• Local theatres respond to actor's death with challenges, collections, dedications

    by John Moore | Nov 16, 2017
    Daniel Langhoff Ragtime. Performance Now
    Daniel Langhoff recently starred as Tateh in Performance Now's 'Ragtime,' above. The company has unanimously voted to donate 2 percent of all net profits from every show in the 2017-18 season to the Denver Actors Fund in Langhoff's name.


    Performance Now issues an extraordinary challenge as others announce creative ways to support Langhoff family

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    This week's death of beloved local actor Daniel Langhoff has galvanized the Colorado theatre community and beyond, with targeted donations to Langhoff's wife and two infant daughters through the Denver Actors Fund already reaching $23,578 in four days. READ MORE HERE

    Daniel Langhoff NaomiPerhaps most immediate and most remarkable: Performance Now Theatre Company has not only made a substantial donation of $1,000 to the Langhoff family, the company's Board of Directors on Monday unanimously agreed to donate 2 percent of all net profits from every show in the 2017-18 season to the Denver Actors Fund to be used at its discretion.

    "We challenge all Denver-area theatre companies to do the same," Performance Now Executive Producer Ken Goodwin and Artistic Director Alisa Metcalf said in a joint statement. "Imagine how much more the DAF could help others if the companies themselves got involved and the DAF would not have to rely as heavily on individual donations."

    (Pictured above and right: Daniel Langhoff with second daughter Naomi, who was born Nov. 2, just 10 days before he died from cancer.)

    Performance Now even made the initiative retroactive, sending a separate contribution of $386 for its recent production of The Marvelous Wonderettes. Coming up next: Into the Woods opening Jan. 5 at the Lakewood Cultural Center.

    Langhoff has been a major player with Performance Now, having recently starred in both Ragtime and Man of La Mancha at the Lakewood Cultural Center. The challenge is all the more remarkable given that when Performance Now lost longtime Artistic Director Nancy Goodwin (Ken's wife) to breast cancer in 2007, it established a scholarship fund in her name to aid and reward young college students who are working toward a degree in the performing arts.

    "All performing-arts nonprofits face extraordinary funding challenges as a matter of course," said Denver Actors Fund President Will Barnette. "When nonprofits with already stretched resources still find a way to support other nonprofits, that is kind of remarkable, when you think of it." 

    Donate to the Denver Actors Fund's Langhoff collection

    Daniel


    Barnette added that The Denver Actors Fund does have a modest, ongoing giving campaign in collaboration with area companies called the Tap Shoe Initiative, in which participating companies choose one night per run of a show to collect spare change for the DAF. To date, the initiative has raised about $20,000. Companies interested in participating are encouraged to email Debbie Weinstein Minter at sk8bug77@yahoo.com.

    Elsewhere, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts has announced that it is dedicating the opening performance and the entire run of First Date, opening Friday, as well as the entire run of A Christmas Carol, to Langhoff.

    Langhoff made his Denver Center debut in 2010 in the musical comedy Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre, followed by a stint in a revival of the longest-running musical in Denver history, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He also performed in the DCPA Theatre Company’s seasonal stagings of A Christmas Carol in 2014 and 2015.

    “Daniel was a brilliant actor and comedian who loved to laugh almost as much as he loved to hear others laugh," said First Date director Ray Roderick.

    Through curtain speeches, information in the show programs and DCPA NewsCenter, the DCPA will be directing audiences to make targeted donations to the Langhoff family.

    Immediate efforts to add to the Langhoff fund:

    Many other individuals and theatre companies have responded with creative entrepreneurial efforts to add to the total over the coming days and months. Here is a roundup:

    • A November Denver Dolls 400The Aurora Fox's new monthly cabaret series this weekend (Nov. 17-18) features The Denver Dolls presenting their USO/Andrews Sisters tribute, performed in the style of The Manhattan Transfer. The Dolls, presented by YearRound Sound, are led by frequent DCPA performer and Langhoff castmate Heather Lacy, who will lead a collection as audiences leave the studio theatre at 9900 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. 303-739-1970 or BUY TICKETS
    • BDT Stage opens its new production of Annie this weekend and will make an audience appeal for donations to the Langhoff fund at performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 17-19). 5501 Arapahoe Ave., 303-449-6000 or bdtstage.com
    • Local actor, choreographer and certified fitness instructor Adrianne Hampton is holding a benefit "Broadway Boot Camp" at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19, with all proceeds and donations going to Langhoff's family. What is a Broadway Boot Camp? Well, it's a workout, with showtunes. "It’s a place where theaA Daniel Langhoff Vintage. Honemoon in Vegas RDG Photographytre people can come to hone their skills and support each other," Hampton said. "Just come, bring your dancing shoes and have fun dancing. If you don't want to be part of the class, you can come and watch or just come and make a donation." $15. Littleton Ballet Academy 1169 W. Littleton Blvd.
    • Vintage Theatre has announced that all proceeds from the industry-night performance of its new musical Honeymoon in Vegas on Monday, Nov. 27, will go to Langhoff's family, including, remarkably, box office. The DAF's Sue Leiser will lead a collection brigade. All tickets are $15 for this performance only. At 1468 Dayton St., Aurora, 303-839-1361 or BUY TICKETS
    • Daniel Langhoff Community BETCThe Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company will also donate 100 percent of the proceeds from its official opening performance of Every Christmas Story Every Told on Dec. 13 to the DAF's Langhoff Fund. Langhoff was a cast member of this very same show at this time last year. "Daniel Langhoff will be deeply missed by all the artists who had the opportunity to work with him...and there were so many," said BETC Managing Director Rebecca Remaly Weitz. "He touched so many of us with his wit, optimism, persistence, kindness and humor. Our hearts go out to his family." Additional donations will be accepted at the door on Dec. 13. At the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7826 or BUY TICKETS

    Details on a life celebration for Daniel Langhoff are expected to be announced soon.

    Pictures above, from top: The Denver Dolls; James Thompson and the cast of A Daniel Vintage Theatre's Honeymoon in Vegas (RDG Photograph and Daniel Langhoff in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's Every Christmas Story Every Told (Michael Ensminger). 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • What a wonderful world it was with Daniel Langhoff

    by John Moore | Nov 12, 2017

    Video above: Daniel Langhoff sings 'What a Wonderful World' at an April benefit concert for the Denver Actors Fund. Video provided by Eden Lane and Sleeping Dog Media.

    The busy actor, husband and father fought cancer like the errant knight he played in Man of La Mancha. He was 42.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    When award-winning Denver actor Daniel Langhoff was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2015, the first-time father dreamed what most every doctor told him was an impossible dream: To beat an unbeatable foe. And yet, over the next rocky and remarkable two and a half years, he reached star after unreachable star.

    Daniel LanghoffThe cancer was discovered just a few months after Langhoff and wife Rebecca Joseph welcomed daughter Clara into the world. Langhoff then fought the disease with the same earnest fortitude and blind optimism as Cervantes, the playwright who defends his life through storytelling in the classic Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. That's a bucket-list role Langhoff somehow found the mettle to play last year during a brief cease-fire with his disease, which would make a raging comeback only a few months later.

    In April, doctors discovered a second, more virulent form of cancer in Langhoff’s abdomen, and it was everywhere. The Langhoffs were told it would be a matter of months. Not that the diagnosis changed Langhoff’s attitude one bit. He fought on with grit, optimism and no small share of Quixotic delusion.

    “Dying never entered his mindset,” said Langhoff’s best friend, Brian Murray. “He always thought he would beat it.” It was only recently in the hospital, when Langhoff was no longer able to eat and fluid was filling his lungs that the impossible dreamer offered Murray this one slight concession to his adversary: “The prognosis is not good,” he told Murray.

    DanielLanghoffFacebook“Daniel fought the cancer by trivializing it — like it was just this little thing to be taken care of,” Murray said.

    Rebecca Joseph, known as R.J. to friends, gave birth to a second daughter, Naomi, on Nov. 2. It happened that day because Joseph made it happen that day. She had doctors induce labor to make certain Langhoff would be alive to see Naomi born. A few days later, Langhoff was admitted to Denver Hospice, where he again defied experts' expectations by fighting on for days until there was no fight left in him.  

    Langhoff died at precisely midnight today, peacefully and as his wife held his hand. He was 42.

    When he left, he was different from the man who married R.J. in 2015. During the ensuing years, as cancer gradually robbed his life, life in turn gave him everything to live for: A wife, two daughters, and the seminal roles of his acting career.

    (Story continues below the photo.)

    Daniel Langhoff Find an extensive gallery of Daniel Langhoff photos at the bottom of this report.


    A punctilious punster

    Langhoff was born in Denver on Nov. 8, 1975, and has been a performer since the third grade. He graduated from Cherry Creek High School and the University of Northern Colorado, and has been working steadily at theatres all over Colorado since 1999.

    He was known as a consummate actor with a quirky sense of humor; a way with a guitar, a song and a terrible pun; a geeky affinity for sci-fi films ...  and a massive collection of inappropriate T-Shirts.

    One of his favorites said: “When I die, I am going to haunt the (bleep) out of you.”

    "That was Daniel," his wife said.

    "Daniel was into weird science fiction, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, anything counter-culture and all manner of useless knowledge," said his frequent co-star and sometimes director, Robert Michael Sanders. "We had a shared love for underrated big-hair metal bands and Alien movies." 

    In the dressing room, Langhoff was a serial punster who was known for running exasperated castmates out of the room with his wit. But on stage, Sanders describes Langhoff as an intelligent, steady actor who could only be distracted from his task by perhaps, say … a random reference to Ridley Scott (maker of Alien).

    He was also one of the most dependable and pragmatic friends you could ever have, said Murray, who has been friends with Langhoff since appearing in Company together at the Town Hall Arts Center in 2008. 

    “I always called him my Vulcan,” said Murray, currently starring in Town Hall’s Seussical. “He was Spock, and I was Kirk. I was the emotional one, and he was the logical one."

    Ironically, Langhoff was the human being Murray turned to when he needed one most.

    "When I was going through a divorce in 2009, the only thing that helped me get by was playing video games with Daniel until 3 in the morning and telling him the same stories all over again," Murray said. "He would say to me, 'Brian, this thing happened. It was outside of your control. Now what you have to do is move through it and move on from that." 

    Perhaps the greatest testament to any man's character, Murray said: "Daniel was kind to everyone — even to the people who annoyed him." (Although, to be fair, Langhoff also loved to quote Tom Waits' life philosophy: "Champagne for my real friends ... and real pain for my sham friends.")

    Traci J. Kern was a real friend. For 22 years, Langhoff has been her constant. "Soon after our meeting, Daniel proclaimed himself the little brother I never wanted," she said. "Anytime I needed him, he was there. No questions asked, because it didn’t matter. Dan lived his life full of passion. Whether it was talking about music, theatre, movies, Stephen King novels, sports, his family, his babies or his wife — he spoke with such enthusiasm, you couldn’t help but be drawn in."

    A life on every stage

    Daniel Langhoff was, simply put, “the most consistent actor ever,” said Sanders. He was also just about the most consistently working Denver actor ever. The list of area theatre companies Langhoff has performed with reads essentially like the list of all area theatre companies. You would be hard-pressed to find a person or company whose path has not, at some point, crossed with Langhoff's on a Colorado stage.

    Dan Langhoff DCPA Love Perfect Change Shanna Steele Robert Michael Sanders Lauren Shealy“Once Daniel got it right, he went out and nailed it at that level every night," Sanders said. "You never had to worry what he was going to do, whether it was for one person or 100. Even for dumb stuff like Guys on Ice – he would find moments that mattered.”

    Langhoff made his Denver Center debut in 2010 in the musical comedy Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre, followed by a stint in a revival of the longest-running musical in Denver history, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He also performed in the DCPA Theatre Company’s seasonal stagings of A Christmas Carol in 2014 and 2015. The latter staging was right when Langhoff was starting his cancer fight. He had surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes – then immediately joined the cast, fitting rounds of chemo into 10-show weeks at the Stage Theatre.

    Langhoff’s substance and versatility put him in an elevated class among local performers: He was a nuanced dramatic actor with a rich singing voice — and an uncommon knack for comedy and children’s theatre. He could glide from playing the conflicted pastor fomenting the Salem witch trials in Firehouse’s The Crucible, to Coolroy in the Arvada Center’s children’s production of Schoolhouse Rock Live, to the long-suffering husband of a bipolar housewife in Town Hall’s Next to Normal.

    Langhoff’s breakout year was 2016, which began in triumph and ended in terror. It started with Performance Now's Ragtime. As Langhoff was continuing his initial chemotherapy, when he called Director Kelly Van Oosbree to express his interest in playing Tateh.

    “I remember thinking, ‘How in the hell is this going to happen?’ ” Van Oosbree said. “I couldn’t wrap my brain around it because if were in the same situation, I wonder how I would even cope. But Daniel did not let cancer stop him from doing anything.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Langhoff had strong sentimental and professional reasons for wanting to play Tateh. He had played the homegrown terrorist known as “Younger Brother” in a remarkable production of Ragtime for the Arvada Center in 2011, and he wanted to complete the circle by playing Tateh — also a dreamer, also a new father — for Performance Now. “Tateh was a role that spoke to him,” said Van Oosbree said.

    Dan Langhoff Sunglasses project. Photo by John MooreIn the summer of 2016, doctors declared Langhoff cancer-free. He celebrated by performing for the Arvada Center (40th anniversary concert), Firehouse (The Crucible) and Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Every Christmas Story Ever Told). He began 2017 by reuniting with Van Oosbree to play the chivalrous and insistent dreamer in Man of La Mancha. These were perfect bookend roles, said Van Osbree: Both Tateh and Cervantes are kind, inventive men who see the world not as it is, but how it should — or could — be. “They are both Daniel,” she said.

    But just as Man of La Mancha was to begin rehearsals, Langhoff noticed another abnormality in his abdomen, and doctors soon discovered a new, more prevalent and more vicious strain of cancer in his abdominal walls. Langhoff began a second round of chemo just as he had been cast to perform in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Arvada Center, followed by Ring of Fire at Vintage Theatre. This time, he would not be well enough to play either role. And he again downplayed the challenge. “I am just more physically compromised than I was before,” he conceded at the time.

    The great work of helping others

    Langhoff was known for helping out any company or cause that needed a hand — or a voice. Back in 2010, he joined the volunteer cast of Magic Moments' The Child. That's an annual musical revue where up to 200 disabled and able-bodied performers perform together, many for the first time. Langhoff played a war veteran opposite a devil character played by Drew Frady, his castmate back in the Arvada Center's 2008 staging of Les Miserables. Langhoff had been recruited as a late replacement for another actor. On his first day, the stage manager ended her introduction of Langhoff by saying, to his horror, “He loves hugs.” And, he later said with a laugh, “I didn’t really have the heart to correct her.”

    Over the next few months, Langhoff said, he learned to love hugs.

    “This is the kind of place where you can still be 5 minutes late for rehearsal, even if you show up on time, because there is a 5-minute gantlet of hugs to navigate,” he said.

    Daniel Langhoff, Laura Mathew Siebert and Nate Siebert. Photo by John Moore. Throughout his cancer ordeal, Langhoff was both a beneficiary of, and great champion of, The Denver Actors Fund, which in three years has made $133,000 available to Colorado theatre artists in situational need. Between direct aid and targeted donations, the theatre community has so far made more than $14,000 available to help the Langhoff family with medical bills, along with practical volunteer assistance. And Langhoff has given back at every opportunity, performing at five DAF fundraising events over the past three years.

    In April, a weakening Langhoff made a galvanizing appearance at United in Love, a benefit concert staged by Ebner-Page Productions that raised $40,000 for the Denver Actors Fund at the Lone Tree Arts Center. (See video at the top of this page.) 

    Dan Langhoff. Annaleigh Ashford. RDG PhotographyLanghoff sang a heart-rending version of What a Wonderful World to acknowledge the support and love he has received from the theatre community throughout his medical ordeal. “All of these performers, this stunning audience, all of these donors make me feel like my fight ahead is just a matter of logistics,” he said.

    (Photos at right, top: Photographer Laura Mathew Siebert, with son Nate Siebert, raised money for Langhoff's cancer fight in 2016 by taking portraits and donating the proceeds. Photo by John Moore. At right: Broadway's Annaleigh Ashford with Langhoff at Klint Rudolph at the April 'United in Love' concert for the Denver Actors Fund. RDG Photography.)

    His final performance was on Sept. 25 at Miscast, a popular annual fundraiser for The Denver Actors Fund, and it was one for the ages. Langhoff, Jona Alonzo and Norrell Moore, all actors in the midst of their own cancer journeys, performed a variation of the song Tonight, from West Side Story, that was written by Langhoff and his (pregnant) wife, who also choreographed. It was essentially a rousing declaration of war against cancer, and it brought the Town Hall Arts Center audience to their feet. The trio were immediately dubbed "The Cancer Warriors."

    (Story continues below the video.)

    Daniel Langhoff, Jona Alonzo and Norrell Moore perform Sept. 25 at 'Miscast,' a benefit for The Denver Actors Fund, at the Town Hall Arts Center.


    The impact of family


    Everyone close to Langhoff says the courage and unyielding optimism he has shown since his diagnosis can be explained in three simple words: Rebecca, Clara and Naomi. "Those three were everything to him," Murray said. "They were his life."

    He met his R.J.  in a theatre, but Langhoff wasn't on the stage; he was a member of the audience. Joseph caught Langhoff's eye after a performance of Vintage Theatre’s Avenue Q. Langhoff noticed the assistant stage manager — usually one of the most invisible jobs in all of theatre. She eventually agreed to a late-night date at the Rock Bottom Brewery that almost didn’t happen because she was running late. Langhoff was appearing in, ironically, the dating comedy I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change at the Denver Center's Galleria Theatre. She was attending Red at the Curious Theatre, which ran longer than she was expecting. Luckily, he waited. Sanders later married the couple in a ceremony at the Town Hall Arts Center.

    Langhoff recently helped Sanders in a profound creative way when the singer-songwriter went into production on his second solo album (under the name Robert Michael). In 2013, Sanders was the victim of a botched shoulder surgery that partially paralyzed his arms and left him unable to play the guitar. Sanders now writes new music through the help of friends who act as his fingers. Langhoff co-wrote the lyrics and music to a track called Forever that Sanders says is informed in part by their own personal experiences:

    You found your forever. You put your hand in his.
    He pulled you close to him, gave you that forever kiss.
    You found your forever, now you'll wake up every day.

    With him smiling back at you, and you have no words to say.

    And that's OK.
    You found your forever. 

    (To listen to 'Forever' on Spotify, click here. Backing vocals by Daniel Langhoff and Norrell Moore.)

    As the theatre community struggles to process the news that Langhoff is gone, his friend Murray was asked what Langhoff himself might say to bring comfort to those he leaves behind. His response:

    "I think the Vulcan in Daniel would say to us exactly what he said to me: 'This thing happened. It was outside of everyone's control. I did everything I could to make it not happen, but it still happened. Now what you have to do is move through that and try to move on from that.' "

    In addition to his wife and daughters, Langhoff is survived by his parents, Jeannie and Charlie Langhoff, and his sister, Amy Langhoff Busch.

    After an intimate family service later this week, a larger celebration of Daniel Langhoff's life will be announced in the coming weeks.

    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.

    Here's how to help Daniel Langhoff's family:
    The Denver Actors Fund is accepting targeted donations that will go 100 percent to Rebecca Joseph to help with medical, funeral and expenses. Any eventual excess funds will go toward the future educational needs of daughters Clara and Naomi. Here's how it works: Click here. When prompted, "Where do you want your donation directed?" choose from the pulldown: "For the family of Daniel Langhoff." The Denver Actors Fund will absorb all transactional fees.) If you prefer to mail a check, the address is P.O. Box 11182, Denver , CO 80211. Separately, if you are motivated to start your own campaign to proactively raise additional funds for the Langhoffs, you can create your own personalized fundraising page on the Langhoffs' behalf. To do that, just click on this (different) link. Choose "Start a fundraiser." Follow the instructions from there.

    Photo gallery: A look back at the life of Daniel Langhoff

    Daniel LanghoffTo see more photos, click on the photo above to be taken to our full Flickr album.


    Daniel Langhoff/Selected shows and companies

    • High School: Cherry Creek
    • College: Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
    • Denver Center for the Performing Arts: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre; A Christmas Carol for the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Arvada Center: A Man of No Importance (Breton Beret), Ragtime (Younger Brother), A Man for All Seasons, A Wonderful Life, The Crucible, Man of La Mancha, Miracle On 34th Street Les Miserables. Children's shows: Charlotte's Web, Lyle the Crocodile, Schoolhouse Rock
    • Town Hall Arts Center: Next To Normal (Dan), Annie (Daddy Warbucks), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Company, Batboy! The Musical
    • Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company: Every Christmas Story Ever Told
    • Firehouse Theatre Compay: The Crucible (Rev. Hale)
    • Miners Alley Playhouse: Pump Boys and Dinettes
    • Performance Now: Man of La Mancha (Cervantes), Ragtime (Tateh)
    • Aurora Fox: Spamalot (King Arthur)
    • Vintage Theatre: Hamlet, Prince of Pork, 18 Holes (Lyle)
    • Next Stage: Assassins (The Balladeer)
    • Magic Moments: The Child
    • Hunger Artists
    • Film: Bouquet of Consequence, Why There Are Rainbows

    Video: Daniel Langhoff presents Community Impact Award to Denver Actors Fund:

  • What Ed Berry loved most about theatre: 'Everything'

    by John Moore | Oct 20, 2017
    Ed Berry. Firehouse. Photo by Brian Brooks.

     Ed Berry, back left, with the cast of Firehouse Theater Company's 2012 production of 'Jekyll and Hyde.' Photo by Brian Miller.

     
    Soft-spoken bear of a man stared death in the face — and cracked wise. 'That's who he was,' friends say.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Ed Berry knew his death was imminent as he sat in his Colorado Springs hospital room last Saturday. He didn’t know whether he had days or hours left when the cafeteria worker called and asked what he wanted for breakfast. With his trademark sardonic humor, Berry just laughed and told the caller, “We’re going to have to play that by ear.”

    “Here he was looking death right in the face, and for him to pop off that line — that’s pretty indicative of who he was,” said his longtime friend Maggie Stillman.

    Berry, a longtime member of the Colorado theatre community in a wide variety of capacities, died Tuesday morning from the effects of long-term congestive heart failure. He was 62.

    Ed Berry Quot“Ed faced death as he faced life, and that was with courage and bravery,” said his friend, Matt Lang. “We should be so lucky to take that and incorporate that into how we face life every day.”

    Berry was also a proud nerd, Stillman said. He loved BBC murder mysteries — especially episodes of Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders — the Denver Comic Con and all things space, from last summer’s eclipse to the hit CBS sit-com The Big Bang Theory. If the subject was sci-fi, Stillman said, Berry was all about it.

    “We’re both part of a Facebook group called The Nerdverse, she said. The group quotes actor Simon Pegg's philosophy: "Being a geek means never having to play it cool about how much you like something." 

    “He really liked posting photos of nerdy T-shirts,” Stillman said.

    Berry once stood all day in a line at Denver Comic Con to grab a ticket to a panel featuring William Shatner. Then he gave it to Stillman.

    “He was always a person you could rely on to give all of himself to you — and be happy to do so,” Stillman said of a man also known for a soft-spoken nature that gave him uncommon observational powers.

    “Ed knew that I was carrying a child before I did,” said his friend, Ona Canady. “He came up to me and said, ‘Maybe you should check before drinking that wine.’ I did, and he was right. He was like an owl who would only talk when he knew that he was right.”

    It wasn't the number of theatre companies Berry worked for that was as remarkable as the number of jobs he took on for those companies. Berry was a director, assistant director, stage manager, sound designer, board member and publicity photographer. He was, simply put, a guy who did anything that needed doing. He loved nailing boards to a stage as much as he did directing a show.

    “I think we have lost someone who everybody really loved working with,” his sister, Colleen Berry Linder, posted on Facebook.  

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Berry was there for John Hand when the founder of Colorado Free University started his Firehouse Theater Company at the former Lowry Air Force base. And he was there for Hand’s sister, Helen Hand, when she scrambled to keep her brother’s dream alive after Hand was murdered in 2004.

    Firegouse Theatre. Photos by Ed Berry.“When my brother bought the old Lowry fire station, he started a 'readers theatre' series that cost a dollar a class,” Helen Hand said. “John wanted to be around interested people, and he didn’t care about making money from it. Ed was one of those interested people. The bond that was formed among the participants was powerful. They were creating something new and supporting each other to take new risks.”

    Ed was among the friends who pulled together after Hand’s death to help his sister keep Firehouse together. “First we formed a board just to keep Firehouse going, and Ed was one of the founding members – so he was there for me from the get-go,” she said.

    (Samples of Ed Berry's theatre photography, right: Emma Messenger in 'The Lion in Winter,' and Greg West in 'I Am My Own Wife,' both for Firehouse Theater.)

    Berry never aspired to perform onstage, but he loved being a part of the creative process. Helen Hand depended on Berry for his quiet and calm whenever things got loud and agitated. “He was the kind of guy who waited until things quieted down to state his opinion,” she said. “He was low-key, soft-spoken, steady and supportive. He never got caught up in the drama — he never created it, and he never spread it.

    “I remember once when we were sitting in a board meeting. People were going off in different directions and things were falling apart from all sides. Ed suddenly spoke up and said, ‘Guys. We have to make this fun … or it’s not worth doing.’

    “He didn’t demand attention,” she said. “He waited to speak for the moments when he could be heard.”

    Berry helped select the plays that were presented by Firehouse and often assisted on productions directed by Brian Brooks, including Jekyll and Hyde and Earth and Sky. “And he was a fabulous photographer,” Hand said. He particularly loved photographing race cars.

    Berry was a board member for the late Byers-Evans Theatre Company and was a mainstay at the Bug Theatre back in the early 2000s, when it hosted one of the area’s most admired acting ensembles. “He volunteered all the time and was a smiley presence, gently laughing with and encouraging everyone. Such an altruist,” said Mare Trevathan, now a co-founder of Local Theatre Company.

    Berry was born in Dallas on Nov. 30, 1955, and attended Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. After moving to Denver, he worked for five years at Natural Grocers before moving to Colorado Springs in 2014.

    His real-life profession was as a Network Administrator, where his main task was calmly resolving mission-critical software issues. In other words, Berry was a professional problem-solver. Just as he was in the theatre.

    Berry was diagnosed with congestive heart failure back in the 1990s and came to terms with his his eventual fate years ago. Still the end came less than a week after doctors told him his last option was the heart transplant list, which he declined. “If it’s my time, it’s my time,” he told friends. He announced his terrible news on Facebook in typical straightforward fashion:

    "Basically my heart is shutting down,. My heart was damaged through years of trying to pump blood through a 380-pound body. Even after losing 130 pounds, gaining it back, and then losing 157, the damage was already done. The upshot: My heart has run its course. It's beat itself ... well, to death.”

    Berry spent much of his final days using humor to lighten the burden off his closest friends and family. When Stillman visited Berry in the hospital, he was watching Star Wars: A New Hope. “We got to talking and he said, ‘Oh man, now I'm not gonna know how Star Wars ends,' " Stillman said with a laugh.

    A Ed Berry 800 3Later, Stillman asked Berry what he loved most about theatre. His answer? “Everything.”

    Berry is is survived by his sister, Colleen Berry Linder. He was preceded in death by a younger brother, Kevin Berry, in February 2016.

    A life celebration will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29, in the ballroom at the Colorado Free University at 7653 First Ave., in Denver. It’s a pot luck, so bring food and drink.

    In lieu of flowers, Berry’s sister asks that you make a donation to a favorite charity in his name.

    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.

    Ed Berry. Crave Magazine. Ripple Effect. Courtesy Jim Willis. Crave Magazine featured the start of the new Ripple Effect Theatre Company founded by Maggie Stillman, seated front. Ed Berry is first from the right. Photo by Jim Willis, courtesy Maggie Stillman.
  • Colorado's connection to Harry Dean Stanton's final film

    by John Moore | Sep 16, 2017
    Harry Dean Stanton 800Photo from 'Lucky,' starring Harry Dean Stanton, which will be released in Denver on Oct. 20 at the Chez Artiste.

     

    Director John Carroll Lynch allows actor Harry Dean Stanton, who died Friday, to go out fully seen and heard

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Harry Dean Stanton does not go gentle into that good night. Rather, he goes thoughtfully, spiritually and with unflinching honesty, thanks to a triumphant capstone film called Lucky directed by Colorado native John Carroll Lynch.

    Stanton, who died Friday of natural causes at age 91, was nothing if not lucky, said Lynch, who also considers himself among the charmed for having had the opportunity to direct the iconic American actor in his final leading role. Stanton plays an ornery 90-year-atheist who drifts toward terms with his mortality in an off-the-grid desert town. The supporting cast includes Ron Livingston, Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, David Lynch — no relation but yes, that David Lynch — and Ed Begley Jr. "There went a great one," David Lynch wrote in a statement earlier today.

    Harry Dean Stanton 400Lucky is a film, John Carroll Lynch says, that allows the indelibly gaunt character actor whose face “was etched with loneliness,” one critic wrote, to go out fully seen and heard.

    “This is a performance you can only get to when you get there,” Lynch told the DCPA NewsCenter today. “And I think the role successfully encapsulates his particular world view.”

    Stanton’s breakthrough came decades into his film career in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. He was also known for Twin Peaks, Pretty in Pink, Repo Man and most recently a high-profile role as a manipulative cult leader in the HBO polygamy drama Big Love.

    This morning, Denver’s Alamo Drafthouse announced it will screen Repo Man in Stanton's honor on Saturday, Sept. 23, and donate a portion of the proceeds to the Denver Actors Fund, which provides financial and practical relief to members of the Colorado theatre community facing situational medical need. Last year, Lynch made an appearance at his hometown Alamo to discuss his role in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation.

    Lynch, a graduate of Regis Jesuit High School and a former member of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, is himself a veteran actor of more than 100 films and TV shows, most recently The Founder, Jackie and The Architect. He makes his directing debut with Lucky, which was rapturously received at the recent South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The film, written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, will be showcased on Art House Theatre Day on Sept. 24 on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, and will be released in Denver on Oct. 20 at Landmark’s Chez Artiste movie theatre.

    “How lucky, no pun intended, we have this charming — with an edge — movie that has a terrific and humane performance from Harry Dean Stanton but is also infused with his view of the world, including his atheism,” contributing Denver Post film critic Lisa Kennedy told the NewsCenter today.  “It’s a gift, melancholy and affirming. It was that before news of his passing and even more so now.”

    Stanton’s character is the core of Lucky. He’s described as a lifelong smoker who is shaken by accident into tackling his inevitable death head-on. He searches for enlightenment against the backdrop of the desolate desert town, interacting and learning from those he encounters. Lynch said the character in the film was as much Stanton himself wrestling with his impending fate.

    “When you get older, you know you have fewer days, so you have no time to waste,” Lynch said. “Harry did not waste his days."

    Lynch said Stanton’s performance is no less than “(bleeping) awesome — and it is so vulnerably and humanly him. I hope people give it its due.”

    One of the producers of Lucky is familiar to DCPA Theatre Company audiences: It's actor Jason Delane Lee, who appeared in One Night in Miami and Two Degrees.

    Harry Dean Stanton: In theatres

    • Alamo Drafthouse will screen Repo Man in Stanton's honor at 7:20 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23. BUY TICKETS
    • Lucky will be showcased on Art House Theatre Day at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, in the Muenzinger Auditorium on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. BUY TICKETS
    • Lucky opens in full release Oct. 20 at Denver’s Chez Artiste movie theatre.


    Lucky: The official film trailer

    Video above: The trailer for 'Lucky,' starring Harry Dean Stanton, which will be released in Denver on Oct. 6 at the Chez Artiste.

    Lucky: What RogerEbert.Com had to say:
    "Let’s start at the top of the pile with the fantastic directorial debut of John Carroll Lynch, an actor who always struck me as someone who cared about who he worked with and clearly was paying attention to former collaborators like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Joel Coen. Lynch knows how to frame a shot and tell a story that actually feels like the recent work of a filmmaker with whom he has yet to work, Jim Jarmusch. There’s a similar, shambling, everyday poetry to Lynch’s Lucky, a beautiful showcase for the 90-year-old Harry Dean Stanton, giving one of the best performances of his remarkable career. With supporting work from other icons as diverse as David Lynch and Tom Skerritt (Alien reunion!), Lucky is a film about both not much at all and, well, pretty much everything." — Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

     

  • Sir Peter Hall turned global theatre spotlight on Denver with 'Tantalus'

    by John Moore | Sep 13, 2017
    Tantalus

    Photos from the DCPA Theatre Company's historic 2000 co-production of 'Tantalus.' To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that
    appears. Photos by P. Switzer. 

    The co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company was 'an extraordinary, landmark event in world culture.'

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Sir Peter Hall, who co-starred in the greatest off-stage drama in the history of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, "was one of the pillars of postwar British theatre," Charles McNulty wrote for the Los Angeles Times.

    Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, made theatre history in 2000 when he directed the massive, 10-play epic Trojan War cycle Tantalus at the Denver Center. RSC artistic director Adrian Noble called his co-production with the DCPA "an extraordinary, landmark event in world culture." Hall died Monday at age 86.

    After Hall failed to woo European investors to premiere Tantalus in London, DCPA founder Donald R. Seawell not only came forward offering the services of the Denver Center, he seeded the endeavor with his own money, which some reports put as high as $8 million.

    Peter Hall. David Zalubowski“I call Donald Seawell my deus ex-machina,” Hall said at the time. “When I had failed to raise the money we needed, Donald came along with that rare mixture of madness and shrewdness which marks all good impresarios and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He allowed us to dream our dream.”

    The subsequent play – which had been written by John Barton over 17 years, is still to this day billed as the largest undertaking in the 2,500-year history of theatre. “Nothing has come along like it, and it probably won’t ever happen again,” Seawell said before his death in 2015. “It brought more attention to the Denver Center than anything else we have ever done. It brought critics from all over the world. It brought people to Colorado from 38 states and more than 40 countries.”

    Tantalus, directed by Peter Hall and his son, Edward, and created by an international ensemble of artists, was an epic spectacle on-stage and off. The six-month rehearsal process and subsequent British tour is a tale of artistic squabbles, clashing egos, mounting tension, hurdles of time and money – and spectacular artistic achievement culminating in a standing-room only run at London’s Barbican Theatre.

    Tantalus chronicled the follies of war and mankind and for a short time placed Denver at the very heart of world theatre. But the creative process destroyed the friendship between Barton and Hall, who demanded rewrites. Instead Barton returned to London, where he sat as the Denver marathon was being rapturously received. Meanwhile, as opening approached, frustrated co-director Mick Gordon disappeared without a trace. The cast and crew told a documentary filmmaking team that Gordon’s flight was "no less than a ruthless, demoralizing act of abandonment.“

    Robert Petkoff TantalusActor Robert Petkoff, who appeared in Tantalus and returned in 2015 to star in the DCPA Theatre Company’s production of Sweeney Todd, said working on Tantalus "helped me understand the opening line in A Tale of Two Cities: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ ” he said. “There were moments that felt like agony and betrayal, and more moments that were sheer ecstasy and filled with the joy of storytelling in an exciting and original way.”

    Read The Los Angeles Times’ tribute to Sir Peter Hall

    Journalists from leading publications around the world covered the opening, including The London Times, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The London Observer, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Reuters, Toronto’s National Post, The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News.

    Sandra Dillard of The Denver Post called the staging, which was presented in three parts, “a triumph for all involved.” Mike Pierson of the Rocky Mountain News called ita play that must be seen to be believed.” Michael Kuchwara of The Associated Press called Tantalus “a corker of a tale.” And Time magazine listed the production among the top 10 best theatrical events of the year 2000.

    “With its sheer scope, size and level of ambition, Tantalus fulfilled The DCPA’s stated mission to present the best theatre in the finest facilities to the widest possible audience,” wrote former Los Angeles Times critic Sylvie Drake, then the DCPA's Director of Publications. "It was The Denver Center’s millennial gift to the city, and the crown jewel in its 22-year time-honored tradition of presenting award-winning theatre in the heart of downtown Denver.”

    Hall was born Nov. 22, 1930, and attended Cambridge University, where his classmates included eventual longtime DCPA Theatre Company member and teacher Tony Church. ("Well, that didn't harm my career a bit then, did it?" Church later joked.)

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    At age 29, Hall introduced Samuel Beckett to the English-speaking world with the British premiere of Waiting for Godot. “Nothing would be the same after his 1955 London production of Godot,” McNulty wrote. Leading Drama critic Kenneth Tynan said the production forced him “to re-examine the rules which have hitherto governed the drama; and having done so, to pronounce them not elastic enough.” Next, Hall set off “another revolution in dramatic possibility,” McNulty wrote, with Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.

    Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960 and went on to build an international reputation in theatre, opera, film and television. He was director of the National Theatre (1973-88) and artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (1984-90). He formed the Peter Hall Company (1998–2011) and became founding director of the Rose Theatre, Kingston in 2003. Throughout his career, Hall was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts. He remained active as a director through 2011, when he was diagnosed with dementia.
    Sir Peter Hall NATIONAL THEATRE

    Many tributes have been paid to Hall since his death, among them:

    • Peter Brook: “Peter was a man for all seasons – he could play any part that was needed."
    • Elaine Paige: "Peter Hall had absolute authority and, as a heavyweight of the theatre, real presence."
    • Griff Rhys Jones: "Peter was an absolute smoothie, the most charming and diplomatic man.”
    • Samuel West: "Peter was an extraordinarily energetic, imaginative director – if you left him in the corner of a room he’d direct a play – but he was also a great campaigner. He never stopped arguing for the role of subsidized art in a civilized society and its ability to change people’s lives.”

    Hall was married four times, including for 10 years to actress Leslie Caron. He was married to Nicola Frei since 1990, He fathered four children: Christopher, Jennifer, Edward (one of the Tantalus directors), Lucy, Rebecca and Emma.

    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.

    This report was compiled from archives, original reporting and current news reports

    Sir Peter Hall’s Tantalus program bio in 2000:

    Born in Bury St. Edmunds in 1930, Peter Hall was educated at the Perse School, Cambridge, and St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. After University, a debut at Windsor as director of the Oxford Playhouse, Peter Hall ran the Arts Theatre in London where productions included the world premiere of the English-language version of Waiting for Godot.

    Peter Hall first worked at Stratford in 1956, returning in ’57, ’58, and ’59, when productions included Cymbeline with Peggy Ashcroft, Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Charles Laughton.

    In 1960 he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, directing 18 plays at Stratford for the RSC, including The Wars of the Roses; David Warner’s Hamlet and premieres of plays by Harold Pinter, Edward Albee and John Whiting, establishing the London home of the RSC at the Aldwych Theatre.

    In 1973, Peter hall was appointed Director of the Royal National Theatre, a post he held for 15 years and during which he moved the company to the new premises on the South Bank. Productions for the RNT included John Gabriel Borkman, Happy Days, Hamlet, Tamburlaine the Great, Bedroom Farce, Amadeus, No Man’s Land, Volpone, The Oresteia, Antony and Cleopatra, Animal Farm, The Tempest, Betrayal, Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale. He returned to the RNT to direct The Oedipus Plays by Sophocles which opened in Epidaurus as part of the Athens Festival.

    On leaving the RNT, he launched The Peter Hall Company with productions of Orpheus Descending with Vanessa Redgrave and The Merchant of Venice with Dustin Hoffman. Eighteen other productions followed including An Ideal Husband, The Master Builder, the Stephen Dillane Hamlet, Lysistrata, School for Wives, An Absolute Turkey and A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange playing in the West End, the regions, Broadway and Europe.

    The season of 13 plays at the Old Vic in 1997 was a landmark. In 1998 the company moved to the Piccadilly Theatre where Hall staged productions of Waiting for Godot, The Misanthrope, Major Barbara, Filumena and Kafka’s Dick. In the summer of 1999 he directed Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson in Los Angeles where he also brought his remounting of Amadeus, a hit on Broadway in 2000.

    Since his debut in 1957 with The Rope Dancers, Peter Hall has worked frequently on Broadway, winning Tony Awards for The Homecoming and Amadeus. In February 1992 he directed the world premiere of John Guare’s Four Baboons Adoring the Sun. His production of An Ideal Husband transferred to Broadway in 1996. He received Tony nominations as Best Director for both of these productions.

    Peter Hall also has directed more than 40 operas all over the world including Glyndebourne Festival Opera (where he was Artistic Director, 1984-90), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Geneva, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, The Metropolitan Opera House, New York and Bayreuth, where he directed a celebrated Ring Cycle.

    For television he has directed She’s Been Away, The Camomile Law (Channel 4) and Jacob for Turner TV/Lux. In 1996 he directed and produced The Final Passage a two-part series based on the award-winning book by Caryl Phillips.

    Films include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Three Into Two Won’t Go, The Homecoming, Akenfield and Orpheus Descending.

    His diaries about the opening of the new National Theatre were published in 1983 and his autobiography, Making An Exhibition of Myself, was published in 1993.

     

     

     

  • Flavia Florezell: 'She was an integral part of our community'

    by John Moore | Apr 09, 2017

    Flavia Florezell. Bas Bleu. Speed-The-Plow
    Flavia Florezell, left, in a gender-bent production of the Hollywood satire 'Speed-The-Plow' at the Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins.


    Floria Florezell, an active member for the Colorado theatre community who performed on stages across Fort Collins and Denver for three decades, died on March 23 of breast cancer. She was 61.

    Flavia FlorezellFlorezell most recently appeared in Reader's Theatre productions of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and Wonder of the World at the Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins. Favorite roles included playing Regan in OpenStage’s King Lear, Karen in Germinal Stage-Denver’s Reverse Psychology and Bobby Gould in a gender-bent take on David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow at Bas Bleu.

    Writing for The Denver Post, critic Bob Bows called Florezell's performance in Reverse Psychology "empowered, smart and sexy." 

    Speed-The-Plow is a meanspirited satire of Hollywood culture in which two privileged studio execs wager whether one can seduce the attractive female office temp. Only in this production, Florezell played one of the misanthropes, Bobby Gould.

    "Flavia was one of those special souls on this planet who grabbed the world by the (throat) and constantly reminded me to live every day as if it were a precious gift - and to and enjoy and respect the hell out of it," said Lisa Rosenhagen, her castmate in Speed-The-Plow. "I will miss her talent, her light and her guidance."

    At OpenStage, Florezell also appeared in Macbeth, Fuddy Meers and The Tempest. At Bas Bleu, her credits included in Tongue of a Bird, The Swan and The Scarlet Letter. She performed in Miners Alley Playhouse’s Prelude to a Kiss and in the Aurora Fox’s Mr. Marmalade.

    Peter Anthony Flavia Florezell"She was an integral part of our company for three decades, and an integral part of the theatre community all along the Front Range," said OpenStage co-founder Denise Freestone. "She was always very dedicated, and worked extremely hard." 

    One of her most unique theatrical experiences was performing in The Festival of the Delphic Games presented by the Isadora Duncan International Institute in the ruins of the theatre of the ancient Greeks at Delphi.

    Florezell was born Dec. 20, 1955, graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Theatre and lived in Boulder. She worked perhaps most closely with area Director Peter Anthony dating back to the 1970s. (They are pictured above.)

    "Flavia brought everyone and everything in her life immense joy and passion and a deep spiritual understanding of what it is to be human," Anthony said.

    Flavia Florezell Reverse PsychologyBy day, she was the General Manager of FIG, short for the Fresh Ideas Group - a mission-driven marketing and P.R. firm. She previously worked for April Greiman Inc., and the award-winning Kim Baer Design studio in Los Angeles. In Colorado, she was also the Business Manager for Volan Design, Stratecom and SHiFT.

    (Pictured above right: Flavia Florezell, center, with Casey Jones and Deborah Persoff in 'Reverse Psychology' for Germinal Stage-Denver.)

    Flavia Florezell The Dead MonkeyAs an actor — and as a human  — Florezell was known for her upbeat, collaborative and ever-friendly nature. I found her to be uncommonly decent and always armed with a healthy sense of humor. My first encounter with Florezell was as a theatre critic watching her in a 2002 production of The Dead Monkey at Bas Bleu (pictured right). I gave the production just 1½ stars out of four, but Florezell was never unkind in response. On the contrary, she said the company enjoyed the pan so much they performed dramatic readings of the review for years.

    On her company bio, Florezell revealed a few little-known facts about herself:

    • Bet you didn’t know — I was cast in a couple of Rodney Yee Gaiam yoga videos a few years ago. The audition consisted of doing a downward facing dog. Easiest job I ever got.
    • Biggest adventure this year was going to Flinders Island, Australia. You get on a tiny little plane in Melbourne and 45 minutes later you are in an incredibly wild and pristine environment.
    • One of the best meals of my life was in Sydney at Tetsuya’s. French-Asian tasting menu and the most artistic meal I’ve ever had.

    In tribute, her friend Robert Reid posted to Facebook the following poem written by Florezell herself: 

    "The wind has caught my sailing ship
    A'sailing out to sea,
    My nets aglow with rainbows and starfish
    Dancing free,
    I ride a seahorse till the moon
    Brings the tide in with a sight
    The wind has caught my sailing ship,
    Now with the wind go I.”


    Flavia-Florezell Speed-The-Plow Bas-Blue

    Lisa Rosenhagen, left, and Flavia Florezell in a gender-bent production of 'Speed-The-Plow' at the Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Last Man Out: Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore remembered

    by John Moore | Feb 12, 2017
    Harold G. Moore Quote

    NOTE: In tribute to Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore of Crested Butte, who died late Friday night in Auburn, Ala., we are re-posting John Moore’s 2001 interview for The Denver Post. Hal Moore's book about his experience in Vietnam was made into the movie "We Were Soldiers." He would have turned 95 years old on Monday.

    Hal Moore told his men: “I’m going to be the first man on the ground in any big battle we go into, and I am going to be the last one out.”

    By John Moore
    Originally published March 18, 2001

    For three days in 1965, Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore fought and won the first great battle of the Vietnam War and changed the course of history. Outnumbered 10 to 1, the first battalion of the 7th Air Cavalry not only survived but managed to send the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) into a temporary retreat.

    But when a relief battalion arrived, the commander refused to leave. The officer he had put in charge of tracking the 79 dead and 121 wounded as they were being airlifted out had unsettling news. Somewhere out there, amid the knife-like elephant grass where more than 1,000 enemy dead had been left to rot in the 110-degree heat, was Thomas C. Pizzino of Hopedale, Ohio.

    Moore would not leave him there. Three months earlier at Fort Benning, Ga., he had promised his men that none would be left behind on a jungle battlefield. Later, helicopters were so full of dead and wounded men that blood drained out of the cracks in the fuselages.

    "I've always been a strong believer that you bring home your men. If they are dead, you go get them. You bring them back," Moore said in an interview at his home in Crested Butte. "I had told my men that I'm going to be the first man on the ground in any big battle we go into, and I am going to be the last one out. I'm going to bring you all home, and if I go down, I hope you'll bring me home."

    Moore and a company of about 50 men, feeling relief from the imminent possibility of death for the first time in 72 hours, went back out, crawling on hands and knees to the spot where Pizzino had been fighting, and recovered his body.

    "No one thought twice about doing that," said Moore.

    The next day, the battalion that replaced Moore's was ambushed, and 70 percent of the Americans were killed or wounded. The four-day death toll rose to 234 Americans and 3,561 North Vietnamese.

    Harold G. Moore"Hi. I'm Hal Moore."

    That's how the retired three-star general modestly greets strangers at the Queen of All Saints Catholic Church potluck dinner in Crested Butte. Not that there are many in the town of 1,085 who don't already know Moore and his wife of 51 years, Julie, who have blended into the fabric of the community since moving here in 1977 at the urging of former Secretary of the Army Howard "Bo" Callaway. The same cannot be said of the bright yellow 1976 International Scout they use to get around town.

    Moore is 79, has had two hip replacements, a broken back and wears two hearing aids. But just try keeping up with him. He skis cross-country three times a week, hikes, fishes and quotes Aeschylus. Everyone here knows him as an avid outdoorsman and devout parishioner. Not everyone knows him as a true American hero.

    News report: American hero Harold G. Moore dies in Alabama

    His home sits halfway up the side of Mount Crested Butte amid condos and ski chalets, but it's easy to spot from the bottom by the gigantic American flag he flies from his back deck each day. Dwarfed by the red, white, and blue are three much smaller flags, tattered and gray. Outside an impeccably maintained home with military memorabilia and more than 1,500 books, the withering little rags are the only things that seem less than perfect.

    Life here could not be more unlike the battlefield he left 14,000 miles behind 36 years ago, but has never left his mind.

    "I don't think a day passes that I don't think about that battle," said Moore.

    On Nov. 14, 1965, Moore's mission in Vietnam was a lot more clear than the overall objective of his nation. "My instructions that day were to find the enemy and kill them," Moore said.

    In July, President Lyndon B. Johnson had ordered the Air Mobile Division to Vietnam, thus introducing to warfare the transport of military troops by helicopter. Johnson would do little else, in Moore's opinion, to ensure the success of the U.S. soldiers, and many of the men who went to their deaths there died understanding only one cause.

    "Troops in battle don't fight for what some president says on TV," Moore said. "They don't fight for mom, the flag or for apple pie. They fight for one another. They fight to stay alive. And they become brothers for life."

    Moore's first job in the  Ia Drang River Valley was to secure a tiny helicopter landing zone so that the enemy could be engaged. The area was called LZ X-Ray. Moore had no idea that when he touched down at the jungle base of the Chu Pong mountain that he was being dropped into the center of hell.

    "I had very little information about how many enemy were in the area," Moore said. They were everywhere. Moore's men captured two unarmed North Vietnamese who told him the dense mountain was filled with soldiers who wanted very much to kill Americans, but couldn't find any.

    X-Ray was so small, helicopters could only drop 80 of Moore's 429 men at a time, once every 35 minutes. The PAVN had 2,000 veteran soldiers on the ground and in the trees, and 6,000 more were just a half-day's march away.

    Within 30 minutes of Moore's arrival, long before all of his men could mass, one of the most savage battles in military annals began. The 29 men who would come to be known as the Lost Platoon were tricked into advancing 200 yards from X-Ray and were cut off by the PAVN. All but seven of the Americans were dead or wounded before they could be rescued the next day. "I ordered my men to eliminate that platoon, but they met with fierce resistance," PAVN Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An later said. "I suppose that when they had to choose between life and death, the Americans chose life."

    On Day 2, X-Ray was dangerously close to being overrun. "You could hear the screams of men calling for medics, calling for their mothers, wounded men screaming in three languages," Moore said. "When you are in a situation like that, surrounded by noise, smoke, dust, screams, explosions, machine guns, hand grenades, people dropping all around and bullets whizzing around you like a swarm of bees, you have to remain cool and calm. If you ever think you might lose, you've already lost."

    Moore yelled "Broken Arrow" into his radio, a command ordering every available fighter bomber in South Vietnam to come to his aid, and the sky soon turned into a sea of fire. But two U.S. planes were given the wrong coordinates, and the fiery napalm bombs they dropped burned some of Moore's men alive.

    Joseph Galloway was a 23-year-old UPI reporter who managed to get himself dropped by helicopter into X-Ray holding a camera in one hand and a rifle in the other. He could see three American soldiers in the flames. He voluntarily raised up under fire to help drag in one of the soldiers, but the flesh of the ankle came off in his hands. The other two survived.

    The air power gave the PAVN nowhere to hide, and it turned the battle around. By the next day, the enemy had retreated to the other side of the Chu Pong mountain in Cambodia, knowing U.S. policy would keep them from crossing the border. "When that battle ended, I knew we had accomplished something historic," Moore said. "I knew it would be cause for critical decisions to be made in Saigon and in Washington and in Hanoi."

    The slaughter of the relief battalion the next day was precipitated by a decision not to chopper the soldiers out of X-Ray but to make them walk 3 miles through enemy territory toward another U.S. landing zone called Albany.

    But the U.S. government proclaimed total victory, ignoring the casualties at Albany. The U.S. was convinced its helicopters and other air support were unbeatable, even though 6,000 choppers would be downed in the war. The PAVN learned the strategy for combatting air power was mass and constant movement, and they were prepared to accept any human cost. Ultimately, the battle at X-Ray guaranteed a long, bloody, unwinnable war.

    The next day, Julie Moore was gathered back at Fort Benning with other 7th Cavalry wives watching ABC News. She knew something in the celebratory report was amiss. "I was so stunned at seeing my husband with tears in his eyes that I could hardly speak," she said. "But those sergeants who died were his brothers and the privates his sons. No man can lose that many family members and not weep."

    "Guilty."

    That's how Moore feels today, 36 years after he won the battle of X-Ray. "When your men die and you don't, you feel guilty," he said. "You are their leader."

    Moore never has stopped caring about the men who lived and died at Ia Drang, and he vowed then they would not be forgotten. "In the end, when we walked across the enemy dead and picked up his weapons," Moore said, "I knew that I had to write the story of these great soldiers who fought against such odds."

    For a decade, Moore and Galloway interviewed soldiers and family members and traveled to Vietnam to talk with leaders of the PAVN.

    The result was the 1992 best seller, "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young," which is being made into a film by Randall Wallace ("Braveheart'') starring Mel Gibson.

    "Hal Moore has a combination of toughness and warmth that I haven't experienced in anybody before," Wallace said. "And he has enormous enthusiasm and a tremendous love of life that I found extraordinary in a general. However you cut it, the Army is an institution about developing efficient ways to kill other people. It's ultimately intended to save lives, but it's still a weapon of destruction. To find a man in it who has such reverence for life is extraordinary. I think General Moore has more reverence for life than many ministers I've met."

    Moore's book is required reading at West Point. It celebrates the heroism of his men, but not the war itself. "I like to think that Hal and I have written one of the great anti-war books of our century," said Galloway. Moore believes passionately the Vietnam War was a mistake, as is any military effort where America's vital interests are not at stake. The price in American lives is simply too high.

    "In my view, the two great tragedies of the 20th century are the decline of morality and the Vietnam War," Moore said, pondering the imponderable. "Think about it: Ten years. 58,000 names on that wall. All those hearts broken, families shattered ..."

    Galloway said the ultimate lesson is that "war is unimaginably horrible. Be careful where you send your sons and daughters, because there are people out there ready to kill your children."

    Moore has been back to Vietnam seven times, and in 1991 he met with An, his enemy counterpart commander at Ia Drang. It was the start of an unusual friendship that would last until An's death in 1995.

    "General An and I just hit it off," Moore said. "He was very straightforward. Soldiers don't create the wars, politicians do. Soldiers are the ones who have to fight the wars."

    When Moore returned again in 1993, this time bringing with him a dozen of his men for a tour of the battlefield, he slipped off his wristwatch and gave it to An, calling it a gift "from one soldier to another."

    An was speechless, and 45 minutes later gave Moore his Army helmet.

    "We corresponded after that, and when I found out he died in March of 1995, I faxed his widow a letter of sympathy," Moore said. "And then in October of 1999, Joe Galloway and I received permission to make a courtesy call to his widow. We went to her home, and she's a little old Oriental lady, 5-feet-1, dressed in a long, black dress. She had two strapping sons who greeted us in suits and neckties. Their daughter, a doctor in the Army with the rank of major, was there in uniform. We had brought flowers and incense, because I knew being a Buddhist home that they would have made a shrine.

    "They had a huge display of all his medals and uniforms, the watch I gave him, the fax I sent her ... and over here in the middle of this wall was a huge framed picture of him, with flowers, fruits and bottled water, which the Buddhists believe that the spirits consume. And I lit the incense.

    Harold G. Moore"He was a soldier, just like me. Thirty-six years ago, we were trying to kill each other, but that was over when I met him."

    Moore will return to Vietnam once more, this time bringing with him An's helmet. "I'm going to return it to the widow," Moore said. "Now that he's gone, it would mean more to her.''

    (Photo at right from Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore's Wikipedia page.)

    When the sun sets in Crested Butte, Moore walks onto his deck to bring down his American flag. As darkness descends on the town perched at an altitude of 9,000 feet, the stars are so close you'd swear you were sitting inside a planetarium. The three small, gray tattered flags continue to flap in the wind. You want to know why he keeps them.

    "They are Tibetan prayer flags," said Moore, who hung his four years ago, when they were green, blue and white. "The Buddhists keep their flags out until they disintegrate. They believe that as every little shred falls off, the wind carries their prayers with them."

    As each piece of Moore's flags wither away, they take with them to heaven not only his love and prayers for every man who has served under him, but for his old enemy as well.


    Note: Harold G. Moore is survived by three sons, two daughters, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

    DCPA Senior Arts Journalist and former Denver Post staff writer John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He is no relation to Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore.

  • Frances Burns: 'You couldn’t ask for a better soulmate'

    by John Moore | Feb 01, 2017
    Remembering Frances Burns

    A look back at Frances Burns onstage. To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. Most photos by Bill Cotton for Bas Bleu Theatre Company.


    Dr. Morris Burns still remembers the fetching girl in the blue skirt and white blouse who breezed into the room to audition for a play he was directing for a Kansas school group in 1963. It was a light comedy written by the parents of Nora Ephron called Take Her, She’s Mine.

    And not long after, he took her. She was his.  

    Frances Burns QuoteMorris and Frances Burns made theatre, memories and a family together for the next 51 years as part of the foundation of the Fort Collins theatre community.

    “You couldn’t ask for a better soulmate,” Morris Burns said after Frances died Tuesday at age 74, ending a spirited, 3½-year battle with colon cancer. Despite the toll cancer took on Frances, she liked to say, “I live on the corner of Happy and Healthy” - and she went about her daily business with commensurate positivity.

    Burns was happy to be known as a librarian, wife, traveler, mother and late-in-life grandmother who moved to Fort Collins in 1970 when her husband was hired to teach theatre at Colorado State University. But she was also a gifted actor with raw instincts and a particular acumen for monologues. Something about the art of communicating a character’s compressed journey suited the particular talents of a woman who was so busy living life, she never seemed have much time to waste.

    Her impressive credits spanned The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Gin Game, Death of a Salesman, Bernice/Butterfly and Well. She and her husband performed Love Letters at the Bas Bleu Theatre every year for seven years as a kind of love letter to each other.

    But the role she most loved, and the role she was most celebrated for, was playing Virginia in Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings. That’s a series of eulogies Burns first performed for Bas Bleu in 2002 under the direction of Terry Dodd, who died in October. Virginia is a naive housewife who is shocked to find herself indebted Frances Burns Three Viewingsto the mob after her husband's passing. The play, ironically, is meant to show the profound impact that death has upon the living. 

    Burns often reprised the role with Bas Bleu founder Wendy Ishii in competitions and special events through 2010. The original production garnered eight awards at the 2002 Colorado Community Theatre Coalition Festival, including best production. Burns was named Best Actress. 

    "Bas Bleu's production is the nearly perfect marriage of director, cast and material,” I wrote in my 2002 review for The Denver Post. “Frances Burns pulls off a subtle miracle, somehow making sure the audience leaves with a smile. I've been looking for my jaw. I think I left it on the floor of the Fort Collins theatre.” 

    Morris Burns said it was advice from Dodd that helped his wife solve the challenge of playing Virginia.

    “She was really struggling at first,” Morris said. “And then Terry told her, ‘All you have to do is tell her story, beat by beat.’ She said that really spoke to her, and that allowed her to really sink her teeth into the role.” In later years, Burns would run Virginia’s lines at night whenever she needed to ward off insomnia.

    (Pictured above and right: Frances Burns, seated, with Wendy Ishii and David Siever in Bas Bleu Theatre's 'Three Viewings' in 2002.)

    Frances Barry was born May 10, 1942, in Merriam, Kan. - and anyone with an appreciation for The Music Man can appreciate the delicious joke: Frances was a librarian not named Marian but from Merriam. She graduated from Mount Saint Scholastica College, later known as Benedictine College, in Atchison.

    When Morris Burns’ production of Take Her, She’s Mine ended, he realized he might never see Frances again. So he asked his future wife on a date, and he made it count: They drove 120 miles to see a production of The Glass Menagerie at the Jewish Community Center in Denver.

    Frances Burns. The Gin Game.The Burnses had four children, all sons: David, Joel, Aaron and Nathan. That doomed Frances, Morris said, to a lifetime of baseball. “She couldn’t escape it,” he said. Being from Kansas, Frances loved the Royals. Being from Chicago, Morris loved the Cubs. Frances found it deeply satisfying, Morris said, that Kansas City and Chicago won the final two World Series of her lifetime.

    (Pictured above: Frances Burns in Bas Bleu's 'The Gin Game.')

    But her love for the game actually goes back to her hometown of Shawnee, Kan.  For her 16th birthday, Frances’ mom arranged for her daughter to get a call from her favorite player: Harry Leon "Suitcase" Simpson of the Kansas City Athletics.

    Burns enjoyed snowshoeing, globetrotting, tap dancing and hiking Golden Gate Canyon State Park – after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Burns took on the disease with a seemingly endless supply of stamina, endurance and energy. “Never once in 3½ years was there one complaint,” Morris said.

    Frances Burns Morris BurnsFrances had a pronounced affection for numbers, which was ironic given that it was her struggles with calculus that made her decide to pursue English as her college major. But friends and family know well that Burns received 79 chemo treatments during her cancer battle. They know this because she sent out cheerful reports after every one of them, always drawing significance from the number. Chemo No. 33, for example, was an opportunity to talk up her second-favorite former Colorado Rockies player, Larry Walker. (“Larry Walker was her first love,” Morris said, “but Dexter Fowler was her true love.”)

    “Superstitious?” she wrote. “You bet. “He wore 33, he took at least 3 swings of the bat before he hit it, and was married on Nov. 3 at 3:33 p.m.”

    Her thoughts on the No. 42 told you just about everything you needed to know about who Burns was as a person. The number 42, she wrote, was:

    • The atomic number for molybdenum
    • The Gutenberg Bible was known as the 42-line Bible
    • The answer to the question about life in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • The number of generations in Matthew's version of the genealogy of Jesus
    • The name of a song on a Coldplay album
    • The number of eyes in a deck of cards
    • A prominent number in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
    • The number of U.S. gallons in a barrel of oil
    • Bill Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States
    • 42nd Street is a popular New York City thoroughfare
    • The number for famed baseball player Jackie Robinson

    “But the real significance of 42 is the year 1942, when I and my classmates and many friends were born,” she wrote. “As we all approach our 73rd birthdays, this is cause for joy, partying and explosive celebration!”

    Rarely did these reports more than mention the rigors of her actual chemo treatments, which would sometimes take up 50 hours of her weeks. Instead, her missives turned into family updates, book recommendations and spiritual bouquets that uplifted anyone on the receiving end. To Frances, no matter the time of year, spring training was always right around the corner.

    Being on the mailing list gave you a window into Burns’ world. Her readers learned that she was a fan of Barry Manilow and Tony Bennett. That her best medicine was a PBS special on Victor Borge. “I know he was silly to the point of being utterly ridiculous sometimes, but I loved the man,” she wrote. “He was funny, happy and a genius. I laughed all afternoon.”  

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    You learned all about her affection for her children, extended family and three grandchildren. You learned that a 10-year tradition was taking the entire family to Georgetown for a fall getaway. That her sister lived in a real town called Peculiar, Mo. That she and her husband entertained friends by riffing on Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon’s famous Carnac the Magnificent comedy routine, where Carson offers answers to questions in sealed envelopes. That everyone should read Bill Bryson's One Summer: America 1927, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. That her favorite films were Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

    Frances Burns in Bas Bleu's 'Well.' Photo by William Cotten.It didn’t take much for Burns to find joy and hope in the most mundane of everyday inspirations. “Our Christmas tree was picked up for recycling,” she wrote, “and soon it will become mulch for spring gardening.”

    She opened one chemo report with the salutation: “What a stupendous infusion I am having!”

    It was that affection for life, Morris said, that surely prompted her hospice nurses in Fort Collins to tell Morris, upon Frances’ death: “She taught us how to live … and she taught us how to die.”

    Frances Burns is survived by her husband and four sons - David, Joel, Aaron and Nathan. Also daughters-in-law Regan Flanigan (wife of Joel, mother of Madden and Declan) and Liz Burns (wife of Nathan, mother of Miller) and a large extended family including sisters Connie (of Peculiar, Mo.) and Marianne (of Winnipeg).

    There will be a funeral mass at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, 5450 S. Lemay Ave., in Fort Collins. A reception will follow.

    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.

    Burns family photo courtesy of Morris Burns. Burns family photo courtesy of Morris Burns.

    Video: In honor of Frances Burns:

    One of Frances Burns' favorite comedy routines was Madeline Kahn singing her Marlene Dietrich parody, "I’m Tired.”

  • NewsCenter: Our 10 most popular articles of 2016

    by John Moore | Jan 08, 2017

    Hamilton in Denver. Broadway Nothing got readers more excited last year than the news that the hit Broadway musical 'Hamilton' will be coming to Denver as part of the 2017-18 Broadway season.


    The DCPA NewsCenter was launched in October 2014 as an unprecedented new media outlet covering theatre at the Denver Center and throughout the state and nation telling stories with words, videos, podcasts and photos. It is a service made possible by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts as a shared resource for the Colorado theatre community as a whole. Here are the 10 most-clicked stories on the NewsCenter in 2016 from among the nearly 430 posted. Thanks to our readers for making it a record-breaking year:

    NUMBER 1HamiltonBroadway’s Hamilton is heading to Denver: The national tour of the Broadway musical Hamilton will play the Buell Theatre as part of the Denver Center's 2017-18 Broadway subscription series. Information regarding engagement dates and how to purchase single tickets will be announced at a later time. READ IT

    NUMBER 2Brenda Billings 1Brenda Billings: 'A warrior of acceptance':  Brenda Billings died while doing what she loves most – conducting auditions for an upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors. She was the co-Artistic Director of Miners Alley Playhouse and  President of the Denver Actors Fund, and she was only 57. “Her passion for storytelling and art is carried on through all of us who were lucky enough to call her friend,” said Tony Award-winning actor Annaleigh Ashford. READ IT

    NUMBER 3Fun Home. Joan Marcus2016-17 Broadway season: Frozen, Fun Home, Finding Neverland and more: The DCPA announced a landmark 2016-17 season lineup that includes both of the most recent Tony Award-winners as well as the pre-Broadway debut of the highly anticipated stage adaptation of Disney’s record-breaking hit Frozen, the highest-grossing animated film in history. It was later announced that the Denver dates for Frozen will be Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, 2017. READ IT 

    NUMBER 4Terry DoddTerry Dodd: a playwright, director who bled empathy: Terry Dodd will be remembered as one of the most prolific local directors in the Colorado theatre community, as well as an accomplished playwright and screenwriter who was known for exploring deeply personal family issues. Dodd died of a heart attack at age 64. READ IT 

    NUMBER 5osg-christiana-clark2In Ashland, converting rage into action: In many ways Ashland, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, seems to be an insular, harmonious bubble immune to outside social realities. But on June 24, the bubble burst when an African-American company member had an ugly encounter with a white supremacist. Now the local and national theatre communities are asking difficult questions about race. READ IT

    NUMBER 6Finalists for the 2015-16 Bobby G Awards announced: The annual Bobby G Awards celebrate outstanding achievement in high-school musical theatre in Colorado. The year-long program culminates in a Tony Awards-style ceremony at the Buell Theatre. Here’s who was nominated from among the 40 participating schools. READ IT

    NUMBER 7Tom SutherlandFormer hostage Thomas Sutherland is freed a second time: Former Colorado State University professor Thomas Sutherland was held hostage in Beirut for more than six years - or 2,353 agonizing days. The genial Scotsman made his first foray into acting at age 72, and later donated $500,000 to Bas Bleu Theatre Company’s new performance space. He drew it from the $35 million he was awarded in frozen Iranian assets. Sutherland died July 23 at age 85. READ IT http://dcpa.today/EX6aBY

    NUMBER 8David Bowie Elephant ManDavid Bowie's acting career began in Denver: David Bowie’s death had the world mourning the loss of one of rock’s most chameleonic performers. But he was also a versatile stage and screen actor whose legit theatre career began in Denver starring as the ultimate “Broken Man,” John Merrick, in a 1980 touring production of The Elephant Man. "Judging from his sensitive projection of this part, Bowie has the chance to achieve legit stardom,” one critic wrote. READ IT 

    NUMBER 9Buell TheatrePhantom return will mark Buell Theatre’s 25th anniversary: The Buell Theatre was built, in large part, to host the national touring production of The Phantom of the Opera in 1991. It was, Denver Post critic Jeff Bradley wrote at the time, “the most successful theatrical event in Denver history.” We take a look back at the Buell’s first 25 years. READ IT 

    NUMBER 10Theresa Rebeck quoteRebeck's The Nest flies in face of national gender trends: Theresa Rebeck, author of the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere play The Nest, says the need to level the gender playing field in the American theatre is urgent. “Women's voices have been marginalized in the theatre, and in film and television,” said Rebeck. But the Denver Center, she said, is bucking the trend. “Kent Thompson and everyone at the Denver Center have always been way ahead of the curve on this issue.” READ 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.
  • Murray Ross: 'He put true beauty and goodness out into this world'

    by John Moore | Jan 03, 2017
    Murray Ross: A retrospective Photo gallery: A retrospective of plays performed at Colorado Springs TheatreWorks under founder Murray Ross. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above.


    'Now all is done, save what shall have no end.'

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter  

    Talking about theatre was Murray Ross’ absolute favorite thing to do.

    I once asked him to describe his directing philosophy in one sentence. His response: “Don’t just do something: Stand there!”  (He was quoting George S. Kaufman, which he could cite as deftly as he could Shakespeare.)

    I asked his advice for an aspiring director. His answer: “Break down the door. You start in the basement shoveling coal if you have to.”

    I asked him to name the single most important personal attribute any good director should have. His answer: Love.

    A Murray Ross 800Murray Ross had an abundance love for theatre. He lived and died believing that there is simply never enough good theater in the world.

    Ross, who started TheatreWorks from nothing on the campus of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in 1975 and built it into a fertile incubator of young hearts and minds over 42 years, died today of complications from chronic lung disease. He was 74. And yet ... he was ageless. 

    “I was never sure how old he was, frankly,” actor Steven Cole Hughes said. “To look at him, one might say he was Doc Brown from Back to the Future. I always thought he was the perfect blend of smart and serious and crazy.”

    (Pictured above and right: Murray Ross and Betty Ross. Photo by John Moore.) 

    Ross was the Pied Piper of Colorado theatre. He drew hundreds of serious theatre students to his program and he took in kids off the street who needed an artistic home. No one was immune from his passionate web. He was just so childlike in the enthusiastic way he talked about theatre,” Hughes said.  

    Ross is believed be one of the three longest-tenured artistic directors in Colorado theatre, behind only Ed Baierlein of Germinal Stage Denver and Anthony J. Garcia of Su Teatro.

    But no one expected Ross to ever retire, much less die. Actor Sammie Joe Kinnett sat by Ross in his hospital bed just a few days before he died preparing for their upcoming production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape.


    Once a bohemian, always a bohemian

    Ross was born Feb. 12, 1942, and grew up in Pasadena, Calif. He was a quintessential, wild-haired hippie from Cal-Berkeley when he came to Colorado Springs in 1975 to teach English. The university was just getting started then, so anyone could pretty much do anything they wanted to in those days. Ross wanted to start a theatre company where university students would work in tandem with the Colorado Springs artistic community at large. TheatreWorks was born.

    Murray Ross Quote. Sammie Joe KinnettRoss and wife Betty produced more than 100 shows together while building TheatreWorks into an essential, $1.7 million annual program that in 2018 is scheduled to move into the state-of-the-art new Ent Center for the Arts. That only happens, says UCCS Associate Professor Kevin Landis, because of Ross. “He had a clarity of vision of what he wanted and how he wanted to do it,” Landis said. “There are few industries that are as indebted to a single person as theatre in Colorado Springs is indebted to Murray Ross.”

    Ross “made a successful little theatre in the most improbable of places while creating the most improbable of work,” added Drew Martorella, Executive Director of UCCS Presents. “There was never a more potent and dedicated and exacting artist who was always trying to achieve great work in the community where he lived.”  

    Ross’ first love was Shakespeare, followed closely by Chekhov, Ibsen and a host of other literary suitors. But Ross also adored “devised theatre” – original and often challenging work created by an ensemble through collaboration.

    A Murray Ross 600Ross caused tremors that were felt all the way to Greeley when he wrote and staged Dar al-Harb, a play that imagines the six months Egyptian revolutionary Sayyid Qutb spent studying at the University of Northern Colorado as a young man in 1949. Qutb is considered the founder of modern Islamic radicalism. Ross won a 2014 True West Award for Ludlow 1914, developed by his students in partnership with Denver’s LIDA Project. It explored the massacre that took place about 100 miles south of Colorado Springs when the National Guard opened fire on striking miners.

    But Ross never strayed far from his first love. One of Colorado Springs’ great summer traditions is TheatreWorks’ annual Shakespeare offering in a tent on Rock Ledge Ranch near the base of Garden of the Gods.


    Quotable, loquacious, talkative and eloquent

    Murray Ross was a teaser. He was opinionated. And he didn’t pull any punches. His idea of a compliment was to say to you, “You can do better.” But at least he’d call you sweetheart.

    “He could be blunt,” Kinnett said. “But he was blunt to the point of hystericalness.”

    Murray Ross was funny. Case in point: Ross was invited to be part of an expert panel to evaluate the 2011 movie Anonymous, which makes the case that not only did Shakespeare not write one word that has been attributed to him, he’s also a fraud, a drunk, an extortionist, a blackmailer — and quite probably the murderer of his contemporary, Christopher Marlowe.

     “It’s kind of entertaining rubbish,” Ross said after screening the film. “If I worked hard enough at it, I could probably make the case that Shakespeare was actually written by a cross-dressing Peruvian dwarf.”

    Ross was a voracious blogger who loved to spar with critics, audiences and students alike about all things Shakespeare. But little got his dander up like the modern trend of updating Shakespeare’s words into a more contemporary idiom. Or as he put it, “dumbing it down to a bubble-gum wrapper.” It's all wrong, he said. “That actually erases the Shakespeare experience, cutting to the chase and removing the organism. Shakespeare should explode in your brain.”

    And for generations, Ross exploded Shakespeare into thousands of brains.

    Read Murray Ross' theatre blog

    He is also is responsible for launching dozens of Colorado Springs actors including Kinnett, Jane Fromme and Benjamin Bonenfant. And Ross created a huge pipeline that brought Denver-based actors and directors to Colorado Springs including Billie McBride, Jessica Austgen, Geoffrey Kent, Leslie O’Carroll, Josh Robinson, Laurence Curry, Steven Cole Hughes, Jamie Ann Romero, Mare Trevathan, Shannan Steele, Kyle Steffen and Regina Fernandez.

    When Ross met Kinnett, he didn’t see a teenage community-college dropout. He saw his next Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He saw his future co-writer on an original play called I Am Nikola Tesla. “He 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.”

    To Kinnett, Ross was his teacher. His mentor. His friend. And much more than that.

    “Until recently, I had not really understood the powerful relationship that can happen between a student and a teacher,” Kinnett said. “I didn’t grow up knowing my father, and in many ways Murray was a father to me.”

    Ross was hospitalized with pancreatitis shortly before Christmas. Just yesterday, he told his son, Orion, "I lived 20 years longer than Shakespeare and directed more plays."

    On the day he died, Ross was scheduled to leave on his favorite annual excursion: TheatreWorks’ London Theatre Tour. For years, Ross has led a group of theatrelovers to the banks of the Thames. On the docket this year is seeing the great Mark Rylance in a new play he co-authored called Nice Fish, George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan with Gemma Arterton, and Matthew Bourne’s new version of The Red Shoes, for starters. The real fun for Ross is always leading the morning-after conversations at breakfast. Over the years, Ross has somehow cajoled the likes of Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn, Janet McTeer and even Rylance himself into joining them for oatcakes and sausages.

    Martorella honored Ross’ memory this afternoon by boarding a plane for London with this year’s tour group, just a few hours after Ross died. “Murray was in every sense of the word my best friend," he said. “He was an artist of the highest regard, an extraordinary academic and a bold leader in the arts. In his 42 years at UCCS, he made wonderful and seemingly impossible things happen — he built a professional theatre company, he produced classic and contemporary plays in classrooms, buses, warehouses, basements and, of course, the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, and he put true beauty and goodness out into this world.”

    Survivors include his wife, Betty, his sisters Susanna, Christina and Kit, and his sons Felix, James, Orion and Matthew.

    A memorial service is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater on the campus of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

    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.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Murray Ross/At a glance

    • Born Feb. 12, 1942
    • Graduated from Williams College (Williamstown, Mass.) and earned his masters degree from the University of California-Berkeley
    • Served in the National Guard from 1963-69
    • TheatreWorks Artistic Director since 1986
    • Teaches theatre history and directing at Universty of Colorado-Colorado Springs
    • Original stage plays include Monkey Business, The Last Night of Don Juan, The Lady of the Camellias, Dar-al-Harb and I Am Nikola Tesla
    • Stage adaptations include Huckleberry Finn, The Odyssey, Plato's Symposium, Treasure Island, Venus and Adonis and several versions of A Christmas Carol
    • Directed original theatre projects (Peer Gynt, The Tempest, The Bourgeois Gentleman) with orchestras in Colorado Springs, New York, San Antonio, Phoenix and Cincinnati.


  • 'Messiah of movement' Bob Davidson passes away

    by John Moore | Dec 22, 2016

    Above: A video close-up at Bob Davidson's work with the National Theatre Conservatory.

    Though he grew up in rural Minnesota, renowned dancer and movement coach Bob Davidson lived a life of adventure Hemingway would have envied. Just last summer, he was training a group of European movement teachers in Istanbul “when we were rudely interrupted by a coup,” he said with typical panache.

    Bob Davidson Quote His global world view was shaped early in his life. He toured Central and South America with his college a cappella choir, followed by a summer studying indigenous music and dance in rural Uganda and Uzbekistan. He later received his advanced degree from the University of Washington in Ethnomusicology, the study of non-Western cultures.

    Davidson was found dead at his home earlier today, his family confirmed. He was 70. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

    Davidson was a teacher to the core. He started teaching Sunday school at the tender age of 13 and took charge of his church choir at 15. But if anything, he was a messiah for movement. Davidson fundamentally believed that the way we think and move influences what we say and do.

    Davidson was born July 20, 1946. He joined the Denver Center’s former National Theatre Conservatory faculty as Head of Movement in 1997 through its closure in 2012 and was largely responsible for the DCPA’s reputation as the national leader in teaching students how to incorporate the art of trapeze into theatrical productions. The NTC was the only graduate school in the country where studying trapeze for three years was not only an option, but a requirement.

    “He could help turn an MFA actor into a cowboy from Texas, and then into a 17th century aristocrat,” DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson told The Denver Post. “A lot of people don’t fully understand that isn’t simply clothing or dialect, but a physical process.”

    Davidson celebration
    To RSVP your attendance at Bob Davidson's life celebration on April 9, click here.


    His influence on the NTC's students was profound. A group of alumni led by Steven Cole Hughes (currently appearing in the DCPA's An Act of God), John Behlman and Eileen Little created a trapeze-based theatre company in New York called Fight or Flight, comprised almost entirely of NTC graduates. The troupe produces original works and aerial adaptations of classic stories.

    Davidson "changed a lot of tangible things about my life," Behlman wrote in tribute. "He's the reason I was ever introduced to the trapeze, and the source of a lot of joy and strange stories in my life. The world is significantly less interesting without Bob."

    Matt Zambrano, a member of the final graduating NTC class, called Davidson a brilliant teacher and student. "He was the man who taught me to fly, how to hold my head high with invisible strings and how to appreciate the space between things," Zambrano said.

    Bob Davidson. Photo courtesy DCPA EducationDavidson has collaborated with many directors on productions of Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht and Shakespeare. He frequently choreographed productions for the DCPA Theatre Company, most recently a fully immersive movement adventure called Perception, which played out simultaneously as the audience toured several DCPA Education studios. The show was described as “a walk through a mind-bending, fantastical excursion where nothing is what it seems, and where every twist of your journey toys with your senses.”

    Read our recent faculty spotlight on Bob Davidson

    Davidson began exploring aerial dance on the triangular low-flying trapeze in 1986 and established his own aerial dance company in 1988. His epic, signature works were considered to be Rapture: Rumi and Airborne: Meister Eckhart, which have toured throughout the U.S., Europe and the former Soviet Union. He also choreographed successful aerial versions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for Seattle’s Intiman Theatre as well as Portland Center Stage.

    (Story continues below)

    Video bonus: Masters students fly to poetry of Byron:

    Video highlights from the National Theatre Conservatory class of 2011's movement project inspired by the poetry of Lord Byron. Performed April 23, 2009.


    He was still teaching public classes as a faculty member for DCPA Education as recently as November. Asked what makes him a good teacher in a recent interview with the DCPA NewsCenter, he said, “Possibly because my education was so multi-disciplinary. And possibly because I’ve been doing it for almost 60 years!”

    Bob Davidson. Perception. Photo by Adams VisCom. DCPA Education Director Allison Watrous is a graduate of the NTC, and she considered being trained by Davidson on the trapeze to be an esteemed pleasure.

    “After my first year of graduate school at the NTC, everyone told me, ‘You seem taller’ - and it was true,” she said. “My already tall self had grown an inch because of trapeze and movement work with Bob. But I not only grew taller physically, I grew in artistry, passion, presence, creativity and love of the world because I met him.” 

    Davidson took particular pride in becoming certified in teaching the Skinner Releasing Technique way back in 1969, “making me the oldest living certified teacher of this technique in the world,” he said. SRT, he explained, “is a form of kinesthetic training that is essentially non-intellectual, yet image-oriented. So when SRT precedes an actor’s monologue work, the monologues generally improve greatly. It seems less strain, fear and ego are involved in the presentation — and more clarity, dynamics and confidence are the result.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Davidson remained founder Joan Skinner’s primary assistant at the University of Washington throughout the 1970s, becoming the director of the Skinner Releasing School in the 1974. He was a leading dancer in her American Contemporary Dance Company as well as the Music and Dance Ensemble.

    Bob Davidson. 1Davidson trained more than 65 teachers to be certified in SRT all over the world. “I am so passionate about it, I sometimes do it for free,” he said, “and it is a rigorous, challenging, sometimes painful 12-week commitment.”

    Watrous called Davidson "an extraordinary teacher who had a superpower to help actors find the power of connecting to their bodies,” she said. "He inspired so many artists and actors to carve space and take on the world - and he will forever inspire me.”

    Davidson is survived by his sister, Peggy Nield.

    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.


    Photo gallery: Off-Center's Perception in 2015:

    PERCEPTION- Off-Center at the JonesPhotos from 'Perception,' choreographed by Bob Davidson for the DCPA's Off-Center. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams VisCom.

    Additional testimonials

    Steve Jones, NTC, DCPA Theatre Company's 'As You Like It': "Bob taught me how to lift my skull to the heavens, plunge my feet down to the core of the Earth and how to fly with all of my heart."

    Geoffrey Kent, DCPA Fight Director: "If anyone deserves flights of angels, it's Bob."

    Alaina Beth Reel, student: "This man unleashed something in me, and made me surprised by how my own body could move. He was an incredible teacher I was lucky to have met and to have practiced under. Bob, thank you for all the lessons I practice daily and long to share with others. The Denver theatre community has another dark hole in its heart today."

    Curtiss Johns, student: Bob, you changed my life. You changed the way I looked at art and for that I am grateful. You changed the way I thought about theater and for that I am grateful. But most of all, you changed the way I move though this world and for that sir, I am forever in your debt. I, like so many of us who danced the dance of gossamer threads, will miss you terribly. But we will have you and the gifts you gave us in our bodies, minds and souls."

    Susanna Florence Risser, student: "This wild, mild, giant of a man shaped my artistic life as deeply as anyone I've known."

    Linnea Scott, student: Bob's spirit, grace, and suppleness are qualities that cannot be easily forgotten. His teachings were such a special gift, and I am so immensely grateful to have come in contact with his wisdom at such a young age.

    A Bob Davidson 800 1
    Photo below courtesy of DCPA Education.
  • Video, photos: Terry Dodd life celebration

    by John Moore | Nov 30, 2016

     


    Terry Dodd. Hitchcock Dreaming. Photo by John Moore. Click the video above to watch highlights from the Terry Dodd life celebration held Monday, Nov. 28, at the Arvada Center. Dodd, a longtime Denver playwright and director, died of a heart attack on Oct. 12. About 400 gathered to honor Dodd with stories, remembrances and readings from some of his notable plays. The host was John Ashton. Click here for information on the new Terry Dodd Memorial Writer's Scholarship established by the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Video by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Photo above and right: Amy Elizabeth Gray and Seth Palmer Harris performing a scene from Dodd's final play, Hitchcock Dreaming.

    Read more: Terry Dodd: A playwright, director who bled empathy

    Listen in: Terry Dodd's 2006 podcast interview with John Moore


    Photo gallery: Terry Dodd life celebration

    Terry Dodd Life Celebration

    A photo retrospective on the works of playwright and director Terry Dodd, left. To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Podcast: A listen back with Terry Dodd

    by John Moore | Nov 27, 2016

    In honor of director and playwright Terry Dodd, who died of a heart attack onTerry Dodd Oct. 12, we take a listen back to John Moore's 2006 Running Lines podcast interview with Dodd, who was about to open Tracy Letts' The Man from Nebraska for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. 

    Dodd would later be nominated for The Denver Post's "Best Season by a Director" Ovation Award for a year that also included The Holdup; The Smell of the Kill; Private Eyes; The Caretaker; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and The Weir. A celebration of Dodd's life will be held on Monday, Nov. 28, at the Arvada Center.

    Terry Dodd: A playwright, director who bled empathy

    Former Denver Post theatre critic 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.

    Celebration of Terry Dodd:
    • Monday, Nov. 28, Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. Social hour is from 6-7 p.m. Cash bar. House opens at 6:40. Program begins at 7 p.m.
    • This is a free but ticketed event. And there is no advance ticketing. Once you get to the Arvada Center on Nov. 28, ask for a ticket at the box office. Anyone arriving after the 526 available tickets are gone, is  welcome to stay through the social hour, but you will not be allowed into the theatre. No SRO allowed.
    • Do not call the Arvada Center box office with questions.They will not know what you are talking about. Instead, email Tricia Stevens at theatregirl5@yahoo.com.


    Terry Dodd: Photo gallery


    Terry Dodd remembered

    A photo retrospective on the works of playwright and director Terry Dodd, left. To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above.

  • Terry Dodd: A playwright, director who bled empathy

    by John Moore | Oct 13, 2016

    Video highlights from the Terry Dodd Life Celebration on Nov. 28.


    Terry Dodd will be remembered as one of the most prolific local directors in the Colorado theatre community, as well as an accomplished playwright and screenwriter known for exploring deeply personal family issues. But he also will be remembered as a proud advocate for local theatre, for actors, and certainly for the projects he took on. 

    Dodd was interested in real, down-to-earth human stories that often centered on characters working to reconcile past mistakes. Asked in 2013 to describe his directing philosophy, Dodd said: “Love the play, cast well, always have something for the ear or eye for the audience, and be the best cheerleader going. Keep the drama onstage. And have fun."

    In one word, he said he thought the most important personal attribute in any good director is empathy.

    Terry Dodd Services Dodd oozed empathy over four decades in the Colorado theatre community. He died Wednesday night of a massive heart attack at his apartment, according to his friend and neighbor, Bill Deal. Dodd, who had just turned 64 on Sept. 18, was taken to Denver Health Medical Center at about 6 p.m., but he did not survive emergency surgery, Deal said. The DCPA NewsCenter later confirmed the death with four independent sources, although Denver Health Medical Center said it was awaiting pathological identification through next of kin.

    "Terry was an exceptionally kind and brilliant guy who did a lot for the local theater scene,” said Veronica Straight-Lingo, his friend and also a tenant in the apartment building where Dodd was proctor. Residents of the Executive House Apartments on Capital Hill were individually informed of the news this morning by building management, she said.

    Terry Dodd QuoteDodd has directed dozens of local stage productions at the Arvada Center, Aurora Fox, Nomad Theatre and Bas Bleu, among many others. He considered a personal milestone to be his direction of the second half of the six-hour opus Angels in America, a 2004 co-production between Fort Collins’ Bas Bleu and OpenStage theatre companies.

    "Two of the milestone productions in the history of Bas Bleu were directed by Terry – Angels in America and Three Viewings," said Bas Bleu co-founder Wendy Ishii. “He made some major contributions to our theatre, and his willingness to come up from Denver to help us really elevated our place in the local theatre community.” 

    In 2008, Dodd came to the rescue of Bas Bleu when the director of The 1940s Radio Christmas Carol was hospitalized.

    Laura Jones, who directed the first half of Angels in America with Dodd, remembers a moment during the summer just before the 9/11 attacks. "My husband and I did a houseboat weekend with friends on Lake Powell," she said. "It was very hot, so we slept on the top deck under the stars. At one point, my husband said, 'I feel like I'm in a Terry Dodd play.' Terry loved that story."

    Dodd won the 2006 Denver Post Ovation Award for best year by a director for a lineup that included The Holdup; The Smell of the Kill; Private Eyes; The Caretaker; The Man From Nebraska; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, and The Weir – all in one year.

    He originated the annual theatre productions that are still staged each summer in the lobby of the downtown Barth Hotel, a venture that specifically raises money for Senior Housing Options to provide housing and essential services to more than 500 special-needs seniors. Dodd was a big proponent of site-specific theatre, staging Stanton’s Garage in an actual auto-repair garage (until it got shut down for doing so!) and Hot’l Baltimore in the lobby of the Barth.

    “By seeing site-specific theater, I think the boundaries are opened up to an audience,” Dodd said in a Denver Post interview. “These plays greatly expand our ideas of where and how theater can happen."

    Dodd was nominated for a Henry Award for directing James O’Hagan-Murphy in the one-man RFK: A Portrait of Robert Kennedy, which began at the Vintage Theatre and was later re-staged at the Avenue Theatre and Town Hall Arts Center.

    “That was a really lovely experience,” Dodd said. “When I first read the play, I broke out crying at the end.”

    Listen in: Terry Dodd's 2006 podcast interview with John Moore

    Another personal favorite of Dodd’s was Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which imagines a chance meeting between a young Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in 1904.

    He also experienced some success as a screenwriter. "He co-wrote a screenplay in the late 1990s, and I remember the giddiness when he showed me the check for $200,000," said his friend, Dave Maddux. 

    Dodd graduated from George Washington High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver and a Teacher at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. His plays were produced nationally, and he was a member of the DCPA Theatre Company's original Playwriting Unit in the 1980s alongside Molly Newman (Quilters) and Randal Myler (Love, Janis.) "Out of that came a script of mine called Goodnight, Texas, that in its original staged reading featured a young actress named Annette Bening," Dodd said in a 2006 interview.

    Terry Dodd Curious Theatre Home By Dark Michael Ensminger
    Terry Dodd considered his play 'Home By Dark' to be his favorite. It was staged at Curious Theatre in 2010 with Jake Walker, left, and Michael McNeill as Dodd's cop dad. Photo by Michael Ensminger for Curious Theatre Company.


    Dodd wrote 16 plays, "and he considered each of them his children," Bill Deal said. "Terry had a difficult childhood, and he rose above it. He used to say it was a good thing that he found the arts, because they saved his life. He went on to become a proud gay man and activist."

    Dodd frequently mined his own past as a writer to explore complex family relationships. His autobiographical coming-out story Home By Dark, which was produced by Curious Theatre in 2010, focused on a charged confrontation between a father and son who are both harboring secrets. It was based on a snowy 1974 morning when a state patrolman - Dodd's father - woke Terry with a pounding on his door. "It’s rare to see plays centering on father-son relationships," Dodd said, "and that's because men only talk when they are cornered ... And my dad was cornered.”

    Dodd’s Vaughn, NM, Christmas Eve, 1956, was a more sentimental memoir recalling a childhood trip to Roswell, N.M. in a raging snowstorm.

    Dodd’s Amateur Night at the Big Heart began as a DCPA commission that went on to be fully staged at the Arvada Center in 1992 with David Ogden Stiers of M*A*S*H fame directing. It was later revived at the Aurora Fox in 2012 with Rhonda Brown starring. The story focuses on a group of beautiful losers in a bar in Pueblo called Big Heart. Dodd said the script owes a nod to The Time of Your Life and the TV show “Cheers.”

    Dodd was also a voracious film buff who was working on a new play about Alfred Hitchcock called Hitchcock Dreaming.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    "Terry Dodd was an important playwright not only in our past, but also for Denver and Colorado," said DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson. "He was really bright spirit." 

    Dodd was beloved at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, says program director Andrea Dupree. "He was a real heart of our organization," said Dupree. "He was known for lovely quirks, like saying 'dynamite!' when students read their work aloud.

    "He was just someone who was in it for the love of stories, and he passed that on to anyone he worked with. He mentored many of our students into having their work published and produced. He made their dreams come true. He was just the most genuine, kind and generous person."

    Given that Dodd was an expert in nearly every facet of storytelling, Ishii says she once asked Dodd why he never tried his hand at acting. “I thought he would be great at it, because when he gives notes as a director, he sometimes immediately accesses the character in a really wonderful way,” Ishii said. “But I remember him saying, ‘I can't act. I'm too much in my head.’ ”

     

    Given his longevity, Dodd worked with hundreds of actors, designers and technicians in the Colorado theatre community of all experience levels. One of them was Cat DiBella Lindsey, who appeared in several stagings of Three Viewings, three monologues set in a funeral parlor.

    "I'm at a loss over this loss," DiBella said. "I did my first play in Denver with Terry, and my last play in Denver with Terry - and almost all of my plays in Denver with Terry. Now that he's gone, I feel like I'm mourning both the loss of Terry and the lost chances. I loved him, and I treasure the things we did get to do together."

    DiBella then added with a laugh, "Now who is going to hire me to play a hooker?"

    A celebration of Terry Dodd's life was attended by about 400 on Nov. 28 at the Arvada Center. Click here for video and photo highlights.


    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.


    Terry Dodd remembered

    A photo retrospective on the works of playwright and director Terry Dodd, left. To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above.


    Significant writings:

    Home By Dark (produced by Curious Theatre), 2010, play
    Stealing Baby Jesus,
    play
    Goodnight, Texas
    (1986 DCPA Prima Facia presentation, and Colorado Council on the Arts fellowship winner), play
    Vaughn, New Mexico, Christmas Eve 1956
    , play
    House Warming
    (was chosen as a semi-finalist for the Humana Festival), play
    Closer to Heaven
    (2002 Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship winner), film

    Selected seminal plays directed include:

    Angels in America, Bas Bleu and OpenStage, 2004
    A Raisin in the Sun
    , Arvada Center, 2005
    Twelfth Night
    (set in the 1960s), Victorian Playhouse, 2008
    RFK: A Portrait of Robert Kennedy,
    Vintage Theatre and others, 2013
    99 Histories, Theatre Esprit Asia, 2013
    A Steady Rain at the Edge Theatre, 2014 

    Additional reader comments:
    "Terry had such an understanding of the West, and he made me love it through his eyes. He was smart, visionary and funny." - Kathy Holt, Scenic Designer, Angels in America

    "Terry was my playwriting teacher at DU and a constant source of support and encouragement from that moment on. He will be greatly missed. "Meghan Anderson Doyle, Costume Designer, DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Glass Menagerie'

    My husband (Augustus Truhn) and I first met at the callback for Communicating Doors and were both cast, leading eventually to ... well ... our current lives together. Terry was always a friend to and cheerleader for us, personally and professionally. We will both miss him immensely." Karen LaMoureaux

    "Terry was one of the least pretentious people I’ve ever known about his art. He loved what he loved.  He’d fight for Shakespeare in Love or The Remains of the Day in a way that a lot of artists wouldn’t. I really got a kick out of that — and it humanized him to those who can feel left out of the discussions of “high art” (though he could talk about the highest of the highbrow, he loved it all).  His brand of artistic candor is rare, I think, and it was yet another of my favorite things about him. Andrea Dupree, Program Director, Lighthouse Writers Workshop
  • My interview with Edward Albee: 'I want people to imagine the unimaginable'

    by John Moore | Sep 19, 2016




    Note: John Moore conducted the following interview just before the first local production of Edward Albee’s 'The Goat, or Who is Sylvia' was presented by Denver’s Curious Theatre in January 2005. 'The Goat' is the shocking tale of a family whose lives crumble when the patriarch, Martin, falls in love with a goat, severely testing the limits of this ostensibly liberal society. Albee died Friday at age 88.


    John Moore: Does it ever stop being amusing to you to observe how people respond to your plays? My specific reference in asking this question comes from looking back at the harsh batch of initial reviews for The Goat, which, shall we say, did not seem to indicate that the play would go on to win the 2002 Tony Award for Best Play.

    Edward Albee: What was interesting about that is when we changed casts in the middle of the run and put Sally Field and Bill Irwin in, some of the critics came back - and they changed their minds. The lady from Newsday issued a total mea culpa, as a matter of fact. She said she had completely misunderstood the play and now believed it was a wonderful play.

    John Moore: That’s not the first time that has happened to you,

    Edward Albee: No, but it usually doesn’t happen during the initial production. It usually happens when the play comes back 10 or 15 years later. Then everybody says, ‘Well, we don’t know what everybody was so unhappy about. This is first-rate.’ It’s always amusing and interesting, yes. You know that it’s all going to change, so why pay attention to it?

    edward albee quote 8John Moore: It must be odd for you though, because these are the same people who constantly refer to you, almost adjectivally, as “America’s greatest living playwright.” And yet at the same time they compare and contrast everything you write today to whatever it is you were writing 40 years ago.

    Edward Albee: I know. You change, and your work changes. I know that my plays are changing. They are becoming different from the ones I wrote 40 years ago. I think maybe my craft is a little more in hand. I know what I am doing a little more precisely, and I think maybe I am asking more interesting questions. I certainly don’t have any more answers.

    John Moore: So what kinds of questions you are asking now?

    Edward Albee: The Goat asks so many questions about the limits of our tolerance. Can we imagine this happening to us? How would we respond if this happened in our own families? That’s what I want people to do with this play, of course. Not just sit there on a throne and pass judgment on other people.

    John Moore: I read in your introduction to your Collected Plays that it’s no fun for you to talk about what your plays are about. That it’s fun for you to hear what other people think your plays are about.

    edward albee GoatEdward Albee: I don’t want to talk about what my plays are about. I want to talk about other things. The Goat is about 90 minutes. That’s what it’s about. Any play that’s worthwhile can’t be defined in a couple of sentences because it’s about every single thing from the beginning to the end. Also it happens to be about everything that happens before the play begins. And if all the characters haven’t been killed off, the play is also about what happens to the characters after the plays are over. So it’s fruitless to even try to talk about that.

    (Pictured above right: Curious Theatre's 2005 production of 'The Goat' with Mare Trevathan and Robert Reid.)

    John Moore: May I ask you about my own response to the play?

    Edward Albee: Sure, of course.

    John Moore: Upon my first reading, I assumed this was a play about Martin’s wife, Stevie. She was being put in the petri dish as an experiment to explore the gradations of infidelity, and specifically a woman’s reaction to being cheated upon.

    Edward Albee: You must understand that her reaction would be quite different if it were another woman, rather than a female goat.

    edward albee quoteJohn Moore: Absolutely. Which is why I want to ask how you came to decide not to make this a story about another woman, but instead push the limits and see how people respond to a husband falling in love with a goat?

    Edward Albee: I want people to imagine the unimaginable. I want them to consider what they don’t think they should be able to consider. I want people to break down the barriers of convenience that they have built up for themselves.

    John Moore: I saw in the goat a metaphor for everything we as a society find unacceptable in the behavior of others.

    Edward Albee: Yeah, but never forget – it’s also a real goat. It’s not a metaphorical goat.

    John Moore: But I am assuming you want us to consider our attitudes about forbidden loves of all kinds.

    Edward Albee: Of course.

    edward albee quote 1John Moore:  That was driven home for me this weekend when I went to see two movies: Closer and Kinsey. I thought they both spoke to some of the same issues you raise in The Goat.

    Edward Albee: I didn’t see Closer because I didn’t like the play when I saw it in London. But I saw Kinsey, and I thought it was a pretty good movie.

    John Moore: Did you see in that movie some parallels to The Goat?

    Edward Albee: Now that you mention it, I guess so, sure. The other interesting thing is that every once in a while people would get up and walk out during The Goat. I didn’t have an intermission, so that made it harder for people to sneak out. That’s not why I didn’t have an intermission. I just felt the intensity of the play would be broken if we had one. But here’s the thing: More people would walk out when Billy kissed his father.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: More so than the revelation that Martin was sleeping with a goat?

    Edward Albee: Yes. Even more so than when we talked about the sexual implications of the crucifixion. More people walked out after the kiss.

    John Moore: What do you think that says about us?

    Edward Albee: That it’s a knee-jerk reaction.  That’s something we can react to with social approval.  

    John Moore: When you think about the list of all lingering societal taboos, do you find that homosexuality is still the biggest?

    edward albee Tree Tall WomenEdward Albee: That’s the one society is taking a stand on, and I think that is the result of this recent (2004 presidential) election. That kind of reaction is socially acceptable, in the same way that lynching black people used to be.

    (Pictured right: The DCPA Theatre Company's production of 'Three Tall Women' in 1997.)

    John Moore: When you say that … when you acknowledge that … what does it do to your spirit? You have been addressing these taboos in very provocative ways for 40 years, and yet it’s 2004…

    Edward Albee: Well the good thing about it is it keeps giving me stuff to write about. (laughs). You know, we all hope that people will start behaving the way we want them to, and some problems will go away. But people don’t pay any attention to it … so I keep writing plays.

    edward albee quoteJohn Moore: Your play has a title – The Goat – and a subtitle – Who Is Sylvia? – and a sub-subtitle – Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy. The Greek origin of the word ‘tragedy’ is ‘goat-song’ – and you have a character named Billy, which is similar to ‘Billy goat.’ Did all of that have anything to do with your choice of a goat, as opposed to any other animal? Or was it just a coincidence?

    Edward Albee: That was just a wonderful accident. I named the son Billy before I consciously realized that I could use ‘Billy goat’ as a joke. I probably made an unconscious decision.

    John Moore: Well it’s a wonderful accident.

    Edward Albee: Except that it’s not an accident. It’s a conscious accident. I don’t think there are any accidents.

    John Moore: You must be tired of talking about The Goat. And yet it must be fascinating for you to watch as your work rolls out into the heartland, where it is new to everyone.

    edward albee quoteEdward Albee: Yeah, but Denver is not a terrible city for theatre.

    John Moore: I wanted to ask you about your continuing and very active interest in the companies that produce your work all over the country. You are one of the only playwrights of your stature who still insists on casting approval for all your plays. Why it still so important for you to be concerned with what companies around the country do with your material?

    Edward Albee: Because it’s my play, and I am leasing it to them to produce it. I am anxious to get the best actors and the most accurate production I can get. That’s why I am interested in who the actors are, and who the director is.

    John Moore: Has that always been the case with you?

    Edward Albee: Oh, yeah. My first producer, Richard Barr, encouraged me to take a very active hand in everything, including set design. He kept reminding me: “It’s your play. That’s the reason everybody is in the room.”

    John Moore: Was there some early disaster that prompted all of this?

    Edward Albee: Well there was one experiment where I let the producers and the director, everybody, have a free hand – and it was an absolute disaster. So I learned pretty quickly that I can’t do that.

    John Moore: You never contemplate retirement, do you?

    Edward Albee: What is retirement? I do what I like, pretty much. I am happy writing plays. I am happy getting involved in their productions, and directing, and helping younger playwrights. I suppose I would retire if my mind collapsed. I’ll be 77 in a month and a half, and I keep wondering when middle age is going to end.

    John Moore: Final question: What do you think is the state of the new American theatre right now?

    Edward Albee: Here’s a very simple rule: One out of every 100 plays that is written should be written. The other 99 should not. Maybe one out of every 10 plays that gets produced is worth producing. There is some good stuff, but there is a lot of dross. There are an awful lot of eager and ambitious and sometimes enormously talented people out there. The problem is not with the quality of the work that can be done. The problem is with the quality of the work that is being done to appease an audience that doesn’t want to have its mind strengthened. It’s not the availability of good stuff, but the choice that theatres make and what they do to sell tickets, rather than to educate an audience. That’s a big problem.

    (Pictured above right: Two local productions of 'Seascape': Billie McBride and John Ashton for Modern Muse in 2007, above; Jennifer Condreay and Jim Hunt for Lake Dillon Theatre Company in 2011, below.)

    John Moore: Would you say that ratio is about the same as it was when you started 40 years ago? Or has the advent of computers made it worse?

    Edward Albee: I think probably economics has made it worse. When we did Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway in 1962, it cost $48,000 to produce it. Now this new production that we are about to open in Boston is going to cost $1.5 million. We did The Zoo Story together with Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape off-Broadway in 1960 for $2,000. Now it would cost half a million. And so economics have made cowards of knaves.

    John Moore: I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

    Edward Albee: No, apparently everybody likes to pay too much for tickets and especially they like to pay too much if they are not seeing anything.

    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 Plays of Edward Albee:
    The Zoo Story (1958)
    The Death of Bessie Smith (1959)
    The Sandbox (1959)
    Fam and Yam (1959)
    The American Dream (1960)
    Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1961–1962)
    The Ballad of the Sad Café (1963)
    Tiny Alice (1964)
    Malcolm (1965)
    A Delicate Balance (1966)
    Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966)
    Everything in the Garden (1967)
    Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1968)
    All Over (1971)
    Seascape (1974)
    Listening (1975)
    Counting the Ways (1976)
    The Lady from Dubuque (1977–1979)
    Lolita (1981)
    The Man Who Had Three Arms (1981)
    Finding the Sun (1983)
    Marriage Play (1986–1987)
    Three Tall Women (1990–1991)
    The Lorca Play (1992)
    Fragments (1993)
    The Play About the Baby (1996)
    Occupant (2001)
    The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002)
    Knock! Knock! Who's There!? (2003)
    Peter & Jerry, retitled in 2009 to At Home at the Zoo (2004)
    Me Myself and I (2007)


     

     

  • Ann Guilbert: Denver's next-door neighbor passes away

    by John Moore | Jul 26, 2016
    Remembering Ann Guilbert

    A photo retrospective of Ann Guilbert's stage work at the Denver Center. To see more, press the forward arrow on the image above.


    Ann Guilbert was best known in the 1960s as America’s next-door neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show. But over 11 years, she was Denver’s next-door neighbor, performing in 14 plays on multiple Denver Center stages.

    “Annie was absolutely typecast as the friendly neighbor,” said longtime DCPA Theatre Company stage manager Chris Ewing. “She would literally go around backstage asking people, ‘Do you need a cup of sugar?’ ”

    ann-guilbert-waiting-for-godot-160Guilbert, who played perky Millie Helper on the classic TV sit-com from 1961-66, died of cancer on June 14 in Los Angeles. She was 87.

    “She was a great lady,” said Jacqueline Antaramian, Guilbert's frequent acting partner in Denver. “Always with a kind heart, good humor, a gracious presence and a beautiful soul.“

    Guilbert (pronounced “Gilbert”) acknowledged and appreciated America’s recognition of her as Millie, Ewing said. “But she was so much more than that as a theatre person.” 

    Guilbert performed in several seminal DCPA productions between 1984-94. She played Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker play (a precursor to the musical Hello, Dolly!), Estragon opposite Kathleen M. Brady in a gender-bending Waiting for Godot, and Miss Helen in Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca. She also helped launch the Denver world premieres of two plays from Mark Harelik’s The Immigrant series, which the DCPA later developed into a musical.

    “She was the ultimate pro,” Ewing said. “She would come in with her lines memorized before the first rehearsal. As you might expect, she was also a natural comic, and she could break the tension in a room with a one-liner.”

    She was also, added former DCPA crew member Michelle Olguin, everyone’s favorite smoke buddy.

    Ann Guilbert Waiting for GodotKathleen M. Brady and Ann Guilbert in 'Waiting for Godot' at the DCPA in 1988.


    Guilbert’s final performance at the Denver Center was a personal and innovative retrospective of her life and career called Life Lines, directed and developed by Randal Myler. It was an evening of favorite poems that, when strung together, reflected a chronological tapestry of Guilbert’s life covering romances to childbirth to her life on the stage. It was an expansion of a Guilbert’s own teaching technique - she would often give her acting students poems and ask them to act them out.

    “I've been extremely lucky over the years to work with some fine, fine actresses, but none finer than Annie Guilbert,” Myler said. “On and off stage, Annie was truly remarkable. So full of life. We all loved her so much.”

    A year after Life Lines, Guilbert returned to Broadway in the comedy A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, starring Jill Clayburgh and Richard Thomas. It was her first Broadway appearance since making her debut in The Billy Barnes Revue 46 years earlier. TV Producer Carl Reiner saw Guilbert’s performance in that show and remembered her when he was casting The Dick Van Dyke Show.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Guilbert’s road to Denver, like so many others', went through Santa Maria, Calif., where she met and worked with future longtime DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Donovan Marley at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. While still a busy TV actor, Guilbert sought out stage work to feed her creative soul, and she later joined Marley’s artistic pilgrimage to Denver.

    “She was like a diamond falling in Donovan’s lap,” Ewing said.  

    Antaramian quote 3Antaramian first worked with Guilbert at the PCPA on Marley’s production of Blood Wedding. It was directed by Laird Williamson and designed by Andrew Yelusich – two others who would become key figures in DCPA Theatre Company history. “I will never forget that experience for a myriad of reasons,” said Antarmian, who played The Wife opposite Harelik in that play. “It blew everyone's mind who saw it. It was truly one for the American Theatre history books.” 

    Seven years later in Denver, Guilbert and Antaramian starred in the DCPA’s The Road to Mecca, the apartheid-era story of an elderly South African named Miss Helen fighting for the freedom to live on her own and express herself artistically.

    “I was maybe 27 at the time; still growing into who I was going to be as an actress and human being,” said Antaramian, whose character championed Miss Helen’s cause. “Playing that role was very challenging, and Annie was my exceptional partner and mentor.

    "She was a true example of what it was to have grace, intelligence, humor and heart as you navigate through a beautiful, difficult journey of storytelling," added Antaramian, who is currently playing Volumnia in Coriolanus at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

    Guilbert also performed frequently at the Denver Center with her second husband, the vaudevillian comic Guy Raymond, who died in 1997. He won rave reviews for his performance opposite his wife in The Immigrant plays, which later toured the country.

    "When we get on stage, there's a chemistry involved that wouldn't be there between two people who weren't married," Raymond told The Los Angeles Times in 1996. "An arch of an eyebrow has meaning to us. It's very easy - and it's fun."

    Guilbert was born Oct. 16, 1928, in Minneapolis. She graduated from Stanford University’s Department of Speech and Drama, where she met the producer and actor George Eckstein. They married and had two daughters who survive her: Actor Hallie Todd and Nora Eckstein, a writer, actor and acting teacher. The couple divorced in 1966.

    In the 1990s, Guilbert was a regular on the CBS sitcom The Nanny playing Fran Drescher’s feisty grandmother, Yetta. She was in Nicole Holofcener’s 2010 movie Please Give, a Sundance Film Festival selection, and on the HBO series Getting On. Most recently, she appeared on the CBS comedy Life in Pieces.

    “The world is a bit dimmer without Annie in it,” said Antaramian. “But her light graces all of us who knew her and had the great fortune to work with her, laugh with her and be around her.”   

    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.

    News reports contributed to this report.

    Ann Guilbert at the Denver Center:
    Play, role, season
    Female Entertainer, The Old Woman, 1984-85
    The Immigrant, Ima Perry, 1984-85
    Woman Without a Name, Woman, 1985
    The Immigrant, Ima Perry, 1985-86
    Koozy's Piece, Grammie 1987-88
    A Lie of the Mind, Lorraine, 1987-88
    Holiday Memories, Ms. Prothro and Woman, 1987-88
    Waiting for Godot, Estragon, 1988-89
    Matchmaker, Dolly Levi, 1988-89
    The Road to Mecca, Miss Helen, 1989-90
    Three Men on a Horse, Mabel, 1989-90
    Arsenic & Old Lace, Abby Brewster, 1991-92
    To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie Atkinson, 1991-92
    Lifelines, as herself, 1993-94

    Click here to see Ann Guilbert's full TV and movie resume on IMDB.com
  • Former hostage Thomas Sutherland is freed a second time

    by John Moore | Jul 26, 2016
    a-tom-sutherland-1 Jean and Tom Sutherland at the Bas Bleu Theatre's 'Burn the Mortgage' party. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Former Colorado State University professor, arts benefactor and occasional actor Thomas Sutherland was held hostage in Beirut for more than six years - or 2,353 agonizing days. The genial Scotsman said he contemplated suicide several times during his ordeal, but he was repeatedly brought back from the edge of despair by the lyrical poetry of Scotsman Robert Burns.

    If there is another world, he lives in bliss.
    If there is none, he made the best of this.


    In 2003, at the age of 72, the indefatigable Sutherland made his first foray into acting, starring in in Athol Fugard's play A Lesson From Aloes at the Bas Bleu Theatre in his adopted home of Fort Collins. The apartheid play explores how the relationships between an elderly white couple and their black friend are strained by South African repression. Sutherland said performing in the play was a way to repay Burns and other artists whose work helped him through the ordeal.

    Sutherland died Friday (July 22), in Fort Collins. He was 85.

    Seeing Sutherland in his final days, friend Wendy Ishii was reminded of Sutherland's time as a hostage, wanting nothing more than freedom.

    "He asked to have the window open and I thought, 'He just wants to fly out of here,'" said Ishii, co-founder of the Bas Bleu Theatre. "Now he has."

    Sutherland was Dean of Agriculture at the American University in Beirut when he was kidnapped near his home on June 9, 1985, by Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah terrorists wanting U.S. military forces out of the bloody Lebanese civil war. He was released on Nov. 18, 1991.

    In the introduction to the book At Your Own Risk, President George Bush said of Sutherland, "Tom is a true American hero. He was a hostage, yes, but he never felt sorry for himself, nor did he complain of his situation. He inspired us all with his grit and his unfailing faith in God and his country."

    a-tom-sutherland-400Thomas Sutherland was born May 3, 1931, in Falkirk, Scotland. He earned degree in Agriculture from Glasgow University, and a master's degree and PhD in animal breeding from Iowa State University. He then taught animal science at Colorado State University for 26 years.

    He moved to Beirut in 1983 for a three-year term at the American University in Beirut. He stayed despite the assassination of University President Malcolm H. Kerr and the kidnapping of Professor Frank Reiger in 1984. Sutherland later said his kidnappers mistook him for University President Calvin Plimpton.

    (Pictured above right: Former Denver Broncos player Earlie Thomas, Thomas Sutherland and Wendi Ishii in Bas Bleu Theatre's 'A Lesson from Aloes.')

    In June 2001, the Sutherland family won a $323 million verdict in a lawsuit against the frozen assets of the government of Iran, because of evidence that Iran had directed terrorists to kidnap Americans in Lebanon. Sutherland and his family received $35 million from frozen Iranian assets. Sutherland liked to joke that he was on "an extended vacation paid for by the Shah of Iran.”

    Sutherland used his settlement for a variety of public uses. He underwrote the initial $1.1 million purchase of the historic Giddings Building in Fort Collins, which provided a new home for the Bas Bleu Theatre Company. Sutherland pledged $500,000 of that himself.

    On Nov. 19, 2011, the Bas Bleu Theatre christened its playing space as the Tom Sutherland Stage. Ishii said the Sutherland name will be used "to help carry forward his legacy of love and fostering of this energetic and optimistic place, Fort Collins, with Tom's name gracing our voices."

    Bas Bleu board member Peter Springberg once asked Sutherland how his life had changed since his release from captivity, and the subsequent award of so much cash.

    "He thought a moment, then said, 'We still live in the same house. Once in a while I buy a better bottle of bourbon. But mostly, I get to give away more money to deserving nonprofits." 

    Sutherland is survived by his wife, Jean; with whom he co-authored memories of his hostage experience in the book At Your Own Risk. The book tells each of their stories in alternating chapters. Jean Sutherland,  who taught English at the American University while her husband was held captive, said their goal in writing in writing the book was to show that "the situation was an enormity between hostages, hostage-takers, governments and families of hostages.”

    There were times during his captivity when Sutherland thought of Jean and said, "Am I really married to that woman? God, how could I have been so lucky? It took me a long time to convince myself that I really was married to Jean.”

    They have three daughters Kit (Scott Kintz); Joan Sutherland Sears (Mike Sears); Ann Sutherland (Ray Keller). On Valentine's Day, 1988, as he lay shackled to a wall in a windowless cell, Sutherland read in a Beirut newspaper that grandchild had been born to his daughter, Ann. After his release, he met his son-in-law, Keller, for the first time. His first meal as a free man was mince and patties, a Scottish specialty of ground beef over mashed potatoes.

    Sutherland told the New York Times that fellow hostage Terry Waite was "a great, great guy - even though his snoring was unbearable." And he said Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press at the time of his capture, taught him how to play bridge and chess. In return, Sutherland taught Anderson how to speak French, and a bit about agriculture.

    “I spent six years out of the seven years I was in captivity with Tommy,” Anderson told The Associated Press on Saturday. “We were kept in the same cells and sometimes on the same chain. Whenever they moved us, generally Tommy would show up with me. He was a kind and gentle man.” 

    Anderson said Sutherland “was a guy who remembered everyone he ever met. He never forgot anyone. I don’t know how he did it. He was such a people person that he remembered everybody. When we were in prison, we would sit and talk about things we had done and places he had gone. He always talked about the people he met there, and he remembered them. He was a very, very good man.”

    Colorado State University President Tony Frank, called Sutherand's homecoming in 1991 "One of the greatest moments in the history of Colorado State University. His spirit and optimism inspired the world, and the deep devotion of his family during the bleak years he was a hostage taught us a profound lesson of courage, faith, and hope."

    Jacques Rieux of Fort Collins, who edited At Your Own Risk, said Sutherland was not just another hostage. "He was one of us," Rieux said. "He suffered horribly as a hostage, but he had few choices to make during his ordeal. Jean was the one who had choices to make. The public image she presented showed dignity and courage. She refused to play the victim card. She showed no self-pity and expressed no bitterness. I was amazed at how she could maintain such composure. Ultimately, they won because they did not let the events in Beirut warp them. That would have been an irreparable loss.

    "Tom and Jean are wonderful people who appreciate the simple things in life: A beautiful sunset, a glass of wine, time with friends. They are a blessing to the town.”

    A public celebration of Sutherland's life will be held in mid-August.

    The following is an interview with Thomas Sutherland and Terry Anderson by Theatre Critic John Moore originally published in The Denver Post in 2008:


    Tom Sutherland: Humanity held hostage
    By John Moore

    As fellow Beirut hostages Tom Sutherland and Terry Anderson sat bound to a wall in near- total darkness year after endless year, they told stories to keep each other alive. Their captors could chain their bodies, but they could not chain their minds.

    Anderson, the Associated Press war correspondent, helped Sutherland picture how a differential transmission worked, without benefit of pencil or paper. Sutherland, the Colorado State University prof, in turn taught Anderson agricultural science and French.

    “We spent hours practicing irregular verbs — to the utter dismay and horror of those we were pent up with,” Anderson says with a grim laugh.

    For six years. A combined 4,808 days.

    “If it hadn’t been for Terry, I probably would have committed suicide,” said Sutherland, who was a dean at the American University in Beirut when he was kidnapped by Iranian- backed Shiite Hezbollah terrorists wanting U.S. military forces out of the bloody Lebanese civil war.

    “Every time I got discouraged and put my head down on the pillow and said, ‘I’m done with all this,’ Terry encouraged me, and that’s the reason I am alive today.”

    They read “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad” and “Darkness at Midnight.”

    “Can you imagine reading a book about a man stuck in a basement prison in Siberia, while you are sitting in a basement prison in the Bekaa Valley?” Anderson said.

    But of all the lifesaving literature these bound brothers scavenged like bread, one line echoes most resoundingly in Anderson’s mind, 17 years after their 1991 release. And it’s a line Vietnam-era “Pogo” cartoonist Walt Kelly put into the mouth of a possum:

    “We have met the enemy — and he is us.”

    Anderson, the longest-held of 54 civilian Beirut captives from 12 nations, is angered and bewildered that it’s now the United States that’s detaining and, he says, torturing suspects as a matter of approved policy.

    “It is wrong. It is evil, there is no question about it,” Anderson said. “To have a government that not only condones (torture), but excuses it and practices it, is shameful. I am very proud of my country, but I am ashamed of this government. We are not supposed to be the ones who are doing this sort of crap.”

    Anderson, speaking from his home in Ohio, joined Sutherland on a conference call to talk about their captivity, the bond that still tethers them in ways far mightier than any chain, and their common disgust with the Iraq war.

    They also talked about fellow hostage Brian Keenan, whose story was turned into the drama “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me,” opening Saturday at Bas Bleu Theatre in Sutherland’s hometown of Fort Collins. It’s about the friendship that Keenan, an Irishman, developed with Englishman John McCarthy while in captivity. An American character is said to be somewhat based on Anderson.

    Anderson, a theater major at NYU and a Marine in Vietnam, first saw the play in New York in 1992. Last summer he watched the film adaptation, “Blind Flight,” at Keenan’s home in Ireland. Sutherland served as consultant on productions of the play by the Denver Center Theatre Company and University of Northern Colorado.

    The message of the play is now the mantra of these men: When one man unjustly imprisons any other, he holds not only the human hostage, but humanity itself.

    “It’s about what a trauma it is to be kidnapped, but how it’s possible to survive with humor and argumentation and by supporting each other,” Sutherland said.

    In the play, Keenan has an epiphany of understanding when his character says, “Just as I was chained in darkness for almost five years, my captors were chained to their guns in a profound darkness I could see into. Tell me now — who is the prisoner here?”

    Anderson, now 60, and Sutherland, 76, have a much less sympathetic opinion of their captors. Sutherland believes they were cowards, and that if not for the guns, “every last one of them would have skedaddled out of there.”

    Anderson remembers when one of his captors once said to him, “We’re prisoners, too.”

    “And I said, ‘Well, that’s just fine. Give me the gun, and you take the chain,’ ” he said. “Of course, they are prisoners of their violence and their own mental blindness. But the guy with the chains and the blindfold? He’s the prisoner. The guy with the gun? He’s not.”

    After his release, Sutherland returned to Fort Collins and served as professor emeritus at CSU for a period of life the genial Scotsman jovially refers to as his “extended vacation paid for by the Shah of Iran” — after being awarded $35 million in frozen Iranian assets. Anderson also won a multimillion-dollar judgment, which he used in part to build schools in Vietnam.

    He’s also co-chair, along with former CBS-TV news anchor Walter Cronkite, of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since March 2003, 125 journalists and 49 media workers have been killed in Iraq — most of them Arabs, Iraqis and Syrians working for Western news agencies.

    “This is the most dangerous war that journalists have ever covered, by far,” Anderson said. “Eighty percent of the murders of journalists around the world are never investigated. No one is ever arrested. No one is ever convicted. Journalists are fair game in many places around the world, because … dictators and oppressors always go for the press first. Always.”

    Civilians are still being kidnapped, tortured and killed. Anderson and Sutherland empathize with anyone of any nationality thrust into the struggle to maintain one’s humanity in an inhumane situation.

    “You do it through force of will,” Anderson said. “You use everything you have ever learned and truly believe in — and you refuse to budge from that. As we used to say, ‘They cannot take your dignity, no matter what they do. You can only give it to them.’ ”

    But the U.S. now finds itself in a confusing imbroglio that looks far too much to Anderson like 1985 Lebanon.

    “We are involved in what is essentially a civil war in Iraq,” he said. “We don’t have any idea who our friends or who our enemies are. Does this sound familiar to anyone? We don’t apparently learn our lessons very well in American foreign policy.”

    He’s referring to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ refusal to rule out waterboarding and other techniques deemed torture by the Geneva Convention.

    “Not only is it morally insupportable and inexcusable — it doesn’t work,” he said. “Where we got into this evil charade, I don’t know, but we are now a country that as a matter of policy not only tortures its prisoners, but we conspire to ship them out of any jurisdiction where the law might interfere.”

    Why the citizenry does not stand up against such practices may be tied to the fact that primetime TV shows like “24” offer increasingly absurd examples of prisoner torture for our amusement.

    “When torture becomes entertainment, we’re sick,” said Anderson.

    “I think the U.S. has become less than it was in many ways, and that’s a shame.”

  • Cancer 'the only thing' that could have beat Amy Malmgren

    by John Moore | Jul 26, 2016

    amy-malmgren-denver-actors-fund-800
    Amy Malmgren at the very first Denver Actors Fund seed-gathering fundraiser on June 1, 2013. Photo by John Moore.


    Amy Malmgren of Highlands Ranch beat Stage 4 cancer in 2014. So when doctors delivered a new and unrelated Stage 4 diagnosis less than a year later, she took on the challenge with her typical quiet and confident determination.

    “I beat the highest stage of cancer in just four months,” she said at the time, “and I will beat it again.”

    This would just be the newest Herculean obstacle in Malmgren’s path, and the most recent she would take on with good cheer and a ferocious faith.

    “God and I are tight,” she wrote on her Facebook profile to summarize her religious views.

    amy-malmgren-quoteMalmgren, one of three inaugural board members of the Denver Actors Fund, died Wednesday night. She was also founder and CEO of Loops Media and a cheerful performer in the massive annual Magic Moments music revues in Denver.  She was 41.

    “Words don't do justice to the level of human being she was,” friend Jamie Spicer Anderson wrote on her Facebook page.

    Malmgren, a 1993 graduate of Arvada High School and in 2007 from Metro State University, was a single mother of three – from a wheelchair. She was paralyzed in a near-death car accident 24 years ago.

    Since then, Malmgren has battled infection, illness and worked tirelessly to help overcome the public stigma of living with a disability. All while raising three young men, including two now 17-year-old twins, Dev and Dominic Elliott. Her eldest son is 25-year-old Joseph Lewton.

    “Cancer is the only thing to ever beat Amy,” said Malmgren’s sister-in-law, Heather Gregg Spillman. “She was the strongest person I've ever known.”

    In July 2014, Malmgren was diagnosed with bladder cancer. After a strict regimen of chemotherapy and radical surgery, doctors miraculously declared her cancer-free by October. But cancer returned eight months later, again as Stage 4. It metastasized from her lymph nodes and spread into her small intestines and bones.

    “Life is crazy sometimes,” she said at the time. “We don’t get to choose all our paths, or I certainly wouldn’t have chosen cancer. But here I am again.”

    amy-malmgren-denver-actors-fund-familyMagic Moments is an annual revue of Broadway and pop songs that provides up to 150 physically or mentally challenged actors the opportunity to perform alongside able-bodied castmates. It is performed each year in the spirit of inclusion and equality.

    “My son Dom was doing Magic Moments, and he talked me into getting in,” Malmgren said. “That’s what really brought me back into the theatre. I loved it. Magic Moments is a fabulous community to stumble across.”

    (Pictured right: Amy Malmgren with her sons Joseph Lewton, Dev Elliott and Dominic Elliott.)

    Magic Moments Director KQ Quintana said he had been planning to design the 2017  revue around Malmgren until her cancer returned.

    "She was a delight to work with because she was always prepared, and she made rehearsals go better with her positive attitude," Quintana said. "And she was good. She could sing and act."

    Malmgren, born Feb. 8, 1975, sat on several boards, preferring to concentrate on issues that impact the health, independence and quality of life of individuals living with spinal-cord injury or disease. It was a passion for advocacy that took her from Washington D.C. to Italy.

    When she attended the Denver Actors Fund’s inaugural karaoke fundraiser three years ago, she rolled right up to founder John Moore and offered her financial and accounting services. Malmgren was named Treasurer of the Board of Directors. In the three years since, the non-profit organization has raised $117,000 to help members of the local theatre community in situational medical need. In April, Denver Actors Fund President Brenda Billings died of a sudden brain aneurysm.

    “You just can’t measure the toll of losing two incredible life forces like Amy and Brenda back-to-back,” said Moore. “At a time when this little non-profit was nothing more than an idea, this very small group of people stepped up to the plate and willed it into being.”

    Although in Malmgren’s case, it was more like she rolled up to the plate.

    “She came straight up to me and said, ‘I want in,'" Moore said. "Without that kind of can-do spirit, we never would have gotten off the ground.”

    amy-malmgren-denver-actors-fund-8002Family, Spillman said, meant the world to Malmgren.

    “I'll miss performing with her and cheering our kids on together,” she wrote this morning. “I'll miss our annual giggle-fest on Christmas night. I'll miss going dancing with her. That was our favorite thing to do. I'll miss our two-hour phone conversations where we'd cover everything from our kids to a TV show we both liked to politics. I'll miss going shopping with her. I'll miss traveling to Cabo with her. I'll miss celebrating our birthdays together. I'll miss preparing a family meal together. I'll miss her being late to everything. I'll miss putting her wheelchair in the back of my car. I'll miss her shining example of how to be the best kind of person. I'll miss Amy.”

    (Pictured above right: Amy Malmgren, front left, appeared on 'In Focus with Eden Lane' (back right) on behalf of the Denver Actors Fund at the Town Hall Arts Center in 2014.)

    Spillman said Malmgren was a natural at disarming some people’s discomfort with disability. “I'll miss watching the ease she had with kids when they were curious about her chair,” she said.

    Malmgren is also survived by her brothers, Jason and Mike Spillman; parents Scott Malmgren and Janet Benson; stepfather Mike Benson; stepmother Stacy Malmgren; and many aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

    "This world has lost a shining light today," Jason Spillman wrote on his Facebook page today. "My heart is heavy but I am glad that my beloved sister Amy is out of pain. She told me a few days ago, 'I will save you a good seat.' "

    A celebration of Malmgren's life will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4, at First Plymouth Congregational Church, 3501 S. Colorado Blvd, Cherry Hills Village, CO, 80113. Attendees are asked to wear purple. MAP IT


  • Wally Larson held his theatre students to a higher standard - proudly

    by John Moore | Apr 22, 2016
    Wally Larson. Courtesy of Heather Larson Fritton.
    Photo courtesy of Heather Larson Fritton.


    There was real meaning behind the mundanity whenever legendary high-school theatre teacher Wally Larson told a student to go “sweep the stage.”

    At some point, everyone was made to sweep the stage, from the star to the spotlight operator.

    Wally Larson Quote  Beth Malone“Only later did I recognize this for the Zen act it really was,” said Tony Award-nominated actor Beth Malone (Fun Home), a graduate of Douglas County High School. “It was a way to keep our budding egos in check. It created a level playing field.”

    “Sweeping the stage” meant that everyone was expected to get involved, added Larson’s daughter, Heather Larson Fritton. “Everyone was expected to help build the sets, paint the sets and tear them down. And yes, sometimes, you had to sweep the stage.” That in a nutshell, is what made her father an extraordinary teacher.

    “He made every star do technical work, and he made every technical student feel like a star,” she said. “He made everyone feel special.”

    Larson died April 6 after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 75.

    Larson taught theatre at Douglas County High School and Highlands Ranch High School for a combined 33 years. Over that time, he directed 173 school productions. His hundreds of students have included Malone, Broadway actor Kurt Domoney (A Chorus Line), longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor Kathleen McCall, DCPA Teaching Artists Brian Landis Folkins and Brian McManus, and area actors Kenny Moten, Damon Guerrasio and Trina Magness.

    “His style of mentorship was treating you like you were capable - therefore making you capable," Malone said.

    Malone keeps thinking back to one particular afternoon when it was just she and Larson and a table saw.

    “We were on the stage and he had a pile of 1x4s that he needed ripped in half,” she said. Malone had never operated Larson’s loud and powerful table saw before, but Larson worked with Malone over and over until they had produced a perfect pile of 1x2s.

    “I had a feeling we had accomplished something together as a team,” Malone said. “It was stupid, but it gave me such a feeling of satisfaction and ‘grown-up-ness’ that he would assume I was a reliable-enough assistant to trust with this job. That was how he got you.” 

    Wally LarsonMcCall said Larson pushed her harder than any teacher, mentor, director or friend than she has ever had.

    “Mr. Larson was an intense man, a perfectionist, and he was passionate about the work and the kids he taught," said McCall, who is currently playing the Beggar Woman in the DCPA Theatre Company’s Sweeney Todd. "He was demanding, and he never let us think for a moment that we were just doing ‘high-school theatre.’ He set the bar high - and we rose to the occasion.”

    Fritton said Larson also was a champion of teenagers who had bad home lives.

    “My father left the theatre open at night and on weekends so kids would always have a place to go,” she said. “He also made sure the theatre was open on prom night so that the kids who didn’t have a date would have a place to go and have fun.”

    Larson, McCall said simply, “helped me find my home inside the walls of a theatre." 

    Larson was never much of a drinker, but he didn’t want his students to drink, and he didn't want his own children to, either. So he led by his own example and gave up alcohol in the mid-1980s. He asked every student to sign a pledge promising not to drink, smoke or chew tobacco while working on one of his theatre productions.

    “He held his theatre kids to a higher standard,” Fritton said. “Proudly.”

    Son Brady calls Larson “an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat of a man. He was a husband, father, grandfather, theatre teacher and a Colorado Rockies baseball enthusiast who worked blissfully at Coors Field after his retirement.”

    Wally Larson
    Wally Larson in hic classroom. Photo courtesy of Heather Larson Fritton.


    Wallace Alfred Larson was born Aug. 21, 1940, on the family farm near Pelican Rapids, Minn. His father, Alf, was a farmer, and his mother, Mildred, a schoolteacher. Wally and siblings JoAnn, Richard and Dale attended a one-room schoolhouse through 6th grade.  He graduated from Pelican Rapids High School in 1958 and spent two years at Dakota Business College. He then enrolled at at Moorhead State College, where he met the two great loves of his life: Theatre and Diane Monear.

    The couple were married in the summer of 1965 and moved to Littleton to pursue careers as teachers. They marked their 50th anniversary last summer by taking the whole family to a cabin retreat in Battle Lake, Minn. Wally and Diane privately celebrated, Fritton said, by sneaking off for a moonlight fishing trip.

    Wally Larson QuoteThe Larsons raised three children - Brady, Heather, and Drew - and Fritton said being born of two teachers came with high expectations. “If I ever came home with an A-minus," she said, "they would ask why it wasn’t an A."

    It’s no coincidence, she believes, that the children of these two teachers grew up to become a writer, an actor and an artist.

    “Having a general thirst for knowledge of the world was always part of our upbringing,” Fritton said. The Larsons were the kind of family that would take road trips, and actually stop and read the informational signs at every rest stop.

    Larson enjoyed acting as a young man and never wanted to teach anything other than theatre. He was hired at Douglas County High School in 1966 and directed his first all-school musical the next year: Bye Bye Birdie.

    On most Saturday mornings, Wally would drive all of his children to school, where they would help paint and build sets while mom sewed costumes.

    Summertime was family time. “We spent many summers on road trips and visits to the lakes in Minnesota, camping and family bike rides,” Brady said. “He was a loving and involved father. He proudly attended many school plays, dance recitals, choir concerts, art shows, and was always up for a game of catch.”

    Larson gave his theatre students the challenge – and in some cases the unprecedented opportunity – to take on meaningful, consequential and sometimes controversial stage titles such as Carnival, Equus, Man of La Mancha, The Foreigner, Noises Off and Into the Woods.

    Wally Larson 8003“His favorite plays were the really hard plays that you typically don’t see high-school theatres do,” Fritton said.

    After being present throughout her father’s production of Man of La Mancha, Fritton remembers singing the song Dulcinea to her classmates – her kindergarten classmates. The 5-year-old didn’t realize then the woman in the song is tormented and then brutally raped. “I just thought it was beautiful – and emotional,” Fritton said with a laugh.

    She also saw her father’s Equus at age 8 or 9. That’s the story of a boy who blinds six horses with a metal spike after attempting to make love for the first time. “I didn’t realize what the story was about,” Fritton said, “but I just loved watching my dad pull that kind of intensity out of his students.”

    After 22 years at Douglas County High School, Larson took on the challenge of building a new theatre program from scratch at Highlands Ranch High School, where he worked for another 11 years.

    He was proud whenever his graduates made it to Broadway, but that was never his barometer for success, Fritton said.

    “He didn’t care whether they ended up in the theatre,” she said. “He wanted them to go out and live successful lives in whatever fields they chose.”

    Larson’s retirement in 1998 led to his second dream job - with the Colorado Rockies, which lasted another 16 years. “He started at the gate, and then became supervisor of the Rock Pile seating section in center field,” Brady said. “He quickly moved up to the Command Center Team Leader, where he was in charge of emergency dispatch - all the while having an incredible view of every home game.”

    Larson enjoyed working on his land, trimming trees, gardening with his wife and taking cross-country road trips. He was also the grandfather of six. “He taught them important life lessons such as how to gather firewood, how to build a tree house - and how to yell at a fishing pole!” Brady said.

    Larson spent his final week taking in spring-training baseball games in Arizona. “He was relaxing by the pool alongside his kids and grandkids, with hope eternal for a winning Rockies season,” Brady said.

    McCall said Larson believed theatre has the capacity to hold a mirror up to human nature in all its forms: Beautiful and ugly, confrontational and compassionate. “He challenged us to think and express our beliefs, challenge our assumptions about life, and also allowed us to give joy, and find joy with others and in ourselves,” she said.  

    “And in the midst of creating theatre, the lessons in the costume shop, the scene shop and lighting grid, we learned valuable life lessons. We learned that the only failure is in not trying - that we have more inside of us to give than we can begin to imagine.”

    Malone will never forget seeing her classmate who played Maria in West Side Story sweeping the stage before a performance. “Through these seemingly small acts, he helped us lucky few realize our own innate wisdom and compassion for each other,” Malone said. "But he never said that's what he was doing. ... He just said, ‘Sweep the stage.’ ”

    Larson is survived by his wife Diane; his children, Brady, Heather, and Drew; his grandchildren, Zane, Jack, Norah, Remington, Teagan, and Quinlan; his sister JoAnn Neu (Melvin), and his brothers, Richard (Linda) and Dale (Marsha).


    Memorial Celebration for Wally Larson

    • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 1
    • Denver Center for the Performing Arts
    • Conservatory Theatre (in the Newman Center for Theatre Education)
    • 1101 13th St. (corner of Arapahoe and 13th street. MAP IT

    Memorial contributions

    Donations can be made in Larson’s name to the Educational Theatre Association, which provide scholarships for high school students to pursue theatre studies in college. CLICK HERE. (Please indicate on the donation form that the funds are for Scholarships for Students, and in memory of Wally Larson.)

    Wally Larson
  • Colorado theatre loses Brenda Billings: 'A warrior of acceptance'

    by John Moore | Apr 13, 2016
    Brenda BillingsJust a small part of the Billings family, back row: Jim Billings, Brenda Billings, Jacquie Jo Billings, Jessica Billings Barnette (holding Liam Paul Barnette), Jamie Billings. Front row: Cody Schuyler, Brady Billings, Will Barnette.


    Brenda Billings had her future husband at “I did.”

    It was 1977, and Jim Billings was directing a musical revue for his University of Kansas fraternity. The theme: "Broadway Bound," naturally. He walked into the Pi Phi sorority, where a stranger named Brenda Worley was assigned to be his Musical Director. "Here is this beautiful brunette playing at the piano," Billings said, "and I said to her, ‘Wow. I have never heard that song. Who wrote it?"

    "I did," she said.

    Brenda Billings Jim was a goner.

    Later that same day, Brenda and her friends were laughing as Brenda passed Jim an old photo showing a boy of about 4 years old standing in front of a house. Jim's first reaction? "That looks just like the house where I grew up in Colorado." And then it hit him: "That IS me!" he said. "How did you get that picture of me?"

    Brenda got that picture from her mother, Ruthie Barker. Turns out the mothers of these destined lovers had been sorority sisters at that same Pi Phi house in Kansas decades before. "Ruthie had given Brenda that picture and told her, 'If you ever meet a guy named Jim Billings at college, you can show him this picture.’ "

    Jim and Brenda Billings would soon start not only one of Denver’s most accomplished and beloved theatre families. Together, they have built an extended family that has come to include hundreds of honorary Billings.

    “Our home came to be known as ‘The Gathering Place,’ ” Jim Billings said. “Our children's friends always knew they were welcome at our house, and they always knew they were safe. They knew they could spend the night. And they knew they could talk to us about anything.”

    His mother, Brady Billings said, "was a warrior of acceptance."

    Highlights from the Brenda Billings memorial concert

    She was also the co-Artistic Director at Miners Alley Playhouse, President of the Denver Actors Fund and a longtime contributor to Colorado’s non-profit community.

    Brenda Billings died tonight of complications from a sudden and catastrophic brain hemorrhage that triggered while she was doing what she loves most – conducting auditions for Miners Alley Playhouse’s upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors. She was 57.

    “From stage management and directing to acting, dancing and singing – I am most at home in the theatre,” Billings said last July, when she accepted the presidency of the Denver Actors Fund.

    And so, in a very real way, Billings died at home.

    Brenda BillingsBrenda Billings in rehearsal at Miners Alley Playhouse.

    Brenda and Jim Billings have four grown children: Jessica, Jacquie Jo, Jamie and Brady. Jacquie Jo won a 2014 True West Award for her performance in The Fantasticks, directed by her mother. Jamie Billings performed in the national touring production of Spring Awakening and went on to study direction in London – at her mother’s suggestion. Jessica is a registered nurse, and Brady recently graduated from Marymount Manhattan College. Billings’ brother, Tag, remains a highly sought drummer in the local theatre community. He is married to choreographer Alann Worley. Jim and Brenda Billings have one grandchild, Liam, to daughter Jessica and Will Barnette. The 2-year-old called his grandmother “Baba,” but he wasn’t the only one with an endearing nickname for Brenda.

    See our photo coverage of the Brenda Billings life celebration

    Longtime director Paul Dwyer considered Brenda a sister he took to calling “Brenda Sue Joe Bob” – purely out of love and affection, he said.

    “All she cared about was her family,'' Dwyer said. “And she loved the fact that her family loved the theatre, too. Nothing made her happier than seeing her family doing shows.”

    You Cant Take It With You Theatre Listings Miners Alley PlayhouseShows like Miners Alley Playhouse’s currently running classic comedy You Can’t Take it With You, which will continue through May 1 with daughter Jacquie Jo and her fiancé, Cody Schulyer, among the cast. It even has Jim playing a J-Man at select performances. The production was directed by Jamie Billings, who has returned from London, where she was assisting on a touring production of Hamlet, Who’s There? She has decided to stay home and honor her mother by directing the upcoming Little Shop of Horrors in her place.

    “I think that’s the right thing for me to do,” Jamie said. And a gesture that completes a poignant family circle. It was Brenda who stepped up to direct Hair for the Evergreen Players when her father, the legendary PK Worley, passed away in 2011.

    Tony Award-winner Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots) grew up in and around the Billings family. Like hundreds of others, she was still reeling from the suddenness of the loss.

    Billings lost consciousness at her theatre in Golden and was immediately transported to St. Anthony’s Hospital, where doctors determined a burst vessel had instantly cut off all blood flow to her brain. But Billings’ spirit of giving will continue far beyond her death. She was a full organ and tissue donor, and doctors estimate she will live on in as many as 50 recipients of her kidney, liver, skin, ligaments and more. Her corneas will make it possible for two separate recipients to see again.

    Annaleigh Ashford quoteAshford, who appears on Showtime’s Masters of Sex and will be featured in Fox TV’s upcoming Rocky Horror Picture Show, said her mind immediately went to a verse from Proverbs that she believes describes Billings perfectly: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

    “One of her greatest gifts on this Earth was watching over all of us,” Ashford said. “Only an incredible woman like Brenda could be the matriarch of such a magical group of people I consider family. Her guidance, humor, creativity and love, along with her equally incredible husband, created four beautiful humans who all give to this world more than they take. Her passion for storytelling and art is carried on through all of us who were lucky enough to call her friend. I am blessed and happy to be one of them.”

    Billings was born Sept. 27, 1958, and grew up in a Kansas theatre founded by PK Worley, who came to be known in Colorado as a musician and director with the Evergreen Players. Brenda graduated with a degree in Speech and Drama from the University of Kansas and moved to Colorado in 1983 to marry Jim Billings. Her brother  and father soon followed. That began a long family association between the Worleys and the Evergreen Players, Evergreen Chorale, Colorado Childrens Chorale and other local theatres. In 2013, Brenda Billings and Len Matheo became co-artistic and executive directors of Miners Alley Playhouse.

    “She was as special as her father was - and that is saying something,” said actor Bruce Montgomery, Billings’ longtime friend from her days with the Evergreen Players.

    Deborah Persoff, who recently starred in 4000 Miles at Miners Alley Playhouse, says she recently asked Billings’ advice about navigating the theatre's dark entranceways. “She told me: ‘Do like PK always said: Be Brave.’ ”

    Matheo considered Billings his “work wife.” “It had to be fate that I found a partner who knew about the business of theatre but also was a serious and loving artist herself,” he said. “I thought it was a match made in heaven.”

    Matheo says Billings made him a kinder, gentler person - and a better director. “One of her principles was that we would always put people first, and that we would make an effort to help these people grow as artists,” Matheo said. Toward that end, Miners Alley Playhouse instituted a pay scale that guarantees all actors a minimum stipend of $800 per show, compared to similarly sized companies that often don’t pay actors much more than gas money. "And equal pay for women," Jamie added.

    “Believe me, we weren’t making money, but that was not the most important thing to Brenda,” Jim Billings said. “Our mission is for all of our actors to feel loved and accepted and valued."

    They did it, Matheo said, “because it was the right thing to do.”

    Billings’ recent directing credits include Pump Boys and Dinettes, Godspell, The Fantasticks and Songs for a New World at Miners Alley Playhouse, as well as the critically acclaimed and award-winning Hairspray for the Evergreen Players.

    Daughter Jacquie Jo has been there for almost all of them. She said an everlasting memory will be a poignant moment in The Fantasticks when, each night, Jacquie Jo's character sits i a tree and kisses the ribbon that covers where El Gallo had given her a bruise.

    Every night I knew exactly the spot where my mother would be standing in the darkened aisleway watching," Jacquie Jo. "Every time I kissed that ribbon, I would look over at her, knowing that she would be there." 

    Brenda Billings
    Brenda Billings at 'Miscast,' a benefit for the Denver Actors Fund, with nephew Tucker Worley, brother Tag Worley and, front, daughter Jacquie Jo Billings. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Shawn Hann, Director of Theatre at Denver School of the Arts and a single mother, said Brenda stood by her as she adopted her daughter, Tihun, from Africa. She cited late-night texts, emergency babysitting and “general mother magic.”

    “She shaped how I mother,” said Hann. “She changed me as a woman, as an artist, a director and a teacher. And I am just one in the bucket of thousands Brenda went the extra mile for. The hole that is left in our Denver theatre community is massive.”

    Brenda and Jim Billings were steadfast supporters of the Denver Actors Fund from its inception in June 2013. The start-up non-profit provides money and neighborly services to members of the local theatre community in situational medical need. Billings not only infused the grassroots volunteers’ efforts with energy, clout and smarts, Brenda and Jim remain its largest individual donors.

    In just the 10 months Billings has served as President, the Denver Actors Fund has generated more than $41,000. She was instrumental in securing the Denver Actors Fund’s eligibility to participate in Colorado Gives Day, which raised about $11,000 for the nonprofit in a single day. “This unique and vital organization is making such an important difference in the lives of the Denver theatre community,” she said when she was appointed.

    Daughter Jessica said the pairing "was the most perfect thing because, of course, the Denver Actors Fund encompassed her passion for theatre - but it also encompasses her other passion of wanting to take care of people."

    Billings has served on the Board of Directors for many nonprofits in the Denver area. Her longest tenure was with the Colorado Children’s Chorale. She spearheaded their fundraising efforts for more than 10 years and was instrumental in their overall financial success. She also has been active in fundraising for the Denver School of the Arts and The Evergreen Players.

    While Billings' place in local theatre history is evident, Jacci Geiger will remember her best friend as a proudly, ferociously free spirit. The two were “a pair of perpetual 17-year-olds," Geiger said.

    When Brenda discovered that Jamie and her high-school friends had never toiled-papered a house, "she was appalled," Jamie said. "She told us, 'We're going T.P.-ing right now!' ”

    One of Jamie’s friends was Jenna Moll Reyes, who recently performed in 4000 Miles at Miners Alley Playhouse. Reyes said Brenda immediately rallied the group into the nearest grocery store, where her practical side kicked in: "She told the kids: 'Don't get two-ply. It's expensive,' " Geiger said with a laugh.

    "So we bought a ton of toilet paper and we ended up T.P.-ing the houses of some of our closest friends," Reyes said. Brenda loved that the teens got to experience that first thrill of running away as house lights turned on, and jumping into moving cars to keep from being caught.

    "We were in tears from laughing so hard," Reyes said. "Memories like that truly speak to her heart. She was playful, she was ambitious, passionate, courageous, genuine, generous beyond words, and timeless."

    Said Geiger: "I don't know if I will have anybody else who will do these really inappropriate things with me anymore."

    Brenda Billings
    Jim and Brenda Billings, left, with "A Tuna Christmas" actor Seth Maisel, Elizabeth Scott-McKean and Jonathan Scott-McKean at a Miners Alley Playhouse fundraiser for The Denver Actors Fund.


    Billings was clearly not a typical mother. She was a bleeding-heart liberal, son Brady says, and she was passionate about justice and fairness in the world.

    She was also passionate about the Denver Broncos - and dinner time. Even if dinner came at 10 o'clock at night, Brenda insisted the family gather around the table and eat together – most often fried rice and French fries. "She would have us go around the table every night and say our highs and our lows for the day," Jessica said.

    She was open-minded and curious about all kinds of art. So much so that she regularly watched Game of Thrones with her youngest child. "My friends are like, 'You watch Game of Thrones with your mom? The show where they have sex and decapitate people?' " Brady said. "And I'm like, 'Yeah. She loves it.' "

    He remembers watching Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds with his mother. He left thinking how brutal and violent the film was. "And mom was like, 'That was so awesome!' " he said with a laugh. "She loved it all."

    Brenda Billings quoteBillings did not ascribe to any organized religion. "Her religion was unconditional love," Jamie said. "That was her No. 1 thing."

    She demonstrated that belief hundreds of times, but perhaps never more poignantly than when she came across a young gay actor in the production she was directing of Hair. He was from a strict Mormon family that was not supportive of his lifestyle. Brenda took him to see Geiger. “She told me, 'Jacci, you have got to meet this kid. He is amazing and he needs love.’ So we took him to the Pride parade. Over time, I think I got him out of some dark spots. And eventually I even got his mother to a PFLAG meeting. None of that would have happened without Brenda.”

    Billings was also known for unending conversations. Ashford said whenever she made plans to see Billings, “I always made sure I added an extra hour in the calendar." Ashford will always remember their last (elongated) meeting fondly. It was in New York, where Ashford recently starred in Broadway’s Sylvia.

    “We had brunch before Brenda and Jim saw a Sunday matinee of Hamilton, and they shared with me all the happenings of the Billings clan as well as the art they were creating in their beautiful theatre in Golden. We talked for so long that I had to run to my half hour just to make it in time as they hugged me and walked to their theatre. 

    “I shared with them a special secret of mine, and we left knowing we would see each other soon, just the way that friends that feel like family do. I believe I will still see my dear friend.  She is with us and all around us sharing her beautiful light and love and continuing to give us her blessings as an artist, a wife, and most of all a momma.” 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Perhaps the greatest irony of her too-short life? "She was always – always – the last to leave a party," said Geiger. "She was known for saying goodbye at least eight times." 

    And now she leaves an extended family in deep shock and grappling to understand why, of all parties, Billings had to leave this one early.

    She is also survived by mother Ruthie Barker and stepfather Bob Barker of Kansas; nephews Tucker Worley of New York and Dylan Worley of Florida; and future son-in-law Cody Schuyler.

    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. He is also founder and Executive Director of the Denver Actors Fund.

    Brenda Billings life celebration
    A celebration of Brenda Billings’ life was held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Denver School of the Arts.

    An evening of songs honoring Brenda Billings, as performed by returning actors from musicals she directed, will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, at the downtown Hard Rock Cafe. BUY TICKETS

    Memorial contributions
    In lieu of flowers, the family is recommending donation to Miners Alley Playhouse or The Denver Actors Fund, either online or by mail at :

    Miners Alley Playhouse
    1224 Washington Ave.
    Golden, CO80401

    Denver Actors Fund
    4594 Osceola St.
    Denver, CO 80212

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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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