2014 True West Award: Henry Lowenstein

True_West_Awards_HENRY LOWENSTEIN_800Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post



At the close of 2014, giants of Colorado theatre and beyond began falling like mighty oaks in a forest: Randy Weeks. Henry Lowenstein. Kent Haruf, back-to-back-to-heartbreaking-back. Ironically, None of them ever acted or directed for a local stage. Still, irreplaceable losses all.

What Lowenstein accomplished as a producer and scenic artist could fill a book, and no doubt will one day. He escaped Germany with the Kindertransport at age 13. He was accepted into Yale’s masters program as a scenic designer — without ever having earned an undergraduate degree. He ran the Bonfils Theatre, Denver Post publisher Helen Bonfils’ crown jewel on East Colfax and Josephine Street, from 1956 until it closed 1986, by then rechristened in his name. In “retirement,” he founded the Denver Civic Theatre that is now the Su Teatro Performing Arts Center.

He created opportunities for hundreds of artists, and made theatre available to hundreds of thousands of audiences. But of all his accomplishments, Henry once told me, the greatest to him was this:

“I really was instrumental in bringing the various races together and opening the doors to everybody,” he said, “at a time when a lot of otherwise perfectly nice people did not see that as a priority.”

How big of a deal was Henry Lowenstein? When he died on Oct. 7 at age 89,  his achievements in theatre and his lifelong commitment to equal opportunity were read into the official Congressional Record by Rep. Diana DeGette from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. That is an incredibly rare honor.

Helen Bonfils hired Lowenstein to run her theatre on the very same day in 1956 that she hired Donald R. Seawell to be her attorney. Seawell would succeed Bonfils as publisher of The Denver Post and target funds from Bonfils’ estate to create the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which engaged more than 750,000 people last year through its theater and education programs. But the DCPA’s decision to close the Lowenstein Theater in 1986 would remain a source of contention between the two theatre titans.

So you know it means something when Seawell said of Lowenstein, “If anybody looks back on the last 50 years in Denver, Henry would have to be considered one of the 10 most important people in shaping this city.”

Read our complete tribute to Henry Lowenstein by clicking here

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

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

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