• 2017 True West Award: 'The Rape of the Sabine Women'

    by John Moore | Dec 11, 2017
    2017 True West Award Rape of the Sabine Women

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 11: The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias

    Local Theater Company, Boulder

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    “The truth is like castor oil. It’s bitter to swallow and people don’t want it.
    Therefore, you make them laugh. And when their mouths are open … you pour it in.”

    Harold Clurman 

    The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias was an uncomfortable play to watch. Not because Local Theater Company’s staging was unpleasant to sit through. It wasn’t. And maybe that’s what made it so uncomfortable to watch.

    The playwright is not named Grace B. Matthias — she is rather the primary character in the story. The actual playwright is Michael Yates Crowley, who adopted an unnervingly casual and outright comic tone for a play about sexual assault, homophobia and bullying at an Ohio high school. But rape as satire? With rim shots and punchlines? Isn’t that an affront to anyone who has ever been assaulted? Is this (male) playwright somehow trying to make rape … palatable?

    Sabine Women Photo by George LangeWell, no. But perhaps palatable enough so we can actually talk about the numbingly pervasive rape culture in America. “Sometimes you have to shock people to get to a truth,” said Director Christy Montour-Larson. “And what better way to shock people about sexual assault than to get them laughing about it?”

    Therein lies the eventual genius of this unsettling play that lingers in the brain for weeks afterward. Then again, a play this topical never has even a remote chance of dissipating when its subject matter reverberates anew with the drumbeats of the latest daily news cycle.

    (Photos on right and below feature Adeline Mann, Erik Fellenstein and Peter Henry Bussian of 'The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias.' Photos by George Lange.)

    Time Magazine just named the Silence Breakers who fueled the #MeToo Movement its 2017 Person of the Year as a means of honoring those women who came forward in droves to accuse powerful men of sexual harassment and assault. The very subject of this play is the most significant news story of the year.

    Theatre rarely gets to matter in such an urgent way because it can take years for a company to bring a chosen play to full life on the stage. Local Theater, a strong, female-led company founded by Boulder’s Pesha Rudnick, caught wise to Crowley’s developing new work two years ago, first choosing to workshop it at its annual new-play festival, and then slotting it for full production in October. Many a play goes stale in the meantime. The reason this one didn’t is as old as time.

    “This play was topical long before the ‘Me Too’ movement,” said Montour-Larson. Sexual assault isn’t new. The whole point in referencing the Sabine Women in the story is that sexual assault has been going on for thousands of years.”

    True West ErikFellensteininTheRapeoftheSabineWomenbyGraceB.Matthias.PhotobyGeorgeLangeThe actual “Rape of the Sabine Women” was an incident from Roman mythology in which the men of Rome committed a mass abduction of young women from nearby cities. They were taken from families, treated as slaves and made to bear children. If you are looking for a historical bookend, look no further than the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

    Given the falling dominoes from the rise of the #MeToo social-media moment, there is no question Americans are more awake to the issue of sexual assault than they were a year ago. And by staging Sabine Women now, Local Theater gave its audiences a context through which to keep that conversation going.

    In the play, an ordinary 15-year-old student has accused the two stars of the high-school football team of rape. The school's nickname? The Romans, natch. But if you’re expecting some deep and thoughtful exploration of the powerful ramifications of this accusation, well — hold on to your funny bone. Instead, the playwright points his sharp cynicism at every adult authority figure in the story, from a lawyer to a teacher to a journalist to a school official — all intentionally made into ridiculous caricatures.

    Adding to this incendiary pot are two very real personal crushes aimed at Jeff, our all-American rapist: Both the victim and Jeff’s closeted teammate Bobby are in love with him. Decades of pop culture have conditioned us to root for the golden boy and the unremarkable girl to hook up. Bobby, on the other hand, seems to be the playwright’s revenge against every repressed gay man who has ever turned his inner turmoil into an outward, toxic weapon.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    This is a very dangerous game Crowley is playing. But thanks to a devastatingly honest performance by Adeline Mann as the confused yet utterly real young Grace (surrounded by an impeccable ensemble of top-notch fellow actors), the audience is never allowed to fully give in to the hilarity because there are real physical and emotional consequences here.

    “The comedy in this play definitely hits different people in different ways based on their own politics and personal experiences," Montour-Larson said. "And that’s not only OK — it’s kind of the point.”

    Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias. Photo by George LangeWhat’s indisputable is the greater good Local Theater did by letting this particular Pandora out of her box. Local presented the play to the Boulder community in a responsible and comprehensive manner, with audience talkbacks and at least five public panels throughout the city. Local boldly demonstrated how theater can be a catalyst for dialogue by addressing urgent issues of the day in real time.

    “I believe theatre is at its best when it tells stories that people can relate to their lives right now,” Montour-Larson said. “Sometimes that story is Hamlet. Sometimes that story is The Crucible. And sometimes that story is The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias. This is why theatre exists.”

    Local's mission is to discover and develop new American plays, and to date, all of them have felt similarly “of the moment.” “Last year, we presented The Firestorm — a play about race and politics and a marriage — right before the election,” said Local Theater Communications Manager Ted Stephens. “This year, we staged Sabine Women just as women were starting to step forward about sexual assault. And this spring, we will produce Wisdom from Everything, a beautiful world premiere about a young Syrian refugee trying to survive in a world with little agency, few rights and no country. And that one feels, unfortunately, incredibly relevant and important once again.

    “I suppose that's the advantage of presenting brand-new works — they can take what we are experiencing right now and invite our audiences to be part of some sort of change.”

    Theatre doesn’t get any better than that.

    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 Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B Matthias cast list:
    • Peter Henry Bussian
    • Erik Fellenstein
    • Cajardo Lindsey
    • Rodney Lizcano
    • Adeline Mann
    • Matt Schneck
    • Mare Trevathan
    • Brynn Tucker

    Video bonus: Cast member Mare Trevathan

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

  • 2017 True West Award: Sammie Joe Kinnett

    by John Moore | Dec 10, 2017
    True West Award Sammie Joe Kinnett

    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 (to date)

  • 2017 True West Award: Brandon Case

    by John Moore | Dec 09, 2017
    True West Award 2017 Brandon Case

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 9: Brandon Case

    Aurora Fox
    Technical Director
    Scenic Designer

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Brandon Case’s current program bio is far more revealing than most. In it, the Aurora Fox’s Technical Director and resident Scenic Designer describes himself as “skinny as a pencil, smart as a whip and possibly the scariest man currently living.”

    And who’s going to argue with that?

    Wait, what’s that, you say? He’s quoting the Wes Anderson movie Fantastic Mr. Fox? Well that works, too. Because if you ask anyone how the Aurora Fox just pulled through the most challenging year in its 33-year history, they will pretty much say it was The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

    Brandon Case Softball True West Awards After longtime Executive Director Charles Packard resigned in May, Case and Production Manager Jen Orf stepped up and led the remaining staff through a transition that is now in its seventh month.

    “Brandon stepped up when they were down with more time, more hours and more leadership,” said director, actor and former Fox employee Robert Michael Sanders. “It would have been really easy for him to roll over and wait to see what the coming changes would bring. But instead he took over. And he refused to let anything take away from the quality of the work that they were doing.”

    Patron Services manager Beau Bisson puts it this way: “If theatre were a dodge-ball game — as it often feels like — Brandon would always be my first pick as a teammate. When he’s around, you get this sense that everything will work out. Because when things hit the fan, you want Brandon Case to be there.”

    A short list of Case’s job duties this year includes overseeing the building facilities and all its sound and light equipment. Because the Fox is owned by the city of Aurora, Case also supervised departmental budgets, schedules and hiring, all while navigating the additional layer of municipal oversight.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Case is the rare Technical Director who also doubles as resident Scenic Designer. And in 2017, he brought five wildly different worlds to vivid life on the Fox’s main stage: Myth, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Stephen Sondheim’s Company, the current Hi-Hat Hattie and Tales of a 4th-Grade Nothing for the Little Foxes children’s troupe.

    And he gets around. This very month, Case has three theatrical designs in theatres across the metro area: The Fox’s Hi-Hat Hattie (through Dec. 23), The Edge Theatre’s Resolutions (through Dec. 31) and he made significant contributions to Lone Tree Arts Center’s Home for the Holidays (through Dec. 17).

    Case is a Littleton native who was home-schooled and just kind of appeared at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center in 2006 offering to help out as a set-builder and sound operator. He was hired full-time by the Aurora Fox in 2011 and has since become known for creating all types of scenery and props using many forms of carpentry, metalwork, mechanics and automation.

    In that aforementioned Aurora Fox program bio, Case also claims to be “married to the prettiest girl in town” — and that’s not a line cribbed from a Wes Anderson movie. That would be Rae Leigh Case, an actor and costume designer currently appearing in the Arvada Center’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (through Dec. 23).

    A Brandon Case Myth True West Awards 400And what she wants you to know is that Case hand-crafts and hand-paints virtually his entire scenic designs, down to the crown molding now framing the Hi-Hat Hattie opera-hall set. The “skull mound” in She Kills Monsters? The cool steam-punk look for Jekyll and Hyde? The wilderness campfire in Myth? “He doesn’t go on eBay or to thrift stores to find that stuff,” she said. “Brandon makes all of that himself, no matter how many hours it takes.”

    (Pictured at right: 'Myth' at the Aurora Fox. Photo by Christine Fisk.)

    This past April, Case took on one of the great scenic challenges of his career: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which is a journey across the Australian outback on an oversized tour bus that, in real life, would never even remotely fit on the Aurora Fox stage. Case went out and found the bus, chopped it down to a manageable size and then added all of the requisite lights, paint and glitter. And he did virtually all of that work by himself (with some help from his brother). Just take a look at the time-lapse video below:

    Time-lapse video of 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' Scenic Designer (and Aurora Fox Technical Director) Brandon Case pulling an all-nighter to assemble the bus. All by himself.

    “Theaters the size of the Aurora Fox often have an entire scenic department," Rae Leigh Case said. “But at the Fox, it’s usually it’s just Brandon and one other dude he hires." 

    Brandon Case Hi Hat Hattie True West AwardsBisson says Case is equal parts artist and craftsman. “It seems cliché to say that he continually surprises me with his work, but truly, he continually surprises me with his work,” he said. “He’s like the John Napier of The Aurora Fox. Or MacGyver. Or both.”

    And aside from being a meticulous artist, Bisson said, Case happens to be not the scariest man currently living. Instead, “he’s funny, a great listener and deeply passionate about The Aurora Fox.” Qualities that came in most handy in 2017. “This year, I would add backstage counselor and peacekeeper," Bisson said.

    He was, for lack of any better way to put it: The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

    “I try to make it as known as possible,” his wife says, “that Brandon’s abilities go so beyond far beyond what people know of so far. I think he is going to change the face of set design in this theatre community."

    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.

    Brandon Case: 2017 Scenic Designs

    • Myth, Aurora Fox
    • Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Aurora Fox
    • Company, Aurora Fox
    • Hi-Hat Hattie, Aurora Fox
    • Tales of a 4th-Grade Nothing, Aurora Fox children’s theatre
    • Resolutions, Edge Theatre
    • Home for the Holidays (contributed), Lone Tree Arts Center
    • Also: Technical Director of the Aurora Fox’s Chinglish

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

  • 2017 True West Award: Emily Van Fleet

    by John Moore | Dec 08, 2017
    Emily Van Fleet True West Award 2017

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 8: Emily Van Fleet

    Arvada Center
    Creede Repertory Theatre
    DCPA's Off-Center

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Denver actor Emily Van Fleet was a shape-shifter in 2017. She played a hillbilly wannabe starlet stranded in a snowstorm. She played a soaking wet corpse in a bathtub. She played a Hungarian lonely heart. She played a coy minister’s daughter. She was an improv comedian. Her stories spanned the globe from 1912 to 1956. Apparently she can play anyone, anywhere, in any time period.

    But once in a great, lucky while, you get to witness an actor killing it so hard in a particular role, you just know they will never be looked at the same way again.

    A Emily Van Fleet The Wild Party Adams Viscom 400 That was watching Van Fleet play a self-destructive showgirl in Off-Center’s very wild The Wild Party, a debauched musical drama based on a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March and staged under The Hanger at Stanley Marketplace with a cast of 15, a live band and 200 audience members doubling as in-your-lap party guests.

    (Photo at right of Emily Van Fleet in 'The Wild Party' by Adams Viscom.)

    Van Fleet played the hostess Queenie, and she was regal. It was an absorbing and undeniably seductive performance that demanded Van Fleet’s complete immersion into a role that, on paper, director Amanda Berg Wilson said, frankly didn’t give the actor all that much to work with.

    “That character is actually a trope,” Wilson said, “and yet Emily somehow managed to make a not-terribly developed character fully dimensional, heartbreaking, vulnerable and sexy. And to do that in such an intimate space is a really tricky thing to pull off.”

    Van Fleet is a Boulder native who graduated from Fairview High School and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She has been a company member with the Creede Repertory Theatre for five summers. Last year, she was chosen to be among the inaugural class of actors in the Arvada Center’s new repertory company. So, she’s actually been killing it for quite some time.

    Last winter, in fact, she killed it as a woman who already had been killed in the Arvada Center’s exquisite staging of The Drowning Girls, which posed an entirely different kind of acting challenge.  

    A Emily Van Fleet She Loves Me Creede. Photo by John Gary BrownThe Drowning Girls tells how three wives of serial killer George Joseph Smith met their watery demise between 1912 and 1914. The stories are told by three actors who must play the wives (and every other relevant character) with great narrative and physical precision, and Van Fleet, Kate Gleason and Jessica Robblee executed the challenge with complete (sorry) fluidity. It’s not easy to act while sopping wet but, as Westword’s Juliet Wittman put it, the three actors committed to it with gusto.

    “The trick for all three of them was to be both choral and incredibly specific and unique in their performances, and I think Emily was brilliant in both regards,” Director Lynne Collins said. “She played a hunchbacked old landlady so precisely, you could almost feel the curvature of her spine and the arthritis in her hands. And two seconds later, she was back to being lovely young Alice. To be that specific and clear in all your characters is incredibly difficult to do.”

    (Photo at right of Emily Van Fleet in Creede Repertory Theatre's 'Arsenic and Old Lace' by John Gary Brown.)

    Just as impressive, one might say, was her performance in Bus Stop as Cherie, the doe-eyed role made famous by Marilyn Monroe in the 1956 film. Van Fleet’s take on the profoundly innocent woman was virtually unrecognizable from Monroe’s take in the famous film.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Van Fleet glides easily from light musicals to romantic comedies to dramas with uncommon ease. But there was something fundamentally “next level” about her star-making turn in The Wild Party. Van Fleet stripped everything from her inhibitions to her clothes while hosting a corker of a party fueled by cocaine, bathtub gin and uninhibited sex.   

    “Queenie is a sexually ambitious, morally dubious, low-rent vaudeville performer who is promiscuous and probably an alcoholic,” Wilson said. “And through the course of the play she falls in love and consummates that love right then and there — with a man who is not her husband. Emily somehow kept that up for two hours in very close proximity to the audience — and that requires a level of being present that not every actor has. That’s what I think made it such an amazing performance.”

    A Emily Van Fleet I Mackers Creede Repertory Theatre Photo by John Moore 800Off-stage, Van Fleet and her husband, Nathan Jones, wrote an ingenious modern adaptation of Macbeth that was performed by and for teens last summer in Creede, located 250 miles southwest of Denver in Mineral County I, Mac(kers) uses spoken word and cell phones to tell the story of an aspiring but morally compromised high-school thespian who succumbs to the temptation of social media, technology and cyberbullying to fuel his ambition by spreading rumors and manipulating his fellow students.

    (Photo at right: Audiences greet the teen cast of Creede Repertory Theatre’s youth production of 'I, Mac(kers)' after a performance. Photo by John Moore.)

    “Emily Van Fleet is a magical unicorn,” said Creede Rep Artistic Director Jessica Jackson. “Yes, she’s an incredible actor and musician, but Creede audiences also get to experience her as this passionate community member and leader in our company as well. And in some unquantifiable way, that makes what she does on stage even more compelling.”

    And she’s finishing the busiest year of her life by performing in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Yuletide Celebration.

    There’s a simple reason Van Fleet is enjoying the level of success she attained in 2017, said Collins. She’s earned it.

    “She hit her stride in every area of her work this year," Collins said, “and she works harder than any other actor I know.”

    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 Emily Van Fleet The Drowning Girls M. Gale Photography 800

    From left: Emily Van Fleet, Kate Gleason and Jessica Robblee in the Arvada Center's 'The Drowning Girls.' M. Gale Photography 

    Emily Van Fleet 2017

    • Cherie, Arvada Center’s Bus Stop
    • Alice, Arvada Center’s The Drowning Girls
    • Amalia, Creede Repertory Theatre’s She Loves Me
    • Elaine, Creede Repertory Theatre’s Arsenic and Old Lace
    • Performer, Creede Repertory Theatre’s Boomtown
    • Director and Playwright, Creede Repertory Theatre’s youth production of I, Mac(kers)
    • Queenie, Off-Center’s The Wild Party

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

    Video bonus: Emily Van Fleet talks The Wild Party

  • 2017 True West Award: Kenny Moten

    by John Moore | Dec 07, 2017
    2017 True West Award Kenny Moten. Photo by John Moore

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 7: Kenny Moten

    Motones vs. Jerseys
    Miscast 2017
    Aurora Fox Cabaret Series
    Owner, Narrative Creative Consulting

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    If you think being a performer is hard, try being a performer and the owner of your own entertainment and consulting company. Kenny Moten makes the transition from actor to producer to businessman and back again in same manner that often describes his rich singing voice: Smooth as silk.

    Moten is among the very few performers who also knows how to run a business.

    Kenny Moten“It’s rare because owning an entertainment business is brutal in a way that is very different from the way performing is brutal,” said Moten’s frequent creative partner — and employee — Jalyn Courtenay Webb. “When you’re the boss, you are not only responsible for yourself, but for the people you hire and the team you put together. But Kenny has just the right temperament for it. He does everything with integrity. He’s a solid human being.”  

    Moten is the creator and owner of Narrative Creative Consulting, which presents entertainment events and uses various art forms to help clients ranging from National Jewish Hospital to Snooze Eatery to the Denver Center shape their narratives, customer service, employee training and brand strategies.  

    Moten is also the co-creator, director, writer and a featured performer of a clever new musical form called Motones vs. Jerseys. In July, it was up for three Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards, including Outstanding Musical, for its nearly sold-out run at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins.

    In September, Moten lent his support (and that smooth-as-silk singing voice) to the Denver Actors Fund by appearing in Miscast 2017 as one of the three Fionas singing I Know It’s Today from Shrek the Musical. In October, the Aurora Fox turned to Moten to launch its risky new monthly cabaret series with 12 O’clock Tales: An Evening of Songs and Stories. Both shows sold out, which Webb said is further indication of Moten’s popularity as a performer — and his business acumen. Both come from more than 20 years as a professional performer, Webb says.

    Kenny Moten Miscast 2017“Kenny’s name is synonymous with excellence, and people know that in our community and beyond,” she said. “He was not going to do his show in an empty house — and he certainly did not.”

    Moten caps a remarkable 2017 with a return next week to Motones vs. Jerseys as part of a unique new creative partnership with BDT Stage in Boulder. "MvJ," as the kids call it, is a feel-good, nostalgic evening featuring the music of Motown and The Four Seasons — along with their many ancestors and descendants — in a good-natured competition. After two teams of four performers each rock out a playlist spanning Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Bruno Mars and many more, the audience chooses a winning team using their cell phones to vote.

    (Pictured right: Kenny Moten with his 'Miscast 2017' co-stars, Margie Lamb, left, and Hope Grandon. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter,)

    It’s a concept Moten first developed with Chris Starkey, now of Imprint Group DMC. After several refinements, Moten unveiled a slick new version of the show last year at the Midtown Arts Center, where it received a standing ovation “every single night,” said Webb, who is both the show’s Music Director and nightly emcee. “And let me tell you, I’ve never seen that happen at any dinner theatre before in my life.”

    Motones vs. Jerseys opens on Dec. 10 and will play on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights through Jan. 23, playing in rep the rest of the week with BDT Stage’s holiday staging of Annie.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Moten, who is originally from Hagerstown, Md., graduated from Highlands Ranch High School and the University of Colorado Denver. He transitioned from Barnstormer to leading man with a remarkable 2005 performance in Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the late Country Dinner Playhouse opposite now Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee. Westword’s Juliet Wittman called Moten not only “a wonderful singer with a voice full of poignancy and power,” but also “a charming and seductive performer who brings impressive precision and a smooth, lean elegance to the stage.”

    Other major credits include Swing at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Altar Boyz at the Clocktower Cabaret, but it wasn’t long before Moten was off to New York. He re-settled in Fort Collins a few years ago and has since been on a roll that has not only furthered his personal and professional interests, but has gainfully employed dozens of local actors and crew members on his many public and corporate projects.

    “The thing I love about Kenny is that he’s so fun, but he’s also completely no-nonsense when it comes to the work,” said Webb. “He expects the highest quality and the highest level of performance possible from his performers, and we respect that. He knows what he wants — and he goes out and gets it."

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Motones vs. Jerseys: At a glance

    • Dec. 10-Jan. 23
    • BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
    • Performances Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings. Dinner seating begins at 6:15, with the show to follow at 7:45
    • Featuring Brian Cronan, Will Hawkins, Brian Jackson and Jacob Villareal as The Jerseys, and Christian Mark Gibbs, Anthony McGlaun, Kenny Moten and Alejandro Roldan as The Motones.
    • Call 303-449-6000 or bdtstage.com


    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'

    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

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

  • 2017 True West Award: Claudia Carson

    by John Moore | Dec 06, 2017
    True West Awards. Claudia Carson. Photo courtesy Jimmy Awards

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 6: Claudia Carson


    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Claudia Carson loves her job to her core. That job is to help high-students love theatre to their cores. And she’s pretty good at her job.

    There’s far more to it than that. Carson is also a stage manager, choreographer, director and teaching artist. But what really fuels her fire is coordinating two profoundly meaningful student programs for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts: The annual Bobby G Awards, which celebrate achievements in high-school musical theatre, and a year-round, statewide teen playwriting competition.

    “Claudia is just so joyful, so inspirational and so hungry to make an impact with students,” said DCPA Director of Education Allison Watrous. “She makes those programs possible with her year-round passion and commitment.”

    Claudia Carson True West BGA 2017The Bobby G Awards, which served 42 high schools and nearly 7,000 students last school year, are Carson’s true labor of love. She manages all operational elements of the wide-ranging, 5-year-old  program, including coordinating in-school workshops, professional adjudications of every production and a big, culminating Tony Awards-style party attended by nearly 2,000 each May at the Buell Theatre.

    Participating high schools have the opportunity to be mentored by DCPA Teaching Artists, and last year 24 schools signed on for 70 workshop classes. Once their school musicals go up, they are judged by a field of professional artists and educators who not only score each show for awards consideration, they provide detailed, constructive feedback that teachers can use to make their programs better.

    The awards ceremony itself is a remarkable celebration of the high-school theatre community. Carson not only directs the slick show, she choreographs sophisticated, original medleys that are performed by all of the male and female leading actor nominees. The two students ultimately named Outstanding Actor and Actress move on to the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York City, also known as The Jimmys. And Carson chaperones them every step of the way.

    “I think the magic of Claudia coordinating the Bobby G Awards program is that she cares so much about theatre in Colorado, and she cares so much about teachers,” Watrous said. “Claudia is a full-on champion of high-school theatre in Colorado.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    This past year, the DCPA’s fourth High School Playwriting Competition drew 132 one-act submissions from budding writers in 14 Colorado counties. That after Carson sent DCPA Teaching Artists to 46 high schools, where they conducted 138 workshops for more than 2,800 students. Four of the resulting scripts were chosen to be read by professional actors at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit in February, and two were ultimately given fully staged productions through DCPA Education’s summer academy.

    Claudia Carson True West BGA 2016If that weren’t “job enough,” Carson also returned to her roots as a Stage Manager this year for the recent return engagement of Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women. And as a summer Teaching Artist for DCPA Education, she and a group of ambitious teens created an entire original musical from scratch — in just two weeks.

    If that sounds like a lot, you should know this about Carson: It's in her DNA. Her mother, Bev Newcomb-Madden, is a pioneer of  children's theatre in Denver and has directed more plays than any other woman in Colorado theatre history. Her sister, Glenna Kelly, is an accomplished actor who for a long time ran Kaiser-Permanente’s acclaimed Educational Theatre Programs for Colorado. And her daughter, Claire Carson, studied at Denver School of the Arts and SMU, and is now an actor in Dallas. That’s three generations of accomplished Newcomb women — and counting. And brother Jamie Newcomb performed in the DCPA Theatre Company's recent productions of Benediction and All the Way

    Pictured above and right: Claudia Carson with 2016 Bobby G Awards Outstanding Actors Curtis Salinger and Charlotte Movizzo, and DCPA  Senior Manager of Press and Promotions Heidi Bosk).

    “Claudia is a sensitive, caring and compassionate person, and she really has an innate ability to connect with teenagers,” said DCPA Broadway Executive Director John Ekeberg. “But at the same time, she is also a quintessential stage manager and mother, which is probably why she is so good at both jobs. Part of being a good mom is being a good stage manager.”

    Carson graduated from Denver East High School and studied journalism at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She came to the Denver Center as a stage manager for all Galleria Theatre shows for a five-year stretch starting in 2003 with the longest-running musical in Colorado theatre history, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. She later took charge of the global expansion of the runaway hit Girls Only and then served as Executive Assistant to DCPA President Randy Weeks, who died in 2014. She has also worked as a stage manager at Curious Theatre and the Arvada Center.

    But she seems to have found her sweetest spot working with students.

    “She’s doing what she loves with the people she loves the most,” Ekeberg said. “For someone who has done so many things, that’s a pretty cool culmination of a pretty cool career.”

    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.


    True West Claudia Carson 2017

    The four finalists from the DCPA's fourth statewide High School Playwriting Competition had their plays presented as readings at the 12th annual 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, including 'Dear Boy on the Tree,' above, written by Jasmin Hernandez Lozano of Vista Peak Preparatory Academy in Aurora. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)


    Video bonus 1: The 2017 Bobby G Awards




    Video bonus 2 Student playwriting:

  • 2017 True West Award: Haley Johnson and Sydney Parks Smith

    by John Moore | Dec 05, 2017
    2017 True West Awards. Haley Johnson. Sydney Parks Smith

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 4: Haley Johnson and Sydney Parks Smith

    August: Osage County
    Vintage Theatre, Aurora
    OpenStage Theatre, Fort Collins

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    "I'm in charge now!"


    It's one of the most visceral, gut-scraping lines you'll ever hear in a theatre, and it marks a dramatic turning point in Tracy Letts' Pulitzer-winning family fracas August: Osage County. In that one moment, the eldest daughter of perhaps the must acidic matriarch in the American theatrical canon forcibly wrests that crown right out of her mother's clenched fingers. Only the crown, in this case, is a pill bottle. But Barbara is not rescuing her mother. Not by a long shot. She's becoming her.

    True West Haley Johnson Sydney Parks SmithThe mother is Violet Weston, a pained and profane Okie with cancer of the mouth — medically and metaphorically. Violet pops out furious epithets — most aimed at her three daughters — as quickly as she pops in pills. Her spawn all bear varying degrees of the inherited burns they surely will pass down to their own children. Seriously, Violet is a sniper on par with a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant. It's a bucket-list role for any seasoned female actor.

    But the part of Barbara, a Boulder mom whose marriage is crumbling, presents a plum challenge all its own. And in 2017, we got to see two highly accomplished area actors tackle it in different but effective ways: Sydney Parks Smith for OpenStage & Company in Fort Collins and Haley Johnson for Vintage Theatre in Aurora. And they had formidable scene partners in Colorado legends Denise Freestone and Deborah Persoff, respectively, as their poisoned Vi's.

    Parks wears Barbara's accumulating disappointments like a suit of armor, and she's just itching to take it into battle. Johnson, who has made her mark for a decade playing wounded birds, grew teeth here that eventually sprouted into fangs. The mother-daughter conflict builds to a battle of ill-wills that left audiences gasping from Fort Collins to Aurora. All culminating in that one haunting line — "I'm in charge now!" — that can be delivered every which way from a declarative whisper to a savage declaration of war. We're witnessing a brutal metamorphosis where Barbara becomes the unshrinking Violet.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The two actors have more than Barbara Fordham in common: Smith is the Associate Artistic Director of OpenStage and Johnson is the Producing Artistic Director of the new Benchmark Theatre, which is finishing up its first season with the world premiere of a freaky-fun new play called Smokefall, playing through Dec. 23 at the Buntport Theater.

    Haley Johnson Sydney Parks SmithSmith won the Colorado Theatre Guild's Henry Award and the OpenStage OPUS Award for Outstanding Actress for her performance as Barbara. Northern Colorado theatre critic Tom Jones called her performance "dynamite."

    Says OpenStage Director Dulcie Willis:
    "Sydney is a highly passionate, focused and dynamic actor. Her work as Barbara perfectly illustrated her deep commitment to nuanced character development. She understood the play inside and out and never, ever stopped working to find the most effective moment-to-moment choices in each scene. Her natural strength and intense zest for life served her thoughtful approach to Barbara while leading the entire cast through a beautiful and challenging piece of theatre. She really was the family heroine of our production."

    (Photos above: Sydney Parks Smith, left and Haley Johnson. Photos by Joe Hovorka and RDG Photography.)

    Says Vintage Theatre Director Bernie Cardell: "The magic of Haley Johnson is that not only can she tap into the broken heart of her characters, she can also find their humor.  She is not afraid to reveal her own wounds in order to find the deepest expression of truth on stage. Plus, she's kind of cool."

    The origin of the poison: Our interview with Tracy Letts

    Said Denver Theatre Perspectives reviewer Michael Mulhern: "Haley Johnson showed incredible range from fragile and bitter to powerful matriarch, and from defeated daughter to hopeful independence."

    Haley Johnson: 2017 at a glance

    Johnson is a graduate of Florida State University and the University of Colorado Denver. She has worked all around the metro area, including the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Edge Theatre, Miners Alley Playhouse and Spotlight Theatre Company. Notable roles include Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Harper Pitt in Angels in America, Becca in Rabbit Hole and Jessie in 'Night, Mother. She is also the producing artistic director of the new Benchmark Theatre.
    • The Nether, Morris, Benchmark Theatre
    • August: Osage County, Barbara Fordham, Vintage Theatre
    Sydney Parks Smith: 2017 at a glance

    Smith has performed and directed with OpenStage Theatre in Fort Collins for the past 20 years and serves as the company's  Associate Artistic Director. Notable roles include Claire in Proof, Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, Belinda in Noises Off and Hermia in Dead Man’s Cell Phone. As a director, her credits include Stage Kiss, True West, The Book of Liz and Dirty Blonde. She received the Founder’s Award for her outstanding contributions to OpenStage & Company.

    • The Flick, Director, OpenStage
    • Don’t Dress for Dinner, Production Manager, OpenStage
    • Bright Ideas, Production Manager, OpenStage
    • August: Osage County, Barbara Fordham, Production Manager, OpenStage

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

  • 2017 True West Award: Olyvia Sydelle and Joanie Brosseau

    by John Moore | Dec 04, 2017
    True West Award BDT Stage. Photo by Glenn Ross

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 4: Olyvia Sydelle and Joanie Brosseau

    Rock of Ages
    BDT Stage

    Anyone who has attended a show at Boulder's BDT Stage in the past two decades would have gotten a kick out of the clever casting twist this year in Rock of Ages.

    First, there was fresh-faced Olyvia Sydelle as Sherrie (thank you, Journey) in this unapologetically silly musical homage to big-hair 1980s rock bands. In the story, fresh-off-the-farm Sherrie quickly falls on hard times after arriving in L.A. to pursue her dreams. Broke, doe-eyed and desperate, Sherrie ends up at a strip club where she encounters a modern-day Mother Courage. (Go with me on this.) Justice Charlier, owner of the Venus Club, takes Sherrie undOlyvia Sydelle Rock of Ages. Photo by Glenn Rosser her wing and puts her to work as a stripper. It's all a tough-love, mildly exploitative excuse to hear the two power balladeers riff out a medley of Quarterflash's Harden My Heart and Pat Benatar's Shadows of the Night

    OK, so it's not exactly Brecht. But here's the punchline: Cast as Justice was the adored and adorable BDT Stage veteran Joanie Brosseau, who happens to be Sydelle's real-life mother. Blonde-to-the-bone Brosseau will never be mistaken for Mary J. Blige, who played the role in the 2012 film — but it worked for Boulder.

    You gotta admit: It's funny: Watching a mother encouraging her daughter to toughen up and take her clothes off for leering men? (Oh my goodness, I just realized — Rock of Ages is a total rip-off of Gypsy!) No wonder there was such obvious chemistry between the two.

    Furthering the bloodlines: The man responsible for this clever casting twist was Director Scott Beyette, who happens to be Sydelle's father — and Brosseau's ex-husband.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    OutFront theatre critic Addison Herron-Wheeler said the BDT production lived up to the Broadway hype, and that Sydelle "definitely stole the show. She is gorgeous, and has an intense belt that meshed incredibly well with all the songs she sung." Beki Pineda of GetBoulder.com concurred that "Sydelle knocks it out of the ballpark as the naive girl who becomes disillusioned by the world she enters but never loses her sweetness."

    Olyvia Sydelle: At a glance

    As the daughter of two longtime Boulder actors, Olyvia Sydelle has grown up in front of BDT audiences, first playing child roles such as Liesl in The Sound of Music, and now as a grown-up in shows like Rock of Ages. She graduated from Standley Lake High School in Westminster and studied psychology at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

    Joanie Brosseau: At a glance
    Joanie has appeared in dozens of productions on the BDT stage over the past 21 years. She attended Heritage High School. Favorite roles include Evita (Eva Peron), Peter Pan (Peter), Chicago (Roxie Hart), Sweet Charity (Charity Hope Valentine), Little Shop of Horrors (Audrey) and Thoroughly Modern Millie (Mrs. Meers). She has also performed at The Arvada Center, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Lone Tree Arts Center, PACE Center, Country Dinner Playhouse and Heritage Square Opera House.

    Read more: At 40 BDT Stage celebrates its just desserts

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

  • 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 (to date)

  • 2017 True West Award: Silverthorne Performing Arts Center

    by John Moore | Dec 02, 2017
    True West Award 2017 Silverthorne

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 2: Silverthorne Performing Arts Center

    Lake Dillon Theatre Company Artistic Director Christopher Alleman
    Lake Dillon Theatre Company Executive Director Joshua Blanchard
    Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland

    The Lake Dillon Theatre Company struck gold in Silverthorne this summer when it opened the new $9 million Silverthorne Performing Arts Center in partnership with the town best known for its sprawl of irresistible outlet shops about 70 miles west of Denver.

    The new 16,000 square-foot jewel made up of three performing spaces has brought cultural and economic heft to a beloved, risk-taking theatre company that spent its first 23 years performing in "shoeboxes and storefronts," Artistic Director Christopher Alleman said. "It’s just so lovely to be producing theatre in a building that was actually designed to produce theatre."

    2017 True West Award Silverthorne Chris Alleman The deal called for Silverthorne to kick in $6.3 million and the theatre company $2.7 million. “This was the smartest thing we could have ever done,” Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland said. “It is supporting arts and culture, which is such an incredibly enriching tool for our community, particularly our youth. But it is also absolutely an investment in economic development."

    (Pictured from left: Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland, Lake Dillon Theatre Company Artistic Director Christopher Alleman and Executive Director Joshua Blanchard.)

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    It’s not some wild idea to say that if you bring culture to a downtown, you can generate economic activity. It’s been proven (again) in Silverthorne. “Before the first shovel went into the ground, we secured a 32-unit condo development that I can attribute directly to this partnership,” Hyland said. After the theatre opened in the Town Center, the town finally moved forward on the long-discussed "Fourth Street Crossing," a 3.8-acre redevelopment across the street from the theatre that will include a brewery, restaurants, high-end condos and a hotel. "And this performing-arts center is the catalyst," Hyland said.

    The Silverthorne Performing Arts Center is anchored by a still-intimate 165-seat mainstage theatre called The Flex, a 60-seat studio theatre and a small classroom performing space. The theatre company already has presented nine shows in the five months since opening, compared to six for the entire year preceding. The company has drawn 11,875 audiences to the new facility, outpacing the full year before by 1,720. Season passes have doubled.

    Read our full report on the Silverthorne opening

    Alleman has announced a robust and unafraid nine-play slate for 2018 that is filled with challenging dramas including the politically charged Building the Wall, Ugly Lies the Bone and the Pulitzer-winning Topdog/Underdog. Notably, the schedule only calls for one musical (Rock of Ages), but only, Alleman says, because the company is gearing up for its big 25th anniversary season in 2019. 

    Alleman and Executive Director Joshua Blanchard have turned Lake Dillon Theatre Company into a destination facility both for audiences and actors. And their spectacular success is easily one of the biggest stories of the year in Colorado theatre. 

    SILVERTHORNE Even more substantially, the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center is evolving into a town hall with education programs and meeting spaces available to the public. The theatre company finds itself hosting topical community forums on issues such as immigration, which has allowed it to broaden its community reach far beyond the performing arts. And even the business community has taken notice.

    "We are proof of how art can invigorate commerce and growth," Alleman said, "and you see it everywhere."

    Lake Dillon Theatre Company 2017
    (since opening the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center on June 23):

    • Sister Act
    • Buyer and Cellar
    • Ghost
    • Noises Off
    • Grounded
    • Pretty Fire
    • Through Dec. 17: Murder for Two
    Lake Dillon Theatre Company 2018:
    • Jan. 19-Feb. 11, 2018: Building the Wall
    • March 2-18, 2018: Ugly Lies the Bone
    • June 18-June 17, 2018: The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey
    • June 15-July 15, 2018: Rock of Ages
    • July 13-29, 2018: Topdog/Underdog
    • Aug. 3-Sept 2, 2018: The Underpants
    • Aug. 17-Sept. 2, 2018: Mr. Joy
    • Sept. 7- 23, 2018: I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers
    • Nov. 23-Dec. 16, 2018: Constellations
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

    SILVERTHORNEThis was the opening-night curtain call for 'Sister Act,' which christened the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center on June 23, 2017. Photo by John Moore for teh DCPA NewsCenter.
  • 2017 True West Award: The Tramps

    by John Moore | Nov 29, 2017
    TW-Award-1-Bouchard-Scrutchins-Gregory-McCracken

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 1: The Tramps

    Michael Bouchard and Sean Scrutchins
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
    Colorado Shakespeare Festival

    Sam Gregory and Timothy McCracken
    Waiting for Godot
    Arvada Center

    Scholars have long connected the lineage of the tramps from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead back to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, though all winding, endless roads begin with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And all four were brought to brilliantly funny and heartbreaking life this year by four of Denver’s leading actors.

    WaitingForGodot400In both plays, two bewildered men bide their pointless time in a theatrical void while the real action unfolds somewhere … off-stage. Each play presents two insignificant tramps pondering the philosophies of a universe full of fear and uncertainty. These are plays that unravel in worlds where we are told “nothing ever happens," and yet — quite a lot happened in these kindred stagings, thanks to the work of this powerhouse foursome. 

    Theatre of the absurd, once so shocking for its subversion of theatre's traditional values, often leaves modern audiences baffled and scratching their heads. These four brought clarity to the incoherence with precise physical and tongue-twisting comedy.

    And to further muddy the absurdist bloodlines: Gregory also appeared in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (as The Player) and Scrutchins likewise appeared in Waiting for Godot (as The Boy). Not to menton: Bouchard, Scrutchins and Gregory all appeared in Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Hamlet (as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and The Ghost) — because apparently all of this wasn't meta enough.

    What they are saying:

    • Timothy Orr, director, 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead': “Any good comedy team, from Laurel and Hardy to the Blues Brothers, needs to have this psychic connection between them, and Sean and Michael had it. They were connected. They were breathing the same air. And as actors, they were both playing the funny and the straight man at the same time, which is extremely difficult to do.”
    • RosencrantzGuildenstern-CSF17-JMK-1842Geoffrey Kent, Director, 'Waiting for Godot': "Nothing helps a pairing like friendship, and Sam and Tim are old friends. They met on the Denver Center's 1994 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I watched from the audience. Didi and Gogo are introduced to the audience in the middle of a 50-year old conversation, and that personal history helps. In addition, Sam and Tim are the best listeners I know, intuitively and honestly reacting to each other from line to line. A truly fearless pair of actors."
    • Gary Zeidner, Boulder Weekly: "Whether they’re flipping quarters, forgetting which is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern, or delivering Stoppard’s sterling dialogue (like, “Who is the English King? Depends on when we get there”), Bouchard and Scrutchins are two of the most interesting and talented younger actors working the Front Range today. Like a modern-day Abbott and Costello, they are more than a pleasure to watch.”
    • Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post: "The power of Beckett’s words beams through, thanks to fine, bittersweet performances by Sam Gregory and Timothy McCracken knocking about as perfect vaudevillians. The actors’ chemistry is first-rate, finding desperation beneath the comedy that doesn’t dilute the profound despair at the heart of the play. The production packs a wallop.”

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    Michael BouchardMichael Bouchard 2017:

    • Ensemble, Jesus Christ Superstar, Arvada Center
    • Rosencrantz, Hamlet, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Rosencrantz, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Northumberland, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • David, The SantaLand Diaries, BETC and DCPA Off-Center, through Dec. 24


    Sam Gregory 160Sam Gregory 2017:
    • Dr. Lyman, Bus Stop, Arvada Center
    • Vladimir, Waiting for Godot, Arvada Center
    • Ghost/The Player, Hamlet, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • The Player, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, DCPA Theatre Company, through Dec. 24



    Timothy McCrackenTimothy McCracken 2017:

    • Estragon, Waiting for Godot, Arvada Center
    • Brian, Smart People, DCPA Theatre Company
    • Scrooge understudy, A Christmas Carol, DCPA Theatre Company, through Dec. 24
    • Head of Acting, DCPA Education


    A Sean Scrutchins 160Sean Scrutchins 2017:

    • Bo, Bus Stop, Arvada Center
    • Boy, Waiting for Godot, Arvada Center
    • Guildenstern, Rosencrantz and Are Dead, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Guildenstern, Hamlet, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Frank, Appropriate, Curious Theatre
    • Dan (mostly), Body of an American, Curious Theatre, through Dec. 9

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    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

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

     

  • The 2017 True West Awards are coming. Here's a look back.

    by John Moore | Nov 26, 2017
    True West Awards Billie McBride

    The True West Awards return Dec. 1 as both a celebration and a history of Colorado theatre for 17 years running.  

    The ever-evolving True West Awards, which began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, are the longest-running continuously administered awards program in Colorado theater. In 2014, the annual awards were re-conceived to celebrate the local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements for the year over 30 days, without categories or nominations.

    The awards are curated by DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore with solicited input from the Colorado theatre community. This year, additional suggestions were accepted for consideration through mid-November.

    The 2017 honorees will be unveiled on the DCPA NewsCenter daily starting Dec. 1. A different recipient will be singled out each day for 30 days. In the meantime, here are links to stories honoring all winners from the past three years (click on any link to read more):

    2013 True West Award winners

    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.

    Colorado Theatre Person of the Year winners:

    • Shelly _Bordas_Death_circle2016 Billie McBride, actor and director
    • 2015 Donald R. Seawell, Denver Center founder
    • 2014 Steve Wilson, Phamaly Theatre Director and Artistic Director
    • 2013 Shelly Bordas, Actor, teacher, director and inspirerer (pictured right)
    • 2012 No award given
    • 2011: Maurice LaMee, Creede Repertory Theatre artistic director
    • 2010: Anthony Garcia, Su Teatro artistic director
    • 2009: Kathleen M. Brady, Denver Center Theatre Company actor
    • 2008: Wendy Ishii, Bas Bleu Theatre co-founder and actor
    • 2007: Ed Baierlein, Germinal Stage-Denver founder, actor, director
    • 2006: Bonnie Metzgar, Curious Theatre Company associate artistic director
    • 2005: Chip Walton, Curious Theatre Company artistic director
    • 2004: Michael R. Duran, Actor/set designer/director/playwright
    • 2003: Nagle Jackson, Denver Center Theatre Company director/playwright
    • 2002: Chris Tabb, Actor and director

    2001-11: List of all Denver Post Ovation Award winners

    All-time leaders in Ovation/True West Awards received since 2001:

    • 140-sugar-debreceniNick Sugar 8
    • Brian Freeland 7
    • Karen Slack 6
    • John Arp 5
    • Ed Baierlein 5
    • Sam Gregory 5*
    • Erin Rollman 5
    • Steve Wilson 5
    • Gene Gillette 4
    • Wendy Ishii 4
    • Megan Van De Hey 4
    • Chip Walton 4
    • Sharon Kay White 4
    • Steven J. Deidel 3
    • Michael R. Duran 3
    • William Hahn 3
    • Billie McBride 3
    • Emma Messenger 3
    • Erik Sandvold 3
    • Christopher L. Sheley 3
    *For 11 years, the Denver Post Ovation Awards included a separate list of "Best of the Denver Center" winners. Gregory's five wins here represent only those Ovation/True West Awards he won for other Colorado theatre companies (Paragon, Colorado Shakespeare Festival and Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company). Otherwise, his total would be eight.
  • 2016 True West Award: Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

    by John Moore | Dec 31, 2016
    True West Awards Billie McBride 800 2



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    2016 Theatre Person of the Year: Billie McBride

    When Billie McBride won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, she was convinced she would never work again. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, they think I am that old?'” she said with a caustic laugh. 

    Pshaw. McBride has barely taken a day off since. One rather wonders how she possibly found time in 2016 to have played seven leading roles and direct three productions from Fort Collins to Dillon to Colorado Springs. That’s 10 productions – for 10 different theatre companies – in 12 months.

    True West Awards Billie McBride Quote“She is, quite simply, the best around,” said Rebecca Remaly Weitz, who directed McBride in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s Ripcord. And that, quite simply, is why she is the True West Awards’ 2016 Theatre Person of the Year: She’s the best around.

    McBride, who has Broadway credits on and off stage, has now reached a certain age where she gets asked to play, well, “a lot of old ladies,” as she bluntly puts it. A lot of them. But in 2016, that meant bringing a dizzying array of women to life ranging in age from 70 to 91.

    OK, so McBride’s characters often share a few consistent personality traits. They tend to be a bit prickly, terse, cantankerous, curmudgeonly, feisty, annoying, bracing, nasty, sour, volcanic, difficult, acerbic and irascible. (Those are all words critics used to describe McBride’s characters in 2016 – “cantankerous” twice, that I could find).

    But it is important to note that she is not being typecast. “Billie is a genuinely loving, giving, wonderful person,” said Christopher Alleman, who directed McBride in The Velocity of Autumn for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. She’s just really good at acting cranky.

    Still, McBride’s 2016 portrayals represented a vast breadth of life experiences that informed every aspect of her fully fleshed characters. I mean, she did everything this year from jumping out of a plane to nearly blowing up her own son with a Molotov cocktail. Consider:

    • Driving Miss Daisy, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center: Daisy is a 72-year-old Jewish widow who embodies oblivious Old South racism in 1948 Atlanta.
    • 4000 Miles, Cherry Creek Theatre: Vera is a no-nonsense, 91-year-old New York grandmother, widow … and member of the Communist Party.
    • The Velocity of Autumn, Lake Dillon Theatre Company: Alexandra is an 80-year-old artist who has barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with enough explosives to take out a city block.
    • Outside Mullingar, Little Theatre of the Rockies: Aiofe is a tremulous, 70-year-old Irish widow trying to keep a leash on her admittedly “cracked” and obstinately single daughter.
    • The Last Romance, Senior Housing Options at The Barth Hotel: Carol is a prim, 79-year-old retired executive secretary who is slowly coaxed into a joyful awakening by a stranger in a park.
    • Ripcord, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company: Abby is an acidic, 80-year-old patrician whose boast that she is not afraid of anything is put to the comic test.
    • Lost Creatures, And Toto Too Theatre: Silent-film star Louise Brooks was a 72-year-old shut-in when British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan invaded her dingy little apartment, and somehow a love story ensued.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    In a recent essay about David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord – perhaps the slightest story among McBride’s 2016 catalog, Ellen Mareneck found unexpected depth in this Odd Couple meets Grumpy Old Men tale of two opposite women forced to share a room in a senior living residence. “Under the docile exterior of age, there is a ruthless drive to retain relevance and power,” Mareneck wrote of the play. But no words could better describe McBride’s ongoing importance to the Colorado theatre ecology.

    By simply doing what she does best year after year in a profession that doesn’t often value women, and in a society that typically renders older people obsolete, McBride stands in towering, empowering opposition to the norm.

    Perhaps the greatest achievement of McBride’s year was her unexpectedly gritty performance in Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn. There was nothing even slightly adorable about McBride’s portrayal of a declining woman locked in a bitter showdown with her family over where she will spend her remaining years. As soon as her estranged son arrives, the emotional bombs start detonating. The play has been praised for “touching a nerve that is exposed in many no-win debates across America over what’s best for a relative no longer at her sharpest.” McBride unflinchingly embraced her role as essentially a domestic terrorist with a profound absence of sentiment.

    "We knew as soon as we chose the play that we had to have Billie play the role,” said Alleman. “There wasn't any more thought put into it. Billie is incredibly talented, and she brought fierceness to the role.”

    True West Awards Billie McBride

    Top row, from left: Lost Creatures, Outside Mullingar.
    Second row: Driving Miss Daisy, 4000 Miles, The Velocity of Autumn.
    Third row: The Last Romance, Ripcord.


    Somehow McBride also managed to direct Lost in Yonkers for the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, Hello Dolly! for middle- and high-school actors at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, and the workshop production of a new play called The Closet by Siegmund Fuchs for the Historic Elitch Theatre.

    As a director, McBride is known for asking you to leave your toolbox at the door when you arrive at the theatre. Not the crewmembers building the set – the actors. Just like carpenters, all actors have go-to tactics they go back to again and again. McBride has a reputation for breaking actors of those safe habits like so many wild horses.

    “She is tough and yet incredibly kind,” said Jalyn Courtenay Webb, who hired McBride to direct Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers in Fort Collins. McBride, who has a long history directing for the Denver Children’s Theatre, has a special way with younger actors, said Webb, whose 11-year-old nephew won the role of young Arty. “She was really great at talking to him at his level,” she said. “She didn’t treat him like a kid or like an adult. She treated him like the actor he needed to be in that show.”

    BILLIE McBRIDE/At a glance:

    • Grew up in Le Roy, Ill.
    • College: Illinois Wesleyan University
    • Broadway credits: A Kurt Weill Cabaret, Production Supervisor, 1979; Torch Song Trilogy, Assistant Stage Manager, 1982; played June in Safe Sex with Harvey Fierstein, 1987
    • Made DCPA Theatre Company debut in 2015 playing straight-talking Willa in world premiere of Benediction
    • Selected local credits not mentioned above: The Arvada Center (The Women, Cabaret), TheatreWorks (The Lying Kind), The Barth Hotel (On Golden Pond), Miners Alley Playhouse (Grace and Glorie)
    • Currently a company member with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

    Video: Our 2015 'Meet the Cast' profile of Billie McBride:



    TRUE WEST AWARDS THEATRE PERSON OF THE YEAR/A look back
    2016: Actor and director Billie McBride
    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: Denver Center 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, Denver Center Theatre Company director and playwright
    2002: Chris Tabb: Actor and director

    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: The women running theatre in Boulder

    by John Moore | Dec 30, 2016

    True West Awards Boulder women

    (Clockwise from top left: Rebecca Remaly Weitz, Emily K. Harrison, Amanda Berg Wilson and Pesha Rudnick. Inset right: Joan Kuder Bell as Mrs. Millamount in Upstart Crow's 'The Way of the World.')



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 30: The women running theatre in Boulder

    First off: Yes, there is something inherently wrong with singling out a group of successful women for their accomplishments based in part on their gender.

    Then again, when you have been systematically singled out for exclusion over decades in large part based of your gender, then perhaps the occasional exception to the unjust rule is something to celebrate.

    You may have seen the damning national stats: While women make up about 68 percent of all theatregoing audiences, fewer than 25 percent of the stories they see performed on American stages are written or directed by women. Further, 73 percent of all Artistic Directors and 62 percent of Executive Directors at leading U.S. theatres are white men. But did you know 65 percent of those working in jobs just below those leadership positions are women or persons of color? That means women and minorities do most of the work – and white men get promoted.

    True West Award Quote Boulder womenIt’s no wonder any self-starting woman with aspirations of running a theatre company would bypass the rat race and instead start her own.

    Call it an anomaly, a coincidence or a hopeful trend, but at a time when rectifying longstanding gender disparity is a major priority in the American theatre, one need only look to Boulder to find four distinctive theatre companies that were started or co-founded by creatively adventurous, collaborative women:

    (Photos above and right, clockwise from top left: Emily K. Harrison, Pesha Rudnick, Amanda Berg Wilson and Rebecca Remaly Weitz.) 

    The city of Boulder’s theatre roots run deep through the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, which turns 60 this summer; through Joan and Richard Bell’s Upstart Crow, which has presented classical theatre since 1980; and through BDT Stage, which has been staging Broadway-caliber musicals for nearly 40 years.

    But it is these four upstart women of the Boulder theatre community who have revived the city’s reputation as a culturally active and relevant hot spot. And for that, Duran says, Boulder is most grateful.

    “I am honestly blown away by all four them,” said Duran, who has been the Producing Artistic Director at BDT Stage for 13 years. “They are all so educated, and they have such amazing backgrounds in theatre and academia. These women are bringing brave new voices to the theatre and bringing different kinds of theatregoing experiences to Boulder audiences, and that benefits all of us.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The question is: Are these companies significant because they exist – or rather, is it significant that women brought them into existence? To Rudnick, it matters that women started all four companies because female theatre administrators are a collective rarity in the American theatre. “It matters because there is diversity in the female perspective, and feminism is rooted in humanism,” she said. “At Local Theater Company, we are interested in making theater that supports artists, our families and in telling stories that are inclusive and diverse.”

    Wilson knows one thing for sure: The question intself wouldn’t matter a bit if all four companies were not doing good and progressive work. “To boot: All four companies are dedicated almost exclusively to producing work that is new to Colorado,” she said. “All four companies are actively wrestling with how to address the emerging mandate that issues of equity and diversity must be addressed in the work and organizational structure of every theatre company. And all four are significant in this town and state because nationally, significant organizations that are also female-led are few and far between.”

    Our report from the 2016 Statera conference on gender parity

    And all four companies truly were firing on all cylinders in 2016. We asked each leader for a brief rundown of their accomplishments this year:

    BETC Vera Rubin. Michael Ensminger BOULDER ENSEMBLE THEATRE COMPANY, Rebecca Remaly Weitz: “We produced two word premieres (Vera Rubin: Bringing the Dark to Light and Full Code) and three regional premieres (Cyrano, Ripcord and Every Xmas Story Ever Told). We also workshopped a new play (The Madres) that has been selected as a finalist by the National New Play Network. We continued our successful annual co-production of The SantaLand Diaries with Off-Center at the Denver Center's Jones Theatre. Our support from the Shubert Foundation was increased by 50 percent, and I was the grateful recipient of the 2016 Emerging Professional Artist Award from the National Theatre Conference. We now have two full-time and three part-time employees. And our ensemble has grown to 23 fabulous people. (Photo: Mackenzie Sherburne and Chip Persons in 'Vera Rubin: 'Bringing the Dark to Light.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Catamounts The Taming. Michael EnsmingerTHE CATAMOUNTS, Amanda Berg Wilson: We produced two adventurous regional premieres by rising American playwrights (Jordan Harrison’s Futura and Lauren Gunderson’s The Taming). We served up three weekends of theatre, food and community though our original FEED series. We led young artists through the process of creating and performing their own work at Flatirons and Heatherwood Elementary schools. We received a three-year organizational grant from the Boulder Arts Commission, and our funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District increased by 58 percent. We hired our first employee (me!), and we moved our administrative headquarters from my damn couch to a sexy new co-working space. But what I am most proud of in 2016 is that we made a public commitment to increase the diversity in our programming and artists. (Photo: McPherson Horle in 'The Taming.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Local The Firestorm. Michael Ensminger. LOCAL THEATER COMPANY, Pesha Rudnick: As Local moves into our fifth season, we've renewed our fierce commitment to developing new American plays that address issues that are urgently “of the moment.” The Firestorm was a perfect example of that — it’s a new play by Meridith Friedman that addresses white privilege, racism and marriage during a heated election season. We added facilitated audience conversations that offer a platform for true, genuine dialogue. The Creede Repertory Theatre presented The History Room, which we first introduced during our 2016 Local Lab New Play Festival. Our new literacy program, Literature Live, will launch in February with a world premiere production of A Home in the Heart, an adaptation of Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street. It’s a stunning novel that explores immigration, coming-of-age and self-expression, and we will be presenting it for students, teachers and families in partnership with the Boulder Public Library. (Photo: Jada Suzanne Dixon in 'The Firestorm.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Square Product Cockroach. J Akiyama Kinisissquare product theatre company: We collaborated with Hoarded Stuff Performance on the world premiere of an awkward existential comedy called This Aunt is Not a Cockroach. We collaborated with Chicago’s The New Colony to produce two staged readings: Evan Linder's Byhalia, Mississippi, which we read as part of a simultaneous world-premiere Conversation here in Boulder, and our own original work called SLAB (about Hurricane Katrina), which we read at The Den Theatre in Chicago. We collaborated with Quake Theater on Ham & Millicent’s Boulder Arts Week Art Walk. And in the fall, we collaborated with the University of Colorado on a production of the Neo-Futurists' 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, which we originally staged in 2012. (Photo: Laura Ann Samuelson in 'This Aunt is Not a Cockroach.' Photo by J. Akiyama, Kinisis Photography.)

    Coming Saturday: The 2016 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year

    True West Awards. Boulder women. Amanda Berg Wilson. In October, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts hosted a national conference that addressed gender disparity in the American theatre. Much attention was paid to the particular challenge mothers face maintaining administrative careers while raising children. Berg said it is significant that most of the women who run theatre companies in Boulder are also mothers.

    “We lose too many excellent theatre artists to the necessities of family life because your child-bearing years unfortunately often overlap with some of your best creative and career-development years,” Wilson said. “And the low pay and long hours aren't terribly conducive to hiring babysitters who are sometimes paid more to watch your kid while you make your art than you are to make it. So to stick with it once you have kids takes a certain amount of ingenuity and grit and dedication to a vision — and hopefully a supportive partner. Women still labor under so many double standards when it comes to balancing work and family life. I'd like to think our community benefits from those of us who are willing to try to walk that tightrope.”

    (Photo above and right: Amanda Berg Wilson is not above mopping the floor after performances by The Catamounts. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    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 (to date)
    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: Warren Sherrill

    by John Moore | Dec 29, 2016
     True West Award Warren Sherrill


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 29: Warren Sherrill

    Ask those who know Warren Sherrill what makes him such a good director, and they'll tell you it's because he's such a brilliant actor. Ask them what makes him a good actor, and they'll tell you it's because he's such a brilliant director.

    He certainly proved both axioms to be true in 2016.

    "He knows how to communicate with actors because he has been there himself," says the star of his production of Medea, Karen Slack. "He takes care of his actors in a way that actors want to be taken care of," adds Josh Hartwell, who directed Sherrill in Casa Valentina.

    Sherrill didn’t need makeup or women’s clothes to win the role of a cross-dressing military man in The Edge Theatre’s bittersweet Casa Valentina, Harvey Fierstein's  true story of 1960s heterosexual men who sought out a safe haven to explore their feminine sides in the Catskill Mountains.

    Sherrill walked into his audition for the role “and he nailed it,” said Hartwell. Even without the accoutrement, “it came easy to him.”

    True West Warren Sherrill QuoteSherrill's character is a decorated Army veteran named Albert with a fondness for women’s apparel, quoting Oscar Wilde – and has an alter ego named Bessie. Sherrill could have easily played her for laughs, “but Warren connected right away with the fact that we had to feel her tenderness, sensitivity and realness,” Hartwell said. That’s what makes Sherrill both an award-winning actor – and director. “He has the unique ability to find the humanness in any character he plays, or helps another actor to discover,” Hartwell said.  

    Sherrill was named Associate Artistic Director of The Edge Theatre in May. His hiring was just the latest evidence that The Edge is stepping up in the local theatre ecology.

    2016 marked a welcome return to the stage for Sherrill, who had performed in only one production since the acclaimed Paragon Theatre he co-founded disbanded in 2011. He also played a key role in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s world premiere drama Full Code. Sherrill played a compassionate nurse who cares for a man in a coma while also juggling the two very different women who occupy this patient’s tangled romantic life.

    He’s been much more prolific in recent years as a director, and in 2016 he took on three very diverse storytelling challenges with The Edge Theatre’s Medea and By the Waters of Babylon, as well as The Avenue’s The Money Shot.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Medea is the classic tale of the baby-killing Greek wife who takes the ultimate revenge when her husband leaves her for a younger, hotter princess. By the Waters of Babylon, written by Robert Schenkkan (DCPA’s All the Way, The 12), recounts the steamy yet surprisingly complex encounter between a Texas widow and her Cuban gardener.  Both stories revolve around a powerhouse female character, and Sherrill was in his element keeping both of these deeply wounded women rooted in their basic humanity.

    True West Warren Sherrill Medea. RDG Photography. By comparison, The Money Shot might seem at first to be the anomaly of Sherrill's year. But Neil LaBute's snarky satire of two self-absorbed Hollywood couples is actually his comfort zone. The otherwise cuddly Sherrill has a long history playing with the kind of banal cruelty that LaBute, Jez Butterworth and David Mamet regularly trade in.

    One evident commonality about all three stories Sherrill directed in 2016 is that they each speak directly to the roles women play in society today. And each required imperial performances from Karen Slack, Patty Yaconis and Suzie Scott. Being able to communicate with different actors with different languages and different needs is perhaps Sherrill's greatest directorial strength, said Hartwell. And Slack (pictured at right in 'Medea') agrees.

    "I greatly appreciate the freedom he gives you physically," Slack said. "He doesn’t like to paint you into a box that you can’t get out of. He gives you a rough outline, and then he trusts you to fill the rest out. That’s a huge thing, to be able to trust that your actors are going to find where they want to be."

    Not having directed Sherrill before but long-knowing his work as a director, Hartwell said he went into Casa Valentina a little nervous. Unnecessarily, as it turned out.

    "Just like Warren trusts his actors when he is a director," Hartwell said, "He trusts his director when he is an actor."

    The Money Shot takes its title from an icky reference to porn films. (You can take it from there.) But even though LaBute not only bit but devoured the hand that feeds him in writing this play, Sherrill was nevertheless focused on achieving a recognizable truth with his actors at the Avenue Theater.

    "Warren has a real gift for guiding actors to find an honest portrayal of their characters," said Scott, who played a fading actor who cynically rebrands herself as a Hollywood lesbian with a website, fashion line, recipes, a trendy charity and a Malibu restaurant called ... Malibu - "because I like the word play!" 

    "When we were rehearsing an hysterically dirty scene," Scott said, "I remember Warren gently coaching us to not play the scene for laughs, but to just say the lines honestly and let the writing do the work. 'Trust me, it will be funny,' he told us. And he was right.

    "I loved working with Warren because he established a truly safe space where I felt free to dive into my own complex nature and recall those moments of desperation that shape us as artists when I was creating my character."

    He is, in short, added Slack: "Incredibly kind, a joy and a blessing to work with."

    Warren Sherrill/At a glance

  • Hometown: Denver
  • College: Colorado State University
  • Currently the Associate Artistic Director of The Edge Theatre in Lakewood. Former founder of the Paragon Theatre.
  • Notable roles have included Ashton Entertainment’s The Seafarer; Paragon's The Caretaker, The Real Thing and Jez Butterworth’s The Night Heron.
  • Notable directions have included The Edge's Jerusalem, and Paragon’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

  • 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 (to date)
    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: 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: Jason Ducat

    by John Moore | Dec 27, 2016
    True West Award Jason Ducat


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 27: Jason Ducat

    If you listen closely, you can hear the echoing drumbeats of war still pulsing from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s sexy military epic Troilus and Cressida, courtesy of the busiest sound designer in Denver, Jason Ducat.

    True West Award Jason Ducat Quote“Special note needs to be made of the blaring horns and incessant drums of Jason Ducat's sound design,” wrote Scott Rochat of the Boulder Daily Camera. “When it's time to get down to the business of combat, the choreography and sound fill the stage with an infectious energy and sense of danger.”

    Designing sound is so much more than picking songs to play during interminable scene changes. The masterful sound designer creates a soundscape that sets a mood, that communicates emotions, that furthers the play’s themes, that talks to the audience and accentuates whatever the director is trying to get across, says Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s Stephen Weitz.

    Few are better at that than Ducat, who has been designing sound for area theatre companies for the past eight years. Above all else, adds the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Carolyn Howarth, “Jason possesses a keen ability to tell story through sound.”

    Our 2015 profile of Stage Manager Rachel Newman Ducat

    And he told a lot of stories in 2016. Eight in all, from Boulder to Denver to Colorado Springs. The rundown:

    • White Guy on the Bus, Curious Theatre Company
    • Cymbeline, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Equivocation, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • The Comedy of Errors, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Troilus and Cressida, Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Antony and Cleopatra, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks
    • Full Code, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    • Hand to God, Curious Theatre Company

    True West Award Jason Ducat. Full Code. Casee Andree. Photo by Michael Ensminger. Two of the highlights from that list have to be his work on Troilus and Cressida and Full Code. Shakespeare’s seldom-produced war orgy. We’re talking the Trojan War, without a Trojan in sight. Seven years of carnal carnage (seemingly) over the abduction of Helen of Troy. What Howarth wanted from Ducat, she said, “was a pounding, percussive, martial soundtrack to amplify the war-time aspect of the story.” And he delivered.

    “Jason tweaks and twists his sound design to perfectly punctuate each strike of a sword and hit to a shield,” she said. “It's magical and exacting work, and his results are always extraordinary."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    For Full Code, a world-premiere play by David Valdes Greenwood about a man who has been in a freak accident, Ducat’s challenge was the opposite. He had to go small to somehow come up with an evocative sound that somehow captured the turbulence of a man trapped in a coma. Ducat’s sound design, wrote GetBoulder.com theatre critic Beki Pineda, “greatly enhances the startling changes the man is going through.”

    (Pictured above and right: Casey Andree in the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's 'Full Code.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    When picking a sound designer, said Weitz, director of Full Code, “you want someone who has all of the technical training, but more than that you want a collaborator who is flexible, takes feedback well and works well with the other designers on the creative team.”

    Weitz and Howarth both separately used that word when describing Ducat, “collaborator.” And to Howarth, “he is one of my very favorite collaborators.”

    Ducat hails from Ohio and has designed sound with the DCPA Theatre Company for seven years, with credits including Glengarry Glen Ross, When Tang Met Laika, The House of the Spirits, Lord of the Flies, Shadowlands, Reckless, Superior Donuts, Heartbreak House, and Othello. He started work today on his next project, the world-premiere play Two Degrees, opening Feb. 3 in the Jones Theatre. Ducat is also an Artistic Company member at Curious Theatre Company, where he has designed more than 20 shows, and he is the resident sound designer for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

    "Jason spends more time in the rehearsal room than any designer I know, and consequently always has a remarkably keen understanding of not only the play, but this particular production of the play," said actor and director Gary Wright. "That's what makes his work so alive. He not only has a great ear for music and sound, he has a great eye for truth and what's actually happening in the moment, and he has a great gift for helping to tell that story."

    The best that can be said of Ducat, Howarth said, is the best that can be said of any sound designer:

    “Under Jason’s designs,” she said, “Our productions come alive.”

    (And yes, it helps to have a solid iTunes library.)

    Jason Ducat/At a glance

  • Hometown: Bowling Green, Ohio
  • College: University of South Florida; MFA in Sound Design from Purdue University
  • DCPA Theatre Company Sound Designer for seven years. Now an Artistic Company member at Curious Theatre Company and resident sound designer for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival
  • He also teaches and mentors at the University of Colorado-Boulder and Metro State University
  •  Married to DCPA Stage Manager Rachel Newman Ducat, who is currently running An Act of God at the Garner-Galleria Theatre. They are the parents of twins.

  • 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: Lon Winston

    by John Moore | Dec 26, 2016
    True West Award Lon Winston


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 26: Lon Winston

    Lon Winston was an Easy Rider kind of biker when he roared into the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1970s, revved his engines and, to the surprise of most everyone excluding himself … eventually started a theatre company.

    Over the past 21 years and 67 productions, Winston and counterculture creative partner Valerie Haugen brought David Mamet and Henrik Ibsen and Sam Shepard and Eugene O’Neill and even Akira Kurosawa to Carbondale through their Thunder River Theatre Company.

    True West Award Lon Winston QuoteWinston, 70, announced his retirement in June as Executive Artistic Director of the rebel troupe he turned into a home for serious and often challenging theatre nestled 170 miles west of Denver between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. The elevation of 6,200 is only slightly higher than the town’s population.

    “I feel like I’ve done the job I set out to do 21 years ago,” Winston told the Aspen Times. “I set out to create a theatre company committed to staging classics, contemporary works and original productions - and that was committed to talent in the Roaring Fork valley, emphasizing a professional standard.”

    On Feb. 24, Thunder River will re-name the “black-box” studio theatre he opened in 2006 as The Lon Winston Theatre.

    “Lon has been an innovative and insightful creative force in the Roaring Fork Valley for more than 20 years, and his creative vision continues to inspire our work,” successor Corey Simpson told the DCPA NewsCenter. “He is the epitome of an ‘actor's director’ who can find the unique way to work with each artist to reveal their best work. One of his artistic gifts has been his devotion to fostering the talent and artistry of the local acting community."

    Winston and his wife, Debra, first moved to Colorado in 1975. They left in 1980 when they were hired as theatre professors at Villanova University near Philadelphia. They moved back in 1992 with a dream to launch the Thunder River Theatre Company – the name came from the sheepskin trading business they had started to generate seed money for the theatre.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Three years later, they teamed with the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities and opened their roving theatre group that played in storefronts out of an 18-wheeler. The opening production in 1995 was the Mamet’s gender-baiting drama Oleanna, about a college student who induces a misogynist professor to reveal the worst part of himself. It starred DCPA masters graduate Maurice LaMee (future artistic director of the Creede Repertory Theatre) and his wife, Trary Maddalone.

    True West Awards Lon WinstonIt would be another 11 years before the company had its own bricks and mortar. For all 11 of those years, Winston worked for free. And for the five after that, he and Haugen split a combined annual salary of a whopping $15,000.

    “Lon is a true visionary,” Maddalone said. “When he saw the window of opportunity for building a permanent home for the theatre arts in the Roaring Fork Valley, he put all of his hope and energy into making the Thunder River Theatre Company a reality.” Her husband added "all of his passion, blood, sweat and tears" to that list of ingredients.

    On New Year’s Eve 2005, Winston opened the black box theatre his company has since called home. “That changed everything, having our own space,” Winston told the Aspen Times. “It allowed us to focus on raising the bar.”

    “Early on, he said, “we had this reputation as that theater that just does depressing plays,” Winston said. “If it wasn’t Fiddler on the Roof, then it was depressing. But over time, our audience started to get it.” In 2012, Thunder River won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Award for Outstanding Regional Theater.

     True West Award Lon Winston. The Lion in Winter. Trary MaddaloneMaddalone completed her own circle in 2014 by performing alongside Winston in The Lion in Winter (pictured at right).

    “That was a real highlight for me,” she said. “As a director and an actor, he's a wonderful collaborator. He listens so well. He sees so clearly. He's fun. He loves to look behind every corner of every moment in a script. He's one of my favorite scene partners.”

    Winston has directed the majority of shows for Thunder River and designed all of the sets until last year, along with acting in wide range of roles. He was known for hammering nails and manning the concessions stand during intermissions, said Andrew Travers of the Aspen Times.

    “When directing plays, Winston encourages actors to work with what he calls ‘informed vagueness’ - an approach rooted in dramaturgy and research but with openness to differing opinions and interpretations,” Travers said.

    True West Awards Lon Winston. Death of a SalesmanOn the business side, he ran the theatre the same way. Winston wanted anyone who got involved with his theater to feel like a contributor, not a puppet. “And that’s a huge reason, I think, for our success,” Winston said.

    Winston announced his intention to retire last summer while directing Rashoman, Kurosawa’s famous mystery that recounts four different eyewitness accounts of a samurai’s murder. In his review for the Aspen Times, Travers said Winston’s expert blurring of fact and falsehood made for “a riveting theatrical experience.”

    Maddalone praised Winston for cultivating "a wonderful team of artists and teachers, as well as board members and audience, with artistic partner Valerie Haugen right by his side," she said. "And now there's a beautiful facility in downtown Carbondale to show for all of his work.”

    Winston will stay involved with Thunder River as a board member, and he will direct Shakespeare’s The Tempest this spring - the first production after the theatre he started bears his name.

    “I want to be the guide on the side,” Winston told Travers, “not the sage on the stage.”

    Much of the reporting in the story above was compiled from an Aspen Times article by Andrew Travers, and a Roaring Fork Lifestyle article by Olivia Pevec and Nicolette Toussaint. Photo above and right: Lon Winston as Willy Loman in 'Death of a Salesman.' 

    Lon Winston/At a glance

    • Hometown: North Miami Beach, Fla.
    • Home now: Carbondale
    • College: University of Florida; graduate degree from the University of Connecticut
    • Former Theatre Professor at Colorado Women's College and Villanova University
    • Selected acting credits with Thunder River: Henry II in The Lion in Winter; George Burns in Passionate Collaborators: George Burns & Gracie Allen; Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman; Lee in True West; Teach in American Buffalo
    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
  • 2016 True West Award: Sharon Kay White

    by John Moore | Dec 24, 2016
    True West Award Sharon Kay White


    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 24: Sharon Kay White

    Sharon Kay White is all kinds of funny – literally. Close-to-the-bone funny, rim-shot funny, vaudevillian funny. You name a style, and the dependable musical-theatre veteran knows a different way to make you laugh.

    White showed off at least three kinds of funny in three charmingly diverse performances in 2016. She nearly stole the show out from under infamous thief Frank Abagnale Jr. as the con man’s mother-in-law in the Aurora Fox’s Catch Me If You Can. She was just cheek-pinchable as the jovial cloistered nun Sister Mary Patrick in the Arvada Center’s Sister Act. And she brought the year home like the seasoned pro she is originating the role of a throwback variety-show sidekick in the Arvada Center’s world-premiere holiday musical, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. 

    True West Award. Sharon Kay White. Tim Howard. Photo by Christine Fisk. “You give that woman a song with a bit of sass and humor in it, and she’ll knock it out of the park every time. That’s her,” said actor Amy Board, her castmate in 2007’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical. “She knows how to set up a joke - and she knows how to drive it home.”

    Yes, White was every kind of funny in 2016. But there’s much more to her. White is a classic, old-school hoofer, Board said. But if you give her a chance to break your heart, then you had better grab a broom to sweep up the pieces. She brought Carol Burnett’s mother to gritty life in a memorable 2008 turn in Hollywood Arms, followed in 2011 by a riveting turn as the relentless social activist Emma Goldman in Ragtime.

    (Photo above and right: Sharon Kay White and Tim Howard in the Aurora Fox's 'Catch Me If You Can.' Photo by Christine Fisk.)

    “Sharon’s humor is well-known, but her excellence in dramatic roles is something many audience members don’t see coming,” said Arvada Center Artistic Producer Rod Lansberry. “Her work in Hollywood Arms still stands out as one of her strongest roles - as well as her Emma Goldman in Ragtime. We love her for her humor, but we admire her for her versatility.”

    Read our 'meet-the-cast' feature on Sharon Kay White

    Oddly enough, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts inadvertently changed the direction of White’s life forever in 1996. Not by hiring her to perform here, but rather by keeping her from performing here.

    Pop star Debbie Gibson’s national touring production of Funny Girl was supposed to be Broadway-bound. White, who was a member of that touring cast, had been a gainfully employed New York actor for years. She had starred as no less than Adelaide in a national touring production of Guys & Dolls, but Funny Girl was going to be her Broadway debut. Until late DCPA President Randy Weeks previewed the show in Minneapolis and was so unimpressed, he canceled the show’s upcoming Denver booking. And when Denver dropped out, the tour fizzled out.

    True West Award Sharon Kay White QuoteWhite took stock. She decided to exit the New York rat race and move to Colorado to live a more normal life. Why Colorado? “I saw picture of Colorado in a magazine on an airplane and said, ‘I am going there,’ ” she said.

    White came here intending to become a respectable Realtor – and she still is one. She has also had a reliable second career as a transcriber for all kinds of television shows – a job she can do from her home in Denver. But shortly after she arrived in Colorado, she got the acting bug again, and it has never left her since. She became a favorite of the now shuttered Country Dinner Playhouse, where she brought her Broadway-caliber Adelaide of Guys & Dolls to Arapahoe County. She also had memorable turns as a stripper in Gypsy and as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, among many others.

    “She is a rock star,” said Paul Dwyer, who co-starred and produced many of her shows there. “She can do anything.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    White started 2016 with her surprisingly affecting turn in Catch Me If You Can, which further solidified Tim Howard as perhaps the leading leading man among the local twentysomethings. “But the night belongs to Sharon Kay White as the blusteringly sexy comic tour de force, Carol Strong, the Deep-South mother of Abignale’s fiancé,” wrote Dave Perry of the Aurora Sentinel. “White is famous for making every role seem that it was written for her, and this one is a memorable escapade that encapsulates the best part of the show.”

    In Sister Act, based on the Whoopi Goldberg film about a loose-moraled singer who witnesses a mob crime and is sent into hiding in a convent, White played one of the many naive nuns whose eyes are opened to the excitement of the outside world. “She was just so freaking earnest in her joy, and it wasn’t for a joke,” Board said. “It was honest.”

    At the end of 2016, White had the rare opportunity to create a character from scratch in the Arvada Center’s just-completed new musical I’ll Be Home for Christmas. It is written by Kenn McLaughlin and longtime Arvada Center resident Music Director David Nehls, who has been developing the piece from scratch over the past several years. And from the first iteration of the show, White has been cast to play an actor in the Bright family’s 1950s televised variety show. But now it’s the Vietnam era, and the Brights’ grown-up, all-American son is coming home from war to appear in the family’s annual Christmas special. There’s tension on the set, and White is there to break it.

    Her character’s name is Carol Marie, but think Rose Marie in The Dick Van Dyke Show - with a killer voice. White is given two songs that humanize the loneliness of a single, middle-aged woman of that era at Christmas. But she's playing a character-within-a-character. Carol Marie, the actor on the show, turns out to be a happily married mother.

    To top off White's year, she was nominated in July for a Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award for her work in 2015's Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

    “In my humble opinion, Sharon Kay has some of the most sound, organic comic timing I’ve ever seen,” said Board. “And the amazing thing is, she was never taught comedy. Never once. It’s all her.”

    Sharon Kay White/At a glance

    • Hometown: Gilroy, Calif.
    • Home now: Denver
    • High school: Gilroy High School
    • College: Bachelor's of Science degree in Textile Science and Polymer Chemistry from the UC-Davis (California)
    • Coming up: She will be playing Elsa Maxwell in Cherry Creek Theatre's Red, Hot and Cole from Jan. 19-Feb. 26 in the Mizel Arts and Culture Center's Pluss Theatre
    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
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    ABOUT THE EDITOR
    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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