• Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company, Off-Center seasons

    by John Moore | Apr 03, 2017

     

    Macbeth, The Who's Tommy, four world premieres and
    "a deep dive into some truly exciting collaborations"

    By John Moore
    DCPA Senior Arts Journalist

    The DCPA Theatre Company’s 39th season will include vast and visceral reimaginings of two distinct cutting-edge classics, a record-tying four world premieres and the company's 25th staging of perennial favorite A Christmas Carol.

    The season begins in September with visionary director Robert O'Hara’s Macbeth to reopen the newly renovated Space Theatre, and builds to The Who’s rock musical Tommy, directed by Sam Buntrock (Frankenstein). And both directors promise ambitious stagings unlike anything audiences have seen before.

    Nataki Garrett QuoteThe DCPA has worked its way to the forefront of new-play development in the American theatre, and next season’s slate will include the comedy Zoey’s Perfect Wedding by former Playwright in Residence Matthew Lopez; José Cruz González’s American Mariachi, the musical tale of an all-female 1970s mariachi band; Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, about an American college basketball team that travels to Beijing in 1989; and Eric Pfeffinger’s timely comedy Human Error, which raucously explores the great American ideological divide through two vastly different couples - and one wrongly implanted embryo.

    Zoey’s Perfect Wedding will reunite Lopez and Mike Donahue, writer and director from the DCPA’s endearing world premiere The Legend of Georgia McBride (which makes its West Coast debut tomorrow at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.)

    American Mariachi
    was a favorite from the Theatre Company's 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. "Women of course had many challenges trying to play in such a male-dominated musical form," González said. "We interviewed a number of amazing women who were able to help us enter into that world, and we found an amazing group of artists who will play and sing in the piece."

    The Great Leap and Human Error emerged from the recent 2017 Summit in February.  In The Great Leap, Yee explores sport as a metaphor for how countries rub up against each other in terms of strategy, styles and priorities. "If you think of all the sports out there, basketball is the one in which you can really lay the ideals of communism on top of it. Everyone gets to touch the ball. Everyone is equal in their position,” she says.

    Human Error will set a precedent as the first Theatre Company offering ever to be staged in the cabaret-style Garner-Galleria Theatre.

    “The 2017-18 DCPA Theatre Company season represents the microcosm at the heart of the American experiment,” said Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. “These writers, spanning across generations, cultures, and genders, are exploring the ways in which our commonalities are more meaningful than our differences."

    2017-18 Broadway season brings Hamilton to Denver

    For the first time, the DCPA simultaneously announced the upcoming year of its adventurous and ambitious Off-Center line of programming. Off-Center is known for creating experiences that challenge conventions and expand on the traditional definition of theatre. Next season will be the largest yet for Off-Center. It includes Mixed Taste, a summer-long partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; a 360-degree immersive staging of The Wild Party musical at the Stanley Marketplace. Also of great intrigue: Remote Denver, a  guided audio tour of the secret city; and This Is Modern Art, a controversial play by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval that explores graffiti as modern art ...  or urban terrorism.

    “The expansion of Off-Center is a result of the incredible response of the Denver community,” said Off-Center Curator (and Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director) Charlie Miller. “We have seen that audiences are hungry for a broad range of experiences, and are eager for the unexpected.”

    Miller calls the upcoming year "a deep dive into some truly exciting collaborations." A continuing one will be the return of The SantaLand Diaries, in partnership with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and again starring Michael Bouchard

    Combined, the DCPA today announced 14 upcoming new productions that will be presented across eight different venues at the Denver Performing Arts Complex and beyond.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “Theater has the opportunity and the ability to help bridge our differences by offering performances that inspire us to seek deeper connections with one another,” said Garrett, who will make her DCPA debut directing Lydia Diamond's acclaimed race comedy Smart People. “We are honored to provide a space for conversations and connections to the Denver community this year through this season's offerings.”

    Lisa Portes Robert O'HaraMacbeth will be directed by Robert O'Hara, a rising playwright, director and screenwriter who won the 2010 NAACP Best Director Award and the 2010 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play. He was a young prodigy of original Angels in America Director George C. Wolfe and is perhaps best-known as a writer for Insurrection, a time-traveling play exploring racial and sexual identity. 

    The Who's Tommy, the rock musical based on the classic 1969 concept album about the pinball prodigy, will reunite acclaimed British Frankenstein director Sam Buntrock and Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood (who also will create the world of Macbeth). Native Gardens will mark the DCPA return of playwright Karen Zacarias, who wrote Just Like Us in 2014. Zacarias has penned a very close-to-home border-war story: One that plays out between two neighboring couples in D.C. who have a dispute over their property line. The director is Chicago's Lisa Portes, who recently won the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation's 2016 Zelda Fichandler Award, which recognizes an artist who is "transforming the regional arts landscape through singular creativity and artistry in the theatre." She is head of the masters program in directing at DePaul University.

    Next year's A Christmas Carol will be the 25th season staging of Dickens' classic by the DCPA since 1990. Melissa Rain Anderson will return for her second turn at directing, and popular longtime DCPA actor Sam Gregory again will play Scrooge.

    DCPA THEATRE COMPANY SEASON AT A GLANCE:

    • Sept. 15-Oct. 29: Robert O’Hara’s Macbeth (Space Theatre Grand Reopening)
    • Oct. 13-Nov. 19: Smart People (Ricketson Theatre)
    • Nov. 24-Dec. 24: A Christmas Carol (Stage Theatre)
    • Jan. 19-Feb. 25, 2018: Zoey’s Perfect Wedding (Space Theatre)
    • Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018: American Mariachi (Stage Theatre)
    • Feb. 2-March 11, 2018: The Great Leap (Ricketson Theatre)
    • April 6-May 6, 2018: Native Gardens (Space Theatre)
    • April 20-May 27, 2018: The Who's Tommy (Stage Theatre)
    • May 18-June 24, 2018: Human Error (Garner Galleria Theatre)

    DCPA OFF-CENTER 2017-18 SEASON AT A GLANCE:

    • July 5-Aug. 23 Mixed Taste, with MCA Denver (Seawell Grand Ballroom)
    • Oct. 12-31: The Wild Party (The Hangar at Stanley)
    • Nov. 24-Dec. 24: The SantaLand Diaries, with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Jones Theatre)
    • March 22-April 15, 2018: This Is Modern Art (Jones Theatre)
    • Spring/Summer 2018: Remote Denver (on the streets of Denver)

    TC 2017-18 800

    And here is a more detailed look at all 14 newly announced productions, in chronological order:

    MIXED TASTE (Off-Center)
    mixed-tasteTag team lectures on unrelated topic
    Presented by Off-Center with MCA Denver
    Wednesdays from July 5 through Aug 23
    Seawell Grand Ballroom
    Even mismatched subjects will find common ground in a lecture series that can go pretty much anywhere. Two speakers get twenty minutes each to enlighten you on unrelated topics, but can’t make any connections to each other. Ideas start to blend afterward when audience members ask questions to both speakers and anything goes. READ MORE ABOUT IT



    MACBETH
    macbethBy William Shakespeare
    Directed by Robert O’Hara
    Sept. 15-Oct. 29
    Space Theatre (Grand Reopening)
    To get what he wants, Macbeth will let nothing stand in his way – not the lives of others, the people of Scotland or his own well-being. As his obsession takes command of his humanity and his sanity, the death toll rises and his suspicions mount. Shakespeare’s compact, brutal tragedy kicks off the grand reopening of our theatre-in-the-round in a visceral re-imagining from visionary director Robert O’Hara, who is “shaking up the world, one audience at a time” (The New York Times). This ambitious reinvention of the classic tale reminds us that no matter what fate is foretold, the man that chooses the dagger must suffer the consequences. 



    THE WILD PARTY
    (Off-Center)
    the-wild-partyMusic and Lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa
    Book by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe
    Based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March
    Directed by Amanda Berg Wilson
    Oct. 12-31
    The Hangar at Stanley
    You’re invited to leave your inhibitions (and Prohibitions) behind for a decadent party in the Roaring Twenties. Indulge your inner flapper as you mingle with an unruly mix of vaudevillians, playboys, divas, and ingénues in a Manhattan apartment lost in time. Debauchery turns disastrous as wild guests becomes unhinged and their solo songs reveal the drama bubbling underneath the surface. Whether you’re a wallflower or a jitterbug, you’ll think this jazz- and booze-soaked immersive musical is the bee’s knees. Dress up in your finest pearls, suits and sequins – encouraged but not required.



    SMART PEOPLE

    smart-peopleBy Lydia R. Diamond
    Directed by Nataki Garrett
    Oct. 13-Nov. 19
    Ricketson Theatre
    Intelligence can only get you so far when it comes to navigating love, success and identity in the modern age. This biting comedy follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. But no matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life. Fiercely clever dialogue and energetic vignettes keep the laughs coming in a story that Variety calls “Sexy, serious and very, very funny.”



    A CHRISTMAS CAROL

    christmas-carolBy Charles Dickens
    Adapted by Richard Hellesen
    Music by David de Berry
    Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson
    Nov. 24-Dec. 24
    Stage Theatre
    Essential to the holiday season in Denver, A Christmas Carol promises to “warm your heart and renew your holiday spirit” according to the Examiner. Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, this joyous and opulent musical adaptation traces money-hoarding skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge’s triumphant overnight journey to redemption. A Christmas Carol illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations. Denver favorite Sam Gregory returns as Scrooge. READ MORE ABOUT IT

    (Note: 'A Christmas Carol' is an added attraction, not part of the Theatre Company subscription season.)



    SantaLand Diaries 2016. Michael Bouchard. Photo by Adams VisCom
    'The SantaLand Diaries,' 2016. Michael Bouchard. Photo by Adams VisCom.

    THE SANTALAND DIARIES
    (Off-Center)
    By David Sedaris
    Adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
    Presented by Off-Center with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    Directed by Stephen Weitz
    Nov. 24-Dec. 24
    The Jones Theatre
    This disgruntled Macy's elf has the cure for the common Christmas show. Looking for a little more snark in your stocking? Crumpet the Elf returns for more hilarious hijinks in this acclaimed one-man show based on stories by David Sedaris. Crumpet’s twisted tales from his stint in Macy’s SantaLand are the cure for the common Christmas show. Release your holiday stress, get all of those obnoxious carols out of your head and check out even more late night options this year. READ MORE ABOUT IT



    ZOEY'S PERFECT WEDDING

    zoeys-perfect-wedding2By Matthew Lopez
    Directed by Mike Donahue
    Jan. 19-Feb. 25, 2018
    Space Theatre
    The blushing bride. The touching toast. The celebration of true love. These are the dreams of Zoey’s big day…and the opposite of what it’s turning out to be. Disaster after disaster follow her down the aisle, from brutally honest boozy speeches to a totally incompetent wedding planner. Even worse, her friends are too preoccupied with their own relationship woes to help with the wreckage around them. From the team that brought you, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Matthew Lopez’s wildly funny fiasco destroys expectations with the realities of commitment, fidelity and growing up. READ OUR 2015 INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW LOPEZ



    AMERICAN MARIACHI

    american-mariachi2By José Cruz González
    Director to be announced
    Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018
    The Stage Theatre
    Lucha and Bolie are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in the 1970s. The only things standing in their way are a male-dominated music genre, patriarchal pressure from inside their families and finding the right women to fill out their sound. As they practice, perform and strive to earn the respect of their community, their music sparks a transformation in the lives of those around them – especially Lucha’s parents. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music played on stage. González writes a passionate story about families and friendships that you should share with yours. READ OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH JOSÉ CRUZ GONZÁLEZ


     

    THE GREAT LEAP
    the-great-leap2By Lauren Yee
    Director to be announced
    Feb. 2-March 11, 2018
    Ricketson Theatre
    When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly-changing country and Chinese American player Manford seeks a lost connection. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action in the stadium. Yee’s “acute ear for contemporary speech” and a “devilishly keen satiric eye” (San Francisco Chronicle) creates an unexpected and touching story inspired by events in her own father’s life. READ OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH LAUREN YEE


     

    THIS IS MODERN ART
    this-is-modern-artBy Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin
    Directed by Idris Goodwin
    March 22-April 15, 2018
    The Jones Theatre
    Graffiti crews are willing to risk anything for their art. Called vandals, criminals, even creative terrorists, Chicago graffiti artists set out night after night to make their voices heard and alter the way people view the world. But when one crew finishes the biggest graffiti bomb of their careers, the consequences get serious and spark a public debate asking, where does art belong? This Is Modern Art gives a glimpse into the lives of anonymous graffiti artists and asks us to question the true purpose of art. READ MORE ABOUT IT


    NATIVE GARDENS
    native-gardensBy Karen Zacarias
    Directed by Lisa Portes
    April 6-May 6, 2018
    Space Theatre
    Dealing with neighbors can be thorny, especially for Pablo and Tania, a young Latino couple who have just moved into a well-established D.C. neighborhood. Though Frank and Virginia have the best intentions for making the new couple feel welcome next door, their newly budding friendship is tested when they realize their shared property line isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Frank is afraid of losing his prized garden, Pablo wants what is legally his, Tania has a pregnancy and a thesis she’d rather be worrying about, and Virginia just wants some peace. But until they address the real roots of their problems, it’s all-out war in this heartfelt comedy about the lines that divide us and those that connect us.



    Sam Buntock

    THE WHO'S TOMMY
    the-whos-tommyMusic and Lyrics by Pete Townshend
    Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
    Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
    Directed by Sam Buntrock
    April 20-May 27, 2018
    Stage Theatre
    Based on The Who’s iconic 1969 rock concept album, Tommy is an exhilarating musical about the challenges of self-discovery and the resilience of the human spirit. When young Tommy retreats into a world of darkness and silence after a deeply traumatic incident, he must navigate a harsh and unforgiving world with no hope of recovery. But when he discovers a newfound talent for pinball, he’s swept up in the fame and fortune of his success. Tommy and his family give new voice to The Who’s classic stadium rock as they navigate the troubles and joys of being alive. This production reunites director Sam Buntrock and scenic designer Jason Sherwood, the team behind last season’s audience favorite, Frankenstein.



    HUMAN ERROR

    human-error2By Eric Pfeffinger
    Director to be announced
    May 18-June 24, 2018
    Garner Galleria Theatre
    Madelyn and Keenan are NPR-listening, latte-sipping, blue-state liberals, while Heather and Jim are NRA-cardholding, truck-driving, red-state conservatives. After an unfortunate mix-up by their blundering fertility doctor, Heather is mistakenly impregnated with the wrong child. Now the two couples face sharing an uproarious nine-month’s odyssey of culture shock, clashing values, changing attitudes and unlikely – but heartfelt – friendships. “Up-and-coming scribe Eric Pfeffinger has the vital nerve to explore the gaping communication gap between red America and blue America, liberal humanists and the conservative right” (Chicago Tribune). READ OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH ERIC PFEFFINGER


    REMOTE DENVER
    remote-denverBy Rimini Protokoll
    Concept, Script and Direction: Stefan Kaegi
    Research, Script and Direction Denver: Jörg Karrenbauer
    Spring/Summer 2018
    On the streets of Denver
    Join a group of 50 people swarming Denver on a guided audio tour that seems to follow you as much as you are following it. Experience a soundtrack to the streets, sights, and rooftops of The Mile High City as a computer-generated voice guides your group’s movements in real time. Discover a "secret Denver," exploring places like gathering spaces, back alleyways, dark hallways and public areas through a new lens. You’re not just audience members — you’re actors and spectators, observers and observed, individuals and hordes, all at the same time.

     

    TICKET INFORMATION:

    • Theatre Company: New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Subscription packages are available online at denvercenter.org/nextseason or by calling 303-893-4100. Subscribers enjoy free ticket exchanges, payment plans, priority offers to added attractions, discounted extra tickets, a dedicated VIP hotline, free events including talkbacks and receptions, and the best seats at the best prices, guaranteed. Single ticket on-sale date will be announced at a later time. Note: Plans for the new season are subject to change and benefit restrictions may apply.
    • Off-Center: The single-ticket on-sale date for all Off-Center productions will be announced at a later time. Subscriptions are not available for Off-Center shows.

     

     

  • Westminster High School tackles immigration with 'Just Like Us'

    by John Moore | Nov 06, 2015

    The cast of Westminster High School's 'Just Like Us' is joined by DCPA Education Director Allison Watrous and Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson (standing back), and Director Andre' Rodriguez (back right). The play runs Nov. 10-14. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    The student actors at Westminster High School who are about to become the first in the nation to stage Karen Zacarias’ immigration drama Just Like Us will do far more than tell the story of four real Denver high-school seniors - all straight-A students born in Mexico to parents who entered this country illegally.

    Many will be telling their own stories. And their families’ stories.

    A Kent quote 7Last week, Director Andre’ Rodriguez and his students were visited by DCPA Artistic Director Kent Thompson, who commissioned the stage adaptation of journalist Helen Thorpe's best-selling book for its 2013 world-premiere, and DCPA Education Director Allison Watrous, who performed as an actor in that staging.

    They gathered in a circle for a spirited and wide-ranging conversation about issues raised in the play, how the script evolved through a whopping 17 revisions, and how it was ultimately received in its high-profile DCPA debut. Eventually, these beginning actors started to open up about why this play is so personal to them.

    One talked almost matter-of-factly about how her grandfather was deported back to Mexico in September. How he was dropped off in the middle of a field eight hours from where he came from, she said, with no money, I.D., food or water. Another student held back tears telling how his grandfather came to the U.S. illegally with the dream of a college education. Instead, he had to drop out in the sixth grade to work in the fields, and is still doing so to this day, into his late 60s.

    “He goes out every day and he's working his butt off trying to produce to help my grandmother because they are going bankrupt,” the boy said. “I am like, 'Grandpa, you are getting old. You can't be doing this. You need to rest.’ He looks worse and worse every day. But he tells me every single day, ‘You have the chance to go to college. You have the chance to do what you want to do. Don't waste it.’ ”

    Taylor Lewis, who is preparing to play Thorpe in Just Like Us, called out the contradiction in the Statue of Liberty’s invitation to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

    “We tell people to come here, and that we will take care of you,” she said. “But every time there is an influx of one specific race or religion that needs to flee their country, we are so against it. That's not American, I think, because being American means accepting all for who they are.”

    Thompson pointed out to the students that the modest goal in the Constitution’s preamble is “to make a more perfect union.” That specific wording is important, he said, because it acknowledges that we will never achieve a perfect union. “But we have to always try to make it better,” he said. “That is our obligation.”

    One girl remained silent throughout the afternoon talk. Afterward, Rodriguez revealed just how closely this girl’s life mirrors one of the characters in Just Like Us. In the play, the character Yadira doesn’t see her mother for years after she is deported for using another woman’s social security number to find work.

    “Yadira’s story is literally her story,” Rodriguez said of his silent student. When asked after why he thought she chose not to share that with the open group herself, he said, “You can understand why the kids who are the most close to this issue would also be the most quiet.”




    A path to ... high-school enrollment

    Westminster 600 3The sign at Westminster High School’s front entrance greets prospective students in both English and Spanish with a message that’s plain in any language: If you don’t have your documents, don’t even bother.

    And yet, about 40 percent of the students at Westminster High, located at 68th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, are undocumented. Four of them, Rodriguez said, are in the cast or crew of Just Like Us.

    When the play was first staged at the Denver Center in 2013, it sparked controversy and diatribes, outrage and appreciation, healing and thoughtful dialogue. Talk-show host Tom Tancredo, the son of Italian immigrants who nevertheless worked tirelessly against immigration reform as a U.S. congressman, took to the airwaves assailing the Denver Center’s production, even going so far as to accuse Thorpe of making up the four women upon whom her book is based.

    Just Like Us follows how their opportunities for secondary education become divided by their immigration status. The narrative took an unexpected turn in 2005 when undocumented Mexican Raul Gomez-Garcia shot and killed off-duty Denver police Detective Donald Young. The story blew up further when it was learned that Gomez-Garcia had worked in one of then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s restaurants, the Cherry Cricket.

    “That opened a window for people who were virulently anti-immigration at the time,” Thompson said. “The murder of this policeman caused a great turnaround in policy.” 

    A Kent quote 8And Thorpe, of course, was married to the Mayor. Suddenly her place in the story became far more involved than the journalist had ever expected or wanted.

    “The whole thing was very exciting because these are characters who come from this community,” Thompson said. “The response from the Latino community was overwhelmingly positive because they were seeing themselves on stage. And frankly you don't see truthful, authentic Latino people on stage that much.”

    But Rodriguez met with some initial resistance from the Adams County School District about staging Just Like Us because the red-hot issue of immigration provokes such a strong response both ways. That he chose to go forward anyway, says Westminster High School teacher and parent Fran Groff-Gonzales, “is why he’s a rock star.”

    The high school also houses the offices of the Adams County School District. Rodriguez describes the climate there as “hypersensitive” when it comes to issues such as bilingual education because the rapidly shifting district has for decades served an ideologically conservative base.

    As a result, Westminster High School's graduation rate has dropped to only 60 percent. Rodriguez says he won the school district’s blessing to perform Just Like Us because of the story’s ultimate message that academic achievement will be rewarded.

    "We've hit the students pretty hard with the message, 'You have got to graduate and go to college. There are options. Do not lose hope,' " said Rodriguez.

    During the rehearsal process, two of the four real women from Thorpe’s book visited with the cast and offered advice and encouragement. Rodriguez took the cast and crew on a field trip to Greeley to visit the University of Northern Colorado, where they attended classes and workshops, and visited the César Chávez Cultural Center.

    Zacarias, who was herself born in Mexico, could not be happier to see Just Like Us be performed in Westminster. Another student production is in the works at a Dallas high school, she said.

    “I am just so proud that Kent and the DCPA took Helen Thorpe’s amazing book and created a vehicle that allows these lives to become palpable and real for these students,” she said.

    A Kent quote 10

    ‘Immigration is messy’

    A Kent quote 9Performing in Just Like Us has turned Rodriguez’s cast and crew into questioners. They are questioning their parents, their school, their government and their history.

    “This experience has made me start to pay attention to literally everything around me. I have I started asking questions,” said Gabriella Bailey, who is playing Marisela in the play. In May, she won a special achievement for leadership from the Bobby G Awards.

    "Before, I would never ask someone if he had his papers. Even my boyfriend is undocumented, so I finally just straight-up asked him, ‘How do you work without papers? I don't understand.’ ”

    Taylor Lewis, the actor playing Thorpe, can trace her roots back to Austria in the 1850s. “What this play has shown me is that immigration is just so messy,” she said. "The only reason I am here today is because my grandfather married my grandmother and got his green card. Despite the color of our skin, we are all human. We all have the same anatomy. We all have the same heart, so we should all have the same rights. Just because I was born on a piece of land that was claimed by an abstract kind of government is kind of stupid. Why does a piece of land change anything?”

    One of the most powerful things theatre can do is allow you to look at the world through another person's eyes, Thompson told the students. And start conversations.

    “Theatre can build empathy and tolerance,” he said. “If you are doing a play and you feel their hearts beating and you can feel their heads working, I think it changes the world."

    ‘Moving people to care, to understand, to action’

    Rodriguez has been nominated as Best Director for all three years of the Bobby G Awards, which celebrate achievements in high-school musical theatre. In May, he won the award for his staging of Rent, a controversial musical that addresses issues like AIDS, social injustice and homophobia. He said it is important for him as a teacher to offer his students the opportunity to perform theatre that is both socially relevant and socially responsible.

    "We don't make progress as a program if we are doing The Music Man here, because that's just not where my kids are at academically, socially or economically,” he said.

    Zacarias believes Just Like Us does exactly what theater should be doing: “It encourages the community to examine difficult issues and create a dialogue between the play and the audience,” she said. “There is no greater success for a play than moving people to care, to understand, to action.”

    Watrous, who oversees classes for more than 65,000 students of all ages every year through Denver Center Education, said it is “incredibly important for young actors to have the opportunity to approach material that is sophisticated and challenging and emotional. This play centers on high-school students getting ready to go into college. That is them, and so for them, there is nothing more truthful than that.”

    Just Like Us will be the first play almost all of Rodriguez’s students will have performed in. So he is not all that concerned whether it comes off as great theatre.There is a greater goal.

    “We are doing this play to communicate the idea to all students that despite all of the obstacles within our society, we can pursue our idea of the American Dream. We can go to school and further our educations," he said. "Even though our government is saying, 'You don't exist within our system,' this play is telling them, There are options out there, and there is a path for you.' ”

    The cast of Westminster High School's 'Just Like Us.' Photo by John Moore.
     

    Just Like Us: Ticket information:

    • Book by Helen Thorpe, adapted for the stage by Karen Zacarias
    • Presented by CenterStage Theatre Company at Westminster High School
    • 7 p.m. Nov. 10-14
    • 6933 Raleigh St., Westminster, 80030
    • Tickets $6-$10
    • 720-542-5415 or reserve tickets here
    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of Just Like Us:

    Playwright Karen Zacarias talks about why "Just Like Us" matters

    Video: Helen Thorpe and Karen Zacarías talk about Just Like Us
    Denver business community says now is the time for immigration reform
    Denver's Mary Bacon: Proud of a city "that confronts itself every night"
    Just Like Us: Theatre that makes the political personal ... and entertaining
    Meet the cast video series
    Flobots, DeVotchKa members release song for immigration reform
  • Breaking news: Boehner rules out action on immigration reform

    by John Moore | Nov 13, 2013

     

    By John Moore
    Nov. 13, 2013

    Of interest to anyone who just attended the Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of the play "Just Like Us": Moments ago, House Speaker John Boehner ruled out any action in the House on immigration reform this year.

    "Just Like Us," adapted by Karen Zacarias from the book by Helen Thorpe, is the true story of four Denver high-school seniors who were born in Mexico, two with documented status and two without. It closed on Nov. 3.

    The following news report comes from CNN:

    Boehner repeated his longstanding opposition to the Senate-passed immigration bill and his pledge the House would never vote on it. But today he went a step further in saying:  "I'll make clear we have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill."

    Last week the third-ranking House Republican, GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-California, told immigration reform advocates that there wasn't enough time left this year for the House to take up immigration reform. The House is in session 15 days between now and the end of the year.

    After Republicans lost the presidential election in 2012 and Hispanic voters voted overwhelmingly for President Obama, Boehner said it was time for Congress to pass major immigration reforms.

    "I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue. And I’m confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all," Boehner said in an interview with ABC News the week after the election.

    Facing sharp divisions inside his conference on the issue, Boehner insists he still wants action but says any legislation has to be done in pieces.

    "I want us to deal with this issue but I want to deal with it in a common sense step by step way," he said Wednesday.

    A series of targeted immigration bills have passed the House Judiciary Committee - mostly focused on border security and enforcement - but GOP leaders have not scheduled any floor votes on any of them.

    A significant bloc of House conservatives is adamantly opposed to any measure that provides a path to citizenship or legal status for the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States. So far, none of the House GOP proposals addresses that issue, but opponents worry that any negotiation with the Senate would ratchet up pressure on House Republicans to deal with questions of citizenship.

    Boehner's statement Wednesday declaring no talks with the Senate on its bill was designed to put those concerns to rest.

    The Speaker brushed aside a question of whether House GOP leaders were avoiding the divisive debate on immigration reform to focus on problems with the implementation of Obamacare.

    "This is about trying to do this in a way that the American people and our members can absorb," Boehner said, adding immigration reform is too complicated to rush.

    "There are hundreds of issues involved in dealing with immigration reform, and we've got to deal with these in a common sense way where our members understand what we're doing and their constituents understand."

    The video at the top of this report may give you an indication of how this news will be met by members of Denver' local Hispoanic and Latino business communities.

     

    imageFrom the cast of "Just Like Us": Adriana Gaviria, Cynthia Bastidas, Yunuen Pardo and Ruth Livier. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

     

  • Essay: 'Just Like Us' makes the political personal ... and entertaining

    by John Moore | Oct 19, 2013

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    From left: Actors Adriana Gaviria, Cynthia Bastidas, Yunuen Pardo (fromt) and Ruth Livier.

    The Denver Center Theatre Company’s world-premiere play Just Like Us takes place against the backdrop of both local and national politics. But audiences are discovering a human story that does what theater does best: It makes the political personal, engaging and even entertaining.

    Journalist Helen Thorpe’s award-winning source novel tells the true story of four Denver high-school seniors, all straight-A students, two with legal status and two without, and how their opportunities become divided by their immigration status. Thorpe first set out to discover if she had anything at all in common with these four vibrant teenagers.

    Playwright Karen Zacarías certainly did. “I understood these girls on a visceral level,” she said. “I am a Mexican immigrant. I was a straight-A student. But in all my years of being a playwright, I have never seen the story of the ‘good girls’ shown on the stage.”

    When Zacarías asked to adapt Thorpe’s book for the stage in Denver, she called it the opportunity of a lifetime. This would be her chance to humanize one of the most polarizing issues in America. To give audiences the chance to know four “good girls.” To laugh and cry along with four best friends as the teenagers come of age in an uncertain time and place.

    “I can’t wait for the community to see the power that a 17-year-old girl can have,” said Allison Watrous, who plays the wife of a police officer in Just Like Us. “If all students fought this hard for their education – imagine the change in the world.”

    Denver Center artistic director Kent Thompson advised Zacarías that focusing on the girls’ personal struggles would make for a more emotionally engaging and thought-provoking night of theatre than focusing on politics. The resulting play is now connecting with audiences of all genders, ages and ethnicities, and in powerful ways.

    “We all had tears in our eyes through much of it, and we couldn’t stop talking about it and analyzing it,” said Meg Allen of CPIN, a project of the Colorado African Organization that seeks to transform immigrants and refugees from surviving to thriving. “I was afraid of how they would handle all the issues that affect undocumented folks, but we thought it was spot-on.”

    Mario Carrera, who moved to America at age 9 and is now chief revenue officer for Denver-based Entravision Communications, called it “a heart-wrenching story.”

    Brenda Lilly of Superior left the play hoping her voice is just one of many encouraging the Denver Center to bring the play to audiences far beyond Colorado.

    “I can’t begin to express the difference this play made on the three young ladies (I brought) who were enthralled from beginning to end,” Lilly said. “They couldn’t stop talking about it. They felt it was their lives they were watching play out. One said, ‘I can’t explain it, but this play will stay with me for the rest of my life.’ ”

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    Yunuen Pardo, an American actor who plays a colorful and ambitious undocumented teen in the play, was herself born and raised in Mexico. She is used to being asked, “Where are you from?” after someone hears her accent. It’s a natural impulse to define where one belongs, but that can be a trap.

    Just Like Us is about choosing who you want to be in spite of all the statistics, stereotypes and labels that society throws at us,” Pardo said. “It's about finding the courage to build your own destiny.”
     
    Ralph Nagel is president of the liquidities fund Top Rock LLC, whose principals include former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens. Nagel was honored last week by the Archdiocese of Denver for his 25 years helping underprivileged students in Denver. He also happens to be the primary funder of the development of Just Like Us at the Denver Center, from concept to opening night.

    “It was very impactful for me personally,” Nagel said of seeing the opening performance on Oct. 10. He thought it was “a terrific breakthrough” that the play also communicates the impact these four young women had on Thorpe as a mother, a writer and citizen of this community.

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    “Does the idea of a country truly matter more than the sum happiness of all the people living within its boundaries?” Thorpe’s portrayer asks in the play.

    That actor is Denver native Mary Bacon, who thinks Just Like Us is far more a human story than a political one.

    “This is an important play,” Bacon said. “It’s meant to challenge a community to examine its values and behavior through characters who may see the world from a different perspective.”

    It’s is a play, as its title suggests, that seeks to convey that these are girls like any other, despite their legal status. Just Like Us.  
     

    Ticket information:

    Through Nov. 3.
    Showtimes: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1:30 p.m. Sundays.
    At the Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets.
    303-893-4100 or the denver center’s home page

    Additional coverage:

    Video podcast: Denver business leaders say time is now for "Just Like Us" - and immigration reform:

     

    Video montage: Performance highlights:

     

    Video podcast: Playwright Karen Zacarias, author Helen Thorpe:

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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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