2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS
Day 22: Meridith C. Grundei and Gary Grundei
DCPA Theatre Company
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Stories on Stage
The Singing House Productions
Local Theater Company
Theatre Playback West
By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist
Gary and Meridith C. Grundei are proof that the couple that rocks together, rolls together.
On Sept. 29, the free-spirited pair packed up a used R.V. and hit the road with their daughter to travel the United States and Mexico for a year. They’re having what they are calling “an improvised year” in what already has been a fairly improvised life together so far.
The Grundeis are couple of unconventional artists, and nothing if not an unconventional couple. Meridith is a director and Gary a composer, but both are performers to the bone, and neither is confined to a single discipline. For example, one of their popular fringe acts has them playing a brutal, drunken couple hilariously called Jack and Coke.
Burns and Allen, they are not. Funny, they most definitely are.
GerRee Hinshaw, who partners with Gary on a traveling rock flash-mob called Bar Choir, calls them The Fabulous Grundei Duo: “They are the rare couple who can collaborate with each other and still be friends — and keep all their other friends,” she said.
One of their points of connection, says Amanda Berg Wilson, Artistic Director of the Boulder-based collective known as The Catamounts, is that they both have strong and compatible but individual artist identities.
“Meridith has a very playful sense that dovetails nicely with Gary’s improvisational taste in music and art,” Berg Wilson said. “They’re always up for an adventure as artists and in life, and this road trip is certainly proof of that.”
Their first stop was for their daughter to meet her birth family. Subsequent adventures already have been had in Georgia, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Florida and two unexpected weeks in Nashville following a breakdown. But the unexpected is kind of the point. Friends believe, but no one is ever really sure, that they are presently in Mexico.
The Grundeis hit the road at the height of a prolific period of ongoing and eclectic creative activity spanning theatre, music, academia, improv comedy, performance art and more. Their list of creative undertakings for 2017 is all the more impressive given they did it all in only nine months.
Topping that list is Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage for The Catamounts at the Dairy Arts Center. This was truly event theatre: A blood-pumping, leather-clad, sexy-weird gypsy-punk musical adaptation based on the ninth-century epic poem, backed by a live band playing an original score written by the composer of Broadway’s The Great Comet of 1812.
Meridith was the director while Gary was music director, bandleader and even the actor who played King Hrothgar of the Danes in sexypants. He was the embodiment of a true rock star as the king who entreats Beowulf to get rid of the man-eating monster Grendel.
In most musicals, the man at the piano sits at that piano and plays. But Gary Grundei just plays in every sense of the word. On stage and in life.
“He jumped fully into it,” Berg Wilson said. “He had a great sense of humor about it. He’s a super-compelling performer with this fabulous, unique voice.”
Berg Wilson called Beowulf “très Catamounts.” Westword’s Juliet Wittman called the free and fierce evening “a throbbing and raucous experience.” And that Meridith Grundei could take credit for the show’s precision, flow and eye appeal.
The staging earned a whopping nine Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award nominations for The Catamounts, including best musical. Both of the Grundeis were individually nominated.
Both Grundeis are in equal but separate demand. Beowulf was fully Meridith’s idea, one that was four years in the making. One of the reasons her husband decided to go all-in on it himself was the rare opportunity to work together with his wife on an extended theatrical project. At the time, Gary was composing music for the DCPA Theatre Company’s provocative church-service play The Christians. But he declined a tempting offer to also play with the onstage church band he put together each night so he could do Beowulf with his wife instead.
Gary separately collaborated on two other cool 2017 creative partnerships: First was Visionbox’s workshop production of a complex new musical called The Wild Hunt written by popular film actor Bill Pullman (currently starring in The Ballad of Lefty Brown). The other was the creation of a tantalizingly titled new musical called “__________”, An Opera with acclaimed local actor Ethelyn Friend. Grundei conducted live, improvised music at each performance in a Victorian house in old-town Lafayette for what was later described as “a singular opera experiment that found that sweet spot between Gertrude Stein, Spike Jonze and Kendrick Lamar.”
Meridith, meanwhile, is an actor, director, improviser and public-speaking coach who created her own traveling corporate training company called Red Ball Speaks. She played Curtis (Petruchio’s servant) in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s The Taming of the Shrew last summer and later accepted Pipedream Productions’ community-wide challenge to perform the one-person play White Rabbit Red Rabbit script unseen before opening an envelope containing that script before an already gathered audience.
In September, she helped the second-year MFA students at Naropa University stage the devised piece Under Construction, written by Charles Mee, again with her husband as music director and sound designer.
The Grundeis both have long ties to the DCPA Theatre Company. Gary started as a paid intern in 1997 and soon was hired on a big-shot sound designer. Over the years, he often has been commissioned to compose original scores for productions ranging from Plainsong to Shakespeare’s As You Like It to The Christians. Meridith has appeared in three Denver Center productions as an actor, most recently in Frankenstein and Off-Center’s Sweet and Lucky.
Gary’s other great musical love is an irregular bit of flash-mob fun called Bar Choir with Hinshaw, host of the enduring monthly Freak Train at The Bug Theatre. “Choir is that thing you didn’t know you need in your life,” Hinshaw said. “But once you’ve had it, you crave it at random times in your day.”
The idea: The hosts put out an invitation on social media encouraging singers of all experience levels — including none — to show up at a hipster bar such as Syntax Physic Opera, learn three tunes from rockers who have included Pat Benatar and The White Stripes and, after a bit of instruction, perform them for a generally blown-away happy-hour bar crowd.
Gary Grundei’s invitation for one and all to join in on the next Bar Choir (whenever that might be) is pretty much his clarion call for living an artistic life.
“Everyone has a voice,” Grundei said. “If you can talk, you can sing. If somebody at some point in your life told you that you can’t sing, what the (bleep)? Are you going to believe that? The more you sing, they better you get. So come (bleeping) sing with us.”
If life is an unpainted canvas, then the Grundeis are evidence that life is also a not-yet-traveled highway.
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.
Video bonus: Our visit to Bar Choir at Syntax Physic Opera
To read more about Bar Choir, click here
Meridith C. Grundei: 2017
- Directed Beowulf for The Catamounts
- Performed in Stories on Stage’s Mother’s Day program
- Played Curtis in The Taming of the Shrew for Colorado Shakespeare Festival
- Facilitator for Pain Management, a devised piece for Local Theater Company
- Performed Red Rabbit White Rabbit for Pipedream Productions
- Directed Under Construction for Naropa University masters students
Meridith Grundei, a native of Fort Collins, has performed for the DCPA Theatre Company in Frankenstein, and for Off-Center in Sweet & Lucky and SWEAT. Other Theatre credits: The Misanthrope (American Conservatory Theatre), God’s Ear, Messenger #1, Failure…A Love Story, Mr. Spacky, Mr. Burns, The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen, Spirits to Enforce (The Catamounts), Faith (Local Theater Company) and House of Yes (square product). Recipient of the 2011 Camera Eye Award and nominated as Best Actress in a Comedy by the 2012 Culture West True West Awards. She is married to frequent DCPA Theatre composer Gary Grundei.
Gary Grundei: 2017
- Composed music for workshop production of The Wild Hunt, by Bill Pullman, for Visionbox Studios
- Composer of The Christans for DCPA Theatre Company
- Music Director, Band Leader and performer (Rothgar) in Beowulf for The Catamounts
- Co-host, Bar Choir (ongoing)
- Music Director of Under Construction for Naropa University masters students
- Composed music for Stories on Stage’s Making Merry holiday program
Gary Grundei, who is from Ohio, is a composer, pianist and teacher whose music has been heard at the Kennedy Center, DCPA Theatre Company, New York Stage and Film, Boulder Theater, Ogden Theatre, Boulder’s Chautauqua Community House, Vintage Theatre, Occidental College, and The Ohio State University. He also writes for and plays with the band High Fiction, and directs Golden Lotus studio in Lafayette.
(Photo above and right: Meridith C. Grundei and Gary Grundei performing as as Jack and Coke. Photo by John Moore.)
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 17th 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 2017 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
The 2017 True West Awards
- 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year Regan Linton
- Day 30: The Breakouts: Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill
- Day 29: Composer and Music Director David Nehls
- Day 28: Lighting Designer Vance McKenzie
- Day 27: Buntport Theater’s The Zeus Problem
- Day 26: The Women of The Revolutionists
- Day 25: The Difference-Makers who raised $112,000 for The Denver Actors Fund
- Day 24: John Ashton, Vintage Theatre’s August: Osage County
- Day 23: Six “set-sational” set designers
- Day 22: Meridith and Gary Grundei, The Catamounts’ Beowulf
- Day 21: Logan Ernstthal, Creede Repertory Theatre’s General Store
- Day 20: Kevin Landis, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
- Day 19: Lenne Klingaman, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet
- Day 18: Helen Hand, Firehouse Theater Company
- Day 17: Randy Chalmers, two productions of Hairspray
- Day 16: Lauren Shealy, Lone Tree Arts Center’s Evita
- Day 15: Chris Kendall, Boulder Ensemble’s An Iliad
- Day 14: Stage Manager Maegan Burnell
- Day 13: White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Pipedream Productions and Star Bar Players
- Day 12: Playwright Josh Hartwell
- Day 11: The Rape of the Sabine Women, Local Theatre Company
- Day 10: Sammie Joe Kinnett, Arvada Center’s The Foreigner
- Day 9: Brandon Case, Aurora Fox Technical Director
- Day 8: Emily Van Fleet, Off-Center’s The Wild Party
- Day 7: Entertainment entrepreneur Kenny Moten
- Day 6: Bobby G Awards Coordinator Claudia Carson
- Day 5: Haley Johnson and Sydney Parks Smith, August: Osage County
- Day 4: Olyvia Sydelle and Joanie Brosseau, BDT Stage’s Rock of Ages
- Day 3: Cory Sapienza, Miners Alley Playhouse’s Hir
- Day 2: Opening of the Silverthorne Performing Arts Complex
- Day 1: The Tramps (Michael Bouchard, Sam Gregory, Timothy McCracken and Sean Scrutchins)
- 2016: Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride