher whose music has been heard at the Kennedy Center, DCPA Theatre Company, New York Stage and Film, Boulder Theater, Ogden Theatre, Boulder’s Chautauqua Community House, Vintage Theatre, Occidental College, and The Ohio State University. He also writes for and plays with the band High Fiction, and directs Golden Lotus studio in Lafayette.

    (Photo above and right: Meridith C. Grundei and Gary Grundei performing as as Jack and Coke. Photo by John Moore.)


    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's 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

  • 2017 True West Award: Josh Hartwell

    by John Moore | Dec 12, 2017
    True West Awards 2017 Josh Hartwell

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 12: Josh Hartwell

    Playwright
    Director
    Actor
    Teaching Artist
    Dramatists Guild of America

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Josh Hartwell has done enough this month to earn a True West Award for all of 2017. Oh, he’s made his mark as an actor, director, playwright, teaching artist and community organizer throughout the calendar year. But consider that Hartwell has written two new plays that are being staged at the same time at two different local theatres — and he’s performing in one of them.  

    Resolutions Andrew Uhlenhopp Karen Slack The Edge RDG Photography“I don’t think another Colorado playwright has ever had two professional premieres running concurrently at different theatres,” said Jeff Neuman, co-founder of the local writing group known as the Rough Draught Playwrights. Hartwell graduated from Longmont High School and Metropolitan State University of Denver. But the fact that he's a writer from Colorado only seems to make it harder for his work to actually be seen in theatres here, Neuman believes.

    “I don’t know if people really understand how difficult it is for a Colorado playwright to get produced in Colorado,” he said. “Many Front Range playwrights regularly get produced all over the world, but are unable to secure one single production in their own home state. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m so incredibly thrilled for Josh — and more than a little envious of him.”  

    Hartwell was commissioned by The Edge Theatre Company to create Resolutions (pictured above), a plum assignment that came with three stipulations, said Producing Artistic Director Rick Yaconis: “It had to be a holiday play that wasn’t about Christmas, it had to have the word resolutions in the title, and it had to be edgy,” he said.

    Side note: A commission is when a theatre company actually pays you to write a new play for them — the ultimate sign that a playwright has really made it. Because most playwrights pen their plays, submit them blindly to anyone with an address (digital, postal or otherwise) and then pray to the literary gods that someone actually reads them, believes in them and then stages them.

    Meanwhile, a little further west, Miners Alley Playhouse is currently staging Hartwell’s original and intimate spin on A Christmas Carol in downtown Golden with a cast of just six.

    Having the two new plays running at once, Neuman said, “Is a supremely exciting landmark for the local playwriting community, as well as a testament to Josh’s amazing skills and talents as a dramatist.”

    Josh Hartwell Christmas Carol Photo by Sarah RoshanIronically, both of Hartwell’s stories depict actors enjoying very — very — different holiday gatherings away from the stage. His family friendly take on A Christmas Carol (pictured right) drops us in on a group of merry actors who endeavor to stage Dickens’ classic right then and there, as swiftly and cleverly as possible. It stars Jim Hunt as the thespian who takes on Scrooge, with Hartwell among the ensemble playing several supporting roles.

    Miners Alley Playhouse audiences are lapping up the new take on an old favorite like sweet eggnog, and Artistic Director Len Matheo already has announced that Hartwell’s script will henceforth become the company’s annual holiday offering.

    “What I'm most excited about with this production is that this play is a heightened glimpse into us theatre folk,” said Hartwell, who finds it completely conceivable that off-duty actors sitting around a cozy fire at the holidays are compelled to re-enact their favorite Christmas stories. Lisa Kennedy of The Denver Post called the work a gentle, sweet and tender bit of nostalgia.

    Resolutions at the Edge is considerably more … well, edgy — as ordered. As in a 'Stephen King meets Quentin Tarantino popcorn pulp' kind of way. This group of former college thespian pals gathers every New Year’s Eve at a posh cabin in Vail to relive their Big Chill days and share their hopes for the coming year. But this time, one of the gang is a little ax-to-grindy, and let’s just say one of these buddies will soon be adding “reattach severed limb” to his list of New Year’s resolutions.

    Westword critic Juliet Wittman called the resulting world premiere, appropriately playing through New Year's Eve, "a swift, funny, clever, 85-minute holiday treat."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Hartwell is a young writer with a veteran resume that includes productions in New York, Florida, Washington, Minneapolis, New Zealand and beyond. He’s a big-enough deal that he’s represented by the Abrams Artist Agency in New York City.

    Bad Jews Edge John Wittbrodt and Missy Moore. RDG Photography But writing is just a slice of his breakthrough, renaissance year. He directed two plays, including the comedy Bad Jews for the Edge (pictured right) and a milestone production of Hir at Miners Alley. That was a dark and difficult family drama that dared to include a transitioning teenager as part of a major subplot. Hartwell also continued to vigorously mentor student writers, both through Curious Theatre’s wildly successful Curious New Voices program and Denver Center Education’s year-round and statewide playwriting competition, which has Hartwell offering dozens of in-class workshops throughout the fall semester.

    Banned Together Josh Hartwell Miners Alley Playhouse Angels in America Photo by John MooreHartwell also stepped up into a major leadership role in the community when he took on producing Banned Together, A Censorship Cabaret, on Sept. 28 at Miners Alley Playhouse. MAP joined a national coalition of theatres in presenting an informal evening of censored theatre pieces to mark Banned Books Week in America and raise awareness about the ongoing issue of free expression in the live theatre (pictured right and below).

    An array of acclaimed local actors presented songs and scenes from controversial plays and musicals ranging from Cabaret to Fun Home to Rent to Spring Awakening to Angels in America. Hartwell read from the critical moment in The Laramie Project when murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard’s father addresses his son’s killer in court and bitterly spares him from the death penalty.

    Banned Together Miners Alley Playhouse Rent Photo by John MooreBanned Together was an important evening that Denver might easily have missed entirelyhad not Hartwell, Matheo and Hunt not taken the project on. (See video highlights below.)

    And while acting was low on his list of priorities this year, Hartwell is a company member at Curious Theatre, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and The Edge Theatre Company.

    If all that weren’t enough, Hartwell has worked tirelessly as Colorado's first regional representative for the Dramatists Guild of America, endeavoring throughout the year to both unite, grow and empower the local writer community.

    It’s been a busy year for a writer who has again proven that the pen is mightier than the pillow.

    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.

    Josh Hartwell: 2017 in review

    • Director, Hir, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Teaching Artist, Curious New Voices, Curious Theatre Company
    • Director, Bad Jews, The Edge Theatre Company
    • Producer, Banned Together: A Censorship Cabaret, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Playwright, Resolutions, The Edge Theatre Company
    • Playwright, A Christmas Carol, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Actor, A Christmas Carol, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Teaching Artist, Denver Center Education Student Playwriting
    • Dramatists Guild of America, Colorado Regional Representative

    Photo credits, from top down: Karen Slack and Andrew Uhlenhopp in 'Resolutions' (RDG Photography). Jason Maxwell, Meredith Young, Josh Hartwell and Ella Matheo in 'A Christmas Carol.' (Sarah Roshan Photography). John Wittbrodt and Missy Moore in 'Bad Jews' (RDG Photography). Josh Hartwell performing from 'Angels in America' for 'Banned Together.' Photo by John Moore. Abigail Kochevar, Steph Holmbo and ensemble performing 'Seasons of Love' for Banned Together.' Photo by John Moore.

    Video bonus:Our coverage of Banned Together


    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

  • 2017 True West Award: Sammie Joe Kinnett

    by John Moore | Dec 10, 2017
    True West Award Sammie Joe Kinnett
    Photo at right by Zachary Andrews.

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 10: Sammie Joe Kinnett

    Arvada Center
    Colorado Springs TheatreWorks
    Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Sammie Joe Kinnett is one of the hundreds who started 2017 adrift in grief over the death of Murray Ross.

    Ross founded TheatreWorks as part of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in 1975 and for the next 42 years, he built it into a fertile incubator of young hearts and minds. Some of them were not even his students. Kinnett, for one, was a teenage community-college dropout who, through Ross, found a mentor — and a home — on a campus he didn’t even attend.

    "Ross was a divining rod of talent," said frequent Colorado Springs Director Geoffrey Kent. When Ross met Kinnett, he didn’t see a dropout. He saw his next Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He saw his future co-writer and the co-star of an original piece they developed together called I Am Nikola Tesla.

    sammie joe-15-m242x323“Murray was able to see when there was something special in someone,” said Kinnett, "and he was able to bring it out in them just by sheer belief.” Ross certainly brought it out in Kinnett, who developed into one of the most intelligent and consistently working comic actors in theatres across Colorado Springs.

    And so when Ross died in January, Kinnett confronted his own profound sadness and honored his mentor by going out and making people laugh. First in a revelatory take on the title character in the warhorse comedy The Foreigner at the Arvada Center. Then by putting a more humane spin on The SantaLand Diaries, David Sedaris’ comic monologue about working as a Macy’s elf (playing through Dec. 23). Both plays were directed by Kent, who calls Kinnett “the ‘fire and forget’ missile of comedians.”

    When he says that, he’s invoking the military term for a projectile that never fails to hit its target. “Once launched in any given direction,” Kent elaborated, “Sammie rockets forward with 110 percent commitment.”  

    Audiences saw a whole different side of Kinnett's comic skills when he played Sancho to Stephen Day's Henry Award-winning Cervantes in Man of La Mancha for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. Reviewer Bill Wheeler wrote the casting of Kinnett as Sancho was brilliant, and that "he’s the finest comedic actor working in Colorado Springs."

    True West Awards Sammie Joe Kinnett The Foreigner Arvada CenterThe Foreigner
    has been done and doner since playwright Larry Shue (M*A*S*H) debuted it in 1983. But everything about the tired old comedy felt fresh at the Arvada Center — even, sadly, its intentionally racist overtones that felt uncomfortably contemporary in the wake of the Charlottesville riots. Kinnett played a pathologically shy young Brit who pretends not to speak English to avoid interacting with the rubes visiting a fishing lodge in rural Georgia.

    The reason it felt so fresh, said Drew Martorella, Executive Director of UCCS Presents, is because everything seems to when filtered through Kinnett’s playful lens.

    “Sammie Joe has an innocence about him that allows you to see the world through his eyes — and that is a great vehicle to allow comedy to happen,” Martorella said.

    (Pictured at right: Sammie Joe Kinnett, center, with Jessica Robblee, left, Lance Rasmussen (back) and Edith Weiss in the Arvada Center's 'The Foreigner.' M. Gale Photography.)

    'Murray Ross put beauty and goodness out into this world'

    Kinnett is a great physical comedian who uses his body as a readily available tool just as a painter uses a paintbrush or a mechanic uses a tire iron — and that was on confident display in The Foreigner. This was not the first time on a Denver stage for Kinnett, who turned two memorable summer seasons at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. But for many, The Foreigner was an introduction worthy of a classic comedy double-take. Take a gander at what the impressed critics had to say:

    • Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post: “The Foreigner is a particular triumph for Sammie Joe Kinnett, who, through a mix of lithe physical antics, deft dialect work and spot-on timing, brings Charlie to life.”
    • Juliet Wittman, Westword: “Sammie Joe Kinnett sports a goofy, all-stops-out physicality and a gutsy, crazed creativity that lets him try anything and go anywhere for a laugh — the result being gales of laughter from the audience.”

    Ross would have loved seeing Kinnett in this exquisitely executed role, Kent said. Here was this now fully grown-up actor putting on a confident comedy clinic that was fully gained through hard knocks and hard experience. And yet it was infused with a joyful spirit of reminiscent of Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful). Kinnett's humanity even bleeds through his current take on Sedaris’ famously cynical SantaLand elf in Colorado Springs.

    "TheatreWorks made a bold choice," writes the (unnamed) critic for the website Springs on Stage:  "They gave Crumpet a soul.

    "Kinnett brings a wild energy and warmth to the show,” the reviewer goes on to say. “This Crumpet wants to care — he’s just waiting for something that’s worth caring about. It’s a touching blend of deviance and heart.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    And as most any comedian will tell you, successful comedy is often born through life’s rockiest transitions. Over their decade together, Ross watched Kinnett grow up, fall in love, get married, become a father — and then a single father.

    Ross did live to see that his former community-college dropout is now enrolled at UCCS studying for a degree in Performing Arts and Psychology. It seems the more complicated Kinnett’s life has become, the better he’s become as an actor who floats easily from screwball farce to Shakespeare (sometimes at the same time).

    Man-of-La-Mancha_3“We would rehearse for The SantaLand Diaries from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Colorado Springs, and then Sammie would drive to Arvada to perform in The Foreigner that night — all as a full-time student and single dad,” Kent said. “I don’t know how he did it.”

    Kent might not know how Kinnett did it, but he is certain Ross has had everything to do with Kinnett’s now more widely recognized statewide success.

    “Sammie Joe is now equipped with the deep pathos to pair with that classic spit take,” Kent said. “He’s the complete package.”

    (Pictured at right: Sammie Joe Kinnett as Sancho in 'Man of La Mancha' for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. Photo by Jeff Kearney.)  

    Martorella believes Kinnett “may be the most generous, most humorous, most accommodating performer we have ever turned out here in Colorado Springs,” he said. “We’re proud that we still have him, and we’re glad he’s still making people laugh.”

    Whatever "that thing" Kinnett has may be indefinable. Martorella knows only one simple thing:

    “Sammie Joe just makes me smile.”

    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.

    Sammie Joe Kinnett: 2017

    • The Hairy Ape, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks (Assistant Director)
    • The Foreigner, Arvada Center
    • The SantaLand Diaries, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks (Actor)

    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

  • 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

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

  • 2017 True West Award: Cory Sapienza

    by John Moore | Dec 03, 2017
    True West 2017 Cory Sapienza Miners Alley Hir

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 3: Cory Sapienza

    Hir
    Miners Alley Playhouse

    This time last year, we here at the True West Awards were acknowledging Buntport Theater for adapting transitioning novelist Miriam Suzanne’s Riding SideSaddle for the stage. Because for all its presumed inclusiveness, the theatre at large has made very little room in the storytelling canon for those whose chromosomes straddle that crumbling boundary between strictly male and female. There have been virtually no stories about people whose gender identities either vary over time, or have come to include a combination of identities.

    And so, despite the 2016 award, Buntport ensemble member Erin Rollman was quick to point out that telling one trans person’s story was just a step, no more. “And the next step includes getting more trans actors on-stage and fully participating in the storytelling,” she said.

    So it was a big deal when Miners Alley Playhouse took one decisive step in that direction in February by casting high-school sophomore Cory Sapienza to play Maxine, a character who is transitioning into Max, in Taylor Mac’s absurd and disturbed comedy Hir. It’s the grossly exaggerated story of a dysfunctional family scarred by war, patriarchy, sexual abuse, racism, PTSD, sadism, and drug abuse. ... And then there's Max, whose unprecedented storyline is just one piece of the larger family dynamic at play.

    Oldest son Isaac is a troubled Marine whose job in Afghanistan was collecting body parts to send back home. He returns to a Durang-worthy family that has turned into a twisted clown show – literally. Sapienza, who identifies as a transguy, plays Isaac’s trans-masculine younger brother who, thanks to pills he buys off the internet, is starting to sprout some impressive facial hair.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Safe to say: This is not the kind of play Miners Alley Playhouse audiences are used to seeing. Meaning: It ain’t Neil Simon. And maybe that’s the point.

    Cory Sapienza Spotlife. Photo by Sarah RoshanDirector Josh Hartwell wasn’t all that interested in staging this play if he could not find a gender-appropriate actor with the depth the pull off the tricky role of Max. To Hartwell, it wasn’t just a matter of creating an opportunity for an invisible class of local actors. It was about creating a play with artistic credibility. And he had guidance from the playwright, who strongly urges anyone staging Hir to find a transgender actor to play Max.

    Enter Sapienza, who identifies himself in his Facebook profile as: "Actor. Artist. Transgender. Hufflepuff!” He was coming off an ensemble appearance in Performance Now’s Bye Bye Birdie. But Hartwell saw much stranger things in his immediate future.

    (Pictured above and right: Cory Sapienza and Royce Roeswood in the Miners Alley Playhouse's 'Hir.' Photo by Sarah Roshan.)

    “It’s a challenging script because it’s so dark and frankly hard to live in,” Hartwell said. “But Cory was prepared every day. He showed up every day with a great attitude, was willing to take direction and go to the places I asked him to go to. And it helped that he really understood the role.”

    Westword’s Juliet Wittman said Sapienza, who benefited greatly from a stellar supporting cast of Royce Roeswood, Martha Harmon Pardee and Marc Stith, made for “a convincing and sometimes touching Max.”

    In the Spotlife: Our full interview with Cory Sapienza

    Sapienza said Max has had a very different trans experience from his own, because he comes from what he calls a loving, stable and supportive home. What he loved most about this play, he said, “is that it focuses on issues that are so common, and yet so often overlooked. I loved playing a character who helped bring visibility to the transgender community.”

    It was a small step forward — but a daring one.

    "That playwrights are starting to write parts for trans actors is progress," Hartwell said. That smaller theatres like Miners Alley Playhouse are choosing a play like Hir out of the thousands of scripts they could stage is progress. That audiences in Golden were open to seeing it is probably the greatest progress of all.

    “But it’s not enough yet.” 

    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

  • Community conversation on theatre criticism Monday at Denver Center

    by John Moore | Jun 17, 2017
    Rick Yaconis, Juliet Wittman and Michael J. Duran

    From left: Rick Yaconis, Juliet Wittman and Michael J. Duran.

    Everyone's a Critic ... Literally, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, June 19, in the DCPA's Conservatory Theatre

    By Gloria Shanstrom
    Colorado Theatre Guild

    The Colorado Theatre Guild will launch its new series, called Community Conversations, this Monday night with a candid and constructive conversation about the changing face of arts journalism today. First up is Everyone’s a Critic: Literally.

    With the decline of full-time jobs at traditional media outlets throughout the country, there is growing concern among arts organizations about the future of theatrical criticism. This panel will discuss the state of criticism today, what the future might hold and offer proactive strategies arts groups might consider to get their own stories told.

    The conversation takes place at 7 p.m. Monday, June 19, at the Denver Center's Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education, located at 13th and Arapahoe streets.

    John MooreThe panel will be moderated by John Moore, former longtime theatre critic at The Denver Post and now editor of a 4-year-old media outlet launched by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts as a shared asset for the entire Colorado theatre community. 

    Current panelists include Westword theatre critic Juliet Wittman, longtime blogger critic Patrick Dorn, The Edge Theatre Company Executive and Artistic Director Rick Yaconis and BDT Stage Producing Artistic Director Michael J. Duran. (Panel subject to change.)

    This Colorado Theatre Guild's new workshop and panel-discussion series, initiated by new CTG President Deb Flomberg, is aimed at Colorado theater producers, actors, designers, patrons and anyone wishing to get better insight into the process of creating and producing live theatre in Colorado. Attendees are asked to come with questions for this lively discussion.

    "Community Conversations are about one thing: Opening up the discussion to bring together the theatrical community in Colorado," Flomberg said.

    Everyone’s a Critic: Literally
    Newman Building

    • 7 p.m. Monday, June 19
    • At the Denver Center's Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education
    • 13th and Arapahoe streets
    • 1101 13th Street, Denver, CO 80204
    • Free to Colorado Theatre Guild members, and $5 at the door for non-members

    Panelist bios
    John Moore
    is an award-winning arts journalist who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the United States by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. His online innovations for The Denver Post prompted the Chicago Tribune to suggest that The Denver Post‘s online theater coverage was the best in the nation. In 2013, he took a groundbreaking new position as an in-house journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. His ongoing coverage of the entire Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org. He also started the Denver Actors Fund as a way of organizing community-wide responsive efforts when members of the local theatre community find themselves in immediate medical need. In just more than three years, the Denver Actors Fund has distributed more than $100,000 in direct financial relief to members of the Colorado theatre community. Last year John's full-length play Waiting for Obama was performed by an all-Colorado cast at the New York International Fringe Festival.

    Juliet Wittman studied acting while growing up in London (where she was privileged to see such greats as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft onstage), and with Milton Katselas in New York. She has also worked in radio, off-off Broadway, summer-stock and repertory. As a graduate student in Colorado, she appeared at CU and the Nomad Playhouse and she also founded a feminist theatre company. For two years, she taught theater at the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility: The inmates were allowed out of the prison several times to show their plays in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver’s Changing Scene, where Al Brooks served them cappuccino in tiny, elegant cups. As a writer, she has had essays and short stories published in literary magazines and won several journalism awards. Her memoir, Breast Cancer Journal: A Century of Petals, received the Colorado Book Award and was named a finalist for the National Book Award. She has been reviewing theatre for Westword for more than 15 years, during which time she’s learned more about the art form than she can begin to express.

    Patrick DornPatrick Dorn abandoned his Actor’s Equity card and fled Los Angeles in 1980. He moved to Denver, where he earned a master’s degree in theatre from the University of Denver, with emphases in theatre history, dramatic theory and criticism, playwriting and children’s theatre. As an associate professor, he taught these subjects and more at Colorado Christian University for several years. Before becoming a critic, he was first reader and editor at Pioneer Drama Service, where he read and wrote rejection letters for thousands of play submissions. He served on the faculty and board of Colorado ACTS drama school, directing dozens of plays with children and teens, and a few shows for grownups. Patrick has more than 40 of his own plays published in the children’s and youth theatre market. Patrick has written play reviews for the Denver Catholic Register and the Intermountain Jewish News, and for seven years was the theatre critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, attending approximately 120 plays annually. He remembers liking more than 700 of them. After leaving the Daily Camera to become an Anglican priest and later a full-time chaplain, he is posting his reviews on various blogs.

    Michael J. Duran has been the Producing Artistic Director at BDT Stage (formerly Boulder’s Dinner Theatre) since 2003, following a successful 23-year career in NYC. His credits include: Broadway: The Music Man, Crazy For You, Me and My Girl, Into the Light, Annie 2 (Pre Broadway). London and National Tours: Damn Yankees with Jerry Lewis, Sunset Boulevard with Petula Clark, Bye Bye Birdie with Tommy Tune and Anne Reinking, Hello Dolly! with Carol Channing and On Your Toes directed by George Abbott. Television: Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Irving Berlin’s 100th Birthday Celebration at Carnegie Hall (CBS), and An Evening with Alan Jay Lerner for PBS Great Performances. He has worjed with Susan Stroman, Kathleen Marshall, Jack O’Brian, Jerry Mitchell, Mike Okrent, Gene Saks, George Abbott. During his tenure at BDT Stage, Michael has produced more than 53 shows and directed 17. He has received Denver Drama Critics Circle Awards, Top of the Rocky in 2005, Ovation and Henry Awards and was a 2015 recipient of The Dairy Center Honors for his contribution to the cultural life of Boulder through the arts.

    Rick Yaconis is the Executive and Artistic Director of The Edge Theater, which he founded seven years ago with his wife, Patty. Since then, he has produced nearly 50 shows and three new-play festivals. He has also directed 12 productions including The Nance and Murder Ballad in this past year and last year's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for which he was nominated for a CTG Henry award. Rick has acted in more than 10 Edge Theatre productions, most recently Misery and A View From the Bridge.

  • 2016 True West Award: Sam Gregory

    by John Moore | Dec 28, 2016
    True West Awards Sam Gregory


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 28: Sam Gregory

    When looking back on the dozens of seminal roles Sam Gregory has played on Denver stages for 25 years, you would do well to start with the three unforgettable characters he brought to cagey life in 2016 with a full heart, precision comedy and at times blood-curdling abandon.

    This year, he played three indelible and full-bodied characters who are changed for the better and, in one case, for the much, much worse. That would be the white guy on the bus he played in Curious Theatre’s White Guy on the Bus, Bruce Graham’s incendiary new play that highlights the racial disparities we see every day in the news, on our streets and in our jails.

    True West Awards Sam Gregory. White Guy on the Bus. Curious Theatre, Michael Ensminger. Gregory plays Ray, a liberal and wealthy banker who for unknown (at first) reasons takes the same bus each week that passes the remote state penitentiary. Over time, he befriends a single black mother who takes this same bus to visit her incarcerated brother. Eventually we discover this affable-seeming man is actually a roiling powder keg who is hatching a plan to avenge the brutal murder of his do-gooder wife.

    The play is a timely and intentionally uncomfortable case study of white privilege, and Gregory’s Ray served as a particularly cold conduit for this much-needed confrontation with many hard truths about racism in America. It was all the more discombobulating coming from a nice guy like Gregory - and that was the point.

    “Sam Gregory stands astride the evening, fascinating to watch at every moment, whether he’s maintaining a civilized veneer or allowing flame-spitting anger to break through,” wrote Westword’s Juliet Wittman. Added Beki Pineda of GetBoulder.com: “The evening belongs to Sam Gregory. The dark side beckons - and he cannot resist.”

    (Pictured above and right: Sam Gregory and Jada Suzanne Dixon in Curious Theatre's 'White Guy on the Bus.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Read our recent profile of Sam Gregory

    Gregory followed that unnerving staging with two of the most high-profile performances of the year in local theatre, starting with Orgon in Moliere’s farcical comedy, Tartuffe. That production marked the launch of the Arvada Center’s new Black Box Theatre Company, which will now present its plays in repertory, mostly by a core company of recurring actors including Gregory.

    True West Awards Sam Gregory QuoteTartuffe is about a brazen con who pretends to be a devout holy man to swindle Orgon out of house, home … and wife! Orgon is a gullible bully who has only himself to blame for his comic predicament, "but instead he blames everyone around him,” Gregory told the DCPA NewsCenter. “He's full of bluster and self delusion.” But Gregory deftly managed to make his hilariously insufferable Orgon appealing to the audience as he was being mercilessly duped.

    Gregory came full circle at the end of the year when he took over for the legendary Philip Pleasants as Scrooge in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 24th seasonal staging of A Christmas Carol. It would have been a risk for any actor to try to don Pleasants’ Scrooge slippers, but audiences and critics alike responded positively to Gregory’s meaningful take on literature’s most notorious skinflint.

    “You need a Scrooge with intellect, depth and feeling,” wrote Juliet Wittman, “and Sam Gregory fills the bill.

    For a guy who played some bluntly irredeemable characters in 2016, Gregory’s Scrooge powerfully communicated Charles Dickens’ echoing mantra that no one is, in truth, irredeemable. “I hope the audience takes away that the very worst, most miserable, unhappy person that you might cross the street to avoid, can become a better person,” Gregory told Westword. “Scrooge is there to teach us that lesson.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    True West Awards Sam Gregory Gregory, who first appeared at the Denver Center in 1991, now has more than 45 DCPA Theatre Company credits to his name. Since the True West Awards began as The Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, Gregory has been singled out for “Outstanding Season by an Actor” a record five times. You don’t get those kinds of accolades working alone, and his newest director, Melissa Rain Anderson of A Christmas Carol, said Gregory is one of the most collaborative artists she has ever worked with, an actor both “generous with his gifts and astounding with his discipline,” she said. (Photo at right by Adams VisCom.)

    At one A Christmas Carol rehearsal, Gregory wondered whether he should take it easy that day, to pace himself for the grueling run of performances ahead. “He asked me if he should go by the numbers and possibly not take the full emotional journey of Scrooge that day. And I said, ‘Of course!’ ” Anderson said.

    “Well, it only took a few scenes in before he was fully weeping.”

    That’s Gregory.

    "He's an absolute professional," added Tartuffe director and Arvada Center Artistic Director of Plays Lynne Collins. "He always shows up prepared and asks the kinds of questions that keep everyone honest. He's also one of the few actors I know who will walk away from an easy laugh if he thinks it's not furthering the story."

    Next up for Gregory: Starring as Vladimir in the Arvada Center’s Waiting for Godot, opening April 21, opposite DCPA Education Head of Acting Tim McCracken, Josh Robinson (DCPA’s All the Way), Sam Gilstrap and DCPA Teaching Artist Sean Scrutchins. It is a play that Collins put on the Arvada Center season, she says flatly, specifically because she has Gregory to perform in it.

    Sam Gregory/At a glance

  • True West Awards Sam Gregory. A Flea in Her Ear. Hometown: New Haven, Conn.
  • College: Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.); Masters from Cal-Berkeley
  • More than 45 DCPA Theatre Company credits including A Flea in Her Ear in 2005 (pictured at right.) He is a member of the Arvada Center Black Box Theatre Company and will return to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the summer of 2017. He has also performed locally for the Curious Theatre, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and the late Paragon Theatre.
  • National credits include The Actor's Company Theatre of New York, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, San Jose Rep, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and more.

  • 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
  • 2016 True West Award: John Hauser

    by John Moore | Dec 25, 2016
    True West Awards John Hauser


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 25: John Hauser

    If you were to call him Doogie Hauser, you would only be the latest. But given how well former child TV star Neil Patrick Harris’ career has turned out, John Hauser would surely take the compliment.

    We’re not saying Hauser is a kid. But his Biloxi Blues director Kate Gleason is saying that “as soon as John is potty-trained … he's gonna make a great actor.”

    True West Awards John Hauser QuoteSo he’s young. But there was nothing embryonic about his fully formed year on local stages: He starred in Biloxi Blues at Miners Alley Playhouse, and in Hand to God for Curious Theatre. He made a key appearance in Vintage Theatre's Rabbit Hole, and he performed as Romeo before 10,000 high-school students for DCPA Education.

    That’s a U.S. Army private who comes of age at Basic Training in Neil Simon’s 1943 Mississippi. A grieving, God-fearing teen in possession of (or possessed by) a devilish hand puppet. A guilt-wracked teen who plowed his car into a 4-year-old. And only the most famous lover in all of literature. Plus, he joined the cast of Off-Center’s immersive freakout Sweet and Lucky, and later understudied several roles in the DCPA Theatre Company’s Frankenstein.

    John Hauser may not be old. But as an actor, he grew up in 2016.

    “He’s so good, you forget how young he is,” said  Gleason, herself a 2014 True West Award winner. “I mean, he's barely teething, and yet he manages to find humanity in all his roles.”

    When DCPA Education Director Allison Watrous launched a new pilot program called Shakespeare in the Parking Lot in May 2015, she turned to Hauser first. A team from DCPA Education perform an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet on and around a beat-up old truck in school parking lots - sometimes four times a day. Meaning four times a day, students who otherwise might never be exposed to Shakespeare (or live theatre) crush on the Bard, crush on live performance and, invariably for some, crush on the actor who could win Prom King at just about every school he visits.

    “John is stunning as Romeo,” Watrous said. “He connects to the hearts and minds of the students through authenticity, vulnerability, humor, kindness and depth.” (Pictured below and right: John Hauser as Romeo. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Read our recent profile on John Hauser

    Hauser and his castmates, all skilled DCPA Education Teaching Artists, return to each school the next day for classroom workshops and ask students tough, ethically ambiguous questions that revolve around teenagers, their parents and issues of privacy and personal responsibility. The point is to help them better understand the issues at the heart of Romeo and Juliet. Because being a teen hasn't changed as much as you might think.

    True West Awards John Hauser Shakespeare in the Parking Lot"I am so grateful for John's energy and impact,” Watrous said. “He is a true talent.”

    Next semester, the team will tackle A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    Hauser did not just turn a finger up at his squeaky-clean image, but his entire right hand with Hand to God, Robert Askins’ profanely dark comedy about a troubled teen who is forced to join his mother’s church-led puppet group after his father dies. But when his foul-mouthed sock puppet Tyrone takes on a life of its own and begins to encourage all those around him to give in to their carnal desires, the teen starts to question everything he's been taught. 

    “John brings a true lightness to the room,” said Hand to God Director Dee Covington. “He is generous, reflective and tireless in his determination to not only conquer but totally devour the creative task at hand. He knew the mountain was steep and arduous, but I was so impressed by his ability to temper that slightly self-effacing inner critic with humor and fearlessness. His grit and heart are inspiring.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Westword theatre critic Juliet Wittman wrote: “Hauser does brilliantly in the schizophrenic role of Jason, fully inhabiting both the teen’s innocence and Tyrone’s savagery, skillfully manipulating the intransigent puppet.”

    True West Awards John Hauser Rabbit Hole In July, Hauser and his Rabbit Hole cast were honored with the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Outstanding Ensemble Henry Award (with Haley Johnson, Marc Stith, Maggy Stacy and Deborah Persoff). As the accidental grim reaper who devastates a family when their son runs in front of his car, “John Hauser manages to deliver a handful of wallops in his limited scenes,” wrote the Aurora Sentinel’s Quincy Snowdon.

    But perhaps the most impressive evidence of Hauser’s stellar year is simply his dream team of directors: Kate Gleason, Allison Watrous, Dee Covington, Bernie Cardell  (Rabbit Hole), Zach Morris (Sweet and Lucky) and Sam Buntrock (Frankenstein).

    “He is a lovely human being,” Covington said, “and he makes the world a more artful place.”

    And he's not slowing down in 2017. In January, Hauser will be playing Ken in John Logan’s acclaimed Red, the story of the temperamental genius artist Mark Rothko and his apprentice, at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre.

    (Pictured above and right: Haley Johnson and John Hauser in Vintage Theatre's 'Rabbit Hole.' Photo by Denver Mind Media.)

    John Hauser/At a glance

    • Hometown: Cocoa, Fla.
    • Home now: Denver
    • High school: The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs
    • College: Adams State University in Alamosa
    • Selected additional credits: The Few and Ambition Facing West for Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company; Jerusalem for The Edge Theatre Company
    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
  • Off-Center's 'Sweet & Lucky' extended through Aug. 7

    by NewsCenter Staff | Jun 08, 2016




    The Denver Center for the Performing Arts' Off-Center announced today that Sweet & Lucky has been extended through Aug. 7  to accommodate audience demand.

    Sweet and Lucky Colby Foss Sweet & Lucky, a commissioned work by Brooklyn-based Third Rail Projects, is the DCPA’s first foray into large-scale immersive theatre. The production has sold out all 48 of its originally scheduled performances. Tickets for the six-week extension are now available at SweetAndLuckyDenver.com.

     Off-Center is the DCPA's the newest and most unconventional programming arm, focusing on upending theatrical expectations and traditions. 

    Buy your Sweet & Lucky tickets here


    Sweet & Lucky is a “brave, lovely, original adventure," according to Juliet Wittman of Westword, and it constitutes the largest physical undertaking in the DCPA's nearly 40-year history. 

    (Pictured right: Colby Foss of 'Sweet and Lucky.' Photo by Adams Viisual Communications.)

    The two-hour mobile adventure takes place in a sprawling 16,000-square-foot warehouse (owned by Westfield Company) on Brighton Boulevard. Attendees step into a mysterious antique store and plunge into a labyrinth of dreamlike encounters.

    Audience members follow performers through intricately designed environments, into intimate engagements, and witness a series of seductive and haunting flashbacks. It's a 360-degree experience that uses all five senses to evoke the power and fragility of memories. Audiences also enjoy specialty cocktails before and after the show crafted by award-winning mixologist Sean Kenyon at a pop-up version of Kenyon’s Williams and Graham speakeasy.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Please note that each performance is limited to 72 audience members.

    Sweet & Lucky’s present ensemble of actors includes Denver-based performers Diana Dresser, Colby Foss, Ondine Geary, Meridith C. Grundei, Kevin Lowry, Leigh Miller, Patrick Mueller, Tara Rynders, Mackenzie Sherburne, Luke Sorge, Justin Walvoord, Edith Weiss, Ryan Wuestewald and Amanda Berg Wilson; and Lia Bonfilio (of Third Rail Projects).

    Sweet & Lucky: Ticket information
    Sweet & Lucky plays through Aug. 7 at 4120 E. Brighton Boulevard, with newly added performances. Only 72 audience members per performance. Wear comfortable shoes. Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Note: Sweet & Lucky has its own web site. You should check it out here. 


    Sweet & Lucky production photos:

    Sweet & Lucky
    To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams Visual Communications.


    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Sweet & Lucky:
    Photos: Opening night coverage
    5 things we learned about Sweet & Lucky
    Zach Morris is home to seize the cultural moment
    Casting announced; tickets onsale
    DCPA to create new immersive theatre piece with Third Rail Projects
    Kickstarter campaign allows audience to dive deeper


    More photos: The making of Sweet & Lucky: 

    Making of 'Sweet & Lucky'
    To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.

  • 2015 True West Awards: Rebecca Remaly

    by John Moore | Dec 28, 2015
    True West Award Rebecca Remaly

    Timothy McCracken and Emily Paton Davies of 'Outside Mullingar.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.

    2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    ​Today’s recipient:
    Rebecca Remaly
    Managing Director, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

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


    Stephen Weitz has been on a pretty public roll these past few years. The co-founder of the 10-year-old Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company just directed Tribes and The SantaLand Diaries back-to-back at his second artistic home, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Meanwhile, his own rising company back in Boulder has been picking up four-star reviews like so many coins in a fountain, most recently for the Chekhov variation Stupid F***ing Bird and, last month, for John Patrick Shanley’s Irish romance Outside Mullingar.

    Rebecca Remaly quote 2In 2012, Weitz was named the True West Theatre Person of the Year. But he would be the first to insist that the driving force behind his theatre company, his family and pretty much his whole life is his wife, Rebecca Remaly.

    When the pair started BETC (colloquially known as “Betsy”) in 2006, their artistic plan was noble. The mission: “To present profound theatrical stories that inspire our audiences and enrich our community.” And in 2009, Remaly figured out a foolproof, slightly ignoble way to pay for it: By staging an annual production of The SantaLand Diaries, which just completed its sixth sold-out holiday run and third as co-production with the DCPA. Remaly directed the inaugural production that started it all.

    Remaly is also an accomplished director who has been authoritatively delivering one solid regional premiere after another for BETC. She has helmed 17 titles over the past decade, and two in 2015: The Aliens and Outside Mullingar. One is a deliberately slow-motion tale following two wayward young men who spend their days in the alley behind a coffee shop talking music and Bukowski. The other is the old-fashioned romantic tale of a pair of stubborn, middle-aged Irish introverts who decide to take a chance on late love.

    Broadway reviewers were largely ambivalent about Shanley’s unexpectedly sentimental turn after his searing Doubt, but Remaly’s staging of Mullingar struck a deep chord with audiences and critics alike. If it’s true that directing is about 90 percent casting, then Remaly hit Mullingar about 90 percent out of the ballpark when she cast Chris Kendall, Emily Paton Davies, DCPA Head of Acting Timothy McCracken and Colorado Theatre Guild Life Achievement winner Billie McBride. The Denver Post’s Joanne Ostrow called what that foursome presented “spellbinding.”

    But of perhaps even greater importance to BETC’s success has been Remaly’s contributions as Managing Director. With Remaly managing the business side of the operation, BETC’s annual operating budget has steadily climbed over the past three seasons from $285,000 to $350,000 to $420,000. Back in 2006, it was $12,000. That represents a growth of 3,400 percent.

    “She's incredible with numbers, and I give her a ton of credit for the financial health and success that the company has achieved over the years,” said Weitz. “At the same time, she's a hell of a good artist. Many of our most successful shows have been under her direction. I would go so far as to say she's possibly the most underrated director in the area.”

    Westword’s Juliet Wittman has certainly seen the light. Remaly’s An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf in 2014 “announced emphatically that BETC was at the top of its game, both in choice of material and in terms of performances.”

    If Remaly weren’t so busy behind the scenes, you’d likely be seeing more of her on the stage as well. Her acting resume includes Doubt (Sister James), Stop Kiss (Sara), The Glass Menagerie (Laura) and Antigone (Ismene) for BETC. She also played Hannah in Curious Theatre Company’s world premiere of Collapse. And then there is young Jamison, the son she and Weitz welcomed to the family in 2012.

    Remaly is part of a remarkable organic trend that is underway in Boulder: With the exception of Michael J. Duran of the venerable BDT Stage, all of Boulder’s present theatre companies are managed by women: Pesha Rudnick (Local Theatre Company), Amanda Berg Wilson (The Catamounts), Emily K. Harrison (the lower-cased square product theatre company) and Remaly (BETC).

    Weitz knows one thing for sure:

    “In all honesty, BETC would be nothing without her," he said. "There's no way we would have ever gotten this far without her leadership.”

    Stephen Weitz with son Jamison at a 2013 opening that happened to be his son's first bithday. Photo by John Moore.
    Stephen Weitz with son Jamison at a 2013 opening that happened to be his son's first birthday. 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
  • 2015 True West Award: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant

    by John Moore | Dec 12, 2015
    True West Awards Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.
    Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen.


    2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    ​Today’s recipients: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
    Colorado Shakespeare Festival


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


    It’s a rare thing to be watching any live performance and just know that you are witnessing a moment of culmination and ascendancy. Last summer in Boulder, it happened twice.

    For blood brothers Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant, the summer of 2015 was a rite of passage. As the evil Iago in Othello and the titular warrior king in Henry V, Kent and Bonenfant came of age before our eyes in breakout, breathtaking performances for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.  

    MGeoff Kent in 'Much Ado About Nothing' at Colorado Shakes. Photo by Jennifer M. KoskinenThese are no rookies. Kent has been acting, directing and staging fight choreography on stages all over Colorado and throughout the nation for nearly 20 years. In fact, he is tied with Sam Sandoe for the most current consecutive seasons with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, with 13. Bonenfant is still a pup, and yet he won his first Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award more than three years ago, and has worked for nearly every major theatre company from his hometown in Colorado Springs to Boulder.

    But Kent forged his solid stage rep as a thief, having stolen too many shows to count with his sword and rapier wit - sometimes going so far as to whip a tiny dog out of his – pouch – for a shameless laugh. Bonenfant is the iconic Romeo who has left audiences swooning playing lovers and princes and brooding romantic heroes. (Pictured above right: Geoff Kent in 'Much Ado About Nothing' in 2015. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.)

    Then came the summer of 2015, when the two locked step and delivered the kind of transformational performances that have turned them into unequivocal leading men. Bonenfant was cast to play carousing King Henry V, who evolves from rowdy and rebellious teenager into a brilliant military leader who leads his outnumbered men into the breach and emerges with them as the surprise vanquishers in what many historians have come to think of an an unjust war. Bonenfant accepted the contradiction of his calling with a fervor and aplomb that resulted in a performance Westword reviewer Juliet Wittman called magnificent, enthralling and smart. “His Henry is so original, right, tough, supple and intelligent that the role becomes entirely new — and deserving of a place with the major interpretations of the past,” Wittman wrote. 

    Goodbye Romeo; hello, Henry.

    Carolyn Howarth quote“Playing Henry really launched Benjamin into another sphere of actor,” said his director, Carolyn Howarth. “He's certainly a leading man now. He is both warrior and king. The truth is, as silly as it may sound, I'd follow him into a breach any day."

    Likewise, casting directors might not have thought of the likable Kent as the type of actor who could plumb the moral bottom-feeding depths the consummate villain Iago requires. But Othello director Lisa Wolpe and Colorado Shakes Artistic Director Timothy Orr smartly recognized that Kent’s most affable qualities are exactly what make a winning Iago only that much more venomous.

    Wittman said Kent worked his lethal manipulation on poor Othello and his wife with crystal clarity and an infectious joy. “He operates with such charm that you find yourself shocked when you realize what he’s actually capable of,” Wittman wrote. “It’s like working on a suicide-prevention hotline, as volunteers in Seattle once did, and discovering that the nice, articulate man beside you is Ted Bundy.”

    Goodbye Grumio; hello, Iago.

    Benjamin Bonenfant in 'Wittenburg.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.
    Benjamin Bonenfant as Hamlet in 'Wittenberg' for the 2015 Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

    Orr thinks the secret to Kent’s success was simple: He left the dog at home.

    “He just played it so straight and natural,” Orr said. “There was no winking; no mustache-twirling. It was not performative. He really dug down and found something legitimately honest and scary in that role.”

    Timothy Orr quoteOrr, now in his third year leading Colorado Shakes, says he is forever indebted to Kent for what he has meant to the festival over the years. “He brings a wealth of experience and skill to our company, and he works like a demon,” Orr said. “He can direct or be a clown or play a leading role or serve as a fight director or help us to purchase weaponry. He is the full package. He’s a Swiss Army knife for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.”

    2015 was a very big year for both Bonenfant and Kent in Boulder and beyond. Bonenfant also appeared in the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere of Benediction; he played no less than Hamlet (yes, that Hamlet) in David Davalos’ new play Wittenberg for Colorado Shakes; and he starred in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s widely acclaimed Colorado premiere of 4000 Miles opposite Billie McBride. He is currently appearing in the DCPA Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol through Dec. 27.

    Kent played Don Pedro in Colorado Shakes’ Much Ado About Nothing and directed perhaps the surprise success of the year – the Aurora Fox’s poignant and playful She Kills Monsters, inspired by the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons. He also helmed the Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' current run of Born Yesterday. Kent is the Resident Fight Director for every show staged by the DCPA Theatre Company, and he recently played a lord in its recent production of As You Like It.

    As for the future - these cats are out of the bag, and things likely will never be the same for either of them. Most evidently for Bonenfant, who has landed the plum role of Pip in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's highly anticipated world premiere of Great Expectations. directed by Penny Metropulos, who directed the DCPA Theatre Company's You Can't Take It With You in 2007. Bonenfant begins rehearsal in Ashland just two days after A Christmas Carol closes in Denver on Dec. 27, and he will be under contract there for almost all of 2016. While there, he also will be understudying his dream role in Hamlet.

    Kent will appear at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival next summer as Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, and as Iacomo in Cymbeline. He also will direct The Comedy of Errors, with a gender-flipping twist: The four characters named Antipholus and Dromio (two each) will be played by women, and their “wives” will be played by men. “We’ve read it though, and all the jokes are funnier,” said Orr.

    LISTEN TO OUR RUNNING LINES PODCAST:


    Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant spoke with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore just before the start of the 2015 Colorado Shakespeare Festival season. Click play.

    SEE THEIR WORK NOW

    Kent is the director of Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' Born Yesterday,
    playing through Dec. 23, 719-255-3232 or theatreworkscs.org. Bonenfant is appearing in the DCPA Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol through Dec. 27, 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

    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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    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.