2014 True West Award: Jeremy Palmer

Jeremy Palmer will star as El Gallo in “The Fantasticks” for Phamaly. Photo by Michael Ensminger.



Few people can say they have made an impact on the local theatre community as equal parts writer, director, actor, volunteer and even board member. Pretty sure Phamaly Theatre Company’s Jeremy Palmer is the only one doing all that with one lung.

On paper, Palmer is a saint. He’s a P.K. (preacher’s kid) who began sponsoring orphaned children while he was a student at Chaparral High School in Parker. He married his college sweetheart, and he now teaches Special Ed kids at Barnum, one of Denver Public Schools’ most impoverished elementary schools.

Through his work with Denver’s internationally hailed all-disabled theatre company, Palmer has empowered dozens of novice handicapped actors to write about themselves and perform their material on a stage, no doubt enlightening thousands of audience members along the way. In 2012, Palmer was presented with the Denver Foundation’s Outstanding Volunteer Award. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock even declared Nov. 15, 2012, “Jeremy Palmer Day” in Denver.

On the stage, Jeremy Palmer is a force. Behind the typewriter, he’s a quick wit. In the director’s chair, he has the patience of Job. (And playing any type of trivia at a bar, he’s a freakish savant.) But he’d be the first to tell you: He’s no saint. He’s too much of a wiseacre for that.

In March, Palmer was both director and head writer of a full-length play called Disorderly Conduct, the third annual installment in Phamaly’s disLabled comedy series at the Dairy Center in Boulder. It took place in a courtroom following an incident involving disabled protestors. Palmer’s take-no-prisoners tagline for the piece? “Is justice as blind as members of the cast?”

Palmer was also a writer and assistant director to Edith Weiss for Vox Phamalia, an annual sketch comedy at The Avenue Theater written and performed by actors with disabilities. Vox lampoons the condescension and dehumanization the able-bodied often perpetrate on the disabled, often (hilariously) unintentionally. No punches are pulled. Simply consider the 2014 title: Pity Pity Bang Bang.

That same caustic attitude inspired Palmer to introduce a line of real “Phampathy” greeting cards a few years ago. You know, for when you really want to say something specific about a friend’s disability or mental illness. Such as: “I hope you come out of the coma before they throw this card away.” Before you do a spit-take: That punchline was written by Palmer after he was put into a medically induced coma following his third open-heart surgery.  “Had I woken up from my coma to be greeted by that card, I definitely would have found it funny,” Palmer said at the time.

Palmer even made light of his “lung-light” situation during a Full Monty strip-tease bit he whipped up with his Phamaly mates at Miscast 2014, which raised money for the Denver Actors Fund.

As a playwright, Palmer was the co-writer of a play called L.A. Diner, which was staged twice locally in 2014 – once at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, and later in Denver at the Crossroads Theatre (presented by The Wit Theatre Company). The story is set at a little diner in 1962 Hollywood, near where Marilyn Monroe is making her final film. It introduces a swath of characters whose lives intersect at a time of great change in America.

As an actor, Jeremy has been performing with Phamaly for 17 years, with many lead roles along the way, including a starring turn together with his wife, Lyndsay, as the adorably love-struck newlyweds Paul and Corrie in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. Palmer headlined Phamaly’s seminal 2004 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  and returned this past summer to play a more grown-up brother Simeon. Palmer can be seen early next year as El Gallo in Phamaly’s highly anticipated fresh take on The Fantasticks. It runs at the Aurora Fox (Jan. 29-Feb. 15) and Arvada Center (Feb. 27-March 1) before traveling to Osaka for performances and workshops in Japan.

At just 31, Palmer still seems impossibly young to be considered a mentor, role model and leader in the Colorado disabled community. But the fact is, he has been for years.

“Because of my condition, it got into my head that I was somehow different,” Palmer once told me in an interview. “But being in Phamaly just made me a lot more empathetic to people who have experienced real hardships.”

Listen to our podcast interview with Jeremy Palmer here.

 Video coverage of Jeremy Palmer earning major volunteer award in 2010:

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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