• Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

    by John Moore | Jul 02, 2017

    Lauren Yee. The Great Leap
    Lauren Yee’s 'The Great Leap,' which was introduced as a reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, will premiere at the Denver Center next February, then re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Companies are now jumping on new Denver Center works before they have even been fully staged here.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The Denver Center is taking a major step forward in its development of new work for the American theatre in 2017. And one major reason is a hip new term in the theatrical lexicon: “Co-Pro.”

    For the first time, the DCPA Theatre Company will stage two new plays next season that will immediately transfer to major theatres around the country as essentially continuing world premieres. They will quickly re-open in their second cities with their Denver Center directors and casts intact.

    American Mariachi. Summit The Theatre Company opens José Cruz González’s American Mariachi on Jan. 26, 2018. Less than a month after it closes in Denver, the production will re-open at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, which bows in Denver on Feb. 2, will re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here.

    By virtue of these unique partnerships, both stagings are considered “co-productions.” Or, as the kids say, “Co-Pros.” Coincidentally, the re-opening nights in San Diego and Seattle will both take place on March 23.

    (Pictured above right: 'American Mariachi' was introduced as a reading at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    For 12 years, artistic leaders from around the country have come to the Denver Center’s Colorado New Play Summit each February to see readings of developing new works, then come back the next year to see the subsequent fully staged world-premiere productions before scheduling some of the plays themselves. Among the popular titles that have expanded through this slow growth plan have been Jason Grote’s 1001 and Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale.

    But now companies are coming here to see readings and committing to scheduling them even before they are fully staged at the Denver Center for the first time.

    Matt McGrath in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. All this comes at a time when Denver Center-born works are proliferating on national stages like never before. In 2017, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride will become the most-produced new Denver Center work since Quilters in 1982. Ten companies this year are presenting the story of a straight man who explores the world of drag to feed his family in cities stretching from Los Angeles to Key West, Fla., with four more already slated for 2018. Lopez’s newest work, Zoey’s Perfect Wedding, will debut at the DCPA’s Space Theatre next Jan. 19.

    (Pictured above right: Matt McGrath in the Denver Center's 2014 world premiere of 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.) 

    How Georgia McBride has evolved since Denver

    Since former Artistic Director Kent Thompson launched the Colorado New Play Summit in 2006, the DCPA has given 27 new plays their world-premiere stagings. At least 32 productions of 13 DCPA-born works are being presented around the country this year and next, most notably a high-profile return of the reimagined The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which plays from July 21-27 at The Muny in St. Louis. The Muny is America’s largest outdoor musical theatre. After that, star Beth Malone said, the goal is Broadway.

    LEAD MOLLY"That is absolutely the intention of putting it up at The Muny,” Malone said. “There is no other reason than for it go to Broadway. Everyone involved with it feels very strongly that we are completely on track.”

    (Pictured at right: The cast of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown.' Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    Last week, two recent Colorado New Play Summit readings landed on The Kilroys, a curated list of the 31 most promising new plays by women: Yee's The Great Leap and Donnetta Lavinia Grays' Last Night and the Night Before.

    NATAKI GARRETT 3Even older new plays like Octavio Solis' Lydia (2008) are still making an impact. “Lydia is a blast-furnace drama now in its Seattle debut in a blistering, urgent staging from Strawberry Theatre Workshop," Misha Berson of the Seattle Times wrote last month of a "forcefully directed ensemble of visceral power." Last year, the Aurora Fox became the first company to stage the Denver Center’s Native American premiere of Black Elk Speaks since 1996.

    All of this proliferation is not only changing the way the nation looks at the Denver Center, said Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. It is changing how the Denver Center looks at itself.

    “The Colorado New Play Summit is a nationally renowned place where theatre companies from all over the United States come to see those playwrights who are moving up in the ranks and becoming the clarions for the future of playwriting,” she said.  “But I think this is where it was always heading. The most important part of the work we do as theatre artists is to foster and develop new work, and I think this is that idea coming to full fruition.”

    (Story continues after the video)

    Video spotlight: American Mariachi

    What makes for a successful Co-Pro, Garrett said, is the continuation of the Denver Center’s commitment to the playwright once the new play reaches its immediate second destination.

    “What I am really focused on with these companies is, 'Are you willing to make space for that writer to keep writing?’ ” Garrett said. “The whole point is to for them to be able to keep evolving their piece after they leave Denver, if that’s what the piece needs.”

    The Theatre Company’s commissioning program is one reason the pipeline stays stocked. At any given time, the company has a number of renowned and emerging playwrights under commissions. That essentially binds the playwright to write a new work of his or her choice, and the DCPA Theatre Company then has the right of first refusal to stage it. The playwrights with commissions in progress are:

    • Kemp Powers
    • Anne Garcia-Romero
    • Aleshea Harris
    • Mary Kathryn Nagle
    • Tony Meneses
    • David Jacobi
    • Regina Taylor

    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.


    The Unsinkable Molly Brown, by Dick Scanlan and Meredith Willson: The 1960 musical that tells the rags-to-riches tale of Colorado's greatest heroine is infused with new songs and a new script.

    • The Muny, St. Louis, July 21-27, 2017

    The Book of Will, By Lauren Gunderson:  The untold story of the race to publish Shakespeare's First Folio before half his canon was lost to history.

    • Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, June 9-July 28, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Nov. 9-Dec. 17, 2017
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 2017
    • Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore., June-October, 2018

    The Great Leap, by Lauren Yee: An American college basketball team travels to Beijing in 1989.

    • American Conservatory Theatre New Strands Festival, San Francisco (reading), May 19, 2017
    • DCPA Theatre Company, Feb. 2-March 11, 2018
    • Seattle Rep, March 23-April 22, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    The Legend of Georgia McBride, by Matthew Lopez: A young Elvis impersonator turns to drag to feed his growing family.

    • Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, April 4-May 14, 2017
    • GableStage, Coral Gables, Fla., May 27-June 25, 2017
    • Marin Theatre Company, San Francisco, June 8-July 9, 2017
    • ACT Theatre, Seattle, June 9-July 2, 2017
    • Theatre Nova, Detroit, June 9- July 9, 2017
    • Dorset Theatre Festival, Vermont, Aug. 3-19, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Sept. 14-Oct. 22, 2017
    • Hippodrome State Theatre, Gainesville, Fla., Oct. 13-Nov. 5, 2017
    • B Street Theatre, Sacramento, Calif.,Nov. 6-Dec. 9, 2017
    • Uptown Players, Dallas, Dec. 1-17, 2017
    • Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, March 23-April 22, 2018
    • Key West Players, Key West, Fla., May 2-19, 2018
    • Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham Mass., May 3-20, 2018
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., June 8-July 1, 2018

    American Mariachi, by Jose Cruz Gonzalez: The musical tale of an all-female mariachi band in the 1970s.

    • DCPA Theatre Company, Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018
    • Old Globe (San Diego), March 23-April 29, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    Just Like Us, by Karen Zacarías: Documentary-style play follows four Latina teenage girls in Denver - two are documented, two are not.

    • Visión Latino Theatre Company, Feb. 24-March 12, 2017

    Dusty and the Big Bad World, by Cusi Cram: When a popular children’s TV  show spotlights a family with two daddies, it sparks a conservative outcry.

    • Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, July 6-19, 2017

    Appoggiatura, by James Still: A trip to Venice brings love, loss, pain and joy to three weary travelers in search of healing and happiness in a magical story filled with music and amore.
    • Indiana Repertory Theatre, March 7-31, 2018

    FADE, by Tanya Saracho: When Mexican-born Lucia is hired to write for a Latina TV character, she finds an unexpected muse in the Latino studio custodian.
    • Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, Feb. 8-March 5, 2017
    • TheatreWorks, Hartford, June 1-30, 2017

    Lydia, by Octavio Solis: A maid cares for a border family's near-vegetative teenage daughter who was left in a coma after a mysterious accident. 

    • Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Seattle, June 1-24, 2017

    Almost Heaven: The Songs and Stories of John Denver: The songwriter's life story is told through anecdotes and 21 songs.

    • Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre, Grand Lake, Sept. 1-30, 2017

    The Whale, by Samuel D. Hunter: An oversized, homebound and dying man struggles to reconcile with his estranged teenage daughter before it’s too late.
    • Verge Theatre Company, Nashville, June 2-14, 2017

    black odyssey, by Marcus Gardley: An imagination of Homer’s epic lens through the lens of the black American experience.
    • California Shakespeare Theatre, Orinda, Calif., Aug. 9-Sept. 3, 2017

    Quilters, by Molly Newman: A series of vignettes performed in song and spoken word that chart the joys and sorrows of the frontier journey West.

    • Ferndale (Calif.) Repertory Theatre, March 9-April 2, 2017

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Video spotlight: The Great Leap

  • 'The Book of Will': Five things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Dec 31, 2016
    'The Book of Will' in Denver
    Photos from the first rehearsal for Lauren Gunderson's world-premiere play 'The Book of Will' by the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Click again to download. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    Rehearsals are underway for the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere play The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson. The play tells how two obscure members of William Shakespeare’s acting company took it upon themselves to publish the “First Folio” - the first complete published collection of Shakespeare's plays. Had they not taken on this Herculean task, we would have lost half of Shakespeare’s plays forever, including Romeo and Juliet. Here are five things we learned at first rehearsal, along with photos (above) and a cast list (below):

    NUMBER 1The Book of Will Davis McCallumThe Book of Will is a new play, so people naturally want to know what it's about. Director Davis McCallum is tempted to say, yes, it is about the publication of the First Folio in 1623. “But I don’t think that's what the play is actually about,” he said. “That is the occasion of the play. I think the play is about a theatre company, and the people who make up that company. It's about the relationships that animate that theatre company. And at the center of that is this relationship between these two guys, John Heminges and Henry Condell. They weren't the greatest actors in Shakespeare's company. They were more like the middle of the batting order, in baseball terms.” Playwright Lauren Gunderson agrees that at heart, her play is about many sets of friendships. One of her favorites is one she couldn’t have made up. “Shakespeare's friends could not physically find a publisher in England to put all of these plays together in one document," she said. "Nobody was able to do it - except for the one guy Shakespeare hated most. Now that’s great drama, and that's real." Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson calls The Book of Will "a love letter to Shakespeare, to actors and to the theatre." 

    NUMBER 2Nance Williamson and Kurt Rhoads. Photo by John Moore. Kurt Rhoads, who plays Henry Condell, and wife Nance Williamson, who plays Rebecca Heminges and Anne Hathaway, are DCPA Theatre Company veterans. Rhoads most recently played Clarence in Richard III in 2009. Williamson first worked at the DCPA in 1999 (A Hotel on Marvin Gardens) and most recently played schoolteacher Alene Johnson in 2015's Benediction. The couple have appeared in 62 plays together – but this is their first time appearing in the same play at the Denver Center. The cast also includes two graduates from the DCPA’s former National Theatre Conservatory: Jennifer Le Blanc and Rodney Lizcano.

    Video bonus: Our profile of Nance Williamson from 2015:

    NUMBER 3Nationally acclaimed Scenic Designer Sandra Goldmark is personally committed in using as much recycled and reclaimed material as possible in all of her work. So many of the materials that make up the scenery for the Book of Will are being repurposed from recent productions of Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie. “Our task was to pull as much stuff as we could from (our storage), or find things that people were throwing away that we could somehow repurpose,” said DCPA Director of Design Lisa Orzolek. The planks that will make up Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, for example, were old gymnasium bleacher boards she found on craigslist. “The paint department spent a good deal of time scraping off the nastiness that you often find under old bleachers,” she said to laughs. They are being stained and treated to look as though they are the boards of a theatre stage that have been walked upon for many years. Posts and beams and railings come from raw timber found at a mill just outside of Boulder. The trees had been cut down to make room for the expansion of a local ski resort.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    NUMBER 4McCallum, also the Artistic Director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, is an admitted Shakespeare romantic, but he says no one should be intimidated by the language of the period. “Do you know how Juliet says, 'A faint cold fear thrills through my veins?' " he said. "Some people just see the word 'Shakespeare' and they feel that faint, cold fear. They have this sense they might not understand the language. But Shakespeare’s plays have a very open, warm and human center. They are about people's hopes and dreams and fears. I see a lot of my own life in these 37 plays. I see my family, my relationships and my experience of what it fully means to be alive in these plays. And that will be our guiding principle as we work on this play.”

    NUMBER 5OK, so maybe you remember that the DCPA Theatre Company commissioned the world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale back in 2012. The play, about a 500-pound home-bound gay man who wants to reconnect with his daughter before his dies, was directed here by Hal Brooks. But when the hot property was picked up for a run in New York by Playwrights Horizons, it was none other than McCallum who directed it there. "Cleanly," wrote the New York Times.

    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.

    A The Book of Will. Davis McCallum. Photo by John Moore.
    Director Davis McCallum addresses those gathered for the first rehearsal of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Book of Will.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    The Book of Will: Cast list
    Written by Lauren Gunderson
    Directed by Davis McCallum

    • Liam Craig (DCPA Debut) as John Heminges
    • Thaddeus Fitzpatrick (Frankenstein) as Marcus/Boy Hamlet/Bernardo/Crier
    • Miriam A. Laube (DCPA Debut) as Elizabeth Condell/Emilia Bassano Lanier
    • Jennifer Le Blanc (Pride and Prejudice) as Alice Heminges/Susannah Shakespeare
    • Rodney Lizcano (Frankenstein) as Ralph Crane/Barman/Compositor/Francisco
    • Wesley Mann (DCPA Debut) as William Jaggard/Barman 2/Sir Edward Dering
    • Andy Nagraj (Colorado New Play Summit) as Ed Knight/Isaac Jaggard
    • Kurt Rhoads (Richard III) as Henry Condell
    • Triney Sandoval (DCPA Debut) as Richard Burbage/Ben Jonson/Horatio
    • Nance Williamson (Benediction) as Rebecca Heminges/Anne Hathaway

    The Book of Will: Ticket information
    The Book of WillWithout William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet. But without two of his friends, we would have lost Shakespeare’s plays forever. A comic and heartfelt story of the characters behind the stories we know so well.

    Jan. 13-Feb. 26
    Ricketson Theatre
    ASL and Audio-Described Matinee 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4
    303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Book of Will:
    'The Year of Gunderson' has begun in Colorado
    Shakespeare in a season with no Shakespeare
    First Folio: The world's second-most important book heads to Boulder
    2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics
    Video: Our look back at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
    Summit Spotlight: Playwright Lauren Gunderson
    Lauren Gunderson wins Lanford Wilson Award from Dramatists Guild of America
    Just who were all the king's men, anyway?

  • 2015 True West Award: Christopher L. Sheley

    by John Moore | Dec 08, 2015
    Christopher L. Sheley, 4000 Miles, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Photo by Jeff Kearney.
    Photo by Jeff Kearney for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.


    ​Today’s recipient: Scenic Designer Christopher L. Sheley,
    Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company’s 4000 Miles

    Today’s presenter: DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore

    How detail-oriented is Christopher L. Sheley? The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company’s Resident Set Designer placed dead bugs inside the hanging light fixtures in the Greenwich Village apartment he created for 4000 Miles, one of the most fully realized productions on any Colorado stage this year.

    In Amy Herzog’s play, this apartment belongs to 91-year-old New Yorker named Vera, inspired by the playwright's own grandmother. The level of detail Sheley achieved in re-creating it in Colorado Springs was so meticulous, audiences came early and stayed late to take it all in: The parquet floors, the massive shelves of books, the fade around the wall art, the hanging hints of the owner's radical past. It all bore artful consideration.

    Sheley and the Fine Arts Center are a perfect match: A theatre company housed within an art museum and, for a decade now, a scenic designer who creates worlds on stage that are themselves works of art. 

    Scott RC Levy QuoteNext to a wall phone in the kitchen, Sheley posted a sheet listing the names and phone numbers Grandma Vera might actually call – written in actor Billie McBride’s own handwriting. Sheley even mixed dirt into the wall paint to indicate age and sun-weathering. The apartment looked – and even smelled – like it was lifted right out of the Village. That’s because that was a real coffee maker brewing up the grounds in that kitchen.

    Sheley is a master of hyperrealism, which was necessary to help the four actors tell this story with authenticity. Levy and Sheley were also acutely aware that the playwright had spent a lot of time in the real New York apartment that inspired it. “We wanted to honor that, and to get it right," Levy said.

    They got it right, all right. And a big reason the apartment looked so jarringly real was because Sheley shrank the actual dimension of The SaGaJi Theatre’s proscenium – and added an actual apartment ceiling. You almost never see room ceilings in plays performed at theatres. Ceilings are mostly implied because they have to allow for the stage lighting hanging from above to get through. Not here.

    Sheley got the inspiration - and the confidence – that he could pull off the concept from having seen the Denver Center Theatre Company’s 2012 production of The Whale, designed by Jason Simms.

    Benjamin Bonenfant and Billie McBride in '4000 Miles,' Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Photo by Jeff Kearney.“When we saw The Whale, we realized it was possible to pluck out a legitimate-looking apartment in all the right measurements and transfer them right onto the stage,” Levy said. It helped that Sheley's work was perfectly complemented by Holly Anne Rawls’ lighting design, right down to the hallway bleed under Vera’s front door. The set was also recently honored with a Pikes Peak Arts Council Award.

    Sheley, a native of St. Louis, came to the Fine Arts Center in 2005 and quickly established himself as among the most gifted scenic designers in Colorado. He won 2006 and 2010 Denver Post Ovation Awards for designing Pirates of Penzance and Sweeney Todd, respectively. Levy says Sheley's greatest strengths are collaboration, detail and tirelessness.

    (Photo above right: Benjamin Bonenfant and Billie McBride in '4000 Miles.' Both appeared in the DCPA Theatre Company's recent world-premiere staging of 'Benediction.' Bonenfant is currently appearing in the DCPA's 'A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Jeff Kearney for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.)

    And Sheley is apparently not without a sense of humor. In a wink to the Fine Arts Center faithful, he hung an original Lew Tilley painting on Vera's wall. Tilley was a beloved local painter, poet and actor. He was also Sheley’s predecessor as the Fine Arts Center’s resident scenic designer before his death in 2005. Also hidden among the books dominating Vera’s shelves, Sheley slipped in an unseeable copy of a 2011 American Theatre Magazine that spotlighted 4000 Miles’ off-Broadway debut on its cover. That production starred Denver native Gabe Ebert in the role of the wayward cyclist grandson who has shown up on his grandma’s apartment with both bike and baggage in tow.

    Levy’s staging of 4000 Miles was a real treasure in the Colorado theatre season, in large part because os the nuanced performances by McBride, Benjamin Bonenfant, Rachel Baker and Erica Erickson. But Sheley gave them a 4,000-mile head start by depositing them, and the audience, immediately into the literal world of the play.

    (Note: ‘4000 Miles’ will be staged next from Jan. 29-March 6 by Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden. Click here for information.)

    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

    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

John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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