2015 True West Award: Shannon McKinney

True West Award, Shannon McKinney
Above: Damion Hoover in Curious Theatre’s ‘Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet.’ Photo by Michael Ensminger.


​Today’s recipient: Shannon McKinney
Lighting and Scenic Designer

Today’s award presenter: Director Christy Montour-Larson

@font-face { font-family: “Courier New”; }@font-face { font-family: “Wingdings”; }@font-face { font-family: “MS 明朝”; }@font-face { font-family: “Cambria Math”; }@font-face { font-family: “Cambria”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraph, li.MsoListParagraph, div.MsoListParagraph { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraphCxSpFirst, li.MsoListParagraphCxSpFirst, div.MsoListParagraphCxSpFirst { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraphCxSpMiddle, li.MsoListParagraphCxSpMiddle, div.MsoListParagraphCxSpMiddle { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraphCxSpLast, li.MsoListParagraphCxSpLast, div.MsoListParagraphCxSpLast { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }.MsoChpDefault { font-family: Cambria; }div.WordSection1 { page: WordSection1; }ol { margin-bottom: 0in; }ul { margin-bottom: 0in; }

Rumor has it God actually said, “Let there be light … by Shannon McKinney.”

Or perhaps it only seems like the omnipresent local lighting designer has cast more light upon the world than Edison.

You might not know the name because McKinney does her good work above, below and to the side of area stages, but she is one of the most decorated local artists of the past decade. Consider that for her work she has won five Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards, which have only been in existence for 10 years.

Shannon McKinney quoteMcKinney is a longtime Lighting Designer for Curious Theatre, but sharing is caring. This past year, McKinney also brought her skills to the DCPA Theatre Company (Tribes), the Arvada Center (Saturday Night Fever, A Man of No Importance), Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden (The Cripple of Inishmaan), Local Theatre Company (Faith) and, for the sixth summer, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Much Ado About Nothing, Othello). She also took on the massive, one-night presentation of I Am Alive, a new musical about the Armenian massacre staged at the University of Denver’s Newman Center.

McKinney simply bathes Colorado stages with light. Director Christy Montour-Larson, today’s True West Awards Guest Picker, would say she bathes the Colorado theatre community with light and love.

“Shannon has a unique ability to communicate emotion through lighting,” Montour-Larson said. “That’s because anyone who knows Shannon knows she has a significantly large heart. She has the unique ability to take the emotions and mood of a story and communicate them through lighting. And she is just a kind, awesome person.”

Not one to stand on her laurels, McKinney continued to challenge herself in creative ways This year. Curious Theatre completed Tarell Alvin McCraney’s seductive Bayou trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays with stagings of In the Red and Brown Water, a remount of The Brothers Size and finally Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. McKinney not only designed lights for all three shows, she took on the additional title of co-scenic designer along with Director Chip Walton. You rarely hear of professional designers shifting specialties like that, at least not successfully. Having a lighting designer also draw up your scenic plan is sort of like putting a champion NASCAR driver in a Formula One car and saying, “OK … drive.”

But it made perfect sense to Walton, who doesn’t think of the arrangement as a harbinger so much as the perfect solution to this unique circumstance.

“The co-designing idea came about because I had a really clear aesthetic vision for the scenic design on these shows, but I did not have the actual skill set to move that vision from my mind to reality,” said Walton, who then turned to McKinney.

“I think our individual strengths complimented our overall work together. Plus, our long collaborative history made for a richer and even more exciting design process.”

The result was a bold experiment in evocative ambiguity that was praised by area critics. For The Brothers Size, The Denver Post’s Lisa Kennedy concluded that the many vertical pipes that dominated the stage “cast shadows that hint at prison.” 

Then, of course, there were the lights. Of the scene near the end of The Brothers Size, Mark Stevens of Telluride Inside and Out wrote: “There’s a sunrise scene of shadow and side light that changes everything in front of us.”

Tribes. Photo by Adams Visual Communications
Lighting Designer Shannon McKinney collaborated with DCPA Multimedia Specialist Charlie Miller for the look of the Theatre Company’s ‘Tribes.’ Photo by Adams Visual Communications

McKinney was tapped by the DCPA Theatre Company for the second time in the past two seasons with Tribes, following the previous year’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. With the Theatre Company venturing fully into the modern hard-of-hearing world for the first time, McKinney’s lighting design incorporated Multimedia Director Charlie Miller’s supertitles and animation. Later helping Local Theatre Company’s Faith to indisputably manifest a celestial being, Westword’s Juliet Wittman called McKinney’s work “dazzling.”

McKinney and Montour-Larson collaborated for the I Am Alive one-nighter, and the director says the experience reminded her of an important and underestimated quality found in the best designers: Equanimity.

“We loaded the set into the Newman Center starting at 8 a.m.; we brought the actors in at 10; and we were at it all day,” Montour-Larson said. “But in that time, Shannon was able to hang her instruments, focus them, and create textures and patterns. She also instructed the follow-spot operator and conferred with the other crew members who play such a big part in the creation of the mood. It was amazing how much she got so right in so little time.” 

And then there was the unique challenge of lighting the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s mainstage shows at the Mary Rippon Outdoor Amphitheatre. Shows that always begin before sundown. Montour-Larson thinks McKinney has the perfect personality for the challenge.

“Listen, when you start a show in the light and you finish it in the dark, you’re pretty much a co-designer with the universe,” she said.

Next up for both Montour-Larson and McKinney is Curious’ Sex With Strangers, a contemporary dating drama starring Michael Kingsbaker and Paige Price. It opens Jan. 16 (303-623-0524 or curious’ home page).

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.


The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore’s daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre’s 50th anniversary season
Day 4: Laurence Curry
Day 5: Bernie Cardell
Day 6: Susan Lyles
Day 7: John Jurcheck​
Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
Day 9: DCPA Education’s ‘Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
Day 11: Shauna Johnson
Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
Day 14: Keith Ewer
Day 15: Allison Watrous
Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
Day 18: Emma Messenger
Day 19: Shannon McKinney
Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
Day 22: Scott Beyette
Day 23: Augustus Truhn
Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
Day 29: Mark Collins
Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company’s Cabaret
Bonus: Donald R. Seawell

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *