Colorado’s Lumineer to introduce Rattlesnake Kate at ‘Mixed Taste’

Neyla Pekarek

Photo courtesy Neyla Pekarek


High-school theatre set Pekarek on a path toward international stardom, a Greeley legend … and a Denver Center commission

Neyla Pekarek was snake-bitten by the theatre as a student at Overland High School in Aurora. If not, she says, she never would have had the courage to answer a Craigslist ad from a local folk band needing a cello player. If not, she never would have joined the Denver-based, internationally adored band The Lumineers. If not, she would not have played two sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden last year, or had the life-changing experience of opening for U2 on the 30th anniversary tour of “The Joshua Tree.”

And she certainly would not be introducing audiences to a little-known Colorado legend named Rattlesnake Kate when she launches the summer season of Mixed Taste: Tag Team Lectures on Unrelated Topics at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (July 11) at the Denver Center’s Seawell Ballroom.

That was some snake bite.

“I was pretty shy, but I found my people through the theatre program at Overland High School,” Pekarek told the DCPA NewsCenter. “They were the people who made me feel like it was OK to be the weirdo that I was.”

Pekarek took up the cello at age 9. But it was a passionate choir teacher named Darin Drown (now at Grandview High School) who got her into singing. She eventually played Cosette in Overland’s production of Les Misérables in Aurora. (Although, like most actresses, she really wanted to play Eponine.)

“Orchestra kids by nature are a little bit introverted,” Pekarek said. “It took a lot to pull me out of my shell — and I never went back in.”

MCA Denver and the DCPA’s adventurous Off-Center wing are again partnering up to present Mixed Taste on Wednesday nights through Aug. 22. Pekarek is leading off the series with master sommelier Rona VanSlyck talking “Rattlesnake Kate and Rosé.”

The Lumineers

The Lumineers

During her scheduled between-albums sabbatical from The Lumineers, Pekarek has been developing a chamber folk opera on the life of Katherine McHale Slaughterback. “Rattlesnake Kate,” as she is better known, was a Greeley farmer who reportedly fought off 140 rattlesnakes to save her 3-year-old son in 1925. She then famously made a dress from their skins.

“That snake attack could be the climax of Kate’s story, but I actually think that’s where her life begins,” Pekarek said. “I picture a woman who lived totally outside of the mold and was certainly ahead of her time.”

Pekarek is the first writer to be commissioned by new DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman. Pekarek will develop Rattlesnake Kate into a full-fledged musical with the help of script writer Karen Hartman and local dramaturg Heidi Schmidt. A commission means the Denver Center will provide Pekarek with full technical, workshop and other support, with a right-of-first-refusal to premiere the musical when it is completed. “I am so thrilled that other people are excited about the story the way I am,” Pekarek said.

Read more: Here is the complete lineup of 2018 Mixed Taste speakers and subjects

First, though, is Mixed Taste. Both featured participants on Wednesday will be given 20 minutes to address their seemingly unrelated subjects, followed by questions from the audience.

Rattlesnake Kate Courtesy Greeley Historical Museum

Rattlesnake Kate Courtesy Greeley Historical Museum

“It’s going to be a 20-minute introduction to Rattlesnake Kate’s life,” Pekarek said. “I am going to play four of the songs, stripped back and solo, with some storytelling mixed in.”

And what a life. Kate McHale was born near Longmont, in 1894. She was a nurse during World War II, after which she made her living farming on Colorado’s Eastern plains. She also held a variety of odd jobs over the years, including taxidermist, midwife and bootlegger. She was married and divorced six times and had one child, a son named Ernie Adamson — through there is some dispute as to whether he was adopted or born to Kate out of wedlock.

Rattlesnake Kate earned her nickname when she and Ernie went out looking for ducks left by hunters the night before. As Kate dismounted her horse to open a gate, she realized she had wandered into a rattlesnake migration. She shot at them with her .22 shotgun until she ran out of ammo, then pulled down a “No Hunting” sign and beat the rest of the rattlers dead. It took her more than two hours — all with Ernie strapped to her horse not 60 feet away.

“If you have met any 3-year-old, you know they don’t sit still for very long,” Pekarek said. “I really wonder, if Kate had been on her own, if she would have had the perseverance to kill all of those snakes. But a mother’s rage is something quite different.”

Word of the snake-slaying quickly spread, and reporters were soon to follow. Which all makes for great storytelling fodder. But Pekarek is just as interested in the 40-year love-letter affair Kate kept with Colonel Charles D. Randolph, aka Buckskin Bill.) Something about this woman defying convention and surviving on her own for so long speaks to Pekarek — and, she believes, will speak to other women in 2018.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

“I think it is really important to be telling stories about women like Rattlesnake Kate right now,” she said. “I was never so aware of being a woman before I got into the music industry, which is such a male-dominated business. And I am in a band with all men, with a lot of male managers and tour managers. If you are a woman, you just have fight a little harder to have your voice heard.

“So when I discovered the life of Rattlesnake Kate, I identified with her so much. This is a strong feminist story about someone who lived outside the lines of what femininity was expected to be at that time — and she wasn’t willing to back down.

“Kate said constantly: ‘I am the boss of me,’ and that has become my mantra.”

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.

Mixed Taste: Ticket information
Even mismatched subjects will find common ground in a lecture series that can go pretty much anywhere.
• 7 p.m. every Wednesday  through Aug. 22
• Seawell Ballroom, Denver Performing Arts Complex
• Tickets: $20

‘Mixed Taste’ is ready to mix it up again this summer

Anachronism is art when speakers elucidate audiences on eclectic topics starting with Rattlesnake Kate and Rosé

For the second straight summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts will be a mixed match.

MCA Denver and the DCPA’s adventurous Off-Center wing are again partnering up to present Mixed Taste: Tag Team Lectures on Unrelated Topics on Wednesday nights throughout the summer at the Denver Center’s Seawell Ballroom.

The lineup of eclectic speakers and even more eclectic topics was announced today. Leading off the series on July 11, for example, is Neyla Pekarek of The Lumineers and Rona VanSlyck talking Rattlesnake Kate and Rosé. (Rattlesnake Kate was a Greeley legend who reportedly fought off 140 rattlesnakes to save her 3-year-old son in 1925.)

Pictured at right: Neyla Pekarek is shown in a theatrical production when she was a student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, opposite Rattlesnake Kate. Pekarek has developed her own folk opera called ‘Rattlesnake,’ based on the life of the Colorado pioneer and the 40-year love letter affair she kept with Colonel Charles D. Randolph, aka Buckskin Bill.)

Mixed Taste, conceived by MCA Denver’s Adam Lerner, pairs two speakers addressing  completely unrelated subjects, followed by questions from the audience. During the first part of the program, no connections are allowed between the topics. But during the Q&A, anything can happen.

This year’s series begins on July 11 and will continue at 7 p.m. on Wednesday nights through Aug. 22. (Please note: The start time for this year’s series changes from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.):

Wednesday, July 11
Rattlesnake Kate and Rosé
Featuring Neyla Pekarek and Rona VanSlyck

Wednesday, July 18
Juneteenth and The Selfie
Featuring Norman Harris and Roddy MacInnes

Wednesday, July 25
Hygge and PsychoMixed TasteFeaturing Alexandra Gove & Koen van Renswoude; and Alexandre Philippe

Wednesday, Aug. 1
Incorrupt Saints and Hot Pockets
Featuring Elizabeth Harper and Brandon Shepherd

Wednesday, Aug. 8
Red Pandas and Munchausen Syndrome
Featuring Janee Zakoren and Dr. Marc D. Feldman M.D.

Wednesday, Aug. 15
Presidential Drinking and The Golden Ratio
Featuring Adrian Miller and Beth Stade

Wednesday, Aug. 22
Crop Circles and Prenups
Featuring Jeffrey Wilson and another speaker to be announced

(Please note, Mixed Taste topics/speakers are subject to change.)

Lerner originated Mixed Taste in 2004 in an empty storefront in the Belmar shopping center in Lakewood. In 2009, when he took the helm at MCA Denver he moved the program to downtown Denver. The program has been imitated from Boston to Mexico City. It has been discussed in various museum studies books and is regarded by many as the forefront of innovative cultural education programming.

“Off-Center produces the kind of smart and quirky programming in the theater world that we strive to create in the art world,” said Lerner, MCA Denver’s Director and Chief Animator. We’re excited to see what happens when we work together.”

Charlie Miller, curator of Off-Center, is a fan of Mixed Tape because, he said, “it is an inherently theatrical format that is always engaging, surprising and fun — everything we strive for in an Off-Center experience.”

Mixed Taste: Ticket information
Even mismatched subjects will find common ground in a lecture series that can go pretty much anywhere.
• 7 p.m. every Wednesday from July 11 through Aug. 22
• Seawell Ballroom, Denver Performing Arts Complex
• Tickets: $20

Mixed Taste Garden Parties
Join us before the lecture at the ‘Mixed Taste Garden Party,’ presented by The Next Stage NOW and Denver Arts and Venues. Grab-and-go eats and libations will be available for purchase and a relaxing vibe will be set by DJ Uplifted Gourmandizer. Quick bites and bar provided by Centerplate. Wednesdays, July 11-Aug/ 22, starting at 5:30 p.m. in The Galleria at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season: In with the old … and the new

Coleman’s 40th anniversary season includes two world premieres, Tolstoy and an African-American Oklahoma!

Incoming DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman today announced a 40th anniversary season he believes both honors the company’s past and boldly steps into the future — and in some intriguing examples, at the same time.

Coleman will return to the company’s roots by presenting its third Rodgers and Hammerstein musical following previous stagings of Carousel and South Pacific. But Coleman is promising a fresh new look at Oklahoma! by telling the beloved story of a spirited rivalry between local farmers and cowboys from a mostly African-American perspective. Similarly, Coleman will offer adaptations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, stories of women overcoming great societal barriers that may strike audiences as remarkably contemporary.

“It’s incredibly exciting to imagine what you want your first season at an organization to be,” said Coleman, who assumes his full-time Denver duties in May. “This company has long been known as a place where you can do really big, interesting, meaty, dramatic literature. One of the things that’s exciting to me is to do something really traditional and then follow that with something that is brand new and edgy. That collision of styles and voices is really juicy to me.”

Pictured above: Valerie Curtis-Newton, left, will return to again direct 2017 Colorado New Play Summit offering ‘Last Night and the Night Before’ on the mainstage season. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

Coleman covers the traditional-to-edgy gamut with the announcement of both an eight-play Theatre Company season that includes three classics and two world premieres, as well as an innovative five-play slate from the company’s adventurous Off-Center wing.

When Coleman was named Artistic Director in November, he promised programming that will further the DCPA’s efforts to diversify its audiences, champion local storytelling and give voice to underserved communities. All five of the other mainstage directors he named today are women — and three of the playwrights are women or persons of color. Four if you count Off-Center’s commission of a planned immersive hip-hop piece from This is Modern Art co-writer Idris Goodwin.
The mainstage season includes two world-premiere plays: Donnetta Lavinia GraysLast Night and the Night Before, which was featured at the company’s 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, and Itamar MosesThe Whistleblower. With the exception of A Christmas Carol, which returns for a 26th year, every playwright and source writer (even Tolstoy) will be new to Theatre Company audiences except Nottage, whose Ruined was one of the most celebrated productions in company history In 2011.

The Off-Center offerings, said Curator Charlie Miller, will complement the Theatre Company season and tell exciting stories in unconventional ways. “From original micro plays to new theatrical experiments to a large-scale immersive hip-hop show, Off-Center will take audiences into unexpected Denver spaces and showcase local artists, stories, and communities,” he said.

Starting Monday: A daily, deeper dive into 2018-19 season

The Theatre Company debuted on New Year’s Eve 1979 with The Caucasian Chalk Circle, starring Tyne Daly. Coleman says there is special significance to this being the 40th anniversary season because the company is old enough to have built an significant canon but also young enough to still have staff, artists and audience members who have been here all along — a lot of them.

“As we step into the next chapter of the Theatre Company’s history, it’s inspiring and energizing to look back on the extraordinary body of work that this company has brought to the region over the last 40 seasons,” Coleman said. “What’s really vivid to me is how many people have been around from Day 1. There are so many people who are really invested in the history and the future of this organization. So, to me, that’s worth celebrating. And I view that as a launching pad for me.

These playwrights and directors are the cream of the crop, and I look forward to the conversations these works will open up with the Denver community.”

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.

2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season at a glance:

  • Aug. 24-Sept. 30: Vietgone (Ricketson Theatre)
  • Sept. 7-Oct. 14: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (Stage Theatre)
  • Sept. 21-Oct. 21: The Constant Wife (Space Theatre)
  • Nov. 21-Dec. 24: A Christmas Carol (Stage Theatre)
  • Jan. 18-Feb. 24, 2019: Last Night and the Night Before (Ricketson Theatre)
  • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, 2019: Anna Karenina (Stage Theatre)
  • Feb. 8-March 10, 2019: The Whistleblower (Space Theatre)
  • April 26-May 26, 2019: Sweat (Space Theatre)

DCPA Theatre Company tickets and subscriptions: New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Subscription packages are now available online at or by calling 303-893-4100. Subscribers enjoy 30 percent off savings, free ticket exchanges, payment plans, priority offers to added attractions, discounted extra tickets, a dedicated VIP hotline, free events including talkbacks and receptions, and the best seats at the best prices, guaranteed. Single ticket on-sale date will be announced at a later time.

2018-19 Off-Center season at a glance:

  • July 11-Aug. 22: Mixed Taste: Tag team lectures on unrelated topics (Wednesdays only, with MCA Denver, Seawell Ballroom)
  • Oct. 23-Nov. 18: Bite-Size: An evening of micro theatre (at BookBar)
  • Nov. 23-Dec. 24: The SantaLand Diaries (with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company at The Jones)
  • March 2019: Powered by Off-Center (The Jones)
  • Dates TBA: Untitled Immersive Hip-Hop Show

Off-Center ticket information: The single ticket on-sale date for all Off-Center productions will be announced at a later time. Subscriptions are not available for Off-Center shows.2018-19 THEATRE COMPANY SEASON: Title by title

(Descriptions provided by DCPA Theatre Company)


  • By Qui Nguyen
  • Original music by Shane Rettig
  • Directed by Seema Sueko
  • Aug. 24-Sept. 30, 2018 (Opens Aug. 31)
  • Ricketson Theatre
  • Glance: This rap-spitting, pop culture-crusted dramedy is an ode to the real-life courtship of Playwright Qui Nguyen’s parents. Forced to leave their country during the height of the Vietnam War, two refugees find themselves at the same relocation camp in Arkansas – the land of Harleys, hot dogs and “howdy!” Before they find their way into each other’s arms, they’ll have to blaze a trail in their weird new world and leave behind the baggage they didn’t pack. Jump on this emotional ride for an adventure that hums with excitement as it hops across time and around the globe through the highs and lows of love.
  • Fun fact: Qui Nguyen is the self-described geeky playwright behind She Kills Monsters, which addressed stereotypes and social issues through the game “Dungeons and Dragons.”


OklahomaRodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

  • Music by Richard Rodgers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
  • Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
  • Original Dances by Agnes de Mille
  • Directed by Chris Coleman
  • Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 2018 (Opens Sept. 14)
  • Stage Theatre
  • Glance: With a spring in their step and a song in their hearts, cowboys, farmers and travelling salesmen alike have chased their destinies to a land that promises everything they could hope for: love, opportunity and a brighter future. The first collaboration by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein became a landmark musical for its rollicking music and stunning dance numbers, and this joyful presentation will solidify why it has stood the test of time. New DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman makes his DCPA directorial debut with this production, and he will set the story in one of the 50 all-African-American towns in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory. Discover an overlooked piece of American history as one small community stakes its claim on a place full of hope. The choreographer will be Dominique Kelley, a dancer in the film La La Land and the musical Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.
  • Fun fact: Oklahoma! opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre 75 years ago Saturday, and the cast of the Denver-born Frozen marked the anniversary with a curtain-call singalong that you can watch at this YouTube link.

The Constant WifeThe Constant Wife

  • By W. Somerset Maugham
  • Directed by Shelley Butler
  • Sept. 21-Oct. 21, 2018 (Opens Sept. 28)
  • Space Theatre
  • Glance: As the intelligent, charming housewife of a successful doctor, Constance Middleton cheerfully plays her traditional role. But she knows far more than she’s willing to let on. This cheeky satire pokes holes in the expectations of relationships, fidelity and social roles that were just as relevant in the 1920s as they are today. Featuring an infectiously plucky heroine at the helm, The Constant Wife takes joy in the imperfections of life and applauds those who elude the strict confines of society to discover true happiness. DCPA alum Shelley Butler (Human Error, The Most Deserving) returns to direct this contagious comedy.Fun fact: Variety calls Maugham’s protagonist “a perverse protofeminist — and an antecedent to the women of “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City.”

A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol

  • By Charles Dickens
  • Adapted by Richard Hellesen
  • Music by David de Berry
  • Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson
  • Nov. 21-Dec. 24, 2018 (Opens Nov. 29)
  • Stage Theatre
  • Glance: Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, the Theatre Company’s joyous and opulent seasonal offering now in its 26th year traces money-hoarding skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge’s triumphant overnight journey to redemption. A Christmas Carol illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations. Note: This is an added attraction, not part of the Theatre Company subscription season.
  • Fun fact: Denver favorite Sam Gregory is scheduled to return for a third time as Scrooge.


Last Night And The Night BeforeLast Night and the Night Before (world premiere)

  • By Donnetta Lavinia Grays
  • Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton
  • Jan. 18-Feb. 24, 2019 (Opens January 25)
  • Ricketson Theatre
  • Glance: When Monique and her 10-year-old daughter Samantha show up unexpectedly on her sister’s Brooklyn doorstep, it shakes up Rachel and her partner Nadima’s orderly New York lifestyle. Monique is on the run from deep trouble and brings their family’s Southern roots with her, grabbing hold of Rachel’s life more ferociously than she could have ever imagined. Poetic, powerful and remarkably funny, Last Night and the Night Before play explores the struggle between the responsibilities that are expected of us and the choices we actually end up making.
  • Fun fact: This play was featured in the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Its original title was simply, Sam. The new title references a line from the children’s game “Last night and the night before, I met my baby at the candy store.”

Anna KareninaAnna Karenina

  • By Kevin McKeon, adapted from the novel by Leo Tolstoy
  • Directed by Artistic Director Chris Coleman
  • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, 2019 (Opens Feb. 1)
  • Stage Theatre
  • Glance: Love holds the power to bind us together or tear us apart, and no one knows better than Countess Anna Karenina. As a noblewoman and socialite, her glamorous lifestyle shrouds her unhappy marriage. But everything changes when she meets the dashing army officer Count Vronsky. She risks her social status, marriage, friends and family for the thrill of forbidden love. Anna Karenina uses the romantic backdrop of Tsarist Russia to tell a turbulent tale of passion and betrayal, dreams chased and lost, and the consequences of getting swept off your feet. Helmed by Artistic Director Chris Coleman, this lush, modern adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece brings the opulent setting and heart-wrenching story to life.
  • Fun fact: The play was made into a 2012 movie adapted by Tom Stoppard and featuring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.

The WhistleblowerThe Whistleblower (world premiere)

  • By Itamar Moses (pictured right)
  • Directed by TBA
  • Feb. 8-March 10, 2019 (Opens Feb. 15)
  • Space Theatre
  • Glance: For screenwriter Eli, an offer to finally create his own TV show should be the ultimate culmination of his goals, but instead shocks him into wondering why he had those dreams in the first place. Armed with a new sense of spiritual clarity, he sets out on a quest to serve up some hard truths to his coworkers, family, exes and friends. What could possibly go wrong? A lively world premiere about the lies we tell to protect ourselves  and how the tiniest gestures can have deep impact on those around us. Written by Itamar Moses, the award-winning author of the musical The Band’s Visit, currently on Broadway.
  • Fun facts: The Whistleblower was first introduced as a staged reading at South Coast Repertory’s 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa, Calif. — alongside Vietgone. Also, Moses was an Executive Story Editor for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” 


  • By Lynn Nottage
  • Directed by Nataki Garrett
  • April 26-May 26, 2019 (Opens May 3)
  • Space Theatre
  • Glance: For the people of poverty-stricken Reading, Pa., work is so much more than a paycheck – it’s the glue that holds the town together. The floor of their central factory is where lifelong friendships are made, where love blossoms and where family members work side-by-side. But as layoffs become the new norm and a cheaper workforce threatens the viability of the local union, the threads that once kept the community together begin to fray. Sweat is an “extraordinarily moving drama,” said The New York Times, that powerfully contrasts life’s happiest highs with the heart-wrenching struggles of survival. Using warm humor and deep empathy, this 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner from Lynn Nottage (Ruined) paints a moving portrait of today’s working-class America in decline.
  • Fun fact: Nottage developed her play through interviews with actual former steelworkers in Reading.

2018-19 OFF-CENTER SEASON: Title by title

Mixed TasteMixed Taste: Tag team lectures on unrelated topics

  • Co-presentation with MCA Denver
  • July 11-Aug. 22, 2018 (Wednesdays only)
  • Seawell Ballroom
  • Glance: Returning for a second summer series, even mismatched subjects find common ground in this fun lecture forum that can go pretty much anywhere. Two speakers get 20 minutes each to enlighten you on unrelated topics, but can’t make any connections to each other. Ideas start to blend afterward, when audience members ask questions to both speakers and anything goes.
  • Fun fact: One clever example from last year’s series: “Wild West mail delivery and post-conceptual art.” Last year’s series emcee Suzi Q. Smith wrote a poem during each performance and read them at the end of every evening.


Bite-Size: An evening of micro theatre

  • Created and directed by Meridith Crosley Grundei
  • Oct. 23-Nov. 18, 2018
  • At BookBar, 4280 Tennyson St.
  • Glance:
  • Bite-Size brings you five short plays with bookish twists performed in and around BookBar, an independent bookstore and wine bar in the Tennyson Street Arts District. Grab tapas and drinks between the short performances of original works by Colorado-based artists. There is no better way to see a variety of local playwrights and performers in one place. Whether you’re a theatre geek, a bookworm or on the hunt for an off-beat night out, this evening will leave you eager to crack into a fresh hard-cover and dream up some tales of your own.
  • Fun fact: Director Meridith Grundei, a 2017 True West Award winner, packed up a used R.V. and hit the road with her husband and daughter in 2017 to travel the United States and Mexico for a year.

The SantaLand Diaries

  • Co-presentation with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
  • By David Sedaris, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
  • Directed by Stephen Weitz
  • Nov. 23-Dec. 24, 2018 (Opens Nov. 25)
  • The Jones Theatre
  • Glance: This acclaimed one-man show is based on David Sedaris’ best-selling memoir about his curmudgeonly experience working as a Macy’s SantaLand elf, once again featuring Michael Bouchard and Luke Sorge as David, and his devilish Macy’s persona, Crumpet the Elf. Think holiday shopping is brutal? Try being on the receiving end of Macy’s SantaLand madness in a pair of pointy shoes. This twisted tale is the cure for the common Christmas show and the perfect excuse to take a break from it all.
  • Fun fact: 2018-19 will mark the 10th anniversary of BETC’s annual holiday staging, the last seven in partnership with Off-Center. That will equal The Bug Theatre’s run of 10 seasonal The SantaLand Diaries starring Gary Culig.

Powered by Off-Center

  • March 2019
  • The Jones Theatre
  • Glance: Discover your next favorite Colorado performer as they debut new work at the Denver Center. Off-Center is offering the spotlight to local creators of all kinds as they get their projects off the ground with the support of our team. We’re giving our local artistic community a new place to play and a platform to experiment, engage and excite us all. Performance dates and participating artists to be announced.

Untitled Immersive Hip-Hop Show

  • Written by Idris Goodwin
  • Directed by Jenny Koons
  • Glance: Following the hit experiential shows Sweet & Lucky and The Wild Party, Off-Center is cooking up its next large-scale immersive adventure. Off-Center has commissioned playwright Idris Goodwin and New York-based director Jenny Koons (Burn All Night at American Repertory Theatre) to create a one-of-a-kind new hip-hop-inspired event. Title, location, dates, and details to be announced.
  • Fun fact: Goodwin is the director and co-writer of This is Modern Art, currently playing through April 15 in The Jones Theatre.


Note: Due to the nature of live performance, all productions, prices and dates are subject to change.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Read Suzi Q. Smith's original 'Mixed Taste' poems here

Suzy Q Smith
Suzi Q. Smith at the inaugural ‘Mixed Taste’ in the Seawell Ballroom on July 5. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


‘Know which voice to listen to
when it’s time to fly,
when it’s time to land.

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Mixed Taste is a weekly tag-team lecture series that paired playfully unrelated topics on Wednesday nights throughout the summer in the Denver Center’s Seawell Ballroom. The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is now collaborating on the popular series with Off-Center, the Denver Center’s most unconventional programming arm

Read more: Mixed Taste walks the talk to the Seawell Ballroom

Local slam poet Suzi Q. Smith was the series emcee. As part of the fun, she created an original poem as each evening progressed to connect the dots between two featured but seemingly unrelated topics. She read them at the end of each night, and we have been publishing them here throughout the summer.

Read our previous interview with Mixed Taste emcee Suzi Q. Smith

On Glimmer and Flight

Aug. 23
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture Topics: Air Traffic Control and Drag Queen Activism
Lecturers: Bruce Goetz and Shirley Delta Blow

There are so many ways to approach a runway.
Fast, heavy as a skilled boxer’s glove;
Precise as a jeweled manicure
or a highlighted cheekbone;
Clumsy as the first time in heels.
It takes time, coordination, and practice
to get it right.

Last Suzi QWhat I love about the airport
is the vastness of possibility:
every terminal filled with dreams and stories,
beginnings and long kisses goodbye,
every face choreographed
into magnificent ballet – and who
serves more face
than drag queens?
Every wink
and eyebrow raise
is worth at least
56 square miles of

We must remember that certainty
when we find ourselves mid-flight
in what could be chaos.
Listen: there is a small voice lending us direction –

stay here,
come closer,
not yet,
aim higher,
the runway is yours, darling –

and if we listen, that voice keeps us from disaster.
Step to the front
while flashing lights sing
in reverence to your every eyelash.
Sashay when they wave you on,
ignore the flailing arms
that offer you no welcome.

Know which voice to listen to
when it’s time to fly,
when it’s time to land,
know who keeps you safe,
keeps you airborne amidst roaring winds
that would have your wings
if you let them.

Let your pride swell.
When you hear the sky calling, fly.
Stay fly
and flying,
let the breath of those who love you
be your wind,
let their voices be your beacon.

You, brilliant shimmer,
land on that runway
like you mean it.

On Perspective and Relativity

Aug. 16
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: P.T. Barnum and Infinity
Lecturers: Kathy Maher and Diane Davis

I first used the term “infinity” as a means
to compound an insult
on some schoolyard playground, as in

            “you’re ugly”
            “your mama’s ugly”
            “you’re ugly times a million”
            “your ugly times INFINITY”

my Sunday School teacher said infinity
was like carrying a bucket of water
from the Atlantic Ocean
to the Pacific Ocean,
pouring it in, refilling the bucket
and carrying it back,
repeating this process until all of one ocean
had been poured into the other entirely,
and I stopped using it then
as a weapon.

It seemed a cruel use of vocabulary.
Speaking of cruelty, I can’t help but weep
when I consider the life of Joice Heth
whose body, even in death, was someone else’s spectacle,
whose suffering was no less than infinite,
heavy as endless buckets of water colliding into a gulf
a grand showcase of laughing waves, crashing the shore
and winking at the grains of sand for their pretense of grandiosity.

Maybe it is all perspective, bending with time.
Is time a line, or a circle?
Are we standing at zero or infinity?
Is it ingenuity or exploitation?
Is an elaborate hoax to be scorned or celebrated?

Neither the sand nor the stars are infinite,
but they offer a grand show.
A brilliant display of possibility,
a quantifiable image to lend this vast vocabulary
to the dream of something greater.

And what is greater, more infinite, than our dreams?
Are we not the most stunning display of blue and bite?
The most illustrious outpour of story and song?

May we learn from our history.
May we transform our finite breath
into a stunning cascade of tomorrows,
may we build a world of infinite compassion, courage and creativity –
I believe it will be the greatest show on earth,
to infinity

(and beyond).

On Bob and booze

Aug. 9
A Meet the Cast Bianca Mikahn 600Written by Guest Host Bianca Mikahn
(Pictured right in May 2016)
Lecture Topics: Prohibition and Bob Ross
Lecturers: Jason Hanson and Doug Blandy 

Bob was once drunk off power
off his hands and all they could spill

Thirty years before
maybe his family would have been driven
by his bust ’em up demeanor
to the voting polls
But then Bob got hooked on painting’s joy

I wonder
before he fermented his feelings into
the nectar of inspiration
Was his voice
a rough and burning moonshine
a howling across brand new highways
while false McCoys raced in the distance
How many distillations did it take
to find the perfect smoky earthy pitch
lulling so many of us to comfort
like a perfectly aged red

Mr Ross is famed for saying
“there are no mistakes”
I wonder had he witnessed to the
dehydrated hypocrisy and
Overreaching amendment which was the eighteenth
Would he have maintained his floating
and free demeanor
Or would he revive his famed military fire
for access to the saloon

Mixed Taste Aug 9Maybe his only intoxication was the palette
Most likely he would have found a
favored speakeasy
(which should be called Bob Rosses
if time continuum allowed)
A single malt
Maybe a dear friend

Bob Ross was my bartender
the first to fill my cup with color
and affirmation
Replete with seasoned ice and
landscapes which burned so good going down
Temperance comes from the Latin word
temperar which means to restrain
Tempera is a form of paint and means
to paint in distemper
May we generate a toast
to the eschewing of prohibition’s temperance
less temperar renders us
each of us little burgeoning Bobs
Missing our happy little trees and forgetting
there are no mistakes
Just happy accidents

On Growth and Dirt 

Aug. 2
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Asparagus and Money Laundering
Lecturers: Carol O’Meara and Micah Schwalb

To grow asparagus, it must be planted deeply,
like an oil drum full of money.
It helps to have good real estate to bury it in.
It takes patience and skill to get it right,
with a nose for detail that must be studied.
Maybe banks are the best place to begin
the sprouts, they always have plenty
of dirt.

The Romans had a love
for asparagus as well as coin,
as both have been known
as aphrodisiacs, both have led to
suspicions and secrets, both traceable
if you know where to sniff.

I love asparagus. 
Once, I ate marinated asparagus at a party.
It was so magical that I decided to recreate the dish at home.
Asparagus? Check.
Herbs, seasonings, oil, vinegar? Check.
I placed the ingredients in a casserole dish
and covered, then promptly
forgot about it.
For days.
Several days.
Several long, hot, summer days.

When I remembered,
I excitedly removed the lid, ready to delight
in my first attempt at marinated asparagus, and
The worst smell I have ever experienced –
the kind of smell that expands the realms of imagination,
so bad that my brain had to activate new functions
just to accurately perceive this level of awful.

I grabbed the dish and ran outside to throw it in the dumpster –
the asparagus,
the spices,
the oils and vinegars,
and the glass dish they’d been conspiring in.
No amount of laundering would have saved it.
The crime was so dreadful
that I had to hide the evidence.

I fled the scene, packed up my daughter,
and stayed with family that night
because the scene was too ghastly to remain.

The word “asparagus” comes from a Persian word
meaning “shoot” or “sprout.”
I imagine I asparagussed my way out the back door
on that fateful day.

While it was once know for its reproductive effects,
I have yet to reproduce the marinated asparagus since then,
the evidence of the failed attempt left an unmistakable mark.

Both money and asparagus involve a bit of dirt,
a fair amount of work, but when done well
can sustain us for generations.

May all of our harvests be fair and clean. 

On Ways and Words

July 26
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Giant Flutes and Celestial Navigation
Lecturers: Akio Lis and Jim Cook

I’ve heard that in Australia,
Aboriginal tribes used to navigate their land
through music.  Each place had its own song.

Charlie.jpg_largeI’ve heard it said that
while any person can learn to play a note,
it takes a true musician to know why to play a note, and when,
how to navigate a song and draw its map.

The earth spins at nearly 1,000 miles per hour,
so fast it almost feels like we’ve always been still.
Sound travels at nearly 800 miles per hour,
so fast it feels eternal, like we’ve always known this music.

Do you ever think about the fact that we are in space
right now? Do you wonder why?
Are we what happens when the momentum of
sound and orbit collide?
Does the weight and gravity
of our instruments help us to know
where our momentum means something?

When we look at the center or
the surface of the earth
and move toward the distant
celestial lights twinkling their hello
(or goodbye, as the case may be),
is it reasonable to still feel lost?

Is it reasonable
to bellow into the dark
and hope your breath will be enough
to carry you toward home?
The way that wind holds a sail,
our breath carries notes
and we are transported.

I’ve heard conflicting tales
about the Pied Piper, and who he lured away
with a hypnotizing flute.
Music has always moved us,
even if we don’t know where its glinting guides us,
it is natural to follow what might still be light.

On Science and Magic

July 19
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Telekinesis and Sauerkraut
Lecturers: Professor Phelyx and Mara and Willow King

We train our kids to wash their hands
with potions
made by people who want to sell us something.
We all have a lot to unlearn.

One kiss is an exchange
of 8 million bacteria
invisible, moving beings
that could kill us
or heal us,
we all know kisses can go either way.

It’s amazing, the magic
we do with our mouths & minds,
break down
or be broken – I don’t think I understand
the difference between magic and science,
when the same botulism that can kill us
can also stop stories
a living face might tell,
I suppose it’s a bit of both – wielding nature,
being wielded by it.

Maybe everything is cultural –
time, science, magic, movement –
like food, fermenting into medicine,
breaking and becoming more whole.
They say seeds break open to sprout.
They say people who are married for a long time
start to look alike.

Maybe it is like sauerkraut –
the more time we spend together, the better we get.
Maybe science and magic are the same thing.
Either theory requires a bit of faith,
even when we see it, even when we taste it.
Maybe it’s all in our minds,
or maybe only the best parts of each

On Language and Justice

July 12
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Esperanto and Trial by Jury
Lecturers: Orlando Raola and Fred Bloom

I have never served on a jury. 

Have been left to share my opinions on stages,
and especially on twitter, which is

I guess.

Somehow, I have never been invited to the party

no one else wants to go to.
I mean – I’d be a good juror, I think.
I’ve seen like every single episode of Law & Order at least twice.
And Ally McBeal, The Practice, and pretty much every courtroom drama
that Netflix has to offer.

When it comes to the wisdom of crowds,
the finders of facts, even standing in unpopular opinions,
I feel like I’d make a strong candidate.

My friends roll their eyes at being called for jury duty . . .

while I raise my hand, eager and polite
as any wallflower
wanting to dance.

Meanwhile, it sounds like jury duty is sometimes

Maybe I want it so bad
because I believe in the weight of words,
the intention and design of each syllable.

How our languages shape fate,
words as heavy as “guilty” or “not guilty”,
of course we should speak in planned language
when our words change lives.

I saw an article yesterday about a family
who was drowning in the Atlantic Ocean
until the people on the beach formed an 80-person chain
to bring them safely to shore.

Imagine if we all used the power of our words
in the same tongue.
If we all spoke together, listened and understood.
I imagine the harmony would make me weep,
I imagine the volume would shake the ground,
if we knew the weight of our words,
imagine how heavy we could be.

On History and Movement

July 5
By Suzi Q. Smith
Lecture topics: Wild West mail delivery and post-conceptual art
Lecturers: Adam Lerner (pictured right) and Nataki Garrett

July 4, 1776, some of my ancestors were enslaved.
One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence.
What conversations they must be having in my unexpected blood,
emancipated and armed like Stagecoach Mary.
How unprepared they must have been for such “mixed taste.”

Adam Lerner Sometimes, the most essential stories are the impossible truths, born of need.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.
Stagecoach Mary was one of the Wild West’s urgent needs:
her shotgun,
her six horses,
her mule named Moses
and if her story ain’t a burning bush
clearing our way, maybe we are ready
for some post-conceptual belief
and art;
stasis has never saved us.

Watch how we grow wild as sagebrush,
how we perpetuate our own movement like tumbleweed,
how we find new ways to show the unseen
as a means to survive.
See how our manifestation stays migrating,
maybe home has always been a moving target, the place
where we are best heard.
See how we make new language of color and moment.

I come from a long line of wild westerners.
Some who were enslaved and fled.
Some who were desperately poor and fled.
Some who’ve been here since forever ever ever ever.
All of them finding new ways to survive.

We are people who learn to make what we need.
We are people who pour ourselves over horizons in unmistakable color.
We both find, and have always been, the frontier.
What is art if not us?
If not the impossible conversations in my blood?
In this room?

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

'Mixed Taste' walks the talk to the Seawell Ballroom

Mixed Taste 

Ready, set … goad! Experts debate silly topics that have absolutely nothing in common. Or do they?

By Avery Anderson
For the DCPA NewsCenter

So what’s your pleasure? Telekinesis or, say …  sauerkraut? Giant flutes or, perhaps … celestial navigation?

No preference, you say? That may change when those burning topics and more are lustily debated at Mixed Taste, Adam Lerner’s tag-team lecture series pairing playfully unrelated topics that enters its 14th season on Wednesday night in its new home: The DCPA’s Seawell Ballroom. The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is now collaborating on the popular series with Off-Center, the Denver Center’s most unconventional programming arm.

The comic debates will rage beginning at 6:30 p.m. for eight consecutive Wednesday nights through Aug. 23. Up first: Wild West mail delivery and post-conceptual art.

Here’s how it works: Think political debate, only the politicians are respected experts in their fields of study. The first speaks on one topic for 20 minutes, followed by the other. “The audience then gets to ask questions – and that’s wheAdam Lerner Mixed Tastere anything can happen,” said Off-Center Curator Charlie Miller.

But unlike political campaigns and sporting contests, winners are not declared. This is simply a chance for curious audiences to learn more about bizarre topics and then perhaps even draw unexpected connections between the two. Think the ability to move objects through mental prowess has nothing in common with finely cut fermented cabbage? Don’t be so sure.

Lerner, the MCA’s director and chief animator, created Mixed Taste in 2004 at The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at the Belmar Shopping Center in Lakewood. The series moved to the MCA in 2009.

The Seawell Ballroom will be an expansion for the series, which is used to topping out at 400 people. Although the Ballroom can hold up to 1,000 people, Miller says only about 450 seats will be made available for Mixed Taste to preserve its intimacy.

“MCA approached us a year ago and asked if we would be interested in hosting and giving Mixed Taste the next chapter of its life, and we jumped at the opportunity,” Miller said.

After nurturing Mixed Taste from its inception, Lerner now feels “the program is ready for its next level of growth,” he said, “and I believe Off-Center is the perfect partner to help us take it there.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Mixed Taste is not a theatrical production, and yet Miller feels it is an inherently theatrical adventure for its audience.

“It’s a really engaging and fun summertime experience,” Miller said. “It’s a way to learn about things you never engage with and inject some new information and fun into a Wednesday night.”

Mixed Taste. Charlie MillerOther wacky pairings on tap this summer include Prohibition and Bob Ross, Air Traffic Control and Drag Queen Activism, and Asparagus and Money Laundering.

“Each lecture is 20 minutes, which is long enough to go deep but keep your attention the whole time,” Miller said. “We try to make sure the topics have nothing in common and that makes it fun because after a while you start to think, ‘Well they do have things in common.’

So how did he come up with a roster of such non-kindred, spirited subjects?

“I used this as an opportunity to engage friends and Denver Center staff to submit ideas for topics,” he said. “Once we got some ideas we talked with a smaller group of Off-Center collaborators and teammates to narrow it down. Then we started researching people to speak on those topics.”

Our previous interview with Mixed Taste emcee Suzi Q. Smith

Miller is particularly excited for the talk on Prohibition and Bob Ross, the American painter and host of The Joy of Painting, which aired on PBS from 1983-94, while his personal favorite is telekinesis and sauerkraut (July 19), simply because it’s such a bizarre combination.

Mixed Taste. Professor Phelyx. Shirley Delta BlowLocal slam poet Suzi Q. Smith will be the series emcee.

“Off-Center collaborated with Suzi Q. last summer in our poetry show How I Got Over: Journeys and Verse that she was the lead collaborator on,” Miller said. “She will be the host and poet laureate, so we will be fusing poetry and spoken word into the evening. She will be creating an original poem to connect the two topics to conclude every Mixed Taste.”

Off-Center is bringing back other past collaborator the series as debaters. Professor Phelyx, the mentalist magician who last worked with Off-Center on Perception, will speak on behalf of telekinesis, while Shirley Delta Blow, recently seen in DragOn at the Galleria Theatre, will be rally on behalf of drag-queen activism. (Photos above right by Adams Viscom.)

Before every lecture, audiences can attend a Mixed Taste Garden Party starting at 4:30 p.m. just outside of the Galleria Theatre with live music curated by Swallow Hill Music.

Mixed Taste: Ticket information
• 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday from July 5 through Aug. 28
• Seawell Ballroom, Denver Performing Arts Complex
• Tickets: $20
• Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829

Avery-Anderson Avery Anderson is interning with the DCPA NewsCenter for the summer. He is the General Manager and producer of Met TV at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He was won two Heartland Student Emmy Awards for his work on The Met Report. He has a passion for local arts and culture and enjoys covering theatres across the Denver area and the state. Follow him on Twitter and @a_anderson64.

MCA Denver, Off-Center bringing 'Mixed Taste' to Denver Center

Mixed Taste
Last year, Mixed Taste espoused the virtues of Merle Haggard and “The History of Dinner.” The popular summer series moves to the Seawell ballroom in July. 

The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts are officially a mixed match. 

MCA Denver and the DCPA’s adventurous Off-Center wing have formed a partnership to present Mixed Taste: Tag Team Lectures on Unrelated Topics throughout the summer at the Denver Center’s Seawell Ballroom.

Adam Lerner Mixed TasteMixed Taste, conceived by MCA Denver’s Adam Lerner, pairs two speakers addressing  completely unrelated subjects, followed by questions from the audience. During the first part of the program, no connections are allowed between the topics. But during the Q&A, anything can happen.

The partnership begins on July 5 and will continue on Wednesday nights through Aug. 23.

“Having nurtured Mixed Taste for over 10 years, the program is ready for its next level of growth, and I believe Off-Center is the perfect partner to help us take it there,” said Lerner, MCA Denver’s Director and Chief Animator. “Off-Center produces the kind of smart and quirky programming in the theater world that we strive to create in the art world. We’re excited to see what happens when we work together.”

Charlie Miller, curator of Off-Center, is a fan of Mixed Tape because, he said, “it is an inherently theatrical format that is always engaging, surprising and fun – everything we strive for in an Off-Center experience. We are excited to partner with MCA Denver to give Mixed Taste its next life at the Denver Center.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Lerner originated Mixed Taste in 2004 in an empty storefront in the Belmar shopping center in Lakewood. In 2009, when he took the helm at MCA Denver he moved the program to downtown Denver. The program has been imitated from Boston to Mexico City. It has been discussed in various museum studies books and is regarded by many as the forefront of innovative cultural education programming.

Past Mixed Taste lecture topics have included:

  • Walt Whitman and Whole Hog Cooking
  • Existentialism and Giant Vegetables
  • Parkour and Bollywood
  • Gospel Music and Zebra Sharks
  • Tequila and Dark Matter in the Universe

The full lineup for the summer series will be announced at a later date.

Travelers of the Lost Dimension coming to Stanley Marketplace

Director Michael Lehmann on how 'Heathers' was really meant to end

DAF Presents ... 'Heathers'

Photos from the launch of “Denver Actors Fund Presents …” a new monthly film series featuring live entertainment by local theatre companies. To see more photos, click the forward button on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Michael Lehmann, director of the cult classic dark comedy Heathers, told a special benefit screening audience in Littleton on Sunday night about Christian Slater and his “Jack Nicholson thing,” why Shannen Doherty left the first screening of the film in tears, and all about the ending he and writer Daniel Waters first envisioned … in heaven.

Mindful that the host Alamo Drafthouse is located in Littleton, not far from school shootings at Columbine and Arapahoe High Schools, as well as the massacre at an Aurora cineplex, Lehmann also reminded Sunday’s audience that “Heathers is the furthest thing from a comedy about suicide.” Rather, the film follows a rich, smart girl whose “teen-angst (beep) now has a body count.” Veronica, played by Winona Ryder, tires of her snobby clique of girlfriends and teams up with a teen sociopath in a plot to kill the cool kids, while making it appear to be a rash of suicides.

Heathers Quote Michael LehmannRyder, Lehmann said, was “intelligent, precocious and self-assured” on the set. Doherty, on the other hand, “was a complete and utter terror in every possible way.”

The special screening launched a new monthly film series at the Alamo called “The Denver Actors Fund Presents…” The featured films either inspired (or were inspired by) a stage musical that is currently being performed by a Colorado theatre company.

Sunday’s screening included live pre-screening entertainment by Denver’s Ignite Theatre, which will be presenting the regional premiere of Heathers the Musical from Feb. 26-March 20 at the Aurora Fox. Audience members also were treated to a pot pie at every table, the post-show Q&A with Lehmann, and an original Heathers print by storyboard artist Vanessa McKee.

The Denver Actors Fund provides financial assistance to members of the Denver theater community in situational medical need. To date, the organization has distributed about $32,000 in aid and logged about 230 volunteer service hours.

“Denver Actors Fund Presents …” will now be a monthly happening at Alamo, with live pre-show entertainment by rotating local theatre companies. Next up: Ragtime, March 14, with pre-screening entertainment from Performance Now Theatre Company​; and Sweeney Todd, April 18, with appearances from the cast of the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming production, featuring new orchestrations by DeVotchKa​.

Heathers. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
Zoe Miller, Chelsea O’Grady and Jenny Pan are three of the Heathers in Ignite Theatre Company’s upcoming ‘Heathers the Musical.’ They challenged Alamo Drafthouse audiences to croquet in the lobby … and a staredown. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Here are highlights from Alamo Drafthouse Denver General Manager Walter Chaw’s illuminating post-screening Q&A with Michael Lehmann:

Walter Chaw: How did you meet Heathers writer Daniel Waters?

Michael Lehmann: I was a student at the University of Southern California School of Cinema, and one of my friends there was Larry Karaszewski, who is an excellent writer. He and his writing partner, Scott Alexander, just wrote The People v. O.J. Simpson miniseries on FX. Larry had gone to high school with Daniel Waters in Indianapolis. So I met Dan through Larry. There was a group of us that hung out in some crazy house. Dan was very funny, and he was very odd. After we got out of school, we got agents. One day I got a call from Dan saying, “I gave this script I wrote over to Larry and Scott’s agent, and he hated it. Will you show it to your agent?” And I said, “Sure. What is it?” And it was the original draft for Heathers, which was 250 pages long. It was really brilliant, and very twisted, and really dark, and really funny. And my agent loved it. Dan, like Quentin Tarantino, worked in a video store for two or three years and wrote the script. He was not in film school like the rest of us. He just sat and wrote.

Walter Chaw: When we were speaking earlier, you quoted a line from a deleted scene …

Michael Lehmann: Yeah, I was talking to Dan Waters just a year ago, and I made a reference to this line, “stained with loserness.” Which is a very Heathers-esque line. Somebody associating with somebody else would be “stained with loserness.” We looked at each other and I said, “That’s still in the movie, right?” And he said, “I don’t think so.” It must have been from the lunchtime poll scene.

Walter Chaw: If it were in the movie, I would have a T-Shirt saying that. But let’s talk a little about Christian Slater and the Jack Nicholson thing.

Michael Lehmann: We had a very hard time casting the role of J.D., partly because everyone who came in and read for the role was imitating somebody. I don’t know why. I think it’s because they were 15 years old. I wanted to get real teenagers in this movie as much as I could. And we all know boys don’t develop the same way that girls do. They are usually way behind. So they were all imitating somebody. There were a lot of James Dean imitations, and Al Pacino imitations and whoever else was popular at the time. Christian came in late in the process, and by that point we just expected that everybody would imitate somebody. And so for him, it was, “Oh, this guy sounds like Jack Nicholson.” I was mixed about it at first. I thought it was distracting. Everybody loved Jack Nicholson at that time. He was at the height of his career. So there were times when I told Christian to pull back on the Nicholson. But I am telling you – that’s how he talks. And at one point he confessed to me: “I love his work. I look at what he does in his darker movies and how he manages to find the comedy in it.” So he had a reason for leaning in that direction.

(Pictured above: Pre-screening entertainment from Ignite Theatre’s Zach Nick as J.D and Lindsey Falduto as Veronica Sawyer. Photo by John Moore for teh DCPA NewsCenter.) 

Walter Chaw: What was it like wrangling all those young actors?

Heathers Quote Michael LehmannHeathers Quote. Michael Lehmann Michael Lehmann: You hear about productions that are difficult or in turmoil and everybody hates each other. This was a very happy production, and a very close-knit group of people because we had very little money. It was my first movie. It was Dan Waters’ first film. We didn’t know much. We just knew we had a great script and that we were going to try to make the best movie we could. Generally people got along great. Kim Walker, who plays Heather Chandler, was Christian Slater’s girlfriend at the time. Lisanne Falk, who plays Heather McNamara, was a little older and more mature, so she didn’t engage in some of the childish stuff. Shannen Doherty was 15 years old and a complete and utter terror in every possible way. And Winona Ryder was the most intelligent, precocious, self-assured young woman I have ever seen. She had either just turned 16, or turned 16 while we were making the movie, and she got it. She loved the film so much that she basically encouraged everybody to be well-behaved. So for the most part, it was a great experience. 

Audience member: When you are taking on a dark comedy as a director, is there something you can do to balance the two, or do you just trust the script?

Michael Lehmann: You walk the tightrope the whole time. Dark comedy is weird. To some degree, the more tasteless it is, the funnier it can be. But if you do it wrong and it’s just tasteless and it’s not funny, the house of cards falls apart. You know when to go that extra length to make it more shocking, more disturbing, more darkly satirical – and you know when to bring in elements of emotional authenticity and truth that support all of the other crazy dark stuff. Every step is difficult.

Audience member: Do you remember the moment you realized the film had reached this point where it now has a cult following, and that we will still show up to see it, all these years later?

Michael Lehmann: You know what’s weird? Even when we were making the movie, we all thought, “If we do this right, this will be a memorable, kind of culty film.” We knew it wasn’t going to be a mainstream movie, and we didn’t care. We were going to make the movie we wanted to make. I recommend that to anyone who makes movies, by the way. But at the end of the first week of shooting, when it was clear that this group of girls really did work together, I remember thinking then that, yes, the film could have the kind of following where people will watch it 28 years later and still like it.

Walter Chaw: Looking at the film now, there are a lot sensitive elements, especially for Colorado audiences who have lived through so much school violence. When the film first came out, what were some of the concerns that were brought up?

Michael Lehmann: When it came out, there were people who said, “How dare you make a comedy about teenage suicide?” And we would say, “We didn’t make a comedy about teenage suicide. We made a movie about high school. We made a movie about people who use the reaction to suicide to manipulate people, and we think that’s funny. But we are not making a movie about teenage suicide. This isn’t about people who really commit suicide. It’s not about the psychological issues that people go through. There was a movie about teenage suicide that was made at the time called Permanent Record. Our movie was a satire. A lot of people who either didn’t think it was funny – which is their prerogative – or didn’t get it, which is their loss; or just plain didn’t like it, were upset that we chose to make fun of those who were using those particular elements of the high-school experience.

Audience member: I was 12 when the movie came out, and even though I haven’t seen it in 15 years, I can still spurt out one line after the other before anyone says them. Who came up with all of the one-liners?

Michael Lehmann: That was entirely, completely Daniel Waters. He is brilliant. He is very funny. And he is very durable. He invented the language that is in this movie. This was not improvised. I don’t think anything was elaborated or changed significantly on set. Daniel wrote down all this stuff, and he should get full credit – and take full responsibility – for all of it. 

Walter Chaw: What was the reaction of your cast as they were having to say lines like, “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”?

Michael Lehmann: It was very strange because John Hughes was making his movies at that time, and they had a different kind of high-school language. My friends and I liked the John Hughes movies. We just did not want to make them. We didn’t want to have anything to do with that. We felt this language that Dan invented was weirdly more like the way kids really spoke, even though it was far more clever and a little bit more twisted. So what I found was that young actors – the good ones anyway – could just rattle this stuff off as if that’s the way they spoke all the time. If people came in and auditioned and they couldn’t do it, then obviously they didn’t get the part. Christian had a really tough time because he had some really monstrously complex things to say, and he managed to do pretty well with it. I remember being happily surprised that most of the young actors who came in, got it. They got what the humor of the movie was. Shannen Doherty did leave the first screening of the movie in tears saying, “Why didn’t anybody tell me this was a comedy?”   

Walter Chaw: What did she think that it was?

Michael Lehmann: You’ll have to ask her.

Audience member: Since we had the cast from the musical performing in here earlier, I just wanted to know what you think about your movie being made into a stage musical?

Michael Lehmann: For me, it’s only fun. It’s weird, too, because I remember reading the words before we shot them. So now, all these years later, to see young performers break into song, singing, “I love my dead gay son” – it’s pretty funny.

Walter Chaw: I’ll confess: I have seen this movie close to a hundred times. I am very lonesome. But it really spoke to me. I identified with several different characters throughout the course of the film. It has a unique insight into the horror of high school. Can you talk about evoking so many of our experiences that way?

Michael Lehmann: There are certain common experiences and clichés in high school that are the same everywhere: The cliques, the classes, the way things happen at recess, and in the lunchroom. We were dealing with all this iconic stuff. There is also the universal experience of adolescence in which you are discovering really how unfair the world is. You have been coddled to some degree as a child. Or you have been dealing with the inequities you kept thinking would go away as you got older. I don’t know if you all remember how strong that feeling was as a kid. So when you are in high school and you are starting to be an adult, then everything comes crashing down around you. Everybody experiences it in their own way. In this movie, I wanted to try to capture the emotional reality of being an adolescent and being in high school and put it in this twisted form. But also keep it emotionally authentic and grounded.

Audience member: I read that there was an alternate ending to the movie in which Martha (Dumptruck) kills Veronica?

Michael Lehmann: No, the alternate ending of the film was that J.D. blows up the school and there is a prom in heaven. That was the official, actual end to the movie that we wanted to make – and we were dead-set on making it. One of the reasons this movie got made in the first place is because there was a young executive at New World Pictures named Steve White. New World Pictures had been Roger Corman’s movie company, but he sold it to some guys who were just trying to make money off of his library and in the burgeoning world of home video. So Steve White, who had been a member of the Groundlings, was an actor and a comedy guy. He was really good guy. He read the script and he completely got it. He said, “I have a mandate. I can make movies at certain budget here. I don’t need to get approval form anybody. I am going to make this movie.” So he was our biggest ally. But he also said to us: “I will not make the ending that you have in this film. Everything else is fine. But you cannot have the protagonist actually kill herself at the end. She can’t explode the school. I won’t allow it. I don’t want one copycat suicide after this movie. I won’t do it.” And he was firm on that. So Dan and I said, “Well (bleep) that, we are going to take it somewhere else.” And we found nobody else. At all. New Line Pictures, which has made a lot of horror movies, said they would make it – but they wanted to change almost everything. So we came crawling back to Steve and said, “Yeah, we’ll think about the end. Maybe we can come up with something else.” So the ending that we have now, which I think is a good ending for the movie, was written as a compromise.

Audience member: How do you feel the film has aged? It is so prescient now but still – is there anything about the film that you watch now and it just … eeks you out?

Michael Lehmann: I mean, it’s an ’80s movie. People didn’t really quite dress like that then, but they sort of did. I always said, way back when we made the movie, “You know, if you look at A Rebel Without a Cause, that looks weird and dated and bizarre. Is this movie going to be like that someday?” Yeah, it’s ridiculous. It’s dated. And I think part of the fun of watching it now is that it evokes a time period that was in many ways very different from now – and that’s good. That’s great. But yeah, all of that is really embarrassing to me. As are a lot of things about the ’80s.   

Audience member: I graduated high school three years ago. And this was probably one of the most relevant movies I have ever seen in my life. I went to school at Arapahoe (site of a 2013 school shooting that killed two) and if you have heard anything about that, suicide and shooting is just the thing to do there. I know that’s horrible to say, but that was the feel going to school there, for me. This movie was hysterical to me but it also touches me, and a lot of other people, in a really affecting way. To me, this movie was way before its time. You just nailed it on the head with how people manipulate tragedies for their own ends, and the power struggles for popularity in the wake of that. I guess what I am asking is this: Here we are, however many years after this movie was made, and I feel like it is more relevant than ever. Does that weird you out? 

Michael Lehmann: First off, everything weirds me out. … You know, one of the things this movie deals with is what you just mentioned, which is that people manipulate real events to their own ends. That is a big part of the satire of the movie. We didn’t invent that for Heathers. That had been going on for as long as people doing anything, and it has continued. Now the circus is bigger and the stage is broader with all of the social media. And there have been real serious, horrible, terrible, violent events in high schools that hadn’t happened yet at the point when we made this film. What weirds me out is this: I don’t want to think that what this movie did was ever to inspire anybody to commit violence. This is something we talked about back when we made the movie. What if 99.9999 percent of the people who watch the movie get the satire, and get the humor. And then there is somebody who watches it and says, “Oh, I should kill myself.” Or, “I will kill somebody and make it look like suicide.” You don’t want that to happen. I don’t think it has. Nobody has ever told me that Heathers has inspired anything but laughter.”

Ignite Theatre. HeathersThe cast of Ignite Theatre’s ‘Heathers the Musical’ includes Jacob Durso-Sabina, Lindsey Falduto, Brandon Jay Lopez, Rachel McCulloch, Tashara May, Zoe Miller, Zach Nick, Jenny Pan, Shahara Ray, Brian Robertson, Cody Schmidt, McKenna Seckman, Jessica Sotwick, Scott Taylor, Brian Trampler, Samantha Wekenman, John White and Chelsea O’Grady. The director is Keith Rabin Jr. Providing live keyboards was Zach Stailey. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Denver Actors Fund Presents …
A monthly film series featuring movies either inspired (or were inspired by) a stage musical that is currently being performed by a Colorado theatre company.

  • Purchase tickets to Ragtime, screening at Alamo on March 14
  • Purchase tickets to Sweeney Todd, screening at Alamo on April 18

All screenings at Alamo Drafthouse, 7301 Santa Fe Drive
Read more in the DCPA NewsCenter

Ignite Theatre Presents Heathers
Ignite Theatre will be presenting the regional premiere of Heathers the Musical from Feb. 26-March 20 at the Aurora Fox, 9900 E. Colfax Ave. Go to or call 866-811-4111 for tickets.