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2014 True West Award: Robert Michael Sanders

by John Moore | Dec 05, 2014



First, a brief re-cap: Last year, Robert Michael Sanders’ hands were partially paralyzed when doctors botched a routine shoulder surgery. Sanders: A man whose livelihoods as an actor, director, teacher, guitarist, handyman and builder depend on the full use of his hands. Now, Sanders is many things (let's just say ... for example … stubborn!). But a quitter is not one of them. Sanders’ mobility was made somewhat better through intense rehab at Craig Hospital. But he has had to come to terms with the fact that he will never recover the full use of his hands.

Now with that out of the way, let's just do a quick rundown of Sanders’ first full year as an actor with a disability:

  • He played a racist department-store owner - and a slightly less-racist radio-station owner - in the Arvada Center’s Memphis.
  • He directed the gritty musical See What I Wanna See for Ignite Theatre.
  • He played Henry in the Arvada Center’s Embers, a live reading of that freaky Samuel Beckett radio play.
  • He organized and directed a return of the local theatre tradition Miscast, raising nearly $2,000 for the Denver Actors Fund.
  • He assisted with the direction of the musical John and Jen for the Cherry Creek Theatre Company.
  • He directed a kids’ version of Cinderella for Academy of Theatre Arts at Town Hall Arts Center.
  • And, this very holiday season, Sanders is playing a crotchety old man named Saunder Clös (who, pssst, may really be Santa Claus) in the Aurora Fox’s Red Ranger Came Calling, based on a story by Bloom County cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (playing through Dec. 20).
  • And Sanders will start 2015 by playing Luisa’s father, Mr. Bellomy, in his debut with the “handi-capable” Phamaly Theatre Company. That will play at the Aurora Fox from Jan. 29-Feb. 15, and then at the Arvada Center from Feb. 27-March 1, before traveling to Osaka, Japan, in March.

Talk about a guy who's got a grip.

The point is this: When life throws you a beanball, you have choice. You can hit the ground - and stay there. Or you can get up, dust yourself off, and move on. Sanders got up. He adapted. He didn’t bend to life’s will. He as much as told life there's nothing he can’t do – even with limited use of his hands. So far: Sanders wins.

1: Norrell Moore
2. Kate Gleason
3. Amanda Berg Wilson and Jeremy Make
4. Ben Cowhick
5. Robert Michael Sanders
6. David Nehls
7. Adrian Egolf
8. Emma Messenger
9. Buntport's Naughty Bits
10. Tim Howard
11. Gleason Bauer
12. Daniel Traylor
13. Aisha Jackson and Jim Hogan
14. Cast of 'The Whipping Man'
15. Rick Yaconis
16. Michael R. Duran
17. Laura Norman
18. Jacquie Jo Billings
19. Megan Van De Hey
20. Jeremy Palmer
21. Henry Lowenstein   
22. Sam Gregory
23. Wendy Ishii
24. J. Michael Finley
25. Kristen Samu and Denver Actors Fund volunteers
26. Matthew D. Peters
27. Shannan Steele
28. Ludlow, 1914
29. Spring Awakening and Annapurna
30 Theatre Person of the Year Steve Wilson

The True West Awards, which began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, are the longest-running continuously administered awards program in Colorado theater. This year, the awards have been reconceived to simply recognize 30 award-worthy achievements in local theatre, without categories or nominations. A different honoree will be singled out each day for 30 days.

The True West Awards are administered by arts journalist John Moore, who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since founded The Denver Actors Fund and taken a groundbreaking position as the DCPA's Senior Arts Journalist. His coverage of the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org 


Leave a comment
  1. Cheryl craig | May 15, 2015


    you are indeed a wonder, but I always knew you were one "Special" guy!

    all my love and prayers,

    cheryl Craig/Powell

    krisys mom

  2. Rob | Dec 05, 2014
    Great recognition for a truly amazing man! So well deserved. 

    Leave a comment

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    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has created a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @MooreTheatre.

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