2014 True West Award: Ludlow, 1914

True_West_Award_Ludlow_1914_800 Photo by Jeff Kearney.



There was a healthy abundance of new or new-to-Denver theatre throughout Colorado in 2014. But when it comes to “devised theatre” – original work created by a permanent ensemble through collaboration, Denver has for more than two decades looked primarily to Buntport Theatre and the far more confrontational LIDA Project experimental theatre.

One of the more significant undertakings of this or any other year was Ludlow, 1914, developed by Brian Freeland and his band of LIDA Project misfits in tandem with Colorado Springs TheatreWorks’ Murray Ross and students from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

There was a passing mention of the 1914 Ludlow massacre that took place about 100 miles south of Colorado Springs in the DCPA Theatre Company’s newly reimagined The Unsinkable Molly Brown. When 11,000 miners went on strike and refused to surrender two petty criminals, the National Guard fired into the crowd. It doused tents in oil and burned them to the ground. It is believed that 26 died, including two women and a dozen children. It was the deadliest strike in U.S. history — and it was quickly forgotten.

At the same time the high-profile Molly Brown musical was bowing in Denver, The LIDA Project and TheatreWorks were exploring this horrific historical incident head-on in Colorado Springs. Not only to mark the centennial of the massacre, but also to explore the ongoing relevance of the issues it raised — wealth inequality, exploitation of natural resources, worker’s rights, media bias, fossil-fuel dependence and labor divisions in America. “And, of course,” Ross said, “It’s one hell of a story.”

Ross describes the outcome of this unique, long-form collaborative process as “a whirlwind of theatrical invention in which history, tragedy, vaudeville, and modern technology all converge in the theatre.” That means Ludlow, 1914 was an immersive, American freak show. Reviewing the play for BroadwayWorld.Com, Christi Esterle opined:

Ludlow, 1914 is not a history lesson. Audiences expecting to hear particulars of the strike beyond what is presented in the program notes will likely be disappointed. The massacre itself is presented as a chaotic, abstract pantomime. Rather, the play is a free-form exploration of the themes evoked by the event. Children relate an allegorical tale of a clan of people living in the body of a giant monster. Wealthy owners recite Shakespeare while standing above the stage like indifferent gods. Actors step out of their roles to discuss the implications of the text. It’s a lot to take in as the play bounces from William Blake to the Bible to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. Don’t worry if something goes by too fast or doesn’t seem to make sense. So much happens in the play that it’s a bit of a shock when it’s over. But that’s OK. With McDonald’s workers staging walkouts in search of a livable wage, and corporations exercising the same public-relations tactics that were first implemented a century ago, it’s clear this story is not over yet.”

2014 was one of the most uncertain and unstable years in The LIDA Project’s two decades of freakouts. And yet Freeland and his theatrical outcasts still managed to make one of the largest impacts on the year in Colorado theatre. 2014 began with Freeland moving to New York but promising to carry on. It ended with the sale of the “Laundry on Lawrence” theatre space that has been the company’s home for three years. But in between, The LIDA Project again demonstrated why it is essential to the local theatre ecology. It also developed and staged an original six-part dialogue on guns in America. It was called Happiness is a Warm Gun, and it was presented as salon theatre in private living rooms all over town as a way of sparking meaningful, post-show discussions between neighbors.

Freeland plans to bring Ludlow, 1914 to Denver in 2015 at a large, rented venue such as the Aurora Fox, Boulder’s Dairy Center or Auraria. Happiness is a Warm Gun also returns to metro living rooms in February. Those two projects again made it plain that when it comes to experimental live performance, LIDA Project is the only active, ongoing theatre company in Colorado with a vigorous, strong and proud commitment to preserving the avant garde in the American Theatre.

Brian Freeland: Director

Murray Ross: Dramaturg
Jeannene Bragg: Collaborator

Elise Jenkins: Production Stage Manager

Steve Deidel: Production Scenographer

Alex Polzin: Co-Scenic Design

Betty Ross: Costume Design

Stevie Caldarola: Co-Lighting Design

Ryan Gaddis: Co-Projection Design/Content Creator

Heidi Larson: Scenic Charge

Roy Ballard: Props Manager

Alex Ruhlin: Master Electrician

Alex Polzin: Co-Scenic Designer

G. Austin Allen: Show Control Programmer

Aileen Semira Jocson: Pixel Twister/Cinematographer

Sarah Hyland Johnston: Illustrator

Kevin Zegan: Incandescence Artisian

Beaner Sheridan: Anti-Gravity Consultant

Shaun Sites: Ghost Light Metalsmith

Kenrick Fischer: Production Electrician

Max Peterson: QLAB Support


MEN: Erik Brevik, Mark Cannon, Bruce Carter, Travis Duncan, David Hastings, Tom Paradise, Jeremiah Walter, Terry Burnsed.

WOMEN : Rachel Baker, Beth Clements, Jane Fromme, Margaret Kasahara.

CHILDREN: Jack English, Sanaa Ford, Evan Slavens, Katelyn Sturt, Galen Westmoreland, Micah Wilborn.


                                 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

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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