Colorado's oldest theatre celebrates Artistic Director Tom McNally

by NewsCenter Staff | Jul 31, 2015

Dan McNally, left, as Nixon, and broether Tom McNally as Henry Kissinger in 'Nixon's Nixon' in 2011.
Dan McNally, left, as Nixon, and brother Tom McNally as Henry Kissinger in 'Nixon's Nixon' in 2011.

Editor's Note:
The DCPA NewsCenter offers a weekly guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.


By Gillian McNally

For the DCPA NewsCenter

Gillian McNally GREELEY In the summer of 1988, we packed up a large U-Haul in State College, Pa., and headed back west to our home, Colorado. I remember venturing north up a dull, dusty, dreary Highway 85 and wondering where on earth our next chapter of life would be. We arrived in what was then a much smaller Greeley, Colo. The first show my dad directed that summer was The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash. Much like the characters in this play, we were searching desperately for hope. I couldn’t help but connect to Nash’s description of his play. He said:

What happens to the people of the west — beyond the sudden poverty and loss of substance — is a kind of desperation. Rain will never come again; the earth will be sere forever; and in all of heaven, there is no promise of remedy. Yet, men of wisdom like H.C. Curry know to be patient with heaven. They know that the earth will not thirst forever; they know that one day they will again awaken to a green morning.

Although not as severe, when we arrived at the University of Northern Colorado in 1988, the theatre program was at risk of a possible drought. With dwindling numbers and looming financial cuts, the theatre program, and its Little Theatre of the Rockies summer theatre company, could have possibly disappeared. Yet, like H.C. Curry, Tom McNally knew to be “patient with heaven.” He rolled up his sleeves and set out to create his “green morning” here with so many other talented artists at LTR. He has carefully built and tended this garden, this little piece of heaven for the arts here in Greeley, for the past 28 years.

The Little Theatre Rockies is now the oldest theatre company in Colorado, and this summer is celebrating its 81st year. Tonight (July 31), we will honor Tom McNally for his dedication as Artistic Director of Little Theatre of the Rockies for the past 28 years. In that time, he has directed or acted in 39 productions. In 2012, he was awarded the Colorado Theatre Guild's Henry Award for Lifetime Achievement.

At our core, theatre artists are storytellers. Through his magical gifts as both a director and actor, Tom McNally has been an amazing storyteller. Through his craft, he has transported us from the Dust Bowl Depression in The Rainmaker, to the hilarious new bachelors in New York City finding their way in The Odd Couple, to kidnapped hostages in Lebanon in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.

And finally this summer, Greeley audiences sat in the living room with the Younger family as they struggled with racial prejudice in America in A Raisin in the Sun. Certainly a timely story to share just days after the church shootings in Charleston, S.C.

Tom McNally. Photo by John Moore. The influence my dad has had on me is immeasurable. Something I’ve learned from him all these years is to choose stories that move us in a big way: Stories that must be told. Maybe it’s the Irish in us…

My dad chooses stories of people going through the impossible, yet by watching their struggle, the audience leaves the theatre feeling hopeful and courageous to take on challenges in their own lives. These are the stories that Tom McNally chose to share at LTR over 28 summers.

There was not a dry eye in the house as we watched M’Lynn lose her daughter much too early in Steel Magnolias. We admired the strength of Henry Kissinger as he stood up to the most powerful man in the world in the midst of the Watergate hearings in Nixon’s Nixon. We contemplated our complex relationships with our own parents in the final chapter of their lives in On Golden Pond. I watched as my dad experienced a small bit of healing as he directed stories very close to his life growing up. The hilarious family struggling to make ends meet in Over the Tavern poked fun at growing up Catholic in the 1950s, but also looked beyond the Father Knows Best façade to the dark and scary truths of an alcoholic father.

These moments and many more are the stuff of legend.

I am honored to help celebrate the amazing contributions of my dad. Because of his tireless dedication and amazing artistic vision, Little Theatre of the Rockies continues to be a theatre that tells stories that bring us together as a community to question, analyze and celebrate the human experience.

About Our Guest Columnist:
Gillian McNally currently serves as Associate Professor of Theatre Education and Head of Community Engagement and Programs for Youth at the University of Northern Colorado. At UNC, she teaches undergraduate and graduate level theatre educators and oversees the yearly production for young audiences. She holds an M.F.A. in Drama and Theatre for Youth from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a current Board Member of TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences)/USA.

Previous Guest Columns:
Margie Lamb on the Henry Awards: Something doesn't add up
Bryan VanDriel on Lloyd Norton: A name that will live on in Greeley
Jessica Jackson on Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
Susan Lyles on 10 years of staging plays for women in Denver

Be Our Guest (Columnist)
The DCPA NewsCenter offers a weekly guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and proposed topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.

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  1. Nancy Hall Johnson | Aug 30, 2015
    Congratulations, Tom.  I, being a very very young friend of your family -- in particular your three youngest sisters. I, Nancy Hall Johnson, youngest daughter of Stan & Doris Hall, remember you entering the house in the evening... depending on which character you had taken on theatrically... with majesty, or fear, or unbelievable energy. I never knew which Tom was walking in the door.  Thank you for keeping theater alive in Colorado.

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    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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