• 'Human Error': In comedy, your pain is our punchline

    by John Moore | May 12, 2018
    HUMAN ERROR ERIC PFEFFINGER QUOTE. Photo by John Moore


    With this new comedy about a botched embryo implant, playwright posits: To err is human ... to laugh divine

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    In the DCPA Theatre Company's world-premiere comedy Human Error, a young couple goes to what they think is a routine appointment at a fertility clinic only to discover that their fertilized embryo has been mistakenly implanted into somebody else. 

    So, obviously … it’s a comedy. 

    “You know: Another one of your standard-issue switched-fertilized-embryo farces,” jocular Midwestern playwright Eric Pfeffinger says with a laugh. 

    It’s a funny premise … but you haven’t even gotten to the punchline yet. 

    “So one couple are blue-state, latte-sipping, NPR-listening liberals,” Pfeffinger said. “And the other are NRA-cardholding, pickup-truck-driving, red-state conservatives.” 

    Human Error rehearsal. Photo by John MooreThat’s the punchline: Two couples who, under normal circumstances, would never choose to be in the same room with each other, now will have to spend nine months building some kind of a family — and hopefully not killing each other along the way. 

    As they say in comedy, your pain is another guy’s pleasure. 

    (Rehearsal photo, from left, Kimberly Gilbert, Marissa McGowan and Wayne Kennedy. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.) 

    Human Error is a comedy about the state of the nation currently and the political polarization we are all grappling with,” Pfeffinger said of his play, which was featured at the Denver Center’s 2017 Colorado New Play Summit only a month after Donald Trump’s inauguration. And, well, there’s been a bit more rancor since then.  

    “If anything, Americans’ inclination to isolate ourselves within comfortable ideological silos has only increased,” Pfeffinger said back on an April day when the national headlines were dominated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress. 

    The bad news is: Political, social and cultural polarization is just a given in America right now.

    “But the good news is: The worse things get, the better it is for my play,” Pfeffinger said with a smile. “So … yay?”

    Geography, technology and social status have made it easy for Americans to isolate themselves from anyone who doesn’t already think the same way they do, Pfeffinger said. That means we are only rarely confronted with contradictory or challenging points of view. But Pfeffinger has the power of the playwright in his fingers: He can put any two people he wants face-to-face on a stage. Or, in this case, he can put any two couples he wants face-to-face in the same bumbling fertility doctor’s office.

    “None of the people in my play know anybody else like the other couple,” Pfeffinger said. “They don’t have to confront the reality of someone who thinks differently until they are thrown together by this clerical mix-up at the clinic.” The play is not so much about the ethics of fertility technology, Pfeffinger says — as dramatic as that can be. “It’s more about the echo chambers we Americans often find ourselves in, and the defense mechanisms we adopt when we are forced to step outside our comfort zones and acknowledge that there are other people in the world who are not just like us.”

    But remember, Pfeffinger said his play is not a Lifetime movie event. He said it was funny. And not nasty, David Mamet kind of funny. “It’s BIG funny,” he said. “When I first heard about this kind of thing actually happening at fertility clinics, my first response was, ‘Oh that sounds like an episode of Three’s Company: “Wait, that’s not your embryo — that’s my embryo!” And … cut to commercial.’

    Human Error draws explicit connections to various kinds of classic comedy, particularly the TV sitcom, which is what I grew up mainlining.”  

    So really, Pfeffinger had no choice but to take a comic approach to the subject. It’s all he knows. 

    Human Error: Five funs things we learned at first rehearsal

    “Everyithing I write is a comedy. That’s how I function,” said Pfeffinger, who has past lives as both an improv comedian and a newspaper cartoonist. “Let’s take this thing that does not seem particularly funny to the people it is happening to and find the humor n it.”

    And after all that prolonged division and unrest in the country, he said, now might be a really good time for us to laugh. 

    “A lot of people embrace comedy as an opportunity to escape from what is stressful about the world,” Pfeffinger said. “I happen to believe that comedy is one of the best ways to confront difficult ideas and to examine and articulate those ideas. Comedy lowers your defenses by making you laugh.” 

    Human Error castPfeffinger has continued to hone the play in the 15 months since the Colorado New Play Summit, in close consultation with director Shelley Butler and dramaturg Sarah Lunnie. But not with the intent of either making the play more overtly funny or politically relevant.

    “Tonally, structurally and thematically, the play is pretty much the same now as it was at the Summit,” he said. “It’s more a matter of helping the play to become more of what it’s already wanting to be. That includes making the funny stuff funnier and the human stuff, uh, human-er.”

    Human Error will become the first Theatre Company season offering ever staged in the Garner Galleria Theatre, which will provide an intimate, cabaret-like atmosphere that will be new for many Theatre Company audiences. 

    “This is a play where the comedy comes from the audience connecting with these very different, very recognizable people,” Pfeffinger said. “I think where the audience and the performers are palpably sharing the same space and breathing the same air, that’s where comedy thrives.”

    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.


    Human Error at Tommy Photo by John Moore
    From left: Kimberly Gilbert, Director Shelley Butler, Playwright Eric Pfeffinger, Joe Coots, and Marissa McGowan of 'Human Error,' at the opening of DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Who's Tommy.' Not pictured: Larry Bates and Wayne Kennedy. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Human Error: Cast

    Human Error: Creatives

    • Directed by Shelley Butler
    • Scenic Design by Lisa M. Orzolek
    • Costume Design by Sara Ryung Clement
    • Lighting Design by Charles R. MacLeod
    • Sound Design by Jason Ducat
    • Dramaturgy by Sarah Lunnie
    • Stage management by Christopher C. Ewing
    • Assistant Stage Management by D. Lynn Reiland
    • Casting by Elissa Myers Casting
    Video: Our interview with Eric Pfeffinger at the Colorado New Play Summit: 

    Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Human Error: Ticket information

    HumanError_show_thumbnail_160x160After an unfortunate mix-up by their blundering fertility doctor, Heather is mistakenly impregnated with the wrong child. Now two very different couples face sharing an uproarious nine-month odyssey of culture shock, clashing values, changing attitudes and unlikely – but heartfelt – friendships.
    • Presented by DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances May 18 through June 24
    • Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'Human Error': Comedy won't draw a red or blue line in the sand

    by John Moore | Apr 30, 2018
    Making of 'Human Error'

    Photos from the making of 'Human Error in Denver. Above, from left: Joe Coots, Marissa McGowan, Larry Bates, Kimberly Gilbert and Wayne Kennedy at the first day of rehearsal for 'Human Error,' which has its first performance on May 18. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of photos. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    Director promises the only harm that may come from watching this world-premiere comedy is a busted gut

    By John Moore
    Senor Arts Journalist

    Rehearsals have begun for the DCPA Theatre Company's season-ending, world-premiere comedy Human Error, about what happens when you put two completely opposite young couples together with only one thing in common: A bumbling fertility doctor who has mistakenly implanted a fertilized embryo from one woman into the uterus of the other.

    You know: "Another one of your standard-issue switched-fertilized-embryo farces,” Ohio playwright Eric Pfeffinger said with a laugh.

    Human Error Shelley Butler Photo by John Moore One couple are NPR-listening, latte-sipping, blue-state liberal; the other NRA-card-holding, truck-driving, red-state conservatives. The conflict between them will be recognizable to anyone presently breathing in America. Keenan and Madelyn are mixed-race liberals. Jim and Heather are affluent Christians who love God, guns and having babies. Have them share an egg, and hilarity ensues. (If the response of those audiences who first saw the play as a reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit are to be believed.)

    But in this highly polarized time in America, Director Shelley Butler and her team are determined to keep the play from becoming no more injurious to anyone watching than perhaps a busted gut.

    "You could approach this staging with a really obvious red-and-blue set design, and go hard on the red-and-blue lighting, but we really endeavored not to do that," Butler said.

    "When Eric and I met three years ago, the political and cultural divide in our country had been building for decades — but I don't think either one of us knew that in 2018, his play would be more applicable than ever. Part of what I responded to in the play then is that Eric didn't approach any of these characters as caricatures. He really embraced the humanity in all of them. This play is unapologetically a comedy, but we are not setting any of these people up for ridicule." 

    Here are five more things we learned at first rehearsal: 

    NUMBER 1Get thee to the Galleria. Human Error will be the first DCPA Theatre Company season offering ever presented in the Garner Galleria Theatre, more commonly home to ensemble musicals such as The Taffetas and First Date. This unlikely venue for a play will provide an intimate, cabaret-like atmosphere that will be new for many Theatre Company subscribers. "We put in in the Galleria Theatre because it has that inherent feel of being compact and very personal," Theatre Company Associate Producer Grady Soapes said. Added Butler: "It really feeds into our populist approach to this production."

    NUMBER 2

    Border war! The play is set in Sylvania, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo whose northern border is the southern border of Michigan. Keenan and Madelyn live in Michigan, while Jim and Heather live on Sylvania. Anyone who knows that part of the Midwest also knows the antagonism between those two states is real. A lot of it has to do with perhaps the greatest rivalry in all of college sports, between the Ohio State and the University of Michigan football teams, but tere is an ideological divide as well. Human Error Sound Designer Jason Ducat knows of this all too well, having grown up in the border town of Bowling Green, Ohio, which is probably what the coiner of the term "spitting distance" had in mind. "We don't feel too highly about that state to the north," said Ducat, who couldn't even bring himself to say "Michigan."  

    NUMBER 3

    Book of Will Kimberly Gilbert Round House TheatreKennedy is back. Local audiences will be quick to recognize Wayne Kennedy in the role of the bumbling fertility doctor. Kennedy, who was a featured performer in Off-Center's recent immersive staging of The Wild Party, has been a familiar face on the BDT Stage in Boulder for 27 years, and he won all the awards for his portrayal of Tateh in productions of Ragtime at the Arvada Center and BDT Stage. The actors playing the two couples are mostly new to Denver. Big Joe Coots, who was a meanie in the national touring production of Kinky Boots, participated in a five-part video series for the DCPA NewsCenter while he was here. It was called "Kinky Qs," and in it, Coots tackled meaningful questions like, "Have you ever been bullied?" (His answer may surprise you.) Marissa McGowan toured through Denver with Les Miserables. Kimberly Gilbert was not in the DCPA Theatre Company's world premiere staging of The Book of Will — however, she did play Elizabeth Condell in the Round House Theatre's recent production in Bethesda, Md. (Photo above by Kaley Etzkorn.)  Larry Bates played Martin Luther King in South Coast Repertory's All the Way.   

    Read more: Our complete interview with the playwright

    NUMBER 4

    Director's roots. You may remember Director Shelley Butler from the Theatre Company's 2013 staging of Catherine Trieschmann's The Most Deserving, a world-premiere comedy about amateur art and amateur politics in a tiny West Kansas town. Butler already has her return trip to to Denver booked: She will be directing W. Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife from Sept. 21-Oct. 21 in the Space Theatre.

    NUMBER 5 We're only human-er: Pfeffinger has continued to hone his play in the 15 months since the Colorado New Play Summit, in close consultation with Butler and dramaturg Sarah Lunnie. But not with the intent of either making the play more overtly funny or politically relevant. “Tonally, structurally and thematically, the play is pretty much the same now it was at the Summit,” he said. “It's more a matter of helping the play to become more of what it's already wanting to be. That includes making the funny stuff funnier and the human stuff, uh, human-er.”

    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.


    Human Error at Tommy Photo by John Moore
    From left: Kimberly Gilbert, Diretor Shelley Butler, Playwright Eric Pfeffinger, Joe Coots, and Marissa McGowan of 'Human Error,' at the opening of DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Who's Tommy' last Friday. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Human Error: Cast:

    Human Error: Creatives

    • Directed by Shelley Butler
    • Scenic Design by Lisa M. Orzolek
    • Costume Design by Sara Ryung Clement
    • Lighting Design by Charles R. MacLeod
    • Sound Design by Jason Ducat
    • Dramaturgy by Sarah Lunnie
    • Stage management by Christopher C. Ewing
    • Assistant Stage Management by D. Lynn Reiland
    • Casting by Elissa Myers Casting
    Video: Our interview with Eric Pfeffinger at the Colorado New Play Summit: 

    Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Human Error: Ticket information

    HumanError_show_thumbnail_160x160After an unfortunate mix-up by their blundering fertility doctor, Heather is mistakenly impregnated with the wrong child. Now two very different couples face sharing an uproarious nine-month odyssey of culture shock, clashing values, changing attitudes and unlikely – but heartfelt – friendships.
    • Presented by DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances May 18 through June 24
    • Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'Two Degrees': Five things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Jan 06, 2017
    'Two Degrees' in Denver
    Photos from the first rehearsal of Tira Palmquist's play 'Two Degrees' by the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Click again to download. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    When Director Christy Montour-Larson went looking for the key to unlock Tira Palmquist’s new play Two Degrees, she looked no further than her own pocket.

    “All I had to do is pull out my own house key, because when I read this play for the first time, I felt like I was home,” said Montour-Larson, who will direct the upcoming world premiere for the DCPA Theatre Company opening Feb. 3.

    Two Degrees. Director Christy Montour-Larson and Tira Palmquist. hoto by John Moore. Two Degrees is about a woman – and a planet – in crisis. Emma is scientist who has been called to Washington to testify to a congressional committee on climate legislation. And it’s the anniversary of her husband's death.

    “I love this play because it is about something,” Montour-Larson said on the first day of rehearsal. “Climate change isn't just another issue in a world proliferating with other issues. Climate change is the one issue that, left unchecked, will swamp all other issues.”

    New calculations from Scientific American magazine indicate that if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, the average temperature of the Earth will rise 2 degrees Celsius by 2036, crossing a threshold that will devastate human civilization, Montour-Larson said.

    “We are the first generation in the history of humanity to feel the effects of climate change,” she said, “and we are the last generation who can do anything about it.”

    And if you are a playwright, the thing you do about it is you write a play about it.

    “For me, as a playwright, the personal is political, and the political is personal,” said Palmquist, who wrote Two Degrees as opportunity to write roles for women older than 45, and also as an opportunity to talk about climate change. For her, that’s as political – and as personal – as it gets.

    “Humans aren't the first species to alter the atmosphere,” added Two Degrees Dramaturg Heather Helinsky, quoting Elizabeth Kolbert’s book Field Notes from a Catastrophe. That distinction belongs to early bacteria, which invented photosynthesis 2 two billion years ago. “But we are the first species to be in a position to understand what we are doing.”

    And that’s why, Lighting Designer Charles MacLeod said, “This is a play we have to do. And not 20 years from now - we have to do it now.”

    (Pictured above and right: 'Two Degrees' Director Christy Montour-Larson and Playwright Tira Palmquist. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Here are five things we learned at that first rehearsal for Two Degrees, opening Feb. 3 in the Jones Theatre:

    NUMBER 1 It’s melting! That’s right. Scenic Designer Robert Mark Morgan has fashioned a series of hanging painted panels that will look like different forms of ice. But look closely, because about six of them are going to be literally made out of ice that will slowly melt throughout the performance. The idea: The world of the play is the world of our world. “Our hope is that maybe 50 percent of the audience will say afterward, ‘Hey, wasn't it really cool that part of the set melted?’ And the other 50 percent will say, 'I didn't see that,’ ” said Montour-Larson, adding to laughs: “And then you can say to that person: 'Yeah, and that's why you are part of the problem! You didn't notice!"  

    Five things we learned at first rehearsal for The Book of Will

    NUMBER 2Credit is due. A small local collective called The Athena Project is responsible for Two Degrees coming to the attention of DCPA Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson. Montour-Larson directed a reading of the play as part of the Athena Project’s 2015 new-play festival, then handed the script over to Thompson, who shouted out founder Angela Astle and her 3-year-old company at the first rehearsal. “Athena envisions a world where women's voices are powerfully expressed and recognized for their artistic merit in the community,” Thompson said.

    Five things we learned at first rehearsal for The Christians

    NUMBER 3Mr. Jones and you. Two Degrees will be the first play the DCPA Theatre Company presents in the Jones Theatre as a mainstage production since David Mamet’s A Boston Marriage in 2004. At 200 seats, The Jones is the Denver Center’s smallest theatre. “It's just perfect for Two Degrees because it’s so intimate, and the audience is going to be right there with us as we tell the story,” Montour-Larson said.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    NUMBER 4Two Degrees. Jason Ducat The sound of ice. Sound Designer Jason Ducat (right) promises to replicate the sound of real, cracking ice at key points of the story. He and fellow DCPA soundman Craig Breitenbach embedded microphones into real ice and then recorded the sound as it broke up. “We're going to have speakers underneath the seats so the audience will really be able to feel that rumble,” said Ducat, who grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio, hometown of Olympic figure-skating champion Scott Hamilton. “For about 15 years of my life, I pretty much lived on a sheet of ice. It is one of the most peaceful things you can ever experience," Ducat said. But the sound ice cracking also can be terrifying. I know this because when I was young, I was really stupid and I would see how far out on the ice I could get before it started to crack - and then I would have to fly back in to try to beat it. But when I think of the character of Emma, I think she really wants to be on that ice. So I wanted to create that as the soundscape of the play."

    NUMBER 5Do I know you? Montour-Larson met Palmquist at the 2012 Seven Devils Playwrights Conference in McCall, Idaho. They got to talking and soon learned they both grew up in Minnesota. Then they figured out that they both had performed in a summer repertory theatre program in Duluth, Minn., decades before. So Montour-Larson asked Palmquist what shows she was in, and Palmquist answered, “Oh a few, like, Dames at Sea and Play it Again Sam.” And Montour-Larson dead-panned: "I was in all those shows with you." Everyone talks about six degrees of separation, but in Palmquist’s play every character has, appropriately enough, just two degrees of separation. “And here we discovered that Tira and I had two degrees of separation, because we already knew each other through our younger selves,” said Montour-Larson.

    Bonus: There will be some Greenlandic spoken during the play. That is all.

     

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


    Video bonus: Spotlight on Two Degrees



    Two Degrees
    : Cast list

    Written by Tira Palmquist
    Directed by Christy Montour-Larson

    • Jason Delane (One Night in Miami) as Clay Simpson

    • Kathleen McCall (The Glass Menagerie) as Emma Phelps

    • Robert Montano (Colorado New Play Summit) as Jeffrey Phelps/Eric Wilson/Malik Peterson

    • Kim Staunton (Fences) as Louise Allen


    Two Degrees: Ticket information
    Two DegreesEmma, a climate change scientist, is invited to share her findings at a Senate hearing that could define her career and her cause. But if she can’t overcome her tumultuous inner struggle, her dedication and sacrifices may not be enough. Two Degrees was developed at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit.

    Feb. 3-March 12
    Jones Theatre
    ASL and Audio-Described matinee at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 5
    303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE


    Two Degrees. Kathleen McCall and Robert Montano. Photo by John Moore.
    First rehearsal for the upcoming 'Two Degrees': Kathleen McCall and Robert Montano. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

  • 2016 True West Award: Charles R. MacLeod

    by John Moore | Dec 14, 2016
    True West Charles MacLeod

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 14:
    Lighting Designer Charles R. MacLeod

                             Presented by Director Geoffrey Kent

    Charles R. MacLeod has been the DCPA Theatre Company’s resident lighting designer for 34 seasons, but 2016 offered new challenges and new spaces. He created the lighting effects for the epic political drama All the Way in the Stage Theatre. He achieved a dreamy new look for The Glass Menagerie in the Ricketson Theatre. And like The Almighty Himself, he created light for the cabaret comedy An Act of God at the Garner-Galleria Theatre. All big, but manageable challenges for the easygoing Aurora native.

    Charles MacLeod Quote But then there was Sweet & Lucky, Off-Center’s deep-dive into off-site adventure theatre. Off-Center is home to the DCPA’s more adventurous homegrown programming. Sweet & Lucky was the largest physical undertaking in the Denver Center’s nearly 40-year history – a peripatetic tale that took place in a 16,000-square-foot converted warehouse on Brighton Boulevard.

    And just how big is 16,000 square feet? Big enough to hold five Space Theatres.

    “This was a massive undertaking unlike anything we have ever attempted here before at the DCPA,” MacLeod said.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The story, created in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Third Rail Projects, was a treatise on memory set in a speakeasy antique shop. Audiences were greeted with a cocktail, then led to a funeral in the rain. As they travelled from room to room, from a swimming hole to a drive-in theatre and beyond, they were really venturing into a labyrinth of unreliable fragments of time.

    True West Charles MacLeod All the WayIt was MacLeod’s job to help create an ethereal and yet nostalgic and somehow familiar world with his lighting, working in close concert with an accomplished creative team that included Lisa Orzolek’s magnificent scenic design, Meghan Anderson Doyle’s costumes, Sean Hagerty’s sound and Charlie I. Miller’s video. The show was written, choreographed and directed by Colorado native Zach Morris and performed by an almost entirely local cast.

    MacLeod then infused The Glass Menagerie with a modern visual twist: The stage floor was made up of 81 milky tiles on top of individually lit boxes. The effect made the claustrophobic Wingfield living room feel suspended in air, as if floating like a cloud. But MacLeod’s crowning achievement had to be his lighting of the titular menagerie itself. In most other stagings of the play, Laura’s precious glass figurines are often small and sequestered to a stationary table. “Our menagerie was pretty unconventional,” MacLeod said. “It was made up of nearly 30 individually suspended glass pieces that Laura could walk in and out of as if surrounded by a floating cloud of memory.”

     True West Charles MacLeod MacLeod also took pains to ensure that not a single set piece cast a shadow of any kind, heightening the sense that the story was playing out in an unreliable reality.

    “Charles is just so (bleeping) good. I love him for his whole body of work,” said Geoffrey Kent, who put MacLeod’s name up for True West Award consideration. And it’s a big body of work, encompassing more than 310 productions since MacLeod was named the DCPA’s resident lighting designer in 1987. Kent is the director of his most recent (and ongoing) effort, An Act of God - a clever comedy in which God returns to Earth to set the record straight about what he really meant when He laid down His often misinterpreted Ten Commandments.

    Art and Artist: A profile of Charles MacLeod

    True West Charles MacLeod Kent said he especially appreciates MacLeod’s acumen and humor during “tech rehearsals,” which are important but tedious exercises in fine-tuning every last technical detail of a production.

    “Charles makes tech better for everyone,” Kent said. “He has the unparalleled combination of skillful eye, dedication to minutiae and a razor-sharp wit that keeps the room positive and active. He's the first to arrive and the last to leave, and he fixes problems before I've even seen them.” 

    Photos, from top: All the Way (Photo by Adams VisCom); Charles R. MacLeod makes for an illuminating presenter at the 2015 Bobby G Awards (Photo by John Moore); The Glass Menagerie (Photo by Adams VisCom).


    Video bonus: An inside look at the making of The Glass Menagerie



    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
  • Video: Inside look at the making of 'The Glass Menagerie'

    by John Moore | Sep 16, 2016


    To mark every DCPA Theatre Company opening, we take you backstage for an inside look at the making of the show.

    Here, DCPA technical and creative staff offer insight about the scenic design, lighting, properties and costume challenges in staging Tennessee Williams' classic, The Glass Menagerie. Technical Director Eric Rouse is joined by Charles MacLeod, Robin Payne and Meghan Anderson Doyle for our tour.

    Learn just how many cubes of light make up the floor of the Wingfield family living room; how the team uses projections to make sure the absent patriarch stays ever-present throughout the play; why the costumes are more suggestive of a memory than a factual representation of St. Louis in 1937, and much more.

    Watch next for our video on the making of Frankenstein, with a first performance on Sept. 30. Video by John Moore and David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Production photo gallery:
     
    The Glass Menagerie- 2016-17 Theatre Company Season First look at production photos for the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Glass Menagerie.' To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams Visual Communications.

    To see our gallery of rehearsal and backstage photos, CLICK HERE

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The Glass Menagerie: Ticket information
    • Sept. 9-Oct. 16
    • Ricketson Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 15
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Glass Menagerie:

    Video: Your first look at The Glass Menagerie
    The Glass Menagerie: A modern visual twist on an American classic
    First rehearsal: This will be no wimpy Glass Menagerie
    Casting set for The Glass Menagerie
    Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
    2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics
     
    'Meet the Cast' profiles:
    Tom Wingfield: Aubrey Deeker
    Laura Wingfield: Amelia Pedlow
    The Gentleman Caller: John Skelley

  • 'Menagerie': Modern visual twist on an American classic

    by John Moore | Sep 07, 2016


    'The Glass Menagerie' set, still under construction, will appear to be floating, an effect enhanced by the removal of the Ricketson Theatre's usual stage floor. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Chances are you’ve seen Tennessee Williams’ fragile and fractured classic The Glass Menagerie, one of the most beloved American plays of the past 70 years. The challenge for Director Ina Marlowe’s design team is to make sure you’ve never seen a Glass Menagerie like the one that opens the Theatre Company's 2016-17 season with its first preview performance Sept. 9.

    "It's the kind of title that might make you say, ‘Oh, that again,’” said DCPA Theatre Company Director of Lighting Charles MacLeod. “But we are giving it a modern visual twist. And if we do a great job, people will want to come and see it.”

    The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, meaning the narrator tells us his story based on Tom’s personal (and therefore unreliable) recollections of his overbearing mother, Amanda, and fragile sister, Laura. But as is often the case from barroom tales to history books, what you see on stage may not be an accurate recounting of what actually happened.

    “I come from a large family, and everybody remembers things differently,” MacLeod said. “There are things I don’t remember at all, but my sisters can recall with vivid detail.”

    MacLeod, along with Marlowe and scenic designer Joe Tilford, have devised two primary visual innovations for this staging in The Ricketson Theatre, both based on the unreliability of memory.

    “Memories can be said to float in your mind’s eye,” said MacLeod. “So what Joe has created is an isolated floor that will appear to float.”

    The actors’ playing space will be relatively small — 18 by 18 feet and made up of 81 individually lit squares not unlike a checkerboard. The floor will be slightly angled, allowing more of it to be seen by the audience than if it were flat. The stage floor surrounding the main floor is 3 feet lower than usual to enhance the illusion of suspension. That will make the surrounding area look like a black void.

    “The floor is made up of a milk Plexiglas,” said MacLeod. “When it’s not lit up, it will provide reflection. When it is lit up, we can visually isolate specific areas — not only from above, but also from below. So let’s say we are at the dinner table and Laura is down on the day bed. We can light up just that corner of that floor where Laura is and give it just as much importance as the conversation that is going on at the dinner table.”

    Glass Menagerie Lighting floorBut the crowning achievement of this staging might be the titular menagerie itself. In most stagings of the play, Laura’s precious glass figurines are small and sequestered to a stationary table. Marlowe’s menagerie will be magical.

    “Our menagerie is pretty unconventional,” MacLeod said. “It will be made up of nearly 30 individually suspended glass pieces that Laura can walk in and out of as if she’s surrounded by a floating cloud of memory. The pieces will be side-lit because we really want to highlight the glass itself.”

    The playing area will be framed to the left and right with gritty fire escapes. That’s part of the designers’ intentional overall contrast of hard lines and soft edges — like the laciness of Laura versus the hardness of the outside world.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The overall effect, MacLeod hopes, will be to make this classic American play feel much more accessible and immediate to younger theatregoers, especially high school and middle schoolers. “If we can make this world visually interesting,” he said, “I think that immediately gets you into the meat of the great words the actors are saying on stage.”

    To achieve that vision, MacLeod asks that you simply imagine Laura standing in the middle of this underlit floor, silhouetted by light and surrounded by her fully illuminated menagerie cloud.

    “In my mind,” MacLeod said, “that’s an interesting visual image that says, ‘I gotta see this play.’ "

    Photos above right: The milk Plexiglass floor, and what each individual light box looks like from the inside. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Photos: The making of The Glass Menagerie in Denver:

    'The Glass Menagerie' in Denver
    To seem more photos in our gallery, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    The Glass Menagerie: Ticket information
    • Sept. 9-Oct. 16
    • Ricketson Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 15
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Glass Menagerie:

    2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics
    Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
    Casting set for The Glass Menagerie
    First rehearsal: This will be no wimpy Glass Menagerie
    Meet the cast: Amelia Pedlow as Laura Wingfield
  • 5 things we learned at Sweet & Lucky's first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Apr 25, 2016
    Making of 'Sweet & Lucky'

    Photos from the first rehearsal for 'Sweet & Lucky.' To see more, just hit the forward arrow on the image above. Click on any photo to download. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Much of what the audience is in for when they come to Sweet & Lucky next month is being kept from them. And that is entirely intentional.

    Sweet and Lucky QuoteDenver native Zach Morris, co-Artistic Director of New York’s Third Rail Projects, has come home to oversee the Denver Center’s first massive foray into producing off-site, immersive theatre. And he says withholding advance information about the experience is the company’s way of paying audience members the highest respect. If they come with few preconceived notions, then their visceral response to what they see, hear and feel is more likely to be emotionally true.

    “You are coming to an experience that is beyond the scope of what you might normally expect as a theatregoer,” Morris said at Thursday’s opening rehearsal. “If Chekhov is a novel, then Third Rail is like a Neruda poem. Our work isn't about presenting a traditional narrative. In fact, one of the things that is most important to us is that every audience member who comes is able to take away their own story.”

    So what can we tell you about Sweet & Lucky, which is being created in collaboration with the DCPA’s adventurous Off-Center programming wing? Here are five things we learned as the cast gathered for the first time:

    1 PerspectivesMorris calls Sweet & Lucky "a treatise on memory set in a speakeasy antique shop that opens up into a labyrinth of dreamlike worlds and fragments of time." Oh - and it is a love song.  

    2 PerspectivesSweet and Lucky Lisa OrzolekSweet & Lucky will be the largest physical undertaking in the Denver Center’s nearly 40-year history. It will take place in a 16,000-square-foot converted warehouse on Brighton Boulevard. How big is that? “It’s big enough to hold five Space Theatres,” said Scenic Designer Lisa Orzolek (pictured above). Now consider this: You can put 2,750 people in five Space Theatres. Sweet & Lucky will be limited to 72 people per performance, so you can imagine just how individualized each person’s experience will be. Likewise, Lighting Designer Charles MacLeod describes his task as "unlike anything we have ever attempted here before at the DCPA. It will be reactive. It will be recurring. And it will be reflective," he said. 

    "This is a massive undertaking for our team," added  DCPA Managing Director Charles Varin. "But for the 10 years I have been here, the DCPA has never shied away from anything. The attitude here is always, 'Let's do it.’ ”

    3 PerspectivesAll but one of the dozen cast members have strong Denver ties. It is a mostly young and accomplished group, including past or present DCPA Education Teaching Artists Diana Dresser, Justin Walvoord and Mackenzie Sherburne; DCPA National Theatre Conservatory masters graduate Leigh Miller; The Catamounts Artistic Director Amanda Berg Wilson and company member Meridith C. Grundei; and noted local director and playwright Edith Weiss. Coincidentally, Sweet & Lucky  reunites four actors from the DCPA Theatre Company's 2013 baseball play, Jackie & Me: Dresser, Walvoord, Miller and Ryan Wuestewald. Morris graduated from George Washington High School and was a student intern in the DCPA's costume shop. FULL CAST STORY

    4 PerspectivesSweet & Lucky will be a 360-degree, mobile experience, so the audience is encouraged to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. As your journey continues, you may recognize set pieces from recent DCPA Theatre Company productions, including the bar from The Nest, and dozens of props and pieces of furniture from past DCPA productions.

    5 PerspectivesSpeaking of the bar, it’s not giving anything away anything to say that audiences will enter through a storefront and into something of a speakeasy vibe. At the end of the experience, audiences will be treated to a cocktail from nationally recognized Williams & Graham mixologist Sean Kenyon. 

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

    Sweet & Lucky opens May 20. Tickets are now available. BUY ONLINE 

    Sweet and Lucky

    'Sweet & Lucky' cast photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


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

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Video: 2015 Bobby G Awards: The Acceptance Speeches

    by John Moore | Jun 09, 2015


    Here is a brief video montage showing highlights from all of the acceptance speeches at the 2015 Bobby G Awards on May 28 at the Buell Theatre.

    When Cherry Creek High Luccio Dellepiane, who played Herald in Cherry Creek High School's 'Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella,' won the Rising Star award honoring underclassmen. Photo by John Moore. School's Jimmy Miller accepted his share of the Outstanding Costumes award, he said of late DCPA President and Bobby G Awards Founder Randy Weeks: "Cherry Creek was honored with one of these last year, and I had the honor of receiving it from Mr. Randy Weeks. I know that he would say to all of you, 'Congratulations to all of the designers, technicians and artists in Colorado high-school theatre.' "

    The presenters include Charles MacLeod, Candy Brown, Allison Watrous and John Ekeberg. Video by David Lenk and John Moore.

    (Photo: Luccio Dellepiane, who played Herald in Cherry Creek High School's 'Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella,' won the Rising Star award honoring underclassmen. Photo by John Moore.)


    Our 2014-15 Bobby G Awards coverage to date:
    Bobby G Awards a triumph for Durango High School
    Video: A look at Durango's Outstanding Musical, Les Misérables
    Photos: The 2015 Bobby G Awards. (Download for free)
    Video: The 2015 Bobby G Awards in 60 seconds
    Andre' Rodriguez's stirring Bobby G Awards speech
    Video: See how we introduced all 30 participating schools
    Video: Page to Stage highlights with Bobby G Awards winners
    Meet your Bobby G Awards nominees, in their own words Video: Coloradans on Broadway to high-schoolers: 'Be relentlessly yourself'
    2014-15 Bobby G Awards: Complete list of nominations 
    2015 Bobby G Awards announces list of participating schools
    Annaleigh Ashford raises $735 for new Bobby G Awards memorial fund
    Denver Center establishes Randy Weeks Memorial Fund for The Bobby G Awards

  • 2014 Bobby G Awards: All our video coverage

    by John Moore | Jun 01, 2014

    The Bobby G Awards, hosted by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, honor achievements in local high school theatre. Enjoy our video coverage:

    2014 Bobby G Awards Video: Individual Honoree Announcements:
    ​ 

    In this first video in our series, we show you the announcements of all honorees in supporting roles and non-acting categories. Among the many featured are Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee, Entertainment Anchor Greg Moody and Denver Center Lighting Designer Charles Macleod. Video by Topher Blair, edited by David Lenk.

    Our complete coverage of the 2014 Bobby G Awards:

     

    Awards show highlights at a glance:

    This brief video that captures the fun and excitement of the 2014 Bobby G Awards, Guests include emcee Greg Moody, Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee, Denver Center Academy Teaching Artist Allison Watrous, and participating students including Abby Noble and Conner Kingsley, who were named Outstanding Leading Actor and Actress and will advance to the National High School Musical Theatre Awards ("The Jimmys") later this month. in New York. Video by Topher Blair. Interviews by John Moore.

    Video: A look at the nominated Outstanding Musicals:

    Here, we take a look at the five shows nominated for Outstanding Musical. Interviews include Cherry Creek director Jim Miller and students from the nominated shows. Video by Topher Blair, edited by David Lenk. Interviews by John Moore. The nominees:

    • The Phantom of the Opera, Arvada West High School
    • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cherry Creek High School
    • Seussical, Grandview High School
    • Young Frankenstein, Lakewood High School
    • High School Musical On Stage! Westminster High School

    Video: Nominated Actors Medley Highlights: 

    Here, the 10 Outstanding Actor and Actresses nominees perform a medley at the ceremony, held on the Buell Theatre stage. Video by Topher Blair, edited by David Lenk. Medley directed by Claudia Carson. Featured are: 

    • Stephanie Bess, The Phantom of the Opera, Arvada West High School
    • Amelia Jacobs, City of Angels, Littleton High School
    • Abby Noble, Seussical, Grandview High School
    • Lorelei Thorne, Annie Get Your Gun, Faith Christian Academy
    • Kira Vuolo, Damn Yankees, Pomona High School
    • Conner Kingsley, Young Frankenstein, Lakewood High School
    • James Marsh, Shrek The Musical, Chaparral High School
    • Danny Miller, The Phantom of the Opera, Arvada West High School
    • Dylan Ruder, Fiddler on the Roof, Valor Christian High School
    • Chris Salguero, High School Musical On Stage! Westminster High School

    Video: Outstanding Actor and Actress Medley: 

    Here, 2013 Outstanding Leading Actor and Actress Chris Maclean of Chaparral High School and Nicole Seefried of Denver School of the Arts perform a medley at the ceremony. They also talk with John Moore about their whirlwind year, along with Chaparral theatre teacher David Peterson. Maclean and Seefried advanced to last year's National High School Musical Theatre Awards ("The Jimmys") for a training immersion, performance and awards ceremony  in New York. This year's honorees are Conner Kingsley of Lakewood High School and Abby Noble of Grandview. Video by Topher Blair, edited by David Lenk. Medley directed by Claudia Carson.

     

     

    imageLeo Fox, right, of Grandview High School, with his proud little brother. Photo by John Moore.

    imageAJ Winter, left, and Jackson Warnock of Mountain Range High School's "Xanadu."

     
  • Art and Artist: Charles MacLeod on Colorado Theatre Guild lighting panel

    by John Moore | May 20, 2014

    image

    From left: Charles MacLeod, Jacob Welch, Karalyn Star Pytel and Vance McKenzie comprised the lighting panel at the Colorado Theatre Guild's panel on lighting design last night. Photo by John Moore.

     

    Charles R. MacLeod, an Aurora native and resident lighting designer at the Denver Center since 1987, was part of an educational and, yes, illuminating public forum on the art of lighting design held by the Colorado Theatre Guild on Monday night at the Ede Theatre in Lakewood. 

    MacLeod, who started at the Denver Center as a carpenter 31 years ago, designed four Denver Center Theatre Company shows last season and next will helm Lord of the Flies, opening Sept. 26. He was joined on the panel by Jacob Welch,  Associate Professor of Theatre at Metropolitan State and resident lighting designer for the Creede Repertory Theatre; Carbondale native Vance McKenzie, who designed the lights for the Arvada Center's current The Great Gatsby; and Karalyn Star Pytel, lighting designer for the Wonderbound Ballet Company. [[MORE]]

    image

    Charles MacLeod discusses how a spackled wood fence look was just a lighting effect beamed on top of metal in the Denver Center Theatre Company's "American Night."

     

    The panel addressed a wide range of topics, including the job description and ideal personality traits of a lighting designer, as well as the challenges and opportunities presented by new multimedia technologies. They talked about working on a large budget versus a small budget, and how they feel about being judged in an art form where audiences make their determinations based more on an emotional than technical basis. Are we too swayed by big budgets? In some case, the panelists said, we are. There can be effective lighting designs using a single bulb. But MacLeod used The Legend of Geiorgia McBride as an example of a show that would not have reached its full potential without a full arsenal of lighting tools. Though he discounted the presumption that every show at the Denver Center is a big-budget show. He designed the latest Galleria Theatre offering, Dixie's Never Wear a Tube Top While Riding a Mechanical Bull and 16 Other Things I Learned While I was Drinking Last Thursday, he said, with $150.

    image

     

    The panel was the first in a series hosted by the Colorado Theatre Guild and President Pat Payne to shed light and cast a spotlight on the largely underappreciated technical arts. The next forum, at a date to be determined, will address scenic design.

    The Guild invited its general membership and also encouraged its  30-plus Henry Award judges to attend as a way to broaden their understanding of the art form. But in the end, the panelists said, they determine their performance more on the overall success of a show as opposed to their own individual accolades. For lighting design to work, they said, it must work within the whole. But they did have some suggestions for how a judge might consider the work of a lighting designer:

    • Did the lighting help establish time and place?
    • Did it help set an effective mood?
    • Did it reinforce the director's vision?
    • Did it focus the action and help the audience with where to be watching at any given time?
    • Did the lighting blend the visual elements on stage into a unified whole?
    • Did the lighting NOT pull focus away from the central action with a too-obvious effect?

    In the end, the panel suggested that both audiences and judges should go with their gut reaction. If the lighting helped them feel a deeper visceral response to the story, then the lighting designer did his or her job.  Several panelists said if audiences actually notice subtle changes in  lighting, then the lighting design was probably not subtle enough.

    MacLeod stayed late and took audience members though a Power Point presentation showing different lighting effects from Denver Center shows such as black odyssey and The Legend of Georgia McBride, explaining both the physical lighting at work and the philosophies behind why certain decisions were made. 

    MacLeod's recent credits include black odyssey, Shadowlands, Jackie & Me, Death of a Salesman. Other titles include I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women, The Taffetas, My Way, The World Goes ‘Round, Swingtime Canteen, The Last Five Years,  Always… Patsy Cline, Grace, or the Art of Climbing, The 39 Steps, Reckless, When Tang Met Laika, The Diary of Anne Frank, Lydia, The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1001, Season’s Greetings, Gem of the Ocean, All My Sons, After Ashley, Dirty Story, Copenhagen, Behind the Broken Words, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, A Christmas Carol, Love, Janis, Lost Highway: The Music and Legend of Hank Williams.

    Welch won the True West Award from CultureWest and a Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award for designing  Kiss of the Spiderwoman for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. Welch, who said he has designed as many as 36 shows a year, recently made his Off-Broadway debut with his lighting design of Ami Dayan's Conviction at the 59E59 Theatre. J

    McKenzie works throughout North America, having recently designed It’s a Wonderful Life for Colorado Springs TheatreWorks and the regional premier of Jane Eyre at the Lakewood Cultural Center.

    Pytel was an award-winning actor who found her home in lighting. Recent credits include A Gothic Folktale and LOVE for Wonderbound. She has previously designed for Cherry Creek Theatre, Miners Alley Playhouse, Victorian Playhouse, among others. She was nominated for a Denver Post Ovation Award three years running from 2008-2010. 

    The panel was moderated by Denver Center Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.

    For information on the Colorado Theatre Guild's upcoming design forums, contact Gloria Shanstrom at 303-931-7241.

    imageCharles MacLeod discusses the challenge of lighting "Death of a Salesman" for the Denver Center  ... in the round ... without a house.

     

     

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

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.