Terry Dodd: A playwright, director who bled empathy

by John Moore | Oct 13, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


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


Terry Dodd remembered

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


Significant writings:

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

Selected seminal plays directed include:

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

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

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

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

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

36 comments

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  1. Seaver | Sep 13, 2017
    What a loss. And what a hoot in life. I can't hear "I'm gonna go home and tilt the fridge" without thinking about him, and getting out of the car in the dark this morning I saw the sky and thought "Starlight Motel" from one of his plays.
  2. Skip Clopton | Nov 28, 2016

    Anyone else remember Terry's production of "Vieux Carre" at the old Nomad Playhouse?  Or "Jimmy Dean"?  Or any other productions he directed at the funky quanset hut on Quince Street?  I learned more about theater from him than I did from most of my formal training.  I'm having a tough time realizing he's actually gone.

  3. Nancy Davis | Nov 02, 2016

    In over 50 years of experiencing theatre, I have found few productions that are a "full experience."  I took several family members to see Stanton's Garage and to this day it has been the most "fun experience" of all theatre productions I have had the pleasure of enjoying which to date numbers in excess of 1500.  I was so looking forward to Stanton's Garage again that I had made the request to Terry.  He said "Find me a garage." so I had been looking.  Now I will stop and miss Terry.  What a sweet, warm and wonderful person he was.

  4. Annie Kitching | Nov 01, 2016

    In college Terry was one of my best friends.  We had so much fun together doing shows and loving theater.  I've looked for him a few times over the years but never could pin down where he was.  I'm sorry I had to find him this way.  

    Annie Kitching (Anya Springer)

  5. Lisa mumpton | Nov 01, 2016

    Terry was a constant in the Colorado theatre community and part of the Fox family.  I went to work with him every day for  over a year.  He was a prolific storyteller.  He understood that the story is at the heart of everything we do.  He loved theatre and films and television because they were all about the story.  He loved and honored this community because we were his story tellers.   Hope he knew that we all loved and honored him as well. 

  6. Dee Noel | Oct 25, 2016
    I worked with Terry for over 11 years in our apartment building as full then part-time property manager.  He was always very good with taking care of the tenants and loved to share his experiences in the theater with us.  It is with a sad heart that I will say good by to him.  He will be missed very much.  Dee Noel
  7. Helen Peoples | Oct 22, 2016
    I was cast in two productions by Terry back in 1994 when he directed The Diviners and The Big Empty at Arapahoe Community College.  I had never done theatre, yet Terry gave me the confidence to try a new form of expression that I had never experienced before.  His personal interaction with each cast member will always be remembered.  I am so thankful to have had this time with Terry.  He will be missed.
  8. Alphonse Keasley | Oct 21, 2016
    Terry was my first director in Colorado at Boulder's Nomad Playhouse.  I did not have the honor of seeing him after that memorable experience back-in-the-day, but I remained ever thankful for his guidance on stage.  I would like to think of his career in the theater as a life well lived.  With great appreciation, Terry.  
  9. Wendy Chapin | Oct 20, 2016
    I also am from the days of CU when we were all in undergrads  together sharing the beginnings of who we would become.  Terry and I shared a house together and many laughs.  It is surprising to me how vivid and vital those easy memories are still.  I loved Terry and can't imagine never hearing his sweet laugh again.
  10. Deb Knapp | Oct 20, 2016

    How generous and sweet a soul was Terry Dodd. We did a reading of his Christmas memory play Vaughn New Mexico Christmas Eve 1956 for Colorado Homegrown Tales one year, and my mom was in the audience and got to meet him. A few years later, when she had passed away suddenly, he took the time to include a note in his bio For the production at Bas Bleu, when they were performing the same piece, dedicating it to my mom and I because we loved this play so much.

    follow that star, Terry; it will lead you home

    love and light,

    Deb Knapp

  11. Wendy Chapin | Oct 18, 2016
    Terry was one of a group of theatre students at CU who learned our craft together in the late 60's and early 70's.  We shared a house together and shared out vision of the future in theatre together as well.  It is so challenging to lose close friends from that vivid and vital era of my life.  I will always hold Terry and the others of that close knit group tightly in my heart.  If anyone has a recent photo that you can share with me I would love it.
  12. Jean Teuteberg | Oct 17, 2016
    I am so saddened by the news of Terry's sudden passing. We were at the University of Colorado together in the mid 70's. He cast me as one of the lead characters in a play he was directing although I had never acted before. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. What a kind, gentle and talented man. RIP
  13. Marcus France | Oct 17, 2016
    Sometime in the early 80's, I attended my first meeting of Colorado Dramatists. The play workshopped that night was a pretentious sequel to HAMLET (as if six corpses littering the stage and the deepest exploration of the Oedipus Complex leaves anything unsaid!). The experience was like a farce on amateur playwrighting. Very reluctantly, I went to a second meeting. That night, I met Terry Dodd. We workshopped his FROM DUSK TO DAWN AT THE SUNSET. The lyricism struck directly on my spine, sending tingles. And this was just a table read! Amazing. I remember that night every time I hear a promising new play.
  14. Dan Hiester | Oct 15, 2016
    A great loss to our community. Terry was a fine and noble man, a gifted teacher, and a great artist. I was lucky enough to know him since high school, when we both competed weekly in forensics. And, by the way, he was too humble when he said he was not an actor. During our senior year, he performed a monologue cut from "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" so powerfully that it always brought tears to my eyes, even though we were competitors and that I saw it every week. From then to now and beyond, Terry''s gifts, insight, and influence will continue with profound power. Thank you, John, for this tribute to this man well-loved and remembered. 
  15. Patty Mintz Figel | Oct 15, 2016

    Lovely article, John. I owe a lot to Terry for casting me in the 1st "Hot L Baltimore", from there we did many plays together. Thank you,Terry, for your trust.

    9W

  16. diane wziontka | Oct 15, 2016
    we take these gifts: "go to the well..." "earn it"... "show me, don't tell me" ... "the best is when you take dictation" ... "listen" ... "my dear" ...
  17. Thomas London | Oct 15, 2016

    He was my mentor. He was the reason I am a writer today. He co-wrote my first staged production. He coached me through my first screenplay. He took me to my first Hollywood premier. He was my idol. He was my friend. I was shocked to hear of his passing, too shocked to fully understand what he truly meant to me. 

    Terry, these comments can't even begin to describe what an influence you had on my life.

    I shall miss my mentor. I shall miss my friend.

  18. Cyndi Kennedy | Oct 14, 2016
    Just heard. Oh, my life-long friend. I'll see you in every neon cactus sign, every old ramshackle motel, old drive-in movie sign, in the dust and dreams of Southwestern sunsets. I have the original of your treatment "Closer to Heaven." Anyone out there up to make a movie?
  19. Stephanie Hendrie | Oct 14, 2016
    Oh bury me not on the lone prairie...Terry, you will always be in my heart...
  20. Roxy Moffitt Pignanelli | Oct 14, 2016

    Thank you so very much for this beautiful tribute to my beautiful friend.  He was a brilliant light and I watched his work and read his stories for 40 years.  I cannot believe that he has shuffled off the mortal coil but he will never ever be forgotten.  My challenge to us all...make 2017 the year of T DODD and we should all do his work in one way or another.  It's on!

    Roxy Moffitt Pignanelli

  21. Steve Wilson | Oct 14, 2016
    OMG, I am heartbroken. Terry was such a powerful force in the theatre community in Denver.  A beautiful, loving and artistic spirit.  I will miss him dearly. Rest in Peace, sweet man...  
  22. Mike Williams | Oct 14, 2016
    Thank you, John, for this lovely tribute to the life & work of
    "my first love", Terry Dodd. Terry and I met in 1990 and had a loving relationship for nearly eight years before my work moved me to Los Angeles in 1998 and Terry elected to stay in Denver. We stayed in touch often, via occasional phone calls and Facebook messages almost daily. He was one of the most talented, thoughtful and caring persons I've ever met and I'll miss him more than anyone can imagine. He was the source of many days & nights of "Great Good Fun" (a T. Dodd favorite saying) for me and most anyone that came in contact with him. He'll live on with his work and the MANY friends in the Denver theatre community that he was so close to. R.I.P. my Boo-bah. Miss you SO MUCH!!!
  23. Jim Phelan | Oct 14, 2016

    Thank you John, this is a very special man we had among us. I remember Terry with great joy. Terry supported the Denver Film Festival, where I first met him. He taught at The University of Colorado, where I had the pleasure of having tea with Terry quite often, and I got to see the absolute joy this man had for the arts, the players, and his respect for audience. The community has lost a very good man. I am extremely sad to hear of his death.

  24. Michele Mosko | Oct 14, 2016
    Friends with Terry since GW when we played opposite one another in interpretation of theatre.  So so sorry to hear of this loss.  He was one good guy.  I am sad.
  25. Janetta Shepard | Oct 14, 2016
    Terry . . . a beloved friend who became a part of my life in 1974 when I arrived in Boulder and whose incredible talents, energy, and wonderful laugh will remain in my heart and memory always. You will be missed by everyone whose life you touched. What a wonderful tribute to this special person. 
  26. Cookie | Oct 14, 2016
    Thank you for this lovely tribute.  I, and many others, know Terry as 'the Dodd boy' from the time he was my student at CU many years ago through the years we spent as colleagues and friends.  Our little group expected Terry to outlive us all!  His passing has been shocking, sad, and sobering.  I savor the sweetness he left behind.
  27. Terry Burnsed | Oct 14, 2016
    A dark time just got darker.  What a loss for us!  Those of us directed by him, those with the privilege of acting in his plays, those of us who had the treat of just hanging out with him once in a while, and all of us lucky enough to be in the house . . . our gratitude makes the grief sting and is also, let us hope, the eventual healing--awww, screw it.  Now it just hurts!  What a great guy and a true Colorado artist!
  28. laura cuetara | Oct 14, 2016
    In so many ways Terry was the life blood of our theater community..and his spirit will weave its way into our continuing work. Thank you for your thoughtful tribute to this man who had  room in his heart for everyone.
  29. Barbara Z. | Oct 14, 2016

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Terry.  We were at CU together, eating pasta in a tiny studio apartment on Broadway or sharing a  taco at Tico's, listening to his animated story-telling and basking in his irresistible enthusiasm.  He was a warm, funny, generous, loving friend, a uniquely gifted artist whose stories will be long remembered.  Terry, you will always have a place in my heart.  Barbe

  30. Caitlin O'Connell | Oct 14, 2016

    Thank you for this wonderful article John. 

  31. Nancy Priest | Oct 14, 2016

    As Terry's High School drama teacher, I was blessed to  have been there in the beginning.  His ability to mine the life experiences that would have daunted others into beautiful dramas was remarkable.   A loving soul will be missed.

  32. Paul Hebron | Oct 14, 2016
    A lovely tribute to Terry, John.  But it should be noted that while he rarely if ever spoke of it, he did try his hand at acting professionally.  In the fall and early winter of 1979, Maggie Mancinelli Cahill (now artistic director of Capital Rep in Albany) directed a flawed but brilliant production of Cyrano at Theatre Under Glass here in Denver. Terry played a beautiful, strong and ultimately heart breaking Christian in that show; he was wonderful. Though I never enjoyed the privilege of being directed by him, working with him onstage was exactly that. A great privilege,  and a wonderful memory.....  
  33. Dave Maddux | Oct 14, 2016

    Doesn't seem possible--I talked with him on Monday. My house is rife with images from him: the "Strawberry and Chocolate" movie poster in my office he gave me for my 35th birthday, the "8 Plays by Tennessee Williams" he loaned me and never wanted back, our tickets from Sundance the year we went, a stack of his movie posters, an unfinished screenplay he and I have been tinkering with for the past 18 months.

    What a loss. And what a hoot in life. I can't hear "I'm gonna go home and tilt the fridge" without thinking about him, and getting out of the car in the dark this morning I saw the sky and thought "Starlight Motel" from one of his plays.

    A true Denver treasure. Already so missed.

  34. Mike Szillagyi | Oct 14, 2016
    i am stunned and shocked. we were extolling the virtues of "the haunting" just yesterday. i loved talking down and dirty about movies with terry. i can't believe it. thank you for the tribute . . . he was a smart, funny, intuitive, down-to-earth man.
  35. Carol BLoom | Oct 13, 2016
    John, this is a beautiful tribute to Terry.  I'm stunned and saddened by this news of his death.  Thank you for honoring him in this way.
  36. howard and Marty | Oct 13, 2016
    We will miss you, Terry.

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    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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