2016 True West Award: Gabriella Cavallero

A True West Awards Gabriella Cavallero 10 800



Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero

Gabriella Cavallero has been a steady presence on area stages since graduating from the Denver Center’s National Theatre Conservatory in 1992. She co-founded the Modern Muse Theatre Company and has continued to regularly perform with the DCPA Theatre Company, Arvada Center, Aurora Fox, Stories on Stage and others, all while raising a family and working a steady career narrating more than 900 books for the Library of Congress through Denver-based Talking Book Publishers and Books to Life.

Though she didn’t go anywhere, 2016 still felt like a high-profile return for the popular actor, who was the beating heart of Curious Theatre’s first two chapters in The Elliot Plays. That’s Quiara Alegría Hudes’ trilogy following a Puerto Rican soldier raised in Philadelphia who is sent to Iraq.

But for all the good work she does as a performer, Cavallero makes an even bigger impact in the community touring Cuentame un Cuentino, her original bilingual musical for elementary-school students.

With fellow actors Elizabeth Rose, Jose Guerrero and musician Tony Moralez, Cavallero brings her creation to some of the area’s most fiscally depleted schools. One typical visit this year was to Schenk Community School, where 80 percent of the 264 second- through fifth-graders speak English as a second language, and 98 percent depend on free or reduced-price lunches.

The musical, presented in partnership with Stories on Stage, is made up of both published and original stories that address the experience of those who come to the United States as outsiders. Cavallero, the daughter of Argentinian parents, was born in the Bahamas, raised in Puerto Rico and graduated from Vassar College in New York.

True West Awards Gabriella CavalleroCavallero estimates her show, now in its fifth year, has been seen by 8,500 students, most of whom speak English as a second language – many of them children of immigrants. “These are kids who otherwise would probably never go to the theatre at all,” she said.

Some of the stories are silly and others are metaphorical, such as “The Woman Who Outshone the Sun (pictured above and right). It’s about a mysterious woman who arrives in a village in the mountains near a flowing river. All of the wildlife and animals are drawn to her, but the villagers fear her supernatural powers, so they drive her away. But the river so loves this woman that it follows her, leaving barren land behind. “So there is a drought, and the people come to realize it was what they did to the outsider that caused them to be thirsty and starving,” Cavallero said. 

Some stories are deeply personal anecdotes, such as Guerrero’s first-hand account of being made to feel stupid by other children in his neighborhood because he spoke with a thick accent. “He tells the kids in our audiences, ‘Don’t ever forget that your voice is important, and that you have to speak up. It doesn’t matter what language it is – you are powerful,’ ” said Cavallero, who notices that oftentimes, it is the teachers who are brought to tears by the end of the show.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

“We hope to empower these children to hear their own stories in a way that they can understand,” she said.

As an actor, Cavallero has performed in a wide range of productions for the DCPA Theatre Company over the years, including Just Like Us, Living Out, Garbo in My Eyes, A Christmas Carol and Cyrano. But this year, she took center stage at Curious Theatre.

Cavallero played a healer named Ginny in the opening play of the trilogy, Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, which focused on three generations of one family serving in war. Cavallero exuded warmth and strength sharing how, as a nurse in Vietnam,  she would try to comfort dying soldiers in their final moments. Westword’s Juliet Wittman called her performance “a lovely, warm portrayal of a woman whose words are like the healing herbs with which she treats her wounded son.”

Cavallero returned to Curious later in 2016 in Water by the Spoonful as Ginny’s sister, Odessa, a woman who runs a chat room for recovering addicts after a tragedy disconnects her from her own family. “This chat line is really her lifeline to stay clean herself, and to be able to help other people who were in her place,” she said in an interview with Westword. “Little by little, you realize that we have to take care of each other in this world.”

True West Awards After OrlandoAlthough Cavallero does not appear in the upcoming third chapter of Curious’ trilogy, The Happiest Song Plays Last, she will host an evening of music and conversation with the Harlem Quartet on Jan. 8. The program will spotlight the music in Hudes’ plays. Cavallero, whose parents are both pianists, will lead the conversation.

Cavallero also keeps busy as a voice and dialect coach for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Curious Theatre and the Arvada Center. And she is a coach for a company called ARTiculate: Real&Clear, a team of performers who empower people by helping them to find their most authentic voice in public presentations and elsewhere. She is also an artistic associate for Boulder’s Local Theater Company, and this year also performed in Benchmark Theatre’s After Orlando, the local theatre response to the worst gun massacre in U.S. history (pictured above right.)

Video bonus: ‘Meet the cast’ video from 2013:

The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. 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 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. 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. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
Day 3: After Orlando
Day 4: Michael Morgan
Day 5: Beth Beyer
Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
Day 7: donnie l. betts
Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
Day 10: Jason Sherwood
Day 11: Leslie O’Carroll and Steve Wilson
Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
Day 13: Jake Mendes
Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
Day 15: Patty Yaconis
Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
Day 21: Jeff Neuman
Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
Day 23: Matthew Campbell
Day 24: Sharon Kay White
Day 25: John Hauser
Day 26: Lon Winston
Day 27: Jason Ducat
Day 28: Sam Gregory
Day 29: Warren Sherrill
Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

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