• Photos: Phamaly Theatre Company's amazing Opening Night tradition

    by John Moore | Aug 01, 2017
    Phamaly: Opening Night of 'Annie' Photos from Opening Night of Phamaly Theatre Company's 'Annie,' playing through Aug. 6 at the Denver Center's Stage Theatre. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    The pre-show ritual is called 'Zap,' and it infuses the cast and crew with energy and focus.

    By John Moore
    Senor Arts Journalist

    In the minutes before the opening performance of Phamaly Theatre Company's Annie, actor and founding company member Mark Dissette gathers the cast of 36 actors, each with widely varying disabilities, along with crew and volunteers, for one of the most electrifying pre-show rituals in the local theatre community.

    They form a circle. Those who can stand, stand. Those who cannot roll up in their wheelchairs. Those who can clasp hands, clasp hands. Those with missing or disfigured hands make contact with their neighbors as best they can. They all close their eyes in reverence as Dissette calls out from memory the agonizingly long list of company members who have passed away during the 28 years that this unique company has been creating performance opportunities for actors with disabilities.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Dissette then begins the ritual they call "Zap." As if there weren't enough energy in the air already, the group begins to buzz. Literally. "This is our dream - get a little louder," Dissette orders. And they do. "Bzzz." "This is our vision - get a little louder." And they do. "BZZZ." After more exhortation, the vibration builds to a deafening climax.

    "1-2-3 ..." Dissette shouts, and all voices scream in unison, "ZAP!"

    Now there is nothing but sudden, solemn silence. The next spoken word is not to be uttered until the actors hit the stage. For a company whose actors are blind and deaf, with disabilities ranging from stroke to spina bifida to multiple sclerosis to AIDS, it is both the beginning and the culmination of an extraordinary opening-night journey. 

    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.

    Phamaly Theatre Company's Annie: Ticket information
    • Through Aug. 6
    • Stage Theatre Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets: $20-$37
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Accessible performance: Aug. 3

    Selected recent NewsCenter coverage of Phamaly:
    The triumph of Phamaly's not-so-horrible Hannigan
    Pop-culture Annie, from comics to Broadway to Jay-Z
    Phamaly gala, campaign raise $200K, ‘save the company’
    Phamaly launches emergency $100,000 fundraising campaign
    Regan Linton accepts Spirit of Craig Award
    Regan Linton returns to lead Phamaly in landmark appointment

    Phamaly
  • Phamaly Theatre Company faces immediate $100,000 shortfall

    by John Moore | Apr 14, 2017

    Phamaly. Regan Linton

     
    UPDATE June 2: Update: Phamaly Theatre Company reports that it has reached its $100,000 goal to off-set its immediate budget shortfall thanks to 325 donors. Artistic Director Regan Linton: "Challenge is no stranger to the company members of Phamaly. For 28 years, Phamaly has persevered and triumphed in its mission to produce extraordinary theatre and transform the lives of people with and without disabilities. We are able to continue doing this because of the amazing humans who are part of our Phamaly family. We hope you will join us for Annie this summer and share in the joy, camaraderie and artistry that Phamaly continues to foster."

    Rapid expansion has put the acclaimed company that creates opportunities for actors with disabilities in danger.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The posters for Phamaly Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Annie don’t say “The sun will come out tomorrow,” as you might expect. Instead, they ask a far more ominous question: “Will tomorrow ever come?” It’s a reference to the original comic-book source. And that's the very question hanging over the internationally acclaimed Denver theatre company that has been providing performance opportunities for actors with disabilities for 27 years.

    Phamaly has launched an emergency $100,000 fundraising campaign to stay in operation past the summer. The deadline is July 1.  

    Phamaly quote“Phamaly is in a rough spot right now – maybe rougher than it has ever been in before,” said Artistic Director and actor Regan Linton, who rejoined Phamaly last August only to discover that the company was facing a potentially catastrophic revenue shortfall. The culprit: Too much expansion, much too fast.

    Phamaly now performs a full year-round season, offers a statewide children’s tour and stages a big Broadway musical each summer at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

    The first public sign of possible trouble at Phamaly was the successive departures of both new Artistic Director Bryce Alexander and new Executive Director Maureen Ediger within four months last year. In January, the previously announced upcoming staging of Peter Pan was scratched because of rising costs associated with flying special-needs actors. Annie took its place. But the full extent of the problem only became known when the company released an uncommonly transparent public statement on March 28.

    "We need your support like we never have before," it reads.

    Phamaly’s annual operating budget has more than doubled in seven years, from $350,000 in 2008-09 to $850,000 last year. This year’s budget was cut to $750,000, but still - without an immediate cash infusion, “bankruptcy is a scary possibility,” Linton told the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Read the full Phamaly letter to its supporters

    “I'm an optimist, but Phamaly is facing that possibility more realistically right now than it ever has before,” said Linton. “I'm hesitant to use that word, bankruptcy, but yeah, it is important to give people a sense of the stakes.”

    The Phamaly statement that also announced the launch of “The Campaign for a Sunny Tomorrow” was posted both to its website and sent out to the company’s full email list.

    Phamaly-Pygmalion“Phamaly significantly expanded programming a couple of years ago with the best intentions of serving more members of our community and making a greater impact,” it read. “This expansion included increasing the number of mainstage shows, offering educational classes, increasing outreach, moving into a new office with rehearsal space, and growing our staff. We expanded too much, too quickly." Added Linton: "I think at some point you have to be able to say, ‘No. There are certain things we can’t do,’ and be OK with that."

    (Pictured right: Phamaly's recent production of 'Pygmalion.') 

    Expansion also brought unexpected expenses, missed projections an overextended staff. And, Linton bluntly admits, that has had an inevitable impact on the quality of the company's productions over the past year.

    “Phamaly has not necessarily been producing the kind of theatre that I think we are capable of,” Linton said. “Our productions have not been optimally supported, and our ability to keep patrons fully engaged has been affected.”

    Phamaly’s closest supporters immediately responded to the company’s distress signal with $30,000 in pledges in the first 17 days of the drive.  The Harvey Family Foundation has agreed to match up to $35,000 of new donations for this campaign, although Linton said that money will not count against the overall goal "to raise $100,000 in new and different money from other fundraising activities,” Linton said, including the annual Phamaly gala, which is expected to raise a separate $35,000 on June 3.

    Click here to support the Phamaly fundraising campaign

    Hundreds of local theatre companies have come and gone since a group of disabled student actors, frustrated by the lack of opportunity to perform, began staging shows in 1989 in the basement of the Boettcher School. But there is much more at stake when the endangered company is the one and only company that presents professional plays and musicals cast entirely with performers who have physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities.

     “Phamaly is a unique company. There’s no other like it in Colorado, and really no other company exactly like it in the entire United States,” Linton said.

    Phamaly Gala 2016 Phamaly has built its reputation for creating performances that transform the lives of both the actors onstage and the audiences watching. The company has produced a treasure trove of indelible stage memories, including a production about circus freaks called Side Show, and a Man of La Mancha starring Linton as an Aldonza who is beaten and tossed from her wheelchair, forcing Linton to sing her guttural battle song while crawling across the stage by her elbows. These and dozens of other moments sear themselves into the consciousness of anyone watching.

    “I think a good theatrical experience is about so much more than how high your chorus kicks. It's about: Are you moved by what you see? Does it transform your way of seeing the world?” said Linton, the only Artistic Director leading a major U.S. theatre company from a wheelchair, according to the Theatre Communications Group.

    “I think that is something Phamaly does unlike any theatre company, and it’s because you have these extraordinary human beings doing these shows that make you think about the human condition and the human experience in a completely different way.”

    (Pictured above and right: Rob Costigan and Hannah Balmer dance at the 2016 Phamaly gala, which is coming up again on June 3.)

    But in recent years, Linton said, “I feel like some of our productions have been trying to fit into a mold that other theatre companies already fit. I don't think that's what we should be doing. I think we should be creating our own mold.”

    That starts with Annie, which Linton is co-directing with Steve Wilson, the longtime Phamaly Artistic Director who resigned in 2014 to focus on his full-time job as Executive Director of the Mizel Arts and Culture Center. Because the Space Theatre is undergoing a year-long renovation, Annie, opening July 13, will be Phamaly’s first-ever production in the Stage Theatre, which is nearly twice as big as The Space Theatre. That creates both  artistic opportunities and the chance to introduce Phamaly to new audiences, and Linton plans to take full advantage of both. “This will be unlike any production of Annie you've ever seen," she promises.

    “I don't want to do the same old Annie,” she said. “I don't even want the red wig. I don't want any of the little girls in dresses. These are hardened orphans who have faced a lot of adversity in their lives, just like the actual young actors in our cast who are going to be playing these roles. We want to give the audience characters who are grounded in something real. And one thing our actors do better than anybody is present something authentic and real onstage.”

    So what happens if Phamaly does not raise $100,000 in new money by July 1?

    “Phamaly is definitely in danger of not being able to do our programming, at least for the near future,” Linton said. “But I'm an optimist, so I feel like even if Phamaly gets to the worst possible state where we would have to close our doors, Phamaly will continue to exist in some form because it is such an important part of the community.

    “My hope is that we would always find a way to make it work, especially in keeping with the Phamaly spirit. We find ways to make things work. That’s what we do.”

    A note on Phamaly Theatre Company funding

    Ticket sales account for only about 20 percent of Phamaly’s funding. About 60 percent comes from a combination of foundations, government support and individual contributions. The company received $150,00 this year from the metro-Denver taxing district known as the SCFD, and it has applied for $70,000 in the coming year from the National Endowment for the Arts. That the agency is imperiled by President Trump’s announced intention to de-fund the NEA only creates further financial uncertainty for Phamaly.

    “When you cut back government funding, then you are putting more pressure on communities and individual donors to support the organizations they care about,” Linton said. “If the NEA is eliminated, that would put more strain on individual contributors to support Phamaly.”


    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.

    annie phamaly

    Phamaly Theatre Company's upcoming offerings

    Staged reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream
    May 6-7
    At the Lone Tree Arts Center TICKETS

    Annie
    July 14-Aug. 6, 2017
    Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex TICKETS


    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of Regan Linton and Phamaly:



    Regan Linton returns to lead Phamaly in landmark appointment
    NEA Chair champions Colorado, and arts therapies for veterans
    Phamaly will send wheelchairs flying in Peter Pan
    February 2015: Phamaly names Bryce Alexander to replace Steve Wilson
    Wilson resigns from Phamaly after 14 years
    Regan Linton works her magic in San Diego
    PBS podcast: Denver theater featuring disabled cast gains popularity
    Phamaly's historic goodwill tour to Japan
    Regan Linton: Performing for those who cannot
  • In the Spotlife: Peter Trinh of 'Chinglish'

    by John Moore | Mar 31, 2017
    A Peter Trinh Chinglish 800 1


    MEET PETER TRINH

    Peter Trinh plays three roles in the Aurora Fox's 'Chinglish,' a comedy about the challenges of doing business in a country where the language and underlying cultural assumptions can be worlds apart from those of the West. It runs through April 9.

  • Hometown: Denver
  • Home now: Denver
  • High school: Arvada West
  • College: Metropolitan State University of Denver
  • Peter Trinh QuoteWhat have you done for us lately? I played Monk in the The Oldest Boy, presented by Vintage Theatre and Theatre Esprit Asia 
  • What's next? I will play myself in the return of my one-man play Boat Person with Theatre Esprit Asia from July 27-30 at the Bas Bleu Theatre,
    401 Pine St. in Fort Collins
  • Twitter-sized bio: First generation American; DEN native; father of two boys; actor; playwright; stand-up comedian. 
  • Twtter and Instagram handle: @Peter_Trinh
  • What was the role that changed your life? I was cast in Dust Storm for Theatre Esprit Asia in 2013. It is a solo play and it was my first lead role. This show proved to myself that I could carry a show as a lead, and even on my own.
  • Ideal scene partner: I have always respected Edward Norton. He is a character actor, but strong enough to play a lead. I recall his scene in Birdman with Michael Keaton, and I imagine working a scene with him would be similar to that. There is an honesty in his performances that I feel is deeply engaging.
  • What is Chinglish all about? The inevitable miscommunications between cultures. It's a comedy that follows Daniel, a businessman from the Midwest, who arrives in a bustling Chinese province looking to score a lucrative contract for his family’s sign-making company. He soon finds that the complexities of such a venture far outstrip the expected differences in language, customs and manners – and calls into question even the most basic assumptions of human conduct. Through comic exchanges, he learns what is lost and found in translation. Despite our efforts to understand each other, there is a part of us that will never understand those from other cultures, but that doesn’t mean we cannot share or live together.
  • Peter_Trinh Boat PersonTell us about the challenge of playing your part: My lines are about 65 percent Mandarin. I do not speak Mandarin. Learning enough to be able to pronounce my lines decently was a bear. It’s harder than it looks. Luckily, our dramaturg and the two native speakers in our cast made me feel comfortable. I am bilingual in Vietnamese – which could be considered a derivative dialect of Mandarin – so learning the tones was familiar.
  • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing this play? I hope they laugh. The jokes (which come with subtitles) make for a unique theatregoing experience for the audience. But most of all, I hope this play inspires people to travel and experience the world outside the realm of what they presently know.
  • More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • What's one thing most people don't know about you? I’m the first person on either side of my family to be born on American soil. My parents were pregnant with me when they were sponsored to Denver in 1982.
  • What’s one thing you want to get off your chest? I feel like what the world is missing is compassion. We need to find away to allow others to believe the way they wish without imposing our own beliefs. This country has been so busy drawing lines in the sand on this issue, and that issue, we seem to be losing our humanity. Let’s agree to disagree.

  • Peter Trinh Chinglish. By Christine Fisk From left: Mark Rubald, Tim O'Connell, Peter Trinh and Ke Zang in the Aurora Fox's production of 'Chinglish.' Photo by Christine Fisk.

    Aurora Fox's Chinglish: Ticket information

    • By David Henry Hwang
    • Directed by Steve Wilson
    • Through April 9
    • Performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
    • 9900 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora
    • Tickets $16-$37
    • 303-739-1970 or aurorafox.org

    Cast list:
    •  Mark Rubald as Daniel Cavenaugh
    •  Peter Trinh as Bing, Judge Geming and Qian
    •  Tim O'Connell as Peter Timms
    •  Christa Yan as Xi Yan
    •  Ke Zang as Minister Cai Guoliang and Prosecutor Li
    •  Molly O'Niel as Zhao and Waitress

    More 'In the Spotlife' profiles:
    Meet Lauren Bahlman of Wide-Eyed West's theMumblings
    Meet Mark Collins of And Toto Too's Lost Creatures
    Meet Carley Cornelius of Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' Constellations
    Meet Emily Paton Davies of Miners Alley Playhouse's God of Carnage
    Meet Kelsey Didion of Curious Theatre's Constellations
    Meet Denise Freestone of OpenStage's August: Osage County
    Meet Sam Gregory of the Arvada Center's Tartuffe
    Meet John Hauser of Curious Theatre's Hand to God
    Meet Jim Hunt of Buntport's The Zeus Probem
    Meet Jeff Jesmer of Spotlight Theatre'sThe Crucible
    Meet Wayne Kennedy of BDT Stage's Mid-Life 2
    Meet Carla Kaiser Kotrc of Miners Alley Playhouse's A Skull in Connemara
    Meet Seth Maisel of Town Hall Arts Center's The Firestorm
    Meet Tim McCracken of Local Theatre's The Firestorm
    Meet Angela Mendez of Beauty and the Beast
    Meet Joelle Montoya of Su Teatro's El Sol Que Tu Eres
    Meet Rebekah Ortiz of The Robber Bridegroom
    Meet Anne Oberbroeckling of Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's Ripcord
    Meet Jessica Robblee of Buntport Theatre for All Ages' Siren Song: A Pirate Odyssey
    Meet Cory Sapienza of Miners Alley Playhouse's Hir
    Meet Sean Scrutchins of the Arvada Center's Bus Stop
    Meet Jane Shirley of Santa's Big Red Sack
    Meet Petra Ulyrich of Germinal Stage-Denver's Johnny Got His Gun
    Meet Megan Van De Hey of the Arvada Center's Sister Act
    Meet Sharon Kay White of the Arvada Center's I'll Be Home for Christmas
  • Cherry Creek Theatre pulls up carpet and moves into Mizel

    by John Moore | Jan 25, 2017

    Video above: Jeremy Rill as Cole Porter in 'Red Hot & Cole,' opening Jan. 26.



    Since 2010, Cherry Creek Theatre has performed in the most distinct setting of perhaps any local troupe – inside the Shaver-Ramsey Gallery surrounded by opulent, finely woven Oriental rugs more than likely worth more than the net worth of all the actors combined. But after six years and 18 productions, the company is apparently no longer feeling the (carpet) burn.

    Cherry Creek opens its seventh season on Thursday with its first show as the new resident theatre company at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center. The group will perform Red Hot & Cole in the Pluss Theatre, which is the Mizel’s intimate studio theatre. The Shaver-Ramsey Gallery in Cherry Creek North served the company well, but the set and portable lights had to be taken down after every performance so the store could conduct normal business by day. A more permanent venue has been long overdue.

    Cherry Creek Theatre Shannan Steele Quote“To continue to provide the quality productions the theatre is known for, and to expand its artistic pursuits, additional space is required,” said Mark Rossman, who co-founded Cherry Creek Theatre with his wife, Maxine. 

    Steve Wilson, Executive Artistic Director of the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, said he is overjoyed by the new partnership. “The Rossmans and Cherry Creek Theatre have been a powerful artistic presence in our area, and the MACC is delighted to bring them into our facility to assist in the continued growth of their outstanding work,” he said.

    Under Artistic Producer and outgoing Colorado Theatre Guild President Pat Payne, Cherry Creek Theatre has produced an eclectic mix ranging from Proof, Doubt and Twelve Angry Men to musicals including Baby, John & Jen and several Sondheim revues.

    Two huge upsides from the move: Free parking at the Mizel, and the ability to schedule more matinee performances. One downside: No Friday performances at the Mizel because of the Sabbath day of rest. Also, the move out of Cherry Creek North, given that the theatre company was specifically created in 2010 to bring live theatre to the shopping district.

    “While we would have liked to remain in Cherry Creek North, current redevelopment of the area has made this impossible from a cost standpoint,” Rossman said.  

    Red Hot & Cole is a two-act revue that traces Cole Porter’s career from Indiana to the world stages of New York, London, Paris and Venice, through his marriage, his friendships with contemporaries and the tragic riding accident that crippled him mid-career. The score features more than 25 Porter standards, including “Night and Day,” “Anything Goes” and “In the Still of the Night.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Cherry Creek has helped make its name as a legit new company by often incorporating union actors into its productions, which is cost-prohibitive for most comparably sized small companies. The local theatre ecology is teeming with professional-caliber non-union actors. But by committing to hiring - and paying - union actors, Cherry Creek has the full pool of available talent to choose from, and Red Hot & Cole is a primary example. Among the cast of Jeremy Rill, Seth Dhonau, Damon Guerasio, Stephen Day, Matt LaFontaine, Sharon Kay White, Lauren Shealy, Shannan Steele, Susannah McLeod and Olivia James are five members of the Actors Equity union.

    Red Hot Cole Cherry Creek Theatre Those are some big names. Day starred in the Arvada Center’s La Cage Aux Folles and many others; White just won a True West Award for her work in Sister Act and others at the Arvada Center, and Steele is a very familiar face at the Denver Center, having appeared in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; The Last Five Years; My Way; Animal Crackers; Sweeney Todd, and A Christmas Carol. Likewise, Lauren Shealy has appeared at the Denver Center in Forbidden Broadway; A Christmas Carol; The Doyle and Debbie Show, and Love, Perfect, Change.

    The Director is Broadway performer Piper Arpan (Spamalot) and the Music Director is Susan Draus, Music Director of the recent Broadway hit Beautiful, The Carole King Musical and creator of last summer’s interactive party Reunion ’85 at the Lone Tree Arts Center.

    "This move into an actual theatre speaks volumes about the passion, commitment and drive of the Cherry Creek Theatre directors and board," said Steele. "They are such an asset to the arts community here in Denver."

    Cherry Creek Theatre’s inaugural three-show season at the Mizel will include The Baby Dance, directed by Gavin Mayer, March 30-April 30; and Beau Jest, directed by M. Curtis Grittner, Nov. 9-Dec. 10.

    Pictured above, clockwise from top left: Stephen Day, Susannah McLeod, Matt LaFontaine and Lauren Shealy.

    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.

    Red Hot and Cole: Ticket information
    Who: Presented by the Cherry Creek Theatre Company
    When: Jan. 26 through Feb. 19
    Where: Mizel Arts and Culture Center, 350 S. Dahlia St.
    Times: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; also 7 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 12 and 19. No Friday perfromances
    Tickets $30-$35
    Call 303-800-6578 or go to cherrycreektheatre.org

    Mizel Arts and Culture CenterThe exterior of the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, home of the Pluss Theatre. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
  • 2016 True West Award: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson

    by John Moore | Dec 11, 2016
    True West Wilsons  Leslie O'Carroll. Steve Wilson. Tartuffe




    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 11:
    Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson

                   Our two Madames in Arvada Center's Tartuffe

    Leslie O’Carroll already was having one of the best years of her life as an actor when it happened: The actor’s dream - and nightmare - all at once. She was wanted in two overlapping shows this fall: The Arvada Center’s Tartuffe and, for the 18th time, the DCPA Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol. Rehearsals for one would start before the other was scheduled to end. Usually in such bountiful circumstances, the actor is forced to choose one job over the other.

    But Tartuffe director Lynne Collins came up with a titillating solution: What if O’Carroll’s husband, Steve Wilson, took over her role as the battle-axe Madame Pernelle for the final two weeks of Tartuffe when it came time for O’Carroll to return to her wildly popular annual romp as the Denver Center’s jovial Mrs. Fezziwig? 

    True West Awards. Steve Wilson. Leslie O'Carroll. Tartuffe.Moliere is known for grand comic twists, and they don’t come any grander than this: A husband subbing for his own wife. Tartuffe is subtitled The Imposter, after all.

    Madame Pernelle is the imposing matriarch of the household that comes fully under the spell of a sanctimonious and piously fraudulent houseguest named Tartuffe. She eats up every word the smarmy hypocrite says until he is inevitably exposed as a con – and she as a dowager dupe.

    But the result was casting – and comic – genius. Especially when Wilson took to the stage and uttered Madame’s immortal words: “Appearances can deceive, my son. Dear me, we cannot always judge by what we see."

    (Photos above right, from top: Leslie O'Carroll in 2016 productions of 'Mrs. Mannerly' with Graham Ward (photo by P. Switzer); 'Waiting for Obama' with Luke Sorge (photo by John Moore); and 'A Christmas Carol' (photo by Adams VisCom).

    Read our full interview with Steve Wilson

    Wilson and O’Carroll met as masters-degree students at the Denver Center’s former National Theatre Conservatory. She has performed steadily with the DCPA Theatre Company for 25 years, along with other local companies. Wilson was the longtime award-winning artistic director for the Phamaly Theatre Company, which creates performance opportunities for actors with disabilities. He is now the big-shot Executive Artistic Director of the Mizel Arts and Cultural Center.

    Wilson was fully on board to play Madame Pernelle in drag – that is, until he came home from his costume fitting. “He told me, “What have you gotten me into?” O’Carroll said with a laugh.

    Wilson approached what might have been a mere gimmick with utter seriousness. He memorized his lines four months in advance. "My goal was for people to not even realize that she was being played by a guy," Wilson said.

    For castmate Sam Gregory, who played the hilarious fool Orgon, the transition from one Wilson to the other was seamless.

    “I thought they were both really funny,” Gregory said. “I thought Leslie was lighter in her comic take on the character, and Steve was more strident in his - both of which worked in different and surprising ways.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “The most remarkable thing was how they both learned from each other," Gregory said. "Steve would watch Leslie do her thing for a while, and then Leslie watched Steve do his thing - and they would critique each other in the most brutally honest terms. And consequently, they would both return even funnier performances.”

    Also remarkable, he added, was how long it took Wilson to get into makeup. “That may have been a record,” Gregory joked. “Of course, he was transforming himself into my mother - which is quite an event.”

    True West Award. Steve Wilson. Leslie O'Carroll. 2016 was very good to O’Carroll. She starred as an imperious teacher of children’s etiquette in the Arvada Center’s nostalgic comedy Mrs. Mannerly, then joined an all-Colorado cast in New York for Waiting for Obama, which explored gun issue through the lens of a Colorado Springs family. Claire Martin of The Denver Post called O’Carroll “an immensely gifted comic actress who played Mrs. Mannerly to perfection,” while New York critic Dylan Arredondo said O’Carroll “turned out a show-stealing performance” in Waiting for Obama. Then came Tartuffe and A Christmas Carol, which runs on the DCPA's Stage Theatre through Dec. 24.

    Wilson said playing "dual-ing" Madames did not get weird back at home when he started to wear the heels in the family. They never actually even dressed up as Madame Pernelle at the same time because they essentially shared the same costume. And by all reports, no one watching was traumatized by Wilson's turn as the overbearing grand-matriarch. Except for perhaps the couple’s teenage daughter, Wilson said with a laugh.

    Wilson did take away one important lesson from the experience. “I have respect for all women,” he said. “Especially their wardrobe difficulties.”

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

    Video bonus: Leslie O'Carroll performs A Christmas Carol' ... in 5 minutes
     
    From 2013: Veteran Denver Center Theatre Company actor Leslie O'Carroll, who has appeared in 18 productions of "A Christmas Carol," performs Charles Dickens' classic as a solo piece ... in just five minutes.

  • Steve Wilson now wearing the heels in the 'Tartuffe' family

    by John Moore | Oct 28, 2016
    Tartuffe Steve Wilson. Arvada Center. Leslie O'Carroll. Who's who in the Arvada Center's 'Tartuffe'? That's Steve Wilson as Madame Pernelle in the photo on the left, and his wife, Leslie O'Carroll, playing the same role in the two photos on the right. Photos by Jessica Austgen and P. Switzer Photography.


    The Arvada Center’s acclaimed production of Moliere’s classic farce Tartuffe has undergone a deliciously farcical casting twist. For the final two weekends, the role normally played by Leslie O'Carroll will be played by her real-life husband, Steve Wilson.

    O’Carroll played Orgon’s battle-axe of a mother, Madame Pernelle, through last weekend. She had to leave the show early to begin rehearsals for her 18th turn as Mrs. Fezziwig in the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming seasonal presentation of A Christmas Carol. It was Tartuffe director Lynne Collins’ idea to cast O'Carroll but split the role between husband and wife.

    Tartuffe. Steve Wilson. Leslie O'Carroll. O’Carroll and Wilson are both graduates of the DCPA’s National Theatre Conservatory masters program. O’Carroll has appeared in dozens of DCPA Theatre productions over the past 25 years. Wilson was the longtime artistic director of Phamaly Theatre Company and is now Executive Artistic Director at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center.

    Madame Pernelle is completely under the spell of the hypocritical Tartuffe. In her big opening scene, she makes it clear that she has eaten up Tartuffe's every word – and she spits them back at anyone in spitting distance. But Wilson is not approaching his casting as a gimmick. Rather, he is taking the challenge very seriously.

    How seriously? “I memorized my lines four months ago because I was nervous that I might forget,” Wilson said.

    And then there is this: He shaved for the role.

    He shaved!

    "My goal is for people to not even realize that Madame Pernelle is being played by a guy," Wilson said.

    DCPA Teaching Artist Jessica Austgen conducts a 15-second interview with Leslie O'Carroll, her castmate in the Arvada Center's "Tartuffe," running through Nov. 6.


    Here are our rapid-fire questions for Steve Wilson:

    Are you pretty? Very.

    OK ... so how pretty are you? I’m extremely classy, graceful and pretty in a way that will be astonishing to all who know me.

    What was your biggest challenge in taking on this role? Living up to the genius of my wife.

    Tartuffe Steve Wilson QuoteWhat was your wife’s advice? She gave me tips on how to get into the costume quickly and how to deal with the wig.

    Whose boobs are bigger? Oh … mine are bigger by far.

    How much bigger?  Let’s just say three sizes bigger … and yet, I wear the same bra.

    Name one line that’s funnier coming from you: I have a great line where I say, “Appearances can deceive, my son. Dear me, we cannot always judge by what we see."

    How do you change the character of Madame Pernelle? It’s a heaver, harder and less feminine character with me.

    What’s one thing your wife does better than you? Leslie is of course a great physical comedian. Her comedy is lighter. More buoyant. She has a kind of Lucille Ball quality to her that I will never have.

    Christmas Carol Leslie O'Carroll. Photo by Adams VisCom.What’s one thing you do better than your wife? When this first came up, I thought of when the great actor Brian Bedford played Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest on Broadway. Moliere wrote Madame Pernelle to be this big, brassy matriarch. As played by a man, I think I bring maybe a bit more of an edge to her. But gender should have nothing to do with it.

    What have you learned about women? I have respect for all women - especially their wardrobe difficulties. My heels are relatively short, but wearing them is excruciatingly painful.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Best comment from a cast member: “I like the way Steve drops his voice in his old lady outfit. Hilarious!” – Jessica Austgen.

    Best insult from a cast member seeing you in costume: Actually, they have all been incredibly supportive. Even Michael Morgan, who plays Tartuffe. And Michael - how shall we say? - can be a biting wit.  

    What has your poor daughter said? She won’t see me in the costume until Saturday night. She’s preparing to be traumatized.

    (Pictured above right: Leslie O'Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig in the DCPA Theatre Company's 2015 production of 'A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Adams VisCom.)


    Arvada Center's Tartuffe: Ticket information
    • Written by Molière
    • Directed by Lynne Collins
    • Through Nov. 6
    • 6901 Wadsworth Blvd.
    • Performances: 1 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
    • Tickets $45 at 720-898-7200 or arvadacenter.org


    DCPA Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol:
    Ticket information

    • Nov. 25-Dec. 24 in the Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Accessibility performance: 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1


    Just for fun: Leslie O'Carroll performs "A Christmas O'Carroll" ... in 5 minutes:

    A look back at veteran DCPA Theatre Company actor Leslie O'Carroll's DIY performance  of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' as a solo piece ... and in just five minutes. Video by John Moore.

    Meet Sam Gregory of Tartuffe and A Christmas Carol

  • Photos: Arvada Center launches Black-Box Theatre Company

    by John Moore | Oct 01, 2016
    Arvada Center's Black-Box CompanyCurtain call on Opening Night of the Arvada Center's 'Tartuffe,' the very first performance by its new Black-Box Theatre Company. To see more, press the forward arrow on the image above.


    On Friday (Sept. 30), the Arvada Center launched its new Black-Box Theatre Company with the opening of Molière's Tartuffe. One group of actors will perform together for an entire season in four separate plays. Not all actors will appear in all four plays.

    The 2016-17 core ensemble is made up of Michael Morgan, Sam Gregory, Leslie O’Carroll, Sean Scrutchins, Emily Van Fleet, Kate Gleason, Anthony Adu, Josh Robinson, Jessica Austgen, Geoffrey Kent, Sam Gilstrap, Jenna Moll Reyes, Tim McCracken and Steve Wilson. Some plays will incorporate additional actors.

    Heading the operation for the Arvada Center are Artistic Director of Plays Lynne Collins and Executive Director Philip Sneed.
     
    Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Read more about the Arvada Center's new repertory company

    Arvada Center's Tartuffe: Ticket information
    • Written by Molière
    • Directed by Lynne Collins
    • Sept. 30-Nov. 6
    • 6901 Wadsworth Blvd.
    • Performances: 1 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
    • Tickets $45 at 720-898-7200 or arvadacenter.org

    Cast list:

    Michael Morgan (Tartuffe/M. Loyal)
    Sam Gregory (Orgon)
    Leslie O’Carroll (Mme Pernelle) - also Mrs. Fezziwig in DCPA's A Christmas Carol
    Sean Scrutchins (Damis) - DCPA Teaching Artist
    Emily Van Fleet (Mariane)
    Kate Gleason (Elmire) - DCPA Teaching Artist
    Anthony Adu (Valère)
    Josh Robinson (Cléante) - DCPA's All the Way
    Jessica Austgen (Dorine) - DCPA Teaching Artist

    The creative team also includes Clare Henkel (costume design), Diana Ben-Kiki (wigs), Brian Mallgrave (scenic design), Shannon McKinney (lighting design) and Morgan McCauley (sound design).

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    In the Spotlife: Meet Sam Gregory of Tartuffe

    DCPA Teaching Artist Jessica Austgen is one of many actors with Denver Center ties who are part of the Arvada Center's first seasonal repertory company. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
  • Linton returns to lead Phamaly in landmark appointment

    by John Moore | Aug 31, 2016

    Regan Linton


    Denver’s acclaimed Phamaly Theatre Company, which exists to provide performance opportunities for actors with disabilities, is saying goodbye – and hello – to two of its most familiar faces.

    Artistic Director Bryce Alexander has resigned to assume the same position with the Naples (Fla.) Players. Regan Linton, who performed with Phamaly for six years before becoming a leading advocate for the inclusion of actors with disabilities in the national theatre, will run the company for at least the next year.

    “We’re largely on the same page and have a shared vision for the company, so I anticipate a smooth transition,” Linton said Tuesday from her home in Bozeman, Mont. "Bryce has started a lot of great initiatives, and I get to pick up where he left off.”

    Bryce Alexander It is believed that Linton, 34, will become the only Artistic Director in a wheelchair to be leading a major U.S. theatre company, according to the Theatre Communications Group.

    Phamaly has produced professional plays and musicals since 1989, cast entirely with performers who have physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. While the company now performs a full year-round season, including a statewide children’s tour, its primary offering each year is a Broadway musical staged each summer at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Next up: Peter Pan in the Stage Theatre in July 2017.

    “Having a person with a disability in a leadership role is an important statement for any theatre company to make,” Linton said. “This gives me an opportunity to engage with Phamaly’s vision in a more proactive way, and to engage with actors with disabilities in a new way.”

    Linton, a graduate of Denver East High School, was paralyzed in a 2002 car accident while an undergraduate at the University of Southern California. After graduation, she won Denver Post Ovation Awards for her work in Phamaly’s productions of Side Show and The Man of LaMancha. Since then, her many “firsts” have included becoming the first paralyzed student ever accepted into one of the nation’s top masters acting conservatory programs (the University of California at San Diego), and Linton was the first actor in a wheelchair to be hired into the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival's year-round repertory company.

    “Regan brings a national artistic presence as a renowned professional actress, but she also brings her hometown knowledge of the actors, the company and the community,” Alexander said of his successor. “Anytime a prominent artist returns home to her roots, that can be a very powerful tool for the company. I think Regan will be able to take Phamaly to the next level as a major regional theatre in America.”

    Alexander has been with Phamaly since 2007 and became the company’s first full-time Artistic Director just 18 months ago. He said he would not be leaving now if he didn’t have full confidence in the company’s current course. He said he leaves Phamaly with a solid presence in the local national theatre communities, and solid relationships with the respective disability communities.

    Under Alexander, Phamaly has instituted year-round season programming, doubled its staff to six, significantly increased its funding from both the local Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and the National Endowment for the Arts, and made an international goodwill tour to Japan. In addition to directing The Glass Menagerie, Cabaret, Taking Leave and Evita, Alexander counts among notable accomplishments the introduction and implementation of sensory friendly performances.

    “All of that is clear proof that Phamaly is only on the way up,” Alexander said. “As bittersweet as it is for me to say, it is time for Phamaly to take the next step with someone who is living everyday with a disability and is able to truly connect with both the the disability community and the professional theatre community.”

    Alexander worked tirelessly to eradicate any perception of his company as an “other,” preferring instead for Phamaly to be considered and compared by the same standards as any other Denver-area theatre company.

    “I’ll miss the people the most,” Alexander said, “especially the actors who sacrifice and love far beyond any standard degree. Who so excellently explore our craft. I will never forget the passion they’ve taught me.” 

    A Linton much-ado-aout-nothingIn the Naples Players, Alexander will lead a venerable, year-round community theatre founded in 1953 in southwestern Florida. It performs mostly family friendly plays and musicals such as the upcoming Coney Island Christmas, Outside Mullingar and My Fair Lady. Alexander said the company services many socioeconomic backgrounds, has a strong arts-education program and subsists largely on 50,000 volunteer hours per year.

    The move will represent a significant increase in scope for Alexander. The Naples Players operate on a $3 million annual operating budget, compared to Phamaly’s $850,000. He will have a full-time staff of 16 in Florida, while Phamaly has four. And while Phamaly performs before about 12,000 a year, the Naples Players draw about 60,000.

    “The model of the Naples Players is one that large, regional professional theatres will be looking at," said Alexander, "not only concerning how to engage their audiences on a significant level, but the community as well."

    Alexander graduated from Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora and earned his graduate degree in Theatre Performance from the University of Colorado-Boulder. He was trained under the wing of DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson, who hired Alexander as his Assistant Director for White Christmas in 2012 and Just Like Us in 2013. He worked summers at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
     
    “Bryce has raised the bar during his time with Phamaly Theatre Company," said Phamaly Executive Director Maureen Johnson Ediger. "His passion for including artists living with all disabilities, combined with his innate talent for nurturing thought-provoking theatre, made him a profound artistic leader for our company.”

    Alexander is married to local actor Katie Cross, who will be featured in the Avenue Theater's The Money Shot, opening Friday and running through Sept. 24. They will move to Florida in October.

    Linton’s interim position will be considered a part-time role while the executive staff defines  job roles moving into the future. That will allow Linton to continue her work as a national disability advocate, though she said there is a very good possibility that her role could transition into a full-time career change next year.

    “I'm thrilled, honored, and really excited to see how I can support the company to keep doing great things, but also move into new directions,” said Linton, who has recently acted with The Arson Theatre in Minneapolis and the Griot Theatre in Los Angeles. “I am still very passionate about performing and developing as an artist, so I am going to continue to perform when it is beneficial to the company as well."

    Ediger said Linton’s charge is to focus on actor development, season implementation and development, and to continue to build partnerships with the theatre and disability communities.

    “She is the ideal candidate to pick up the torch and seamlessly move the company forward with their mission to inspire people to re-envision disability through professional theatre,” Ediger said. 

    Phamaly is not currently accepting applications for the permanent position. 

    Photos above: Regan Linton appearing in Phamaly's 'The Man of La Mancha,' Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 'Much Ado about Nothing,' and Phamaly's 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' Linton played a paralyzed Don Juan with Barret O'Brien in ' Much Ado,' - her understudy even had to learn to perform the role from a wheelchair. Photo by Jenny Graham.

    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.

    Phamaly Theatre Company' 2016-17 season
    Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach (touring)
    Opening Oct. 21-22, 2016, at the Lakewood Cultural Center

    Tiny Tim's Christmas Carol
    Dec. 1-18, 2016
    At the King Center on the Auraria campus

    Pygmalion
    By George Bernard Shaw
    Feb. 23-March 12, 2017
    At the Aurora Fox

    Staged reading of Spirits of Another Sort
    in collaboration with New York's Apothetae Theatre
    May 6-7, 2017
    At the Lone Tree Arts Center

    Peter Pan
    July 13-Aug. 6, 2017
    Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex

    For further information, click here

    Selected previous coverage of Regan Linton and Phamaly:



    Phamaly will send wheelchairs flying in Peter Pan
    February 2015: Phamaly names Bryce Alexander to replace Steve Wilson
    Wilson resigns from Phamaly after 14 years
    Regan Linton works her magic in San Diego
    PBS podcast: Denver theater featuring disabled cast gains popularity
    Phamaly's historic goodwill tour to Japan
    Regan Linton: Performing for those who cannot
  • Phamaly promotes Bryce Alexander to replace longtime artistic leader

    by John Moore | Feb 19, 2015

    Steve Wilson and Bryce Alexander. Photo by John Moore.
    The retiring Steve Wilson, left, and his replacement, Bryce Alexander. Photo by John Moore.


    Denver’s Phamaly Theatre Company, acclaimed for creating performance opportunities for hundreds of actors with disabilities, has named Bryce Alexander its new Artistic Director. 

    Alexander, 25, hBryce Alexander Quoteas been with Phamaly for six years, most recently as Associate Artistic Director under Steve Wilson, who resigned after 14 years on Dec. 31.

    "I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to deepen my relationship with our extraordinary company through the trust of the board, the staff, the performers and the community," Alexander said. "Steve Wilson has built Phamaly’s reputation of high quality, professional theatre. I am humbled to succeed him and take Phamaly to the next level."

    DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson hired Alexander as his Assistant Director for White Christmas in 2012 and Just Like Us in 2013. “I am thrilled by Bryce’s appointment, having seen several productions he has directed,” said Thompson. Alexander also assisted Art Manke on the Theatre Company's The Three Musketeers.

    “I have no doubt that his energy, talent and deep commitment to Phamaly will help it reach new heights of artistic success and national acclaim,” Thompson added.

    Phamaly has produced professional plays and musicals since 1989, cast entirely with performers who have physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. While the company now performs up to six productions a year, its primary offering each year is a Broadway musical staged at the Space Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. 

    Bryce AlexanderWilson, who served on the search committee to find his own replacement, was overjoyed by the decision. “There is no one in whom I would place more confidence to lead Phamaly to the next level than Bryce,” he said. 

    Phamaly Executive Director Chris Silberman said Alexander’s artistic talent and operational skills “have served as the glue for all of the many moving parts of this company.” He cited Alexander’s successful efforts to send Phamaly’s current production of The Fantasticks to Japan as part of a convention to advance the global independence of people with disabilities. The musical, directed by Alexander, opened with three weeks of performances at the Aurora Fox. It moves to the Arvada Center from Feb. 27-March 1 before heading to Osaka for a 10-day goodwill mission in March that will culminate with a performance in a 1,500-seat theatre. This will be the 25-year-old company’s first-ever international performance.

    Alexander “turned the idea from an unachievable dream to a reality,” Silberman said.

    Alexander, who lives in Westminster, graduated from Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, and earned his graduate degree in Theatre Performance from the University of Colorado in Boulder. His thesis was titled Applying Modern Disability Theory as an Actor and Director to Theatrical Texts of the Past and Present. He was an assistant director for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival for three summers. For Phamaly, he co-directed The Elephant Man and It's a Wonderful Life and directed The Glass Menagerie and several children’s productions. 

    "In many ways, Phamaly is the place where I truly learned to be an artist; a place that challenged my perceptions, encouraged my exploration and deepened my respect for our craft," Alexander said. "To have the opportunity to lead this incredible organization forward, to continue our exceptional growth, to deepen our exploration of humanity - and our own understanding as a result - is a dream come true."

    Last year, Alexander interned under the retiring Guthrie Theatre Artistic Director Joe Dowling for its staging of My Fair Lady.

    His disability-related experience includes working as a counselor at Adam’s Camp Colorado, and swim coach for Special Olympics Colorado.

    For Phamaly, Alexander conceptualized and implemented a series of sensory-friendly performances that led to Phamaly recently having received a $14,000 award from the Arts Affinity Group of The Denver Foundation. Alexander also has had a hand in shaping Phamaly’s outreach and tour programming that has toured to Crested Butte, Colorado Springs and Wyoming. He came to Phamaly in 2009 as an intern.

    "I have always found Bryce to be as wonderful with people as he is with details,” said frequent Phamaly Musical Director Donna Debreceni. “It's great to have someone in his position who I can trust to take care of whatever is asked. And in this company, that could be about anything.” 

    While Silberman said Alexander will direct many of Phamaly’s future shows, including this summer’s Cabaret at the DCPA, the Artistic Director position will be expanded to include artistic visioning and planning, as well as community engagement on a local and national level. Alexander’s three primary goals will be to serve a more broad population of actors with disabilities; to seek out new education opportunities for individuals with disabilities of all ages; and to engage the local theatre community and encourage more performance opportunities for actors with disabilities on stages outside of Phamaly’s.

    "There are distinct challenges, but unmistakable achievements ahead as we expand our programming, enrich our audience experience, refine our messaging, and expound our impact," Alexander said. "Phamaly is poised to become a national model for disability in the arts, and I am confident that the company will work together to further cement our place in the local, national, and international arts and disability communities."

    The selection of Alexander, Wilson added, “will leave the company in very good hands moving forward.”

    Previous coverage of the Phamaly leadership change story:
    Video: Phamaly says thanks to artistic director Steve Wilson
    Wilson resigns from Phamaly Theatre Company after 14 years
    Wilson named 2014 Theatre Person of the Year

    'The Fantasticks,' Directed by Bryce Alexander. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

    'The Fantasticks,' directed by Bryce Alexander and featuring, from left, Stewart Caswell, David Wright and Jeremy Palmer, will be performed in Japan after an upcoming weekend at the Arvada Center. Photo by Michael Ensminger.
  • Video: Phamaly says thanks to artistic director Steve Wilson

    by John Moore | Jan 28, 2015


    Steve Wilson. Photo by John Moore.On Dec. 31, Steve Wilson resigned as Artistic Director of Denver's nationally acclaimed Phamaly Theatre Company. Over 14 years, Wilson created countless professional performance opportunities for actors with disabilities - 200 in 2014 alone.

    Wilson is a graduate of the DCPA's National Theatre Conservatory masters program, and last month was named the True West 2014 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year.

    Friends gathered at the Garner-Galleria Theatre on Jan. 12, not to say goodbye, but to say thanks. It was particularly poignant when Lucy Roucis, who has advanced Parkinson's Disease, thanked Wilson for treating her like a peer.

    "Most important, you saw me as an actor," she says. "You treated me like someone who gave a (bleep)."

    Others featured in the video include Chris Silberman, Bryce Alexander, Maureen Ediger, Harper Ediger, Mark Dissette, Jeremy Palmer, Mickey Mauck, Kim Jackson, Laurice Quinn, James Sherman, Carol Kelly-Rohach, Paul Behrhorst and Kathi Gibbs Wood.

    Video by John Moore.

    Previous coverage of the Steve Wilson story:
    Wilson resigns from Phamaly Theatre Company after 14 years
    Wilson named 2014 Theatre Person of the Year
  • 2014 True West Theatre Person of the Year: Steve Wilson

    by John Moore | Dec 31, 2014
    True_West_Award_STEVE_WILSON_800



    TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 AWARDS

    steve quote

    True_West_Award_300It is the Steve Wilson stage moment that no one will ever forget. And when Wilson first proposed it, actor Regan Linton responded with an, “Oh, hell no!’ ”

    Wilson suggested that Linton, who was paralyzed in a 2002 car accident, crawl across the floor of the DCPA’s Space Theatre right after the rape scene in the Phamaly Theatre Company’s unnerving 2009 staging of Man of La Mancha. Beaten and separated from her wheelchair, Linton was forced to writhe across the stage with her elbows - leaving agonized audiences wanting to jump out of their seats to assist her as she sang the bitter lament of the whore Aldonza.

    Wilson is always happy to yank his actors and audiences out of their comfort zones. And, apparently, even their wheelchairs.

    “Steve never hesitated to push me as an artist,” said Linton, now a professional resident actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “Other directors would see my wheelchair and hesitate; Steve dove in like a giddy 5-year-old to explore the creative possibilities.”

    Phamaly is a professional theatre company that for 25 years has cast only actors with mental and physical disabilities. Since Wilson arrived in 2000, he has layered what I call "little gems of authenticity" on top of his productions, both to infuse deeper layers of meaning and even comedy into otherwise familiar stories, while giving audiences unique insight into the challenges of living with a disability.

    Wilson set Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in a mental hospital, making the Biblical storytelling a temporary escape for a group of disabled outcasts. He made a political poke when he cast exclusively blind actors to play the greedy town leaders in Urinetown. (The blind leading the backed-up.)

    When Wilson directed his first show for Phamaly 14 years ago, the company was staging just one big summer musical per year. When he officially became the Artistic Director in 2004, he adopted two central missions: To expand performance opportunities for actors with disabilities. And to raise the level of professionalism in the company.

    Done and Doner.

    True_West_Award_STEVE_WILSON_400In 2000, about 25 handicapped actors performed for Phamaly each year. In 2014, with programming expanded to six annual offerings, that number is now over 200. Under Wilson, annual attendance has more than tripled, from 3,000 to about 11,000, and the operating budget has more than doubled, to $800,000.

    And as for artistic achievement, consider that Phamaly has won 14 True West/Denver Post Ovation Awards as a company, and Wilson has been named outstanding director by the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards four times.

    ​"We always hoped we would be a place where the disabled could grow, both as actors and human beings," said Wilson, who has directed or co-directed 18 Phamaly plays and musicals, most recently last summer’s 25th anniversary reprisal of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

    All of which made Wilson's resignation in October such a surprise. He did it, he said, in part to concentrate on the ever-growing demands of his full-time job as Executive Artistic Director of the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, a multidisciplinary arts center on the campus of the Jewish Community Center. With an annual budget of $3 million and programming spanning the performing, visual and literary arts, it's a growing job that demands his full-time attention. His resignation from Phamaly is effective today (Dec. 31).

    Wilson leaves behind a thriving organization with a committed executive director (Chris Silberman), a bona-fide development director (Tamara Arredondo), a powerhouse board, and a personal protégé in Bryce Alexander who seems poised to succeed him. (No announcement has been made.) In addition to the annual Broadway musical at the DCPA, Phamaly now also presents original sketch comedies and touring children’s productions such as the current Rapunzel. The upcoming winter production of The Fantasticks will be performed at both the Aurora Fox (Jan. 29-Feb. 15) and the Arvada Center (Feb. 27-March 1) before touring to Japan. So, in a way, Wilson is the victim of his own success, because Phamaly is a company that now demands the attention of a full-time Artistic Director, too.

    Over the past decade, Wilson also managed to fit in two terms as president of the Colorado Theatre Guild, and he continues to serve as co-chair of the Scientific and Cultural Collaborative, a group dedicated to the 2016 re-authorization of the penny-per-$10 sales tax that next year will generate more than $50 million for metro cultural organizations. He also married longtime Denver actor Leslie O’Carroll, and they have a daughter, Olivia, who is now a student at Denver School of the Arts.

    In short: Only a handful of individuals in Colorado theatre history have overseen the growth of a single company the way Wilson has shepherded Phamaly from where it was in 2000 to where it is today.

    And for that reason, Wilson has today been named the True West 2014 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year, joining the company of Curious Theatre's Chip Walton, Su Teatro's Tony Garcia and many others.

    His reaction? “I’m speechless.”

    He wasn’t … but that's what he said.

    While Wilson’s administrative achievements are significant, his most important contribution has been creating live theatregoing experiences that have allowed for profound emotional connections between audiences and his actors on a nightly basis. And he did that by always abiding to a core tenet: Wilson would never ignore his actors' disabilities; rather, he would incorporate them into their characters. That means his Belle in Beauty and the Beast (Jenna Bainbridge) danced the show’s signature waltz with a sizable gait. "And I loved it," Wilson said, "because it was beautiful.

    "I'm not going to cover up what they are,” he added, "because I love who they are."

    Wilson’s first show with Phamaly was Grand Hotel. His sentimental favorites were Urinetown and Man of La Mancha. “I just felt like those two plays connected with my love of plot, and my desire to focus on a narrative story,” he said.

    Another of Wilson’s significant legacies was growing his company from a group of actors who primarily performed just for Phamaly -- because only Phamaly would have them -- to one whose members are regularly cast by other companies across the state and country. For example, Bainbridge has performed in leading roles the past two summers with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. And Linton became the first student in a wheelchair to be accepted into the University of California-San Diego's masters program.

    “That was a big risk for them to take Regan,” Wilson said. “Not because she isn’t talented, but because we don’t know what her future as a professional actor looks like. There are a lot of directors out there who are afraid. But the fact that Regan is now performing with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival proves that we are breaking down the barriers.”

    Wilson grew up in Irvine, Calif., and moved to Denver when he was accepted into the DCPA's National Theatre Conservatory graduate program. He was the right fit for Phamaly all those years ago, Wlson believes, because he is inherently a teacher, and directing handicapped actors essentially means teaching them.

    “And the experience of teaching these actors makes me feel at my core like I have accomplished something,” Wilson said.

    Linton, for one, was happy to be schooled by Wilson.

    “When I nearly had to drop out of Man of La Mancha due to a health issue, he refused to replace me,” Linton said. “He squashed my self-doubt, took my suggestions and gave me a safe space to be fearless, always amid the reminder that 'theatre is hard.' He showed me that with confidence, creativity and just the right amount of crazy, I could be as good as anyone.”

    Wilson hopes to return to Phamaly as a guest director someday, but he definitely will not direct Cabaret, ending his streak at 14 straight summer musicals. Instead, he will be directing a teen production of Hamlet for the Wolf Theatre Academy at the Jewish Community Center. He hopes to eventually direct on a freelance basis for area theatres such as the Aurora Fox or Town Hall Arts Center.

    Wilson said when the history of Phamaly is written, "I would like to be remembered for helping to lay the foundation for a company that has made an impact throughout the world. And my hope is that it continues to grow over the next 25 years.”

    True West Theatre Person of the Year:

    2014: Steve Wilson, Executive Artistic Director, Phamaly Theatre Company and Mizel Center for Arts and Culture
    2013: Actor, teacher and cancer survivor Shelly Bordas
    2012: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company co-founder Stephen Weitz
    2011: Maurice LaMee, Creede Repertory Theatre artistic director
    2010: Anthony Garcia, Su Teatro artistic director
    2009: Kathleen M. Brady, Denver Center Theatre Company actor
    2008: Bas Bleu Theatre co-founder Wendy Ishii
    2007: Germinal Stage-Denver founder Ed Baierlein
    2006: Curious Theatre Company associate artistic director Bonnie Metzgar
    2005: Curious Theatre Company artistic director Chip Walton
    2004: Actor/set designer/director/playwright Michael R. Duran
    2003: Denver Center Theatre Company director/playwright Nagle Jackson
    2002: Actor/director Chris Tabb

                                
                                       THE 2014 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    :

    1. Norrell Moore
    2. Kate Gleason
    3. Amanda Berg Wilson and Jeremy Make
    4. Ben Cowhick
    5. Robert Michael Sanders
    6. David Nehls
    7. Adrian Egolf
    8. Emma Messenger
    9. Buntport's Naughty Bits
    10. Tim Howard
    11. Gleason Bauer
    12. Daniel Traylor
    13. Aisha Jackson and Jim Hogan
    14. Cast of 'The Whipping Man'
    15. Rick Yaconis
    16. Michael R. Duran
    17. Laura Norman
    18. Jacquie Jo Billings
    19. Megan Van De Hey
    20. Jeremy Palmer
    21. Henry Lowenstein   
    22. Sam Gregory
    23. Wendy Ishii
    24. J. Michael Finley
    25. Kristen Samu and Denver Actors Fund volunteers
    26. Matthew D. Peters
    27. Shannan Steele
    28. Ludlow, 1914
    29. Spring Awakening and Annapurna
    30 Theatre Person of the Year Steve Wilson

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, which began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, are the longest-running continuously administered awards program in Colorado theater. This year, the awards have been re-conceived to simply recognize 30 award-worthy achievements in local theatre, without categories or nominations. A different honoree will be singled out each day for 30 days.

    The True West Awards are administered by arts journalist John Moore, who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since founded The Denver Actors Fund and taken a groundbreaking position as the DCPA's Senior Arts Journalist.

    *The DCPA Theatre Company is not considered for True West Awards, which are instead intended as the DCPA's celebration of the local theatre community.

    Moore's daily coverage of the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

  • Wilson resigns from Phamaly Theatre Company after 14 years

    by John Moore | Oct 04, 2014
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    Steve Wilson addresses his cast just before the opening performance of "Fiddler on the Roof" at the DCPA's Space Theatre in 2013. Photo by John Moore.


    Steve_Wilson_Phamaly_FaceSteve Wilson, longtime Artistic Director of the internationally acclaimed Phamaly Theatre Company, announced his resignation today after 14 years as the creative leader of a troupe dedicated to creating professional performance opportunities for actors with disabilities.

    While the decision was termed mutual, Phamaly Executive Director Christopher Silberman said it was spurred "by our collective desire to create a full-time Artistic Director position for the company."

    Wilson also serves as full-time Executive Artistic Director of the Mizel Arts and Culture Center,  a multidisciplinary arts center on the campus of the Jewish Community Center with an annual budget of $3 million.

    The resignation is effective Dec. 31.

    In a statement, Silberman said the announcement comes as the demands of both companies have exponentially increased in recent years. Until seven years ago, Phamaly performed just one show annually. The company now produces up to six shows each year, plus a regional touring show. In March 2015, Phamaly will bring its production of The Fantasticks to Osaka, Japan.

    “It is difficult to express the colossal impact of Phamaly on my life," Wilson said in a statement. "It has been a warm, nurturing, creative home for me. It has been my artistic identity and a place where I have always felt embraced as a leader and mentor.” 

    In Wilson’s time with Phamaly, he directed or co-directed 18 plays and musicals, most recently the company’s 25th anniversary reprisal of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

    Wilson won Denver Post Ovation Awards for directing Phamaly's first Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2005 and Side Show in 2008. He also won Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards for Joseph, Urinetown, Man of La Mancha and Beauty and the Beast.

    Wilson, a graduate of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts' National Theatre Conservatory masters program, also picked up a 2003 Ovation Award for acting, in Theatre Group's "Gross Indecency."

    “Phamaly would not be what it is today without Steve’s brilliant artistic mind, passion and direction," said Silberman, who added he hopes Wilson will return at some time in the future as a guest director. But for now it is unknown who will helm Phamaly's announced summer 2015 musical, Cabaret.

    Wilson was known for putting his signature spins on Phamaly productions that helped create deeper layers of meaning in the stories on stage, while giving audiences a unique insight into the challenges of living with a disability.

    Wilson set Joseph in a mental hospital, making the Biblical storytelling a temporary escape for a group of mentally and disabled outcasts. Side Show is a story that centers on conjoined twins presented as circus freaks, so there were inherently deeper levels of meaning when Wilson cast those parts with actors in wheelchairs. He was unafraid to make political commentaries as well, often for comic effect. He cast exclusively blind actors to play the greedy town leaders in Urinetown.

    What might present itself as a challenge to other directors has been to Wilson an opportunity for groundbreaking staging innovations.

    Wilson's Man of La Mancha  will be forever remembered for paralyzed actor Regan Linton, playing the whore Aldonza, crawling across the floor after having been attacked and thrown from her wheelchair. It was a moment no other La Mancha could possibly deliver.

    "We always hoped we would be a place where the disabled could grow, both as actors and human beings," Wilson told me in a 2010 interview.

    Perhaps Wilson's greatest legacy is growing his company from a group of actors who primarily performed only for Phamaly -- because only Phamaly would have them -- to one whose members are regularly cast by companies across the state and country. Two examples: Jenna Bainbridge has performed in leading roles the past two summers with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. Linton is now a company member with the Oregon Shakesepare Festival in Ashland.

    "There are a lot of preconceptions in the theater when it comes to accepting and fully integrating disabled actors," Wilson said.

    A core tenet of Phamaly under Wilson's tenure has been not to ignore his actors' disabilities, but rather to incorporate them. "My job is to highlight the fact that the world we inhabit is a world full of disabilities," Wilson said.

    Beauty and the Beast is perhaps best known for a big, sweeping waltz between Belle and the Beast. Bainbridge, who played Belle, has neurological spine disorder. "That means she walks with a sizable gait — and I love it," Wilson said. "I think it's beautiful."

    The "tale as old as time" has always been about redefining our notions of beauty. And Wilson's staging of Beauty and the Beast with disabled actors became about redefining beauty for his own audiences.

    "I'm not going to cover up what they are," Wilson said, "because I love who they are."

    Wilson said his sadness at leaving Phamaly now is "profound."

    "I gave everything possible in my time with the company and have received much more in return," he said. "But I know my leaving will provide the company with an ability to excel in new ways with a refreshed artistic energy."

    Silberman will lead a national search process for Wilson’s successor, details of which will be announced later this month.


    Steve_Wilson_Phamaly_8002

    Steve Wilson with his parents, daughter and wife Leslie O'Carroll, a longtime actor with the DCPA Theatre Company. Photo by John Moore.


    Next for Phamaly: Vox PHAMALIA: Pity Pity Bang Bang
    (
    Phamaly Theatre Company's 'differently-abled sketch comedy' show)
    Performances Oct. 16-26
    The Avenue Theatre, 417 E. 17th Ave. 
    7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus Oct. 20 and 23; also 2 p.m. Sundays
    Tickets: $20 in advance or $24 at the door
    303-321-5925
    Click here to go to the ticketing page

    About the Phamaly Theatre Company
    Phamaly Theatre Company (formerly known as the Physically Handicapped Actors & Musical Artists League) is celebrating its 25th anniversary season of professional-scale performances exclusively featuring actors with disabilities (physical, cognitive, and emotional). Their mission is to inspire people to re-envision disability through professional theatre. Phamaly produces plays and musicals throughout the Denver Metro region, in venues such as the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the Arvada Center, the Aurora Fox Arts Center, and the Lone Tree Arts Center. The organization additionally has a regional touring program. This year, Phamaly is serving over 200 performers with disabilities and nearly 20,000 audiences across the state. For more information on Phamaly, visit www.phamaly.org.
  • Phamaly remembers Troy Willis, an actor who flew with broken wings

    by John Moore | Jun 18, 2014

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    Troy Willis, far right, was part of the "blind rich man chorus" from the handicapped Phamaly Theatre Company's telling 2007 production of "Urinetown." Photo by Michael Ensminger.

    By John Moore

    Troy Willis was a master clogger with a sweet spot for Carol Channing, Dame Edna and performing on the live stage. That he went blind at a young age from juvenile diabetes did little to hinder those passions.

    Willis, who performed with the local handicapped Phamaly Theatre Company beginning with its second production in 1990 and through 2010, died June 12 of complications from a kidney transplant. He was 48.

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    Friend Marie DeSanto marked Willis’ death on Facebook by noting: “There are many more brail menus in Denver because of Troy.”

    A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 28, at Christ Church United Methodist, 690 Colorado Blvd.

    “Aside from being extremely talented, he was kind and funny and friendly, and I can’t ever remember him not having a smile on his face,” Phamaly co-founder Teri Westerman said.

    Willis starred as Curly McLain in Phamaly’s 1990 production of Oklahoma. Seminal roles also included playing J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Westerman’s favorite, as Billy Crocker in Anything Goes.

    “At one point in the show, when he was trying to hide, Troy decided to break into his impression of Carol Channing,” Westerman said. “And it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

    Phamaly is one of the world’s only professional theatre companies that casts only actors with a physical or mental disabilities in its productions. Company members took time out from Saturday’s 25th anniversary gala to remember Willis as a sweet man who was funny and well-liked.  

    “He was a truly beautiful soul who endured some unimaginable challenges,” said longtime Phamaly director Steve Wilson. Those challenges included kidney and pancreatic transplants that left him unable to properly balance himself.

    Willis was one of eight blind actors Wilson cast in Phamaly’s 2007 production of Urinetown, a futuristic story where the poor must “pay to pee.”  Wilson had the epiphany to cast all his rich characters - the ones who profit off the suffering of the poor - with visually impaired actors. He called it a case of the blind leading the backed-up. Willis played a rich guy named Mr. McQueen.

    Mark Dissette, who directed Willis in Oklahoma, wrote on his Facebook page: "Here's to our one and only Curly, my wonderful Hysterium, the best Boyfriend, and so many other roles he brought to life. “

    Willis was born on Oct. 27, 1966, in Lawton, Okla. He graduated from MacArthur High School in 1984 and earned his degree in Human Services from Metropolitan State College of Denver in 1994. He has worked as a vocational counselor at the Mental Health Center of Denver since August 1994. He also worked as a paid usher for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

    Later in life, side effects from Willis’ anti-rejection drugs changed his speech patterns, Westerman said. “He completely lost all filters. Whatever came out of his mouth is what he really felt.” But rather than that being a potentially problematic thing for some people, Westerman said, for Willis, it was wonderful.

    “I wish we all could be that honest,” she said. “Troy is proof that when you live your life with a high level of honesty and integrity, you can’t fail.”

    Because Phamaly actors often face serious, lifelong medical challenges, its company members pass away with much greater, numbing regularity than the general public. A roster of the departed is included in the program of each production. “After 25 years, you sort of intrinsically know it is going to happen again,” Westerman said. “But it never gets any easier.”

    Childhood friend Jamie Quyn Benjamin nicknamed Willis her “Bird with the Broken Wings” after a poem she wrote under her pen name, Jamie Weathers. In it, a bird with broken wings feels battered, foolish and useless … until she notices another bird with broken wings that hang at his sides as heavy as rainclouds. An excerpt:

    She watched
    As he spread his wings
    And disappeared
    Through the branches,
    As suddenly as he had come.

    And in the dim light,
    She, too, spread her wings
    And felt herself rise up
    Through the branches
    And into the brilliant sun
    Of springtime.

    Willis' survivors include sisters Tara Harrison, Tricia Parker, Tanya Pocowatchit and Tamara Francis-Williams. In lieu of flowers, friends are encouraged to make a donation in Willis’ name to the American Diabetes Foundation.  Call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2383).

    Note: The Phamaly Theatre Company will present "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" from July 10 through Aug. 10 in the Denver Center's Space Theatre. Click here for ticket information. 

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    Troy Willis played Curly McLain in Phamaly's second production, "Oklahoma!" in 1990.

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

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