• 'The Great Leap:' 5 Things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Jan 12, 2018
    The making of 'The Great Leap'Check out our full gallery of photos from the first rehearsal for 'The Great Leap.' To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by Sam Adams John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Newest Denver Center world premiere is a basketball story that already has a road trip scheduled after its home opener 

    Rehearsals began Tuesday for the third of three soon-to-be simultaneous DCPA Theatre Company world-premiere plays. And, like American Mariachi, when Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap finishes its inaugural run in Denver on March 11, it’s hitting the road with its cast and creative team intact.

    The Great Leap, about a college basketball team that travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game in the post-Cultural Revolution 1980s, is a co-production with the Seattle Repertory Theatre, where it will run from March 23 to April 22. The play will then make its New York premiere opening May 23 at the Atlantic Theatre Company with its own, different cast and creative team.

    “We are excited for this play to have a long and successful life, and we are honored to be premiering it here at the Denver Center,” said Associate Artistic Director Charlie Miller.

    Yee was commissioned to write The Great Leap for the Denver Center in 2015. The play was first introduced to audiences a year ago as a reading at the Denver Center’s Colorado New Play Summit. The dramaturg was, and remains, Kristin Leahey of Seattle Rep.

    The Great Leap Lauren Yee Photo by John Moore“The Denver Center has been so welcoming in inviting us to be a part of this wonderful journey with this fantastic play,” Leahey said at the opening rehearsal. “We are so thrilled to continue on this journey together, and we hope you all join us in Seattle for the next iteration of the show.”

    Since the Summit, Yee has aggressively developed her story, workshopping the play at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis and at New York Stage and Film. “So it’s done a mini-United States tour already, and it hasn’t even opened yet,” Miller said. "There is already a lot of positive buzz about this play throughout the field."

    The Great Leap focuses on a short kid from San Francisco’s Chinatown named Manford who talks his way onto the China-bound exhibition team and soon finds himself inadvertently embroiled in international politics. "It's really the story of a young Chinese-American kid who goes to China to learn something about himself as a basketball player, as an American, and as someone of Chinese descent," Yee said. "And I think it is about how sports and politics intersect and mirror one another."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The story is told "with a ton of heart and is also very funny," Miller added, "but it is told with a historical and political backdrop that also gives people an interesting window into Tiananmen Square and the cultural revolution in China. It’s not often that you have a play about sports that also deals with so many other bigger issues.”

    The remarkable thing about the play to Director Eric Ting is its utter originality. After all, how many plays have there ever been about a Chinese-American basketball player? “A young Asian man on a basketball team is already an uncommon affair,” Ting said. “Manford is a person without a place wherever he is — which is a story I think many of us are very familiar with. We want to make sure this play is a celebration of what it means to be different.”

    Here are five quick things we learned at first rehearsal:

    NUMBER 1The Great Leap Eric Ting Photo by John MooreTiana who what where? One thing that has caught Ting off-guard over the past year is discovering how many young people have never heard of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Which, if you are over 30, probably just made your back ache. But it’s a rather central plot point, so here is a refresher: The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital city of Beijing in the summer of 1989. The protests, primarily targeting government corruption, lack of transparency and freedom of speech in post-Mao China, were forcibly suppressed after the government declared martial law. Troops with automatic rifles and tanks killed several hundred demonstrators trying to block the military's advance toward Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths has been reported variously from 180 to 10,000. The enduring image from all that bloodshed was of a lone unidentified man dressed in a white shirt and holding a shopping bag who stood in front of a column of tanks. He became known around the world only as “Tank Man,” a powerful symbol of both violence and non-violent resistance.

    NUMBER 2Founding father. The inspiration for the play is Yee's father who, like the fictional Manford, grew up in Chinatown. “Before my father had children, the only thing he was good at was playing basketball,” said Yee. In 1981, he was invited with some of his American teammates to play a series of exhibition games throughout China. “My father had never been to China,” said Yee. “They played in 10,000-seat stadiums. The games were broadcast back on American television. And when I asked him, ‘Did you win?’ he told me, ‘We got demolished almost every single game.’ And that was because my father was the center — and he is only 6-foot-1. Their tallest player was 7-foot-6 and 350 pounds. My dad said, 'Nobody wanted to guard this guy,’ and they got creamed.”

    NUMBER 3The game is afoot. Even though the play has very little actual basketball game play in it, “there is a rhythm and an energy to the script that should make you feel like you have just been through a basketball game,” Ting said. "The scenes move like a game, and are quick in transition," Yee added. But that doesn’t mean the storytelling is always kinetic. “Basketball isn't just about movement,” Ting said. “It's also about stillness. It's about holding your ground. It's about finding each other in the space.”

    (Story continues below the video.)

    Video bonus: Our interview with Lauren Yee from the Colorado New Play Summit

    Th title of Lauren Yee's play changed three times during development before settling on 'The Great Leap.' Video above by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.

    Read more: Our complete interview with Lauren Yee

    NUMBER 4The enduring Dream. When Ting first read The Great Leap, he made the not-so-great leap to the archetypal American Dream. “It is very hard to underestimate the profound impact the possibility of the American Dream has on all the immigrants of this Earth, and the role this nation has played, historically, in inspiring people to make change,” Ting said. “One reason this play is important right now is to remind of that role we still play as a country. This is a play about what it means to dream and pursue something."  

    NUMBER 5Team Uncommon. The returning Scenic Designer is Wilson Chin, who blew audiences away last season with his singular vision for the DCPA Theatre Company’s The Secret Garden. “That was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Chin said. “I really fell in love with the Denver Center, and I fell in love with this town." With The Great Leap, Chin is now part of something almost completely unheard of: A primarily Chinese-American creative team telling a Chinese-American story for a theatre that does not routinely tell Chinese-American stories. That group includes the playwright, director, costume designer and cast. “Eric and I have done a few shows together, but in all my years of working in the theatre, that has never happened before," Chin said. "To get to tell a Chinese-American story with other Chinese-Americans is moving, and it’s thrilling. I can't wait for us to go down this road together.”

    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.

    The Great Leap: Cast and creatives

    • Written by Lauren Yee
    • Directed by Eric Ting
    • Scenic Designer: Wilson Chin
    • Costume Designer: Valérie Thérèse Bart
    • Lighting Designer: Christopher Kuhl
    • Sound Designer: Curtis Craig
    • Projection Design: Shawn Duan
    • Dramaturg: Kristin Leahey
    • Stage Manager: Jessica Bomball
    • Assistant Stage Manager: D. Lynn Reiland

    Cast:

    • Bob Ari as Saul
    • Keiko Green as Connie
    • Linden Tailor as Manford
    • Joseph Steven Yang as Wen Chang

    The Great Leap: Ticket information
    GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Feb. 2-March 11
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

  • Kaptain Ka-Boom: Paul Stone lived life as if shot out of a cannon

    by John Moore | Jan 28, 2016

    Paul_Stone_ALS_1
    Paul Stone, a k a "The Cannon Guy," was the DCPA Theatre Company's first shop foreman. Photo by John Moore.


    Paul Stone was not an actor, but he certainly knew how to put on a show.

    Stone was a pyro-technician, fireworks aficionado and the original shop foreman for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company. More than 35 years later, he  is still spoken of in reverential tones as the founder of the DCPA’s Power Tool Olympics.

    The what?

    The Power Tool Olympics. You know: Boxing matches with power drills as the pugilists. High-diving competitions with saws making death-defying leaps into pools of water. A toaster triathlon.

    Stone was the rare backstage theatre technician who could steal the spotlight in a snap - while donning a Lilly Pulitzer print. But he never chose acting for his own career, said lifelong friend Adrian Egolf, "because he was too smart for that. There were too many other things he wanted to do with his life."    

    Stone died Monday night in Lansing, Kan., of ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 65. 

    "I cannot imagine another human soul who embodied so much playfulness and silliness," said Egolf, a Creede native, DCPA actor (Benediction) and sidekick in any number of ridiculous Paul Stone productions from the age of 7. "He was a true original."

    Stone worked at theatres across the country as a carpenter and props director before settling in the tiny town of Creede, which is nestled in the San Juan Mountains 250 miles southwest of Denver. 

    Paul Stone Quote
    Photo courtesy John Gary Brown.


    In Creede, Stone is known simply as "The Cannon Guy." Kaptain Ka-Boom. He would amuse himself by firing bowling balls off the mountainside next to the town. He even applied to shoot Hunter S. Thompson's ashes out of a cannon -- and reportedly made it into the top five.

    “He liked to blow things up,” said Egolf. “Toilets, turkeys, TVs, flourescent lightbulbs. ... He called it ‘explosion therapy.’ "

    Stone also made perfect ham sandwiches by shooting the tasty luncheon meat through a series of blades he constructed. It was an elaborate cannon accessory that produced sandwiches in a manner David Letterman would have applauded as the stupidest of human tricks.

    "A lot of people think Americans are just a bunch of gun nuts — but a lot of us are into artillery too," Stone said in a 2010 interview with The Denver Post.

    Stone lived his life, friends said, always in danger of growing up. His story, they say, is a lesson in living the life you imagine.

    Each May, when Creede Rep's 70 or so seasonal company members arrive for the summer, Stone would lead them into the Rio Grande National Forest on a cannon-shoot pilgrimage. A typical bowling ball travels a half-mile up in the air and lands about a mile away.

    "People get scared when they hear the sound of cannon fire in town," Stone said. "But I've gotten pretty good at not endangering people's lives."

    The tradition started 25 years ago as a promotion for a now-defunct local bowling alley. People would drop a ball off a cliff, aiming it at a tiny bowling pin placed all the way at the bottom. "It would bounce like God's Superball — we're talking 1,200 feet in the air," said Stone. He built his cannon as a ball return, "because we got tired of carrying them back up the hill."

    Stone called his cannon shenanigans performance art. "It's the best street theater you'll ever see — without the street," he said. "Or the theater."

    His friends chronicled all of their crazy Stone stories in a video documentary by Allie Quiller titled Paul Freakin' Stone: That’s Who.


    The trailer introducing Allie Quiller's documentary, “Paul Freakin' Stone: That’s Who.”


    "Paul is a fixture in Creede and the theatre world in general," said Kate Berry, a former actor with the Creede Repertory Theatre. "He's kind of a technical theatre god. And his life has been pretty incredible."

    That life began Nov. 3, 1950, in Casper, Wyo. He attended high school in Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas, where he once hosted a stand-up show that included him performing open-heart surgery on a Cabbage Patch Doll — with a chainsaw. While washing (and blow-drying) his hair. While doing his taxes (long form, natch). While shooting his foot out of a cannon. 

    Stone first visited Creede after his freshman year of college in 1972. “As with many, he was sucked into the magic of Creede and couldn’t get away,” said actor Christy Brandt, who just completed her 41st season with the Creede Repertory Theatre.

    Stone moved to Creede the next year to be the company’s full-time shop foreman. Although his budding romance with Brandt fizzled, Stone would be the best man in her wedding to John Gary Brown in 1981.

    Stone always wanted to work for the movies, so he left Creede for Los Angeles in 1974. He built sets for a string of Hollywood blockbusters including “Jaws,” “Marathon Man” and “The Towering Inferno.”

    “But I think L.A. was too crazy for him,” Brandt said. “He was crazy enough on his own.”

    Stone worked for some of the nation’s top regional theatre companies, including the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Arena Stage, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Alaska Repertory Theatre.

    He returned to Creede and bought a piece of land for $50. He built his own house out of salvage from two dilapidated houses. The new place included a greenhouse on the first floor. “He put in a drip system and grew tomatoes and marijuana,” Brandt said with a laugh. “He may have been Colorado’s first grower.”

    Stone was widely loved in Creede, in part because he was a handyman and could fix anything in a town where the winter population drops to 500 and the average annual snowfall is 47 inches. Oh, and he was a stripper.

    “It’s true,” Brandt said. “If you were having a bachelor party, you called Paul. He would dress as a woman … or not.” In 2007, Egolf surprised her mother for her birthday by hiring Stone. He came as a fisherman. "I remember fishing waders ... and a very large pole," said Christina Egolf.

    Stone worked in various capacities at the theatre in Creede, including designing scenery and props. At the meet-and-greet each May, Stone would always introduce himself as the company psychiatrist. “If any of you girls have any problems, come to me,” he would say.

    Though Stone never married, “Paul was very successful with the ladies,” Brandt said. He built a hot tub on his property that was affectionately referred to as “The Babe Crock Pot.” "Whenever you wanted to find the most beautiful young women in the company,” Brandt said, “the first place you would check was the Crock Pot.”

    They were drawn, she said, by Stone’s singular sense of humor.

    When asked why a man who loved noise and constant visual stimulation chose to make Creede his home headquarters for more than 40 years, Stone said, “I like the peace and quiet.” (Seriously.)

    In June 2013, Stone was diagnosed with ALS, an insidious, progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. ALS robs patients of voluntary muscle action, leading to paralysis and eventual death. The disease left Stone and his family with more than $100,000 in medical expenses. Using an online fundraising page, friends have paid the tab down to about $56,000.

    Stone rarely spoke about his disease. “When he was diagnosed, all he said was, ‘I am going to get the fastest electric wheelchair ever made,' ” Brandt said. “And he did. I raced him in it.”

    The disease progressively robbed Stone of his ability to walk and talk. “But his sense of humor was the last thing to disappear,” Brandt said.

    Stone was the youngest of five brothers. He is survived by brothers Tim, Ted and Jay, and their mother, Edna Stone. He was preceded in death by brother Mike.

    Stone insisted there be no memorial service, but today (Jan. 28), the town of Creede is observing Paul Stone Day at the Creede Historical Museum, where Stone’s cannon is now on permanent display.

    He has donated his body to scientists for ALS research. After a period of time, his ashes will be returned to his family. “And I am sure he will want his ashes blown out of a cannon,” Brandt said.

    Adrian Egolf said Stone's life was essentially an ongoing, entertaining mashup of vaudeville and burlesque.

    "What I love most about Paul is that he has never apologized for anything he has ever done," she said. And why would he?

    "He never found anything that he did to be strange or out of the ordinary."

    Simply put, Brandt said: "He was one of the wittiest, most entertaining, most imaginative people the world has ever seen."



    Paul Stone riding on motorcycle in Creede's Fourth of July parade, raising money for his annual fireworks display. Photo by John Gary Brown.


    Social media comments:
    Cassaundra Rene Seamster Honeycutt: "The world, and especially Creede, was a better place for having him in it. He was one-of-a-kind, and a kind one to boot."

    Mig Lillig: "If not for Paul, my children would not know that you can fry a pickle; that  trophies can be works of art; that vacuums can suck up just about everything; that fireworks can rise from mountains, or that you can live your life exactly how you want."

    Deb Stavin: "Paul is one of the funniest and most original, creative people I've been lucky to meet in my life. Thanks for the many fabulous, blow-milk-out-my-nose, hilarious moments."

    Paul Stone Creede. Photo by John Gary Brown.
    Paul Stone riding with Scott Lamb in Creede's 2015 Fourth of July parade, above. Below: the final canon shoot at the rifle range near Creede in 2014. Photos by John Gary Brown.


    Paul Stone Creede. Photo by John Gary Brown.

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken 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. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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