• New Denver Center plays take center stage in Seattle, San Diego

    by John Moore | Apr 14, 2018
    Our video report from the openings of the Denver Center-born plays 'The Great Leap' and 'American Mariachi' in Seattle and San Diego. Video by John Moore and David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter. 


    Theatre Company's first co-productions in a decade open for West Coast audiences on back-to-back nights 

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    It was an hour before the opening performance of the Denver-born play American Mariachi at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and something wasn't quite right. A large backstage table was filled with floating balloons, sweets and several bouquets of fresh congratulatory flowers, including one from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

    But then there was the incongruous vase on Bobby Plasencia’s dressing-room table. Its water was discolored, its flowers tired and wilting. But to the actor, they were surely the most vibrant flowers in the room.

    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by John Moore“They’ve been here ever since our final dress rehearsal,” said Plasencia, who plays an old-school mariachi player whose wife dies in the story. After that performance almost a week before, the actor got word that a 12-year-old boy in the audience wanted to meet him. Plasencia walked to the stage door and was greeted by “this super-cool little dude,” he said, wearing a tie and perfectly gelled hair. The boy took one look at Plasencia, fell into his arms and burst into tears. “And he just couldn’t stop,” Plasencia said.  

    One of the grown-ups in the entourage pulled Plasencia aside and whispered that the boy had recently lost someone very close to him, and that the play had moved him immensely. The boy collected himself and presented Plasencia with flowers as a gift for the entire cast. “And they are going to stay right here until our very last day here on April 29,” Plasencia promised.  

    Those kinds of powerful audience responses to José Cruz González’s family drama have been steady since the play premiered back in Denver on Feb. 2. And because of several unique partnerships the DCPA Theatre Company has forged this season, they are continuing to happen in multiple cities.

    American Mariachi is one of two world-premiere plays the Denver Center has recently launched as co-productions with other leading national theatre organizations. The other was Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap in partnership with the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Both plays tell culturally specific stories that bring underrepresented voices to the stage while also telling uncommonly universal family stories.

    Jose Cruz Gonzalez quoteA co-production, or “co-pro,” as they say in the biz, is a collaboration between two companies that have a shared investment in launching a new play, both artistically and financially. They work together on the development of the piece, share certain expenses and then present the play in both cities back-to-back, with the original casts intact.

    When both plays closed in Denver last month, all key creative personnel packed up along with the sets, props and costumes and set forth to either Seattle or San Diego for their immediate transfers. By great calendrical coincidence, both plays opened in their second cities on back-to-back nights: March 28 and 29.

    Despite the modest financial benefit that comes with partnering with other companies, large-scale co-productions are rare in the American theatre. In its nearly 40-year history, the DCPA Theatre Company has only participated in three previous co-pros — Pure Confidence with Cincinnati Playhouse in 2007; and the world premieres of The Laramie Project with the Tectonic Theatre Project in 1999-2000 and Tantalus with the Royal Shakespeare Company the following year.

    The partnerships with Seattle Rep and the Old Globe involved dozens of people but were primarily negotiated by first-year DCPA Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. The goal, she said, was simple: To make better, more finished plays — thereby giving them better chances for a continued life in the American theatre.  

    “The main reason I wanted to push for these co-productions is because I wanted to look for opportunities for the writers to continue to work on developing their plays,” Garrett said.

    Both productions shared key creative personnel from both companies, including American Mariachi director James Vásquez, who considers the Old Globe to be his artistic home; and Seattle Rep Director of New Works Kristen Leahey, who has served as Dramaturg for The Great Leap since its first draft. That almost all of the Latinx artists Vazquez has brought home with him to the Old Globe are now working there for the first time, Artistic Director Barry Edelstein said, “is a special happiness for all of us.” His Seattle counterpart, Braden Abraham, called The Great Leap "an irresistible opportunity to showcase a rising Chinese-American playwright in the Pacific Northwest," and said working with Garrett and the whole team in Denver was "a pure joy."   

    (Story continues below the photo gallery.)

    Our complete photo gallery from Seattle and San Diego:

    Denver Center in Seattle and San Diego

    Photos from the openings of 'The Great Leap' and 'American Mariachi' in Seattle and San Diego. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Both plays were begun as commissions by former DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson. A commission is when a company pays a playwright a stipend to write a new work for its right of first refusal to produce. González began writing American Mariachi in 2014, and it was first presented as a featured reading at the Denver Center’s 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Back then it was a sprawling, 150-page script. By the time of its world premiere in Denver in February, it was down to 95 pages. “So it's now very lean, and it moves like gangbusters,” said González, who continued to hone the script all the way up to opening night in San Diego on March 29.

    “Having the opportunity to have a play done in two places is a tremendous gift to a playwright,” González said. “First, to be able to premiere it in Denver and work out all the things that still needed to happen in terms of casting, storytelling and design. We left Denver feeling very satisfied, and yet that whole time we were still watching our audiences take in the play. We were learning from them and thinking about how we could improve it. And then there is the gift of that second production.”

    the-company-of-american-mariachi-photo-by-adamsviscom_39989611081_oAmerican Mariachi, set in the early 1970s, follows the journey of a young woman named Lucha who has become the caretaker for a mother with dementia. When she finds an old mariachi record that briefly brings her mother back to life, Lucha becomes determined to learn how to play the song for her with live musicians before it is too late. Although being a female mariachi player was unheard of at that time, Lucha defies her grumpy father, assembles a group of women and makes her dream come true.

    (Pictured above, from left: Amanda Robles, Jennifer Paredes, Natalie Camunas, Crissy Guerrero and Heather Velazquez. Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    American Mariachi played in the Denver Center’s largest theatre (750 seats) and exceeded box-office projections. The play is enjoying the same kind of crossover appeal in San Diego, where it is playing in a slightly more intimate, 600-seat space. None of which surprises the women in the cast.

    “This play is doing much more than filling a Latino slot on the season,” said actor Crissy Guerrero. “It has touched anyone from any background.” It is also the right time to be telling this story in the current cultural zeitgeist, said castmate Natalie Camunas. “It is important to show strong women on the stage doing what they do best right now, which is encouraging and supporting each other and shining,” she said.

    Video spotlight: Our interview with Lauren Yee

    All theatre companies, to an extent, program according to their censuses. In Denver, the Latino population is 31.8 percent, compared to 31.6 percent in San Diego. While the Denver Center has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to presenting plays with Latinx voices (most recently Native Gardens, Just Like Us, Fade and Lydia), The Great Leap, meanwhile, is only the second play by an Asian-American playwright the Denver Center has ever presented. But in Denver, the Asian-American population is just 3.4 percent, compared to 13.7 in Seattle.

    linden-tailor-photo-by-adamsviscom_39272674395_oYee’s The Great Leap, set in the late 1980s, follows a scrappy Asian-American kid who talks his way onto a college basketball team that embarks on a series of “friendship” games in a China in the throes of the post-Cultural Revolution. Yee grew up in basketball-mad San Francisco, and her story was inspired by events from her father’s real experiences. Much of the play revolves around the intersecting lives of the two coaches — the compliant Chinese and the (really) ugly American.

    "This is a play that I never would have written in quite the way I did without Denver." Yee said. "Wherever it goes, there is something embedded in its DNA what Denver is all about." Added Director Eric Ting: "What a gift to have two pre-eminent theatre companies working together to make this play happen."

    Actors Keiko Green and Linden Tailor say Seattle audiences, which are made up of many more Asian-Americans than in Denver, are reacting to the story very differently, specifically as it pertains to the American coach who spews comic racial epithets throughout.

    “In Seattle, the audiences are way tougher on the coach, absolutely,” Green said. “The race comments that he makes are definitely felt more. You can see people be slightly offended and then remember, ‘Oh yeah, this is written by a Chinese-American woman.’ ”

    That, said Tailor, “is the great thing about Lauren's writing. She wants to push the envelope and ride that fine line of making you uncomfortable and making you think. I feel like here in Seattle, we are more making them think.”

    Vásquez says the same is true of American Mariachi in San Diego. “It was a raucous comedy in Denver,” he said. “I think people are leaning in and really listening to the story a little closer here.”

    American Mariachi in San DiegoThat, to Seattle Rep’s Kristin Leahey, was the whole fun of The Great Leap. “It was a really exciting thing to be sharing this work with the Denver audience as well as the Seattle audience, and to see how it engages with each of them differently,” said Leahey.

    Making the money work

    DCPA Managing Director Charles Varin said the unusual creative arrangement of a co-pro calls for an unusual financial arrangement as well. As the instigating company, he said the Denver Center assumed the cost of producing each initial staging as it would for any other show on its season. But in the case of The Great Leap, Seattle Rep contributed about $40,000 toward the $350,000 budget and the Old Globe contributed about $75,000 of a $650,000 budget.

    Varin estimated that having a producing partner ultimately represented about a 10 percent improvement to the Denver Center’s bottom line. While that is significant, he said, it is not enough to be a motivating reason to enter into a co-pro. “This was all very much artistically motivated,” said Varin, who attended both out-of-town openings. “Having a second staging helps the playwright immensely, and I think both productions were measurably improved in their second cities.”

    Video spotlight: Our interview with José Cruz González

    A similar model of play development has been employed by the National New Play Network since 1998. That’s a group of 30 core companies that select a number of new plays each year to be fully staged by a minimum of three member companies successively. It’s called a “rolling world premiere,” and the script isn’t sealed and published until after the third staging. The major difference from a co-pro is that the chosen playwright works with completely different casts and creative teams in all three cities.

    LAUREN YEE QUOTESo what happens now?

    The extended initial birth journeys for both plays end soon — The Great Leap closes April 22 and American Mariachi on April 29. But both already have their immediate futures laid out for them: The Great Leap will be staged off-Broadway this June at The Atlantic Theatre starring Tony Award-winner BD Wong. It also will be staged by the prestigious Guthrie Theatre next January in Minneapolis. American Mariachi will be presented by the Arizona Theatre Company next March.

    American Mariachi resonates in myriad ways with the kaleidoscope of our community,” said Arizona Theatre Company Artistic Director David Ivers, a former longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor. “The writing, the gift of mariachi music, the celebration and empowerment of women, and the struggle of loss in the face of hope are powerful and meaningful messages to explore in the communities we have the honor of serving.”

    This all comes in a year when Denver Center-born works are proliferating on national stages like never before. Last year, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride became the Denver Center’s most-produced new Denver Center work since Quilters in 1982. Not only is it getting its own upcoming staging at The Guthrie, it is also being made into a film starring Jim Parsons. Last week, Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will won the American Theatre Critics Association’s Steinberg Award as the best new play of the year produced outside of New York. It opens this summer on one of the nation’s largest stages, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 

    Read more: Denver Center's new place on national stage

    “I think all of that continues to advance the idea that the Denver Center is at the forefront of new-play development,” said Garrett. “As we are moving through the 21st century, one thing I lament about how we develop plays is that we all seem to be looking only for opportunities for playwrights to write something that is going to be a hit right now. There is a need for immediate success, as opposed to providing a space for something to unfold and be given life over time.”

    The benefit for actors  

    One of the ancillary windfalls that comes with any co-production benefits the actors themselves. The casts of both The Great Leap and American Mariachi were signed to four-month contracts. In a business where actors are most often signed to smaller contracts ranging from just four to eight weeks, an extended co-pro is about the best job they can get outside of a long run in New York.

    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by John Moore“I feel very lucky, and I think everyone else who is involved with this play feels very lucky to be a part of it,” said Plasencia.

    But the biggest benefit, says Rodney Lizcano and others, is the familia that takes shape when a creative team spends that much more time together. The American Mariachi team performs six days a week, he said. And yet, he said, they have almost to a person spent nearly every day off together as well.

    “There has been a consistently positive camaraderie since Day 1,” he said. “We share or lives both onstage and offstage — and I think the performances have deepened because of that.”

    Which makes ultimate benefit of a co-pro to the play itself and, by extension, to its expanded audiences.

    “I always had a feeling that this was going to be a very special play for everyone who saw it, and it has come to pass because it tells a story that audiences are hungry for at this very moment in our history,” Plasencia said of American Mariachi. “This is a story about inclusion and seeing yourself represented onstage, and I feel like a lot of people have been longing for a play like this. I think there is an audience this play in every big city in the country.”

    And in every audience is the potential for another life-changing moment, like that 12-year-old boy at the final dress rehearsal of American Mariachi in San Diego.

    “It is such an honor to walk out into that theatre lobby each night and see crowds of Latino families. That doesn't happen a lot,” Vásquez said. “Just tonight, a young Latino friend came up to me and said the moment the lights came up and the music started and he saw Mexican people onstage, he just started crying — because he had never seen anything like it.

    “I think that's the biggest takeaway.”

    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.


    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by Douglas Gates
    'American Mariachi' in San Diego. Photo by Douglas Gates.


    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:

    Behind the scenes video: Making the Great Wall of American Mariachi
    Tony Garcia: American Mariachi is an American beauty
    When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her true voice
    American Mariachi
    Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

     

    The Great Leap in Seattle'The Great Leap' in Seattle. Photo by John Moore.

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    The Great Leap prepares for its big bound to Seattle
    Lauren Yee: “This play would not exist without the Denver Center'
    Video: First look at The Great Leap, and five things we learned at Perspectives
    For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
    Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What's a pick and roll?
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'The Great Leap' prepares for big bound to Seattle

    by John Moore | Mar 07, 2018
    Kristin Leahey and Lauren Yee. Photo by John Moore

    'The Great Leap' Dramaturg Kristin Leahey and playwright Lauren Yee at the opening-night celebration in Denver. The play next transfers to the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Dramaturg, playwright talk hoops as The Great Leap prepares to leave Denver and visit the Great Northwest

    The DCPA Theatre Company's world-premiere staging of The Great Leap has its final Denver performances this weekend, but the play is just starting its creative life. After closing on Sunday (March 11), it packs up with its cast, creatives and scenery intact and moves to the Seattle Repertory Theatre for a run starting later this month.

    The play, set in San Francisco and China, follows a scrappy young Asian-American kid who talks his way onto the University of San Francisco basketball team that is about to embark on a series of “friendship” games in China, which is in the throes of the post-Cultural Revolution era. Personal and international politics collide like Jordan driving to the hoop against Shaq. The story was inspired by events from playwright Lauren Yee's  father’s real experiences. 

    Kristin Leahey and Lauren Yee Quote. Photo by John MooreSeattle Rep dramaturg Kristin Leahey, who has been a key team member in the development of the play since it was first introduced at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, sat down with Yee for a Q&A about the play:

    Kristin Leahey: Lauren, who did you write The Great Leap for?

    Lauren Yee: My dad. Growing up, my father, Larry Yee, played basketball –  every day, all night, on the asphalt courts and rec center floors of San Francisco, Chinatown. It was the only thing he was good at. He was never good enough that he was going to play for the NBA or even at the college level, but for a 6-foot-1 Chinatown kid from the projects, he was good. Really good. I know this because even today, people still stop him on the street and try to explain to me what a legend he was. They tell me his nickname — Spider — his position — center — and his signature move — the reverse jump shot. Then they will tell me about China. My dad's first trip to China was in the '80s playing a series of exhibition games against China's top teams. At their first game, my dad and his American teammates faced off against a Beijing team of 300-pound 7-footers who demolished my dad's team. It was the first of many slaughters. My dad doesn't play anymore, but you can see how his head is still in the game. Sometimes, he'll walk up to tall young men at checkout counters, parking lots, and sporting events, and ask them if they've ever considered playing basketball. And it doesn't matter what they say: he'll start coaching them on the game right then and there. So while this play is not my father's story, it's a story like it.

    For playwright Lauren Yee, family is generation map

    Kristin Leahey: Did you know a lot about basketball before working on this play?

    Lauren Yee: Despite my father’s history with the game, I actually knew very little, so I got to apprentice myself to this whole new world. And using basketball as a means to explore China-America relations turned out to be an incredibly apt metaphor. China has played basketball almost as long as America has; it’s the most popular sport in China, the only western sport never previously banned by the Chinese government.

    Kristin Leahey: As you have been developing The Great Leap, you have also been working on two other incredible plays, among many others, The King of the Yees and Cambodian Rock Band.  What do you see is the connection with these works? 

    Kristin Leahey and Lauren Yee 800. Photo by John MooreLauren Yee: King of the Yees, which had its Northwest premiere at A.C.T. last September, is a love letter to Chinatown and my real-life relationship with my dad. Cambodian Rock Band is also a father/daughter story, a play with music about a Cambodian American young woman’s discovery of her father’s secret past as the bassist for a rock band during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Along with The Great Leap, these plays form a kind of trilogy, about ordinary people intersecting in extraordinary places in history.  Each play reveals the hidden histories that lived alongside each other and that you would have never unexpected (basketball and Communism, rock bands and genocide). Seeing these plays through to production has revealed to me the breadth and depth of the Asian American acting community. Each play requires specific, extraordinary talent, and gives actors the chance to be so many different things on stage: funny, virtuosic, heartbreaking, and versatile –  something that Asian American actors frequently do not get to do. I feel if nothing else, one of my proudest accomplishments is creating roles worthy of today’s Asian-American actors.

    (Pictured above right: 'The Great Leap' Dramaturg Kristin Leahey and playwright Lauren Yee talk at a public forum to discuss the play with Denver Center audiences. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Kristin Leahey: Can you share with us about your writing process? 

    Lauren Yee: I start writing even before I know what I’m writing about. I can sketch out the pieces of the plays — for example, the setting, the characters, the language — fairly quickly. Most of the writing process — or rewriting process — is me figuring out how these pieces best fit together. My intuitions are rarely wrong, but it usually takes me a very long time to figure out why these particular characters are in these particular situations. In fact, in The Great Leap, I didn’t figure out one of the key plot points until very late in the writing. I’m also incredibly motivated by collaboration with others. One of my favorite things to do is enter a week-long workshop with the goal of mapping out a brand new play or pushing a half-finished piece of writing forward. I have a great respect for actors and directors, and so the thought of them having to wait for me to complete a scene makes me churn out work so much faster than I could by myself. And once I’ve nailed the characters and circumstances, I’ll go back to see where I got things right (or not) and fill in all the gaps. For me, research comes late in the process.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Kristin Leahey: You’ve spent a lot time in Seattle developing your plays.  Can you share what you love about the city and the Seattle theatre scene?

    Lauren Yee: I have never seen a city hungrier for new work than Seattle. The joy that Seattle audiences harbor for new work is incredibly motivating; they will show up for readings with an inquisitiveness that you don’t always see in other cities. It’s also an inspiring place to think about story. There’s so much unexpected and unexplored history in Seattle. And every time I come to Seattle, I’m floored by the layers I continue to unearth.

     Kristin Leahey, Ph.D., is Director of New Works for the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

    Production photos: The Great Leap

    The Great Leap Photos from 'The Great Leap,' opening Friday (tonight) and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by Adams VisCom.  

    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 Through 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:
    Lauren Yee: “This play would not exist without the Denver Center'
    Video: First look at The Great Leap, and five things we learned at Perspectives
    For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
    Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What's a pick and roll?
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

  • Look back: 2018 Colorado New Play Summit got real

    by John Moore | Feb 26, 2018
    2018 Colorado New Play Summit

    Our gallery of photos above includes nearly 300 images from the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of photos Photos by Senior Arts Journalist John Moore and Adams Viscom.

    Readings explored contemporary social issues through the lens of real stories taken from the recent and distant past

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Perhaps more so than ever, the Denver Center’s 13th annual Colorado New Play Summit explored complex contemporary social issues through the lens of real stories taken from both the recent and distant past.

    Summit 2018 The Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, a forgotten pre-Civil War slave trial and a horrible, headline-grabbing drunk-driving tragedy were among the real-life inspirations for the Summit’s four featured readings, all of which become instant candidates for consideration to be fully staged in the future.  

    The Colorado New Play Summit has grown into one of the nation’s premier showcases of new plays. Since 2006, the Summit has workshopped 54 new plays, leading to 31 fully produced world premieres as part of the DCPA Theatre Company’s mainstage season. At this year’s Summit, more than 800 attendees also were treated to a record three fully staged world premieres: American Mariachi, The Great Leap and Zoey’s Perfect Wedding.

    But history of another kind was made on Saturday when the topic of gender identity was addressed on a Denver Center stage for the first time in its nearly 40-year history, and it came from a most unexpected source. A teenage boy uttered the words, “Dad, I’m non-binary” in high-schooler Noah Jackson’s play Wine Colored Lip Gloss during public readings of DCPA Education’s three statewide student playwriting competition winners.

    “It means so much to me that the Denver Center allowed my story to be heard,” said Jackson, who attends Girls Athletic Leadership School. “I had someone come up to me in tears saying that my play touched her so much. I am just over the moon that people are actually feeling the words that I have worked so hard on.”  

    2018 Summit: A look at all four featured plays

    The 2018 Summit came as DCPA Theatre Company leadership continues to transition from Summit founder Kent Thompson to incoming Artistic Director Chris Coleman, who told the Friday night crowd the Summit was “a great calling card” for the job he is about to embrace. “A festival like this is impossible at a lot of theatres around the country,” he said. “But new-play development is creativity at its most pure. There is enormous joy and heartache in watching something come out of nothing. And I want to be a part of the future of this organization's voice around the country.”

    (Story continues below the video)

    Video: Our interviews with all four featured playwrights

    Press play to watch all four of our short spotlight videos.


    The four featured Summit readings at a glance
    :

    • A Summit Playwrights Social Barbara Seyda’s Celia, A Slave recalls a 19-year-old African-American slave in Missouri who was convicted of killing her master in 1855 and hanged.
    • Kemp Powers’ Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue is the story of mixed-race twins who are genetically the same but to the entire outside world, one is perceived as black, and one is perceived as white.
    • David Jacobi’s The Couches takes its cue from the real-life story of a 16-year-old Texas boy who drove drunk and killed four people. His lawyer successfully argued the boy had “affluenza" — meaning he was too rich to know right from wrong.
    • Sigrid Gilmer's Mama Metallica is the story of a woman who copes with her mother's dementia through her muse: The heavy-metal band Metallica. "What makes you laugh will make you cry," she said.

    “This is a precious and fragile time in the life of these plays and that's because they are reflecting life which is also so fragile, as we have learned in these past couple of weeks,” said Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett,” referring to the Florida school shooting. “And that's why it’s so important to support new work and nurture it and fund it and produce it and give it to the world. That's our responsibility: To keep life moving forward. And I like to think of the Summit as the beginning of that.”

    (Pictured at right: From 'Celia, A Slave', from left: Jada Dixon, Owen Zitek, Director Nataki Garrett, Celeste M. Cooper.)

    Celia A Slave. Summit. Photo by John MooreThe Colorado New Play Summit allows for two weeks of development of each new play, culminating in a first round of public readings. Playwrights then take what they learn from their first readings back into rehearsal before more rehearsal and a second round of readings for industry professionals.

    This year’s Summit drew industry leaders from 33 local and national theatre organizations, with more than 150 directors, actors, artistic leaders, educators and others from 12 states attending or taking part. Visitors represented companies ranging from the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D.C. to the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. Closer to home, guests included the Arvada Center, Creede Repertory Theatre, Curious Theatre, The Catamounts, Athena Festival Project and others.

    There was another added twist at this year’s festival in that both American Mariachi and The Great Leap are the Theatre Company’s first co-productions in nearly 20 years — upon closing, both will set off for stagings at other theatres with their Denver creative teams intact.

    Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap is a Denver Center commission, meaning she was hired to write a play for the Theatre Company’s right of first refusal. She used her Asian-American father’s real-life goodwill basketball tour to China in the 1980s as the basis for exploring, among many other things, the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Her play was read at the 2017 Summit, premiered in January at the Denver Center and will re-open at the Seattle Repertory Theatre later in March.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “This play would not exist without the Denver Center,” Yee said. “Not just because it's a commission, but also because of the way that the Colorado New Play Summit launches you into national consciousness. This is an event that the whole new-play development world looks at every year for leadership and inspiration.”

    The Couches. Adams VisComJosé Cruz González’s American Mariachi was given a second full year to germinate before being fully staged. It was introduced at the 2016 Summit, then developed for two years before opening in January. The story of a pioneering young woman who forms an all-female mariachi band in a desperate attempt to use music to communicate with a mother falling into dementia struck a universal chord with Theatre Company audiences. It now moves to the Old Globe Theatre, which is Director James Vásquez’s artistic home, for a run in San Diego.  

    (Pictured: Tasha Lawrence and Cesar J. Rosado in 'The Couches.' Photo by Adams Viscom.)

    “The Denver Center has been so unbelievably supportive since the moment we got here,” Vásquez said. “It's been a dream. And I feel like the luckiest guy in the world that now I get to take the show home and share it with my family and friends in San Diego.”  

    Vásquez is particularly grateful the Summit coincided with the Denver run of American Mariachi, where it was seen by dozens of artistic leaders from around the country.

    “It's overwhelming and exciting to think of how many industry professionals saw our play here at the Summit,” said Vásquez. “We do this work so we can share it, and I want Jose's play to get out into the world. So if the other professionals want to take it, I say … ‘Go.’ ”

    One of those professionals is former longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor David Ivers, now the Artistic Director at the Arizona Theatre Company. He already has added American Mariachi to his season lineup for performance in March 2019.

    American Mariachi resonates in myriad ways with the kaleidoscope of our community,” Ivers said. “The writing, the gift of mariachi music, the celebration and empowerment of women, and the struggle of loss in the face of hope are powerful and meaningful messages to explore in the communities we have the honor of serving.”

    2018 Colorado New Play Summit Slam. Photo by John MooreThe Summit again included two late-night "Playwrights Slams," where writers sampled their developing works in a fun and supportive atmosphere. One focused on local playwrights and was curated this year by the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

    (Pictured at right: Playwrights Slam reader Mfoniso Udofia. Others included José Cruz González, Ricardo A. Bracho, Denver native Max Posner and Luis Quintero. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    The Summit also included a gathering of the Women's Voices Fund, the Denver Center’s $1.5 million endowment that supports new plays by women and female creative team members. Since 2006, the Denver Center has produced 33 plays by women, including 14 world premieres, commissioned 19 female playwrights and hired 28 female directors Supporters of the fund were treated to a private gathering with 2018 featured playwright Sigrid Gilmer (Mama Metallica.)   

    The Summit ended on the same day the Denver run of American Mariachi closed. But unlike most other shows, closing day in Denver was just the start for the San Diego-bound cast and crew.

    “We’re leaving Denver,” said actor Amanda Robles. “But it doesn't feel like the end.”

    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.


    Christa McAuliffe's Eyes Were Blue
    From left: Cast members Tihun Hann, Celeste M. Cooper and Owen Zitek. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Selected NewsCenter coverage of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit

    Summit Spotlight: Barbara Seyda's collision with voices of the dead
    Summit Spotlight: Kemp Powers on a matter that's black and white
    Summit Spotlight: David Jacobi on affluenza, the rich man's plague
    Summit Spotlight, Sigrid Gilmer: 'What makes you laugh will make you cry'
    Summit prep begins at the intersection of Eugene O'Neill and Metallica
    2018 Colorado New Play Summit selections announced
    Authentic voices: DCPA Education names 2018 student playwriting finalists

  • Photos: First look at 'The Great Leap,' Opening Night of 'American Mariachi'

    by John Moore | Feb 09, 2018
    Production photos: Your first look at The Great Leap:


    The Great Leap Photos from 'The Great Leap,' opening Friday (tonight) and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by Adams VisCom.  

    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 Through 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


    Photos: Opening night of American Mariachi:

    Making of 'American Mariachi'

    Photos from opening night of the DCPA Theatre Company's world premiere of 'American Mariachi,' performing in the Stage Theatre through Feb. 25. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of photos. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Feb. 25
    • Space 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

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Video: First look at 'The Great Leap,' and 5 things we learned at Perspectives

    by John Moore | Feb 06, 2018
    Your first look at 'The Great Leap.' Video by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Playwright Lauren Yee intends to take audiences right down to the buzzer when her new play opens Friday  

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Denver audiences have not yet seen Lauren Yee’s new basketball play The Great Leap, opening Friday in the Ricketson Theatre. But while no literal hoops action goes down on the stage, actor Linden Tailor says the story plays out much like any good, close basketball game: You don't know how it’s going to come out till the very end.

    “The play builds in intensity the same way a game does in those final two minutes,” said Tailor, who plays a short but scrappy Chinese-American player named Manford in Yee's tale of a college basketball team that travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game and lands right in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. “That’s the feeling I hope the audience gets when they see the play.”

    The occasion was Perspectives, the DCPA Theatre Company’s ongoing series of community conversations held just before every first preview performance. Literary Manager Douglas Langworthy was joined by Yee, Tailor, actor Keiko Green, Dramaturg Kristin Leahey of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and Scenic Designer Wilson Chin.

    Yee takes great pains to make her play mirror the game she honors in several ways. The sound of dribbles make for heightened sound effects, for example. Intermission is like halftime. There is a big game at the end of the play, but the audiences only hear about it in a fugue of language. Actors quickly toss words back and forth like the passing of a basketball. "There are times when all four of us are sharing a sentence," Green said. The effect is similar to the teamwork you see in a game. “You can feel it when the players are comfortable and supportive of each other," she said. "And that’s the feeling we hope to convey as actors."

    Here are five things we learned about The Great Leap at Perspectives. Next up: A conversation with the creative team from Native Gardens at 6 p.m. Friday, April 6, in the Jones Theatre:

    The Great Leap Perspectives. Photo by John Moore

    From left: Douglas Langworthy, Keiko Green, Linden Tailor, Lauren Yee, Kristin Leahey, Wilson Chin and Eric Ting. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Full photo gallery below.

    NUMBER 1"Let's go co." In its nearly 400 productions, the DCPA Theatre Company has only participated in two previous “co-productions” — world-premiere plays created in full partnership with another company. And they both took place in 2000: The Laramie Project, with Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theatre Project in New York, and the epic 10-play cycle Tantalus with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Until now. This season, the DCPA is launching two "co-pros" simultaneously: The Great Leap with the Seattle Repertory Theatre (opening there March 28) and American Mariachi with the Old Globe in San Diego (opening there on March 29). One of the primary reasons most theatres enter co-productions is the opportunity to share expenses. But Leahey said this arrangement has far more to do with overlapping interests. "It was an affinity for the play, for the playwright and the opportunity to collaborate with our friends the Denver Center," she said. "It was not for financial reasons."

    NUMBER 2The evolution will not be televised. Yee's play was first introduced to Denver Center audiences last February as a featured reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Since then, "I think the play has changed an incredible amount," said Yee — and not just the title, which has morphed from the original Manford at Half Court to Manford at the Line Or The Great Leap to, finally, the shortened The Great Leap. "As a writer, I tend to know the major pieces of the puzzle early on, like the characters and the setting," Yee said. "For me the rewriting process — like being at the Summit for two weeks and seeing how it works in front of audiences — is figuring out better ways of connecting those pieces together."

    NUMBER 3Language barrier. Half of The Great Leap takes place in San Francisco, and half takes place in China. Yee was asked by a Perspectives audience member if the play will ever be staged in China, and she said that had not yet even occurred to her. "I don't think it would work there," she said. "My references are so American, both in terms of language and pop-culture references, that I don't know how it would read to a Chinese audience. In America, we have a very specific take on what our history is, and I'm sure that China has a very specific take on what world history is. I think if you were to see my play in China, you would be like, "No. You are completely wrong about our history. I see it entirely differently.' "

    NUMBER 4The Great Leap Linden Tailor Nuggets. Photo by Hope GrandonThe Hornets rest. The Great Leap cast made a field trip on Monday to the Denver Nuggets' game against the Charlotte Hornets, where they were welcomed by a message on the giant scoreboard. They also met Rocky, one of the most popular mascots in all of sports. And in return, the cast sent the Nuggets their good vibes, which surely played a part in the Nuggets' 121-104 rout. "It's fun to go to a game and have it be research," Tailor joked. (Photo: Rocky and Linden Tailor. Photo by Hope Grandon.)

    NUMBER 5Ordinary people. Yee’s next play is called Cambodian Rock Band, and it bears one major similarity to The Great Leap, she said: Ordinary people intersecting with extraordinary places in history. “In Cambodia during the 1960s and '70s, there was a whole psychedelic surf-rock scene that you never heard about because the communists took over Cambodia in 1975, after the Vietnam War ended," Yee said, "and the first thing they did was kill all the artists. In four years, 90 percent of their musicians died, and the only ones who survived are those who hid their identities. My play is the story of a Cambodian-American woman and her father, who is a Khmer Rouge survivor. In the course of the play, the daughter learns that her father was in this rock band. I think that's something we can all relate to: Not really fully knowing who your parents are.” It opens March 3 at the South Coast Repertory in Orange County, Calif.

    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.

    Photo gallery: The making of The Great Leap:

    The making of 'The Great Leap' Photos from the making of 'The Great Leap,' opening Friday and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Pictured above is Director Eric Ting (pictured). 

    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 Through 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

    Read more: Our complete interview with Lauren Yee

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
    Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What's a pick and roll?
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • '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 creative team led by a Chinese-American director telling a Chinese-American story written by a Chinese-American playwright for a theatre that does not routinely tell Chinese-American stories. “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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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.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.