2016 True West Award: Warren Sherrill

 True West Award Warren Sherrill


Day 29: Warren Sherrill

Ask those who know Warren Sherrill what makes him such a good director, and they’ll tell you it’s because he’s such a brilliant actor. Ask them what makes him a good actor, and they’ll tell you it’s because he’s such a brilliant director.

He certainly proved both axioms to be true in 2016.

“He knows how to communicate with actors because he has been there himself,” says the star of his production of Medea, Karen Slack. “He takes care of his actors in a way that actors want to be taken care of,” adds Josh Hartwell, who directed Sherrill in Casa Valentina.

Sherrill didn’t need makeup or women’s clothes to win the role of a cross-dressing military man in The Edge Theatre’s bittersweet Casa Valentina, Harvey Fierstein‘s  true story of 1960s heterosexual men who sought out a safe haven to explore their feminine sides in the Catskill Mountains.

Sherrill walked into his audition for the role “and he nailed it,” said Hartwell. Even without the accoutrement, “it came easy to him.”

True West Warren Sherrill QuoteSherrill’s character is a decorated Army veteran named Albert with a fondness for women’s apparel, quoting Oscar Wilde – and has an alter ego named Bessie. Sherrill could have easily played her for laughs, “but Warren connected right away with the fact that we had to feel her tenderness, sensitivity and realness,” Hartwell said. That’s what makes Sherrill both an award-winning actor – and director. “He has the unique ability to find the humanness in any character he plays, or helps another actor to discover,” Hartwell said.  

Sherrill was named Associate Artistic Director of The Edge Theatre in May. His hiring was just the latest evidence that The Edge is stepping up in the local theatre ecology.

2016 marked a welcome return to the stage for Sherrill, who had performed in only one production since the acclaimed Paragon Theatre he co-founded disbanded in 2011. He also played a key role in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s world premiere drama Full Code. Sherrill played a compassionate nurse who cares for a man in a coma while also juggling the two very different women who occupy this patient’s tangled romantic life.

He’s been much more prolific in recent years as a director, and in 2016 he took on three very diverse storytelling challenges with The Edge Theatre’s Medea and By the Waters of Babylon, as well as The Avenue’s The Money Shot.

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Medea is the classic tale of the baby-killing Greek wife who takes the ultimate revenge when her husband leaves her for a younger, hotter princess. By the Waters of Babylon, written by Robert Schenkkan (DCPA’s All the Way, The 12), recounts the steamy yet surprisingly complex encounter between a Texas widow and her Cuban gardener.  Both stories revolve around a powerhouse female character, and Sherrill was in his element keeping both of these deeply wounded women rooted in their basic humanity.

True West Warren Sherrill Medea. RDG Photography. By comparison, The Money Shot might seem at first to be the anomaly of Sherrill’s year. But Neil LaBute‘s snarky satire of two self-absorbed Hollywood couples is actually his comfort zone. The otherwise cuddly Sherrill has a long history playing with the kind of banal cruelty that LaBute, Jez Butterworth and David Mamet regularly trade in.

One evident commonality about all three stories Sherrill directed in 2016 is that they each speak directly to the roles women play in society today. And each required imperial performances from Karen Slack, Patty Yaconis and Suzie Scott. Being able to communicate with different actors with different languages and different needs is perhaps Sherrill’s greatest directorial strength, said Hartwell. And Slack (pictured at right in ‘Medea’) agrees.

“I greatly appreciate the freedom he gives you physically,” Slack said. “He doesn’t like to paint you into a box that you can’t get out of. He gives you a rough outline, and then he trusts you to fill the rest out. That’s a huge thing, to be able to trust that your actors are going to find where they want to be.”

Not having directed Sherrill before but long-knowing his work as a director, Hartwell said he went into Casa Valentina a little nervous. Unnecessarily, as it turned out.

“Just like Warren trusts his actors when he is a director,” Hartwell said, “He trusts his director when he is an actor.”

The Money Shot takes its title from an icky reference to porn films. (You can take it from there.) But even though LaBute not only bit but devoured the hand that feeds him in writing this play, Sherrill was nevertheless focused on achieving a recognizable truth with his actors at the Avenue Theater.

“Warren has a real gift for guiding actors to find an honest portrayal of their characters,” said Scott, who played a fading actor who cynically rebrands herself as a Hollywood lesbian with a website, fashion line, recipes, a trendy charity and a Malibu restaurant called … Malibu – “because I like the word play!” 

“When we were rehearsing an hysterically dirty scene,” Scott said, “I remember Warren gently coaching us to not play the scene for laughs, but to just say the lines honestly and let the writing do the work. ‘Trust me, it will be funny,’ he told us. And he was right.

“I loved working with Warren because he established a truly safe space where I felt free to dive into my own complex nature and recall those moments of desperation that shape us as artists when I was creating my character.”

He is, in short, added Slack: “Incredibly kind, a joy and a blessing to work with.”

Warren Sherrill
/At a glance

  • Hometown: Denver
  • College: Colorado State University
  • Currently the Associate Artistic Director of The Edge Theatre in Lakewood. Former founder of the Paragon Theatre.
  • Notable roles have included Ashton Entertainment’s The Seafarer; Paragon’s The Caretaker, The Real Thing and Jez Butterworth’s The Night Heron.
  • Notable directions have included The Edge’s Jerusalem, and Paragon’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf


    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

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS (to date)

    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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