Since the turn of the century, actor and director Bernie Cardell has been in all likelihood the single busiest person in Colorado theatre. His starring role in Spotlight Theatre’s The Foreigner marks his 100th production since 2002. That means Cardell has averaged more than seven productions every year since. He once booked 11 shows in a single calendar year.
“There was one weekend that year where I had three shows running in the same weekend,” Cardell said. “Now that was insane.”
Not a lot of creative people ever make it to 100 shows – and certainly not at Cardell’s breakneck pace. He attributes that to getting a late start.
“When I discovered theatre later in life – I was 28,” he said, “I felt I had found something I should have been doing my entire life. I feel like I have a lot of lost time to make up for. That certainly keeps me going, as well as the people of this theatre community who are so loving, welcoming and very, very funny.”
(Photo: Luke Terry and Bernie Cardell in Spotlight Theatre’s ‘The Foreigner.’ Soular Radiant Photography.)
Cardell was born in Pennsylvania and moved with his family to Las Vegas when he was 7. He studied English at the University of New Mexico, moved on to Santa Fe and then to Denver in 2001. He quickly established himself as a comic actor with the E-Project in Lakewood, the precursor to today’s Edge Theatre.
Since then, he has worked with a whopping 29 local theatre companies, most regularly with Spotlight (in the John Hand Theatre at Colorado Free University) and Vintage Theatre in Aurora.
The Foreigner, which has been extended through Aug. 1, is Larry Shue’s lighthearted comedy about a socially awkward Englishman who pretends to speak no English so he doesn’t have to talk with other guests at a remote fishing lodge in Georgia. But the comedy takes on significant social undertones when Cardell’s Charlie learns of an impending, unwelcome visit by the Ku Klux Klan.
“The biggest challenge with this role is not speaking for so long in Act I,” Cardell said. “Finding ways to connect with the material and the other actors when you are not supposed to understand what they are saying has been the greatest – and most fun – challenge of this show.”
With five more upcoming jobs already booked, it’s unlikely Cardell will be slowing down anytime soon. Cardell took a moment this week to look back – and forward – at his whirlwind 14 years in the Colorado theatre:
Mari Geasair and Bernie Cardell in Spotlight Theatre’s ‘The Foreigner.’ Soular Radiant Photography.
John Moore: In your first 100 shows, which two would you say show the greatest range on your resume?
Bernie Cardell: I would say Angels in America (which I directed) and Run for Your Wife (my first breakout acting role). Does it get any more deeply dramatic than Tony Kushner’s masterwork, or any sillier than Ray Cooney’s classic farce?
John Moore: At this stage of your career, do you prefer directing or acting, and why?
Bernie Cardell: I definitely prefer directing. I have always liked acting and would never want to give it up completely. But with directing, there is a wider scope and vision you can impart to your audience. I adore working with actors and designers to achieve a singular vision for each show I direct, and I love witnessing many divergent paths leading to opening night.
John Moore: Give us one great all-time favorite anecdote from those first 100 shows.
Bernie Cardell: I discovered an innate talent for pratfalls by accident. On opening night of Play On! one of the lighting instruments went out, so I had moved upstage. Then, when the maid came out and slipped – as she was supposed to – she crashed into me, and I went down as well. The director loved the moment and decided to keep it in the show. This led to 10 years of tripping, falling over couches and getting smacked in the face with doors.
John Moore: What’s your Bucket List directing job?
Bernie Cardell: Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.
John Moore: What’s your Bucket List acting role?
Bernie Cardell: Mel Edison, the Jack Lemmon role in Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue
John Moore: So with all of your stage work, it should be pointed out that you still have an outside career to pay the bills. What’s your day job?
Bernie Cardell: I work in the accounts payable department for an engineering company. December will mark my 10th year with the company.
John Moore: Do you think the day will ever come when you and other local actors and directors will be fairly compensated for your time and talent? What would it take?
Bernie Cardell: This brings up the question of what’s fair, and what I think is fair is what we are willing to accept. People should never accept a job for less than what they think is fair. They will only resent the project. This is really an issue of supply and demand. As long as actors are willing to work for what a theater is willing to pay, then the compensation won’t go up. It’s the same with directors.
John Moore: From your perspective, how would you describe the health of the Colorado theater ecology, and how would that answer compare to when you first started out?
Bernie Cardell: From the number of shows that are happening, the Colorado theater ecology is healthier than ever. Of the 29 companies I have worked for, 12 are no longer with us. But I would hazard a guess that 16 to 20 new companies have opened to take their place. More companies are featuring new works, which I think is very important. We’re holding auditions this weekend where over 150 people will show up. I don’t know if there are more actors than 14 years ago, but the level of talent remains strong. It’s a great community to work in.
John Moore: And what shows do you have coming up?
Bernie Cardell: I am directing several shows:
- La Cage Aux Folles by Ignite Theatre at the Aurora Fox (Aug. 14 – Sept. 6)
- Curtains at the Vintage Theatre (Sept. 18-Nov. 1)
- To Kill a Mockingbird at the Spotlight Theater (Oct. 10 – Nov. 7)
- The 39 Steps at the Coal Creek Community Theatre in Louisville (Oct. 30-Nov. 14)
- The 1940s Radio Hour at the D.L. Parsons Theatre in Northglenn (Dates TBA)
The Foreigner: Ticket information
- Presented by Spotlight Theatre Company
- Performs through Aug. 1
- At the John Hand Theater, 7653 E. 1st Place, Denver, CO 80230
- Showtimes 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
- Tickets $19-$21
- Information: 720-880-8727 or www.thisisspotlight.com