Day 9: Meet the magic man who creates performance opportunities for thousands
We all have special needs of one kind or another. For more than three decades, the man enigmatically known as KQ in the Colorado theatre community has had a very special need to provide opportunities for thousands of people with physical and developmental disabilities to perform on stage alongside able-bodied actors both amateur and professional.
Every spring since 1983, Magic Moments has presented a massive … massive! … pop-music revue that gathers up to 200 cast members of all ages to sing, dance, ham it up, cry and commune together. It is a magnificent spectacle of music and mayhem fostered in an environment of acceptance, growth, learning and hugs. So many hugs.
And the head traffic cop is one of the most underappreciated men in Colorado theatre. KQ (short for Ken Quintana, if you must know) is a biochemist, underwater engineer and former novitiate who lived in a monastery for three years. And since the late 1970s, it is safe to suggest no one has directed more performers on Colorado stages. The total estimate is approaching five figures, which may be lowballing it when you consider Magic Moments alone has put more than 6,500 performers onstage (and drawn more than 92,000 audiences) since it began. And that doesn’t include the thousands more young people and adults he directed at the former Original Scene from 1979-1992.
KQ has helped in various Magic Moments capacities since its second year, and he has directed every show since 1992. And yet, every year he struggles to secure an available and affordable venue that can accommodate dozens of special-needs performers. Just last month, KQ and his team came within three days of canceling the 2020 show scheduled for March before an offer to host came out of the blue from Colorado’s Finest High School of Choice, an alternative public high school in Englewood.
“If I were to describe KQ in one word, it would be ‘indispensable,’ because Magic Moments probably wouldn’t exist without him,” said Board President Ted Kuenz.
You’d have to have experienced a Magic Moments show to fully feel the chill that even the possibility of a year’s hiatus brings to those who look forward to performing in it every year. No one could ever blame KQ for taking a year off – but that’s not in his constitution.
“It’s the one thing a lot of our people look forward to every year,” Kuenz said. “That would be like taking football away from a football fan. It’s a huge chunk of these people’s lives.”
KQ takes great care to craft each year’s revue with a storyline and recognizable characters amid a dizzying array of showtunes, popular radio songs and classics. The themes are often silly, but every once in a while he tackles serious topics. KQ was more proud of his 2019 effort, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, than any that has preceded it. Based on the Green Day ballad, the 2019 revue touched on addiction, PTSD, poverty and depression – along with an abundance of expected cute-kid frivolity. The much lighter 2020 show, Take the High Road, promises “some hippies, a dead guy, an egotistical Broadway star, a crusty old fisherman” and more zaniness. Register to audition before December 14
While anyone can audition to be in a Magic Moments show, Quintana is known for his Svengali-like ability to draw on heavy hitters in the local theater community to bring additional artistic heft to the effort. Alumni include Elizabeth Welch, who is currently playing the Princess in Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera; Leonard Barrett; Traci Kern; Anna Maria High; Regan Linton; Keegan Flaugh; Lucy Roucis; Drew Frady; nationally renowned Elvis impersonator Charles King, and the late Daniel Langhoff. One future star was a Highlands Ranch pre-teen named Mara Davi, who went on to perform in The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway.
“The most amazing thing was that the barriers I expected to be between us weren’t there,” Davi said of performing with special-needs actors at such a young age. “We were all on the same level, the same page. As a 12-year-old, that was a great lesson. It was so inspiring to watch our castmates overcome their challenges and truly shine. I’m so glad they have this outlet to strut their stuff.”
Choreographers (and it requires eight of them every year to produce 40-plus dance numbers) have included Debbie Stark (who specializes in incorporating wheelchairs into her dances), Nick Sugar, Annie Dwyer, Ronni Stark, Rachael Lessard and Allison Hershman. Music Directors have included Donna Debreceni, David Nehls and Angela Steiner. Scenic Designers have included Charles Packard.
But the pros are not the reason to come to a Magic Moments show. Audiences come back every year to see regulars such as former University of Colorado football star Ed Reinhardt, who was the nation’s leading receiver in 1984 when an on-field collision burst a blood vessel in his brain and put him in a coma for 62 days. Reinhardt has not walked, thought or talked normally since. He was told his brain was no longer capable of even simple memorization, and that he likely would not speak again in anything more than one-word bursts.
That was before Magic Moments.
Reinhardt joined in 1997 and almost every year since, he has carried a signature solo that never fails to bring the crowd to its feet. In the early years, an aid would stand next to him and whisper the lyrics to him as he sang songs like “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” from The Will Rogers Follies. But in recent years, his brain has defied doctors’ orders, and he now happily belts out numbers on his own brain power. This year it was Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely.”
They also come every year to see Dennis Carbrey and Sharon Dawson, who both have physical and mental disabilities, sing a love song. “Everyone who comes to the show has come to expect that,” Kuenz said.
KQ has a unique ability to take a performer’s individual situation – and write it into a show. A few years ago, he learned that Amy Rusak – who is completely nonverbal and confined to a wheelchair – was dabbling with new technology that might allow people to hear her voice for the first time. So KQ had her use that technology to deliver the opening and closing lines of that year’s show.
Talk about a magic moment.
That kind of thing is what makes Magic Moments “the best kind of community theater there is,” said Denver native John Carroll Lynch, a film and TV veteran who was directed by KQ as a high-school student. “This is theater that’s being done for all the right reasons.”
“KQ taught me how to be a whole human. He taught me how to look people straight in the eye, how to shake a hand properly, how to stand with confidence, how to speak loudly when needed, how to own my identity, how to be compassionate, dedicated, honest and respectful. He sparked a love of performance and love of process in me and many others. He treated me and expected me to behave like a grown-up professional even when I was young. He also opened my eyes to the fact that there are MANY ways to create a show, and many ways to include people in the family. I’ve never felt more supported, loved and empowered than when working on one of KQ’s shows.” – Cole Schneider Huling
Photo Gallery: Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Photos from Magic Moments’ 2019 production, ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams,’ by John Moore.
Magic Moments’ 2020 show: Take the High Road
- When: March 26-29
- Where: Colorado’s Finest High School of Choice, 300 W. Chenango Ave., Englewood
- Audition information: December 14 and open to all but you must register in advance
- Ticket information: 303-575-1005 or magicmomentsinc.org
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 19th 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 2019 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. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org