• '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

  • 5 things you don't know about Nataki Garrett

    by John Moore | Oct 26, 2017
    Nataki Garrett

     

    She's smart, in demand and making her Denver directorial debut with the Denver Center's Smart People.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    What you might not know about new Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett, who makes her Denver — and Denver Center — directing debut with Lydia R. Diamond’s Smart People, playing through Nov. 19 in the Ricketson Theatre:

    NUMBER 1Macbeth. Nataki Garrett SHE'S SMART PEOPLE. Garrett attended California Institute of the Arts to study theatre and went on to become the associate dean and the co-head of the undergraduate acting program at CalArts’ School of Theater. She became the DCPA Theatre Company’s Associate Artistic Director in January. (She's pictured right at the recent opening of the DCPA's reimagined 'Macbeth.')

    NUMBER 2 SHE'S IN DEMAND. Garrett directed Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ celebrated antebellum melodrama An Octoroon last year for the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, a run that was so celebrated it was remounted in August. After her DCPA Theatre Company directorial debut, she will helm Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre’s staging of Aziza Barnes’ BLKS followed by Jefferson’s Garden at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. “These gigs confirm her status and the Denver Center’s place in the national conversation about theater’s future,” wrote Lisa Kennedy of The Denver Post.  

    NUMBER 3SHE'S ADMIRED. “She’s a breath of fresh air. I think she’s a strong, visionary artist and director,” DCPA CEO Janice Sinden told The Denver Post in February. “I think she’s going to inspire us. I think she has a great eye for how we can engage new and different audiences at the DCPA as well. I’m beyond excited.”

    NUMBER 4 SHE'S MIXING THINGS UP. Garrett has established close artistic relationship ties with some of the boldest new voices in the American theatre, including Jacobs-Jenkins (a MacArthur Fellow and Obie winner), Katori Hall (The Mountaintop), Timberlake Wertenbaker (Jefferson’s Garden), and Sigrid Gilmer. Who is Sigrid Gilmer? According to her own website, “she makes black comedies that are historically bent, totally perverse, joyfully irreverent and are concerned with issues of identity, pop culture and contemporary American society.”

    NUMBER 5SHE'S ON THE RISE. Garrett was highlighted in the November issue of American Theatre’s “Role Call: People To Watch.” In that feature, she was quoted as saying she’s attracted to “plays that seem impossible to stage, and to those which impact us in tremendous ways, chasing us out of our comfort zones. My mandate in the theatre is to give voice to the voiceless, and I am inspired by stories that expose the dark and discarded in the corners of our existence.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Smart People: Ticket information
    SmartPeople_show_thumbnail_160x160Lydia R. Diamond. This acclaimed new play is a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Smart People:
    In Smart People, the race is on from the start
    Perspectives: Could racism be filtered out through genetics?
    Cast announced for Smart People: Fresh and familiar
    Photos, story: Smart People opens rehearsals in full swing




  • 'Smart People': First-look video, Opening Night photos

    by John Moore | Oct 25, 2017
    Video:

    Video above: Your first look at the DCPA Theatre Company's Smart People, by Lydia R. Diamond. This acclaimed new play is a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. The cast includes, below from left: Jason Veasey,  Esther Chen, Director Nataki Garrett, Tatiana Williams and Timothy McCracken. Smart People runs through Nov. 19 in the Ricketson Theatre. Video by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Photo gallery: Smart People Opening Night and more:
    Making of 'Smart People'
    Photos above from the making of Smart People, including the Opening Night celebration on Oct. 20, 2017. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Smart People: Ticket information
    SmartPeople_show_thumbnail_160x160Lydia R. Diamond. This acclaimed new play is a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Smart People:
    In Smart People, the race is on from the start
    Perspectives: Could racism be filtered out through genetics?
    Cast announced for Smart People: Fresh and familiar
    Photos, story: Smart People opens rehearsals in full swing
  • 'Smart People': The race is on from the start

    by John Moore | Oct 24, 2017
    Smart People
    Production photos from the DCPA Theatre Company's 'Smart People,' directed by Nataki Garrett and featuring Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by Adams Viscom for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Playwright Lydia R. Diamond refutes the notion that bigotry is owned only by certain people. No one is exempt.

    By Sylvie Drake
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Smart People is a loaded title for a loaded play. 

    It opens with projected images: diverse people, young, old, rich, poor, engaged in various activities. When I asked the play’s author, Lydia R. Diamond, what these images meant, she thought for a moment.  

    Lydia_R._Diamond“I wanted to open with a sense of the diversity of the characters,” she said with gravitas. “I wanted to inspire the director in a certain direction. I write from a very visual place, particularly when it’s about race.” 

    And yes, Smart People is about race. 

    Diamond is meticulous when it comes to intent. Her talents now include writing for film and television as well as theatre, and she was in the middle of writing for Showtime’s The Affair when we spoke on the phone. This required that she pull her mind off that project to discuss her 2014 play. 

    Four complicated people vie for our attention in Smart People: Brian, a white, tenured Harvard professor of neuropsychiatry with an entitlement issue who’s pursuing a controversial project; Valerie, a young African-American struggling to break through as a professional actress; Ginny, a Chinese-Japanese-American professor of psychology at Harvard with a serious shopping habit who focuses on identity issues among Asian-American women; and Jackson, an African-American medical resident with an attitude, fresh out of Harvard Med and eyeing a career as a surgeon. 

    If these thumbnail descriptions sound rooted in academia, they are. 

    “My mother was a college professor,” Diamond offered. “I grew up in a family of academics.” 

    Her own career has included stints as a professor and, although they are now divorced, she was married to a Harvard professor with whom she has a son. “I was very aware of that self-congratulatory world,” she added, “and what shapes it.”

    Smart People was triggered by a Princeton study about how we, as a species, tend to dehumanize the lowest of the low. When the study’s focus group was confronted by images of indigent, homeless people, the group registered no reaction. That detail got Diamond’s attention. It confirmed for her that our preconceptions — how we see others — are where prejudice begins. 

    Nataki Garrett, who joined the DCPA Theatre Company as Associate Artistic Director in January, chose Smart People for her Denver directorial debut because she could relate, she said. Like Diamond, Garrett comes from an African-American family of academics. Except that she grew up in Oakland, Calif., in the 1980s. 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “It was the middle of the Reagan scourge, the drug scene, the killings down the street from my house. That was my life,” Garrett said. With President Obama’s ascension to the presidency, “I was living in an extreme dichotomy with my sweet liberal friends because they were saying ‘racism is over,’ except it wasn’t. They weren’t listening to the wider world; they were listening to the sound of their own voice. Their sense of entitlement determined how the world was meant to be: my existence defined by your privilege. 

    SMART PEOPLE ADAMS_VISCOM“I wasn’t shocked by the (Trump) election and needed to ask myself why,” she continued. “Why wasn’t I…? And then I read Smart People and remembered how self-congratulatory my sweet liberal friends had been. This belief that you and I are alike just because we’re really good friends is an illusion. We’re not (alike). ‘Liberal’ does not protect you from bias; you have to go back to the beginning to understand how we got to here.”

    (Pictured right: Timothy McCracken and Tatiana Williams in 'Smart People.' Photo by Adams VisCom for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Before coming to Denver, Garrett racked up solid credits working in various capacities with a broad range of the country’s best resident theatre companies and schools, most recently California’s CalArts. She was highlighted in American Theatre magazine last year as a person to watch and admits she favors doing cutting edge work by emerging artists. 

    “My mandate in the theatre is to give voice to the voiceless. I’m attracted to plays that seem impossible to stage and that chase us out of our comfort zones,”  she said.

    Garrett selected Efren Delgadillo Jr. to design the sets for Smart People because, she said, “he favors clean lines and uncluttered spaces. Nothing’s hidden. A neutral place, so we can hear the words.”  

    And Diamond’s words do demand to be heard, because Diamond is an equal-opportunity indicter. She refutes the notion that bigotry is owned only by certain people. As demonstrated by her stark 2008 play Stick Fly, racism cuts all ways. No one is exempt. 

    Her “smart people” have issues with the wider world, but they also have a hard time talking to each other. Their anger simmers under a fragile surface that erupts easily. As the world’s playwrights all know, communication is mainly miscommunication — a human failing, regardless of the color of one’s skin, yet made worse by it.

    “I knew Brian had to be a white man,” said Diamond, whose protagonist is “a neuroscientist out to prove that white people are biologically racist. No, that’s not what I believe,” she added quickly. 

    It was a way to jump-start the discussion.

    “I didn’t know what or who the characters around this man would be,” she said. “Creating characters is part of a process that’s purposeful, but also organic. It has a spiritual component. I discover things as I go along.” 

    That the play takes place in the weeks leading up to President Obama’s inauguration is a component that wasn’t there when she started thinking about Smart People. Yet when his presidency became reality, it played into her premise, helping to shape it.  

    As for the steady stream of controversial statements regarding race that have come from  Obama’s successor, Diamond said only: “I always thought that I would rather people be outspoken about their ideas — but I find it frightening."

    Sylvie Drake is a translator, former theatre critic and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, contributor to culturalweekly.com, American Theatre magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and is the DCPA's former Director of Media Relations and Publications.

    Lydia_R._Diamond SMART PEOPLE ADAMS_VISCOM

    Clockwise from top left: Esther Chen, Timothy McCracken, Tatiana Williams and Jason Veasey in 'Smart People.' Photo by Adams VisCom for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Smart People
    : Ticket information
    SmartPeople_show_thumbnail_160x160This acclaimed new play is a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life.

    • Written by Lydia R Diamond
    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Smart People:
    Perspectives: Could racism be filtered out through genetics?
    Cast announced for Smart People: Fresh and familiar
    Photos, story: Smart People opens rehearsals in full swing

    Photo gallery: The making of Smart People

    Making of 'Smart People' Photos from the making of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'Smart People,' directed by Nataki Garrett and featuring Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

  • Perspectives: 'Smart People' and the constant search for 'yes'

    by John Moore | Oct 18, 2017
    Making of 'Smart People' Photos from the making of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'Smart People,' directed by Nataki Garrett and featuring Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

     

    Five things we learned about the Theatre Company’s new comedy at our ongoing series of free conversations.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Lydia R. Diamond’s Smart People, opening Friday in the Ricketson Theatre, is a play that takes its premise from an idealistic, real-life Princeton University neuropsychologist named whose research led her to believe that there is an identifiable gene in the bodies of white people that causes them to be racist. “Idealistic” because, in this emerging era of gene manipulation, the possibility might then exist that racism could one day be filtered out of human existence.

    It’s also a funny comedy about four impossibly smart and impossibly beautiful young people embroiled in America's often comically self-deluded conversations about gender and race at the hopeful dawn of the first Obama administration.

    When Diamond read the article about Fiske's quest to solve the problem of racism by locating that elusive gene, she knew she wanted to write a play about it. In an interview with the Huntington Theatre Company, Diamond said: "The genesis was a paper by Susan Fiske, who studies the roots of stereotyping based on race, gender and age. My husband, a sociologist, happened upon the article and said, 'You may want to look at this.' It kind of jolted me and made me think, 'What would be the ramifications of that line of inquiry? I started to see that across disciplines, studies about race aggressively worked to talk around race; I imagine because it’s such a powder keg."

    Here are five things we learned about the DCPA Theatre Company’s production of Smart People at Perspectives, an ongoing series of free conversations with audiences held before the first preview performance of most every Theatre Company offering. The panel featured Garrett and her entire four-actor cast of Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen, as well as Lighting Designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew.

    Join moderator Douglas Langworthy next at 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 19 in the Jones Theatre for a talk on Matthew Lopez’s world-premiere comedy Zoey’s Perfect Wedding.    

    NUMBER 1Jurassic-ParkHow did this play come about? “It’s a real study,” Smart People Director Nataki Garrett said of Fiske's research. “You can download that article on the internet right now.” And if you read it, she said, “What you will find is this person's earnest desire to create change. That is a symptom of this idealistic time we were in just after Barack Obama was elected. The character in our play who is pursuing this idea really does want to help humanity.” But Colorado Springs native Jason Veasey (pictured below right), who plays a different character in the play, says beware of the story’s Frankenstein overtones. “The problem with human beings' pursuit of knowledge to the furthest extremes, even with the best intentions, is that there will always be other human beings who want to take that knowledge and do something bad with it,” Veasay said, “whether it be trying to identify a gene that makes people racist — or creating a park with real live dinosaurs. Look what happened when they did that!

    NUMBER 2 Smart People. Jason Veasey. Photo by John MooreHigh hopes and high I.Qs. The play is intentionally set just as the country was electing its first African-American president, said Garrett, also the Theatre Company’s Associate Artistic Director. “That was a very optimistic time in our county — for some people,” she said. “There was this revelry around the idea that we were participating in something that was happening for the first time. Because whenever you embark on something for the first time, then what you are probably doing is changing the world. These people meet at a time when they, too, are embarking on something new — with the election, with each other and with their ideas. What they are looking to discover is something about who we are as a nation."

    NUMBER 3Double vision: It is believed that Smart People is the first time the Denver Center's tiny Ricketson Theatre has ever accommodated a double-decker set. That means it has two floors, courtesy of Scenic Designer Efren Delgadillo Jr., with input from Garrett, who initially was told the Ricketson had never been bisected horizontally because the former movie theatre just doesn't have the height. Which set Garrett’s curiosity on a quest to find out if it could be done. That didn't surprise her actors, who call working with Garrett what they call “The Search for Yes.” “I Iike to be told what I can't do, and then ... I just have to see for myself,” Garrett said to laughter. “We jigsaw-puzzled ideas for days looking for ways to make is happen” – and with help from the DCPA design team, they did. The result, Garrett said, is an intentionally spare set made up of extremely clean and efficient lines. “I needed a space where the playwright’s words are most prominent, unfettered by other scenic elements,” she said.


    Smart People. Photo by John Moore

    NUMBER 4 What is ‘The Search for Yes’? When design artists come to Denver, one thing they quickly discover, Garrett said, “is that the team from the Denver Center can do anything. If you say to the people who put their hands on the stages here that you have this really crazy idea, the answer is almost always, exclusively, going to be ‘yes.’ They will do whatever it takes to make it happen." As an example, she asked those in attendance to pay particular attention to the use of projections in Smart People. “How they did what they did in that teeny space is amazing to me,” Garrett said. Added Veasey: “It feels like you are on the inside of a TV.”

    NUMBER 5What is ‘color-blind casting’? Diamond’s script very specifically calls for an  African-American woman who in turn plays an aspiring actor. At one point in the story, she is asked about her current role in a production of Julius Caesar, and specifically whether her casting in the traditionally white Shakespeare play is the result of “color-blind casting” — one of the most polarizing issues among real-life actors. Garrett was asked to define the term, and say whether she advocates for it. After a deep breath, she accepted the challenge:

    “So … ‘color-blind casting’ is an idea that is born out of the age of multiculturalism, where you might take a play that historically was connected to just one culture and cast it instead in a way that is inclusive of several cultures or identities,” she said. “Color-blind casting sometimes works and sometimes it doesn't. I believe that when it doesn't work, it is because of an earnest desire to create a world in which color does not exist — as opposed to creating a world in which color and race and identity are actually tangible things that we hold dear. Where it is important for us to have and embrace difference, as opposed to homogeny. Often, color-blind casting can further marginalize people of color because the question usually comes with the inference that, ‘You were not supposed to be doing this.’ That means you were given an opportunity that doesn't actually belong to you. I believe in casting that allows for people to be considered for roles based on their skills and for their density and for their ability and depth and knowledge — not based primarily on their identity. So I am not a ‘color-blind caster.’ I would say that I am a ‘color-conscious caster.’ I am very aware of the people in the bodies of the people I work with, and I honor them in their bodies, and I need them to be who they are."

    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.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Smart People: Ticket information
    SmartPeople_show_thumbnail_160x160Lydia R. Diamond. This acclaimed new play is a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Smart People:
    Cast announced for Smart People: Fresh and familiar
    Photos, story: Smart People opens rehearsals in full swing

  • Editorial: 2B or not 2B? There is no question

    by John Moore | Sep 25, 2017
    Sweeney Todd Opening Night. Photo by Adams Visual Communications

    Funds from 2B would help fund the renovation of the Stage Theatre, shown here hosting opening night of  the DCPA Theatre Company's 'Sweeney Todd' in 2016. Photo by Adams VisCom.

    'Our Denver' bond would help the region’s leading cultural organizations, which combined serve 6.6 million each year

    By Suzanne Yoe
    DCPA Director of Communications and Cultural Affairs

    Every 10 years, the City of Denver has the opportunity to invest in its infrastructure and enhance the facilities that are central to the fabric of our diverse communities. In 2007, voters approved the "Better Denver Bond" program, and projects were completed in neighborhoods dotting the city from new animal shelters, libraries and recreation centers to playground, road and fire-station improvements.

    GO Bond LogoThis November, voters will have the same opportunity before them — the opportunity to approve seven ballot measures representing 460 projects that will improve and transform communities in our area. Known as “Our Denver,” voters will be asked to allow the city to assume debt to cover capital improvements, which are paid back over time from existing property taxes without raising taxes. The sum total of the package is $937 million and will appear on the ballot as measures 2A-2G.

    Among the "GO Bond" initiatives is 2B — a request for more than $112 million in funding for capital improvements for the region’s leading cultural organizations, which collectively serve more than 6.6 million guests each year. These would help fund the renovation of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Stage and Ricketson theatres to implement critical life-safety improvements, preserve the Denver Art Museum’s iconic North Building, replace a 50-year-old animal hospital at the Denver Zoo, build a new education center at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and address deferred maintenance projects at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Passage of 2B comes with a financial obligation from each of the recipient cultural organizations.

    While funding from our voter-approved Scientific and Cultural Facilities District is essential to providing access and education, enabling growth and stability, and elevating programming and artistic success, those funds are restricted and cannot be used for building maintenance and new construction projects.

    For detailed information on the projects included in “Our Denver” including the cultural initiatives outlined in measure 2B, please visit OurDenver2017.com.

    Director of Communications and Cultural Affairs Suzanne Yoe has been working for the DCPA for 23 years.

  • 'Smart People' opens rehearsals in full swing

    by John Moore | Sep 21, 2017
    Making of 'Smart People'

    Photos from the first day of rehearsal for the DCPA Theatre Company's 'Smart People,' which features Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Sharp comedy takes on the ways in which racism pervades American culture just as the national pendulum swings.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Smart People is a thought-provoking new comedy about all the ways in which racism pervades American culture. And it took playwright Lydia R. Diamond eight years to finish it.

    Imagine taking on that incendiary subject just as Barack Obama was about to assume the presidency, and completing it the same year he would cede it to Donald Trump.

    "She started the play at one time in our collective zeitgeist, and she finished it at a completely different time in our collective zeitgeist,” DCPA Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett said Tuesday at the opening rehearsal for Smart People, which marks her Denver directorial debut. 

    Smart PeopleThe collective national pendulum, as gravity seemingly demands, had fully swung. And Garrett believes the only way today’s highly polarized Americans are ever going to find common ground and genuine connection again is if they slow down and stop talking long enough to meet somewhere in the middle.

    "What's so awesome about something swinging wildly back and forth is the part that's in the middle," said Garrett. "Not the extremes where we all seemingly live now, but the space where we do come together and we are able to find intersection.”

    And that’s what Diamond butts up against in her critically acclaimed, four-person comedy that has its first performance Oct. 13 in the Ricketson Theatre.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Diamond’s story, set on the eve of Obama’s historic 2008 presidential election, centers on four "smart people" with Harvard connections: A surgeon, an actress, a psychologist and a neuro-psychiatrist who is studying how the brain responds to race. As their relationships evolve, the four discover that their motivations and interpretations are not as pure as their wealth of knowledge would have them believe.

    Diamond was inspired to write Smart People by a news report about an actual neuroscientist who was studying the potential link between bias and brain chemistry. He hypothesized that a person's chemical composition can cause him to be biased, prejudiced or racist.

    "For me, the play is kind of like going back to the scene of the crime: Going back to the beginning of something to try to figure out where we are now," said Garrett.

    “This play intersects with these four highly intellectual people who keep smacking up against each other like two rocks trying to make a spark. They are trying figure out, 'Well why don't you believe what I believe? Because if I believe that something is really important and true, then you should also have that belief.’

    “That's what sparks the comedy: You have these four sexy, crazy people who are almost too smart for their own good all colliding around these ideas. But if they could just stop talking and give in to each other's ideas, they might actually be able to hear something.

    “I think ultimately, Smart People is a call for people to listen."

    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.  

    Smart People: Ticket information
    SmartPeople_show_thumbnail_160x160Lydia R. Diamond. This acclaimed new play is a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • First performance Oct. 13, through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Smart People:
    Cast announced for Smart People: Fresh and familiar
  • Cast announced for DCPA's 'Smart People': Fresh and familiar

    by John Moore | Sep 19, 2017

    Smart People
    From left: Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen.


    The DCPA Theatre Company has announced the full cast and creative team for its upcoming production of Lydia R. Diamond's Smart People, featuring the Denver directorial debut of Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. The production includes:

    • Esther Chen as Ginny Yang
    • Timothy McCracken as Brian White
    • Jason Veasey as Jackson Moore
    • Tatiana Williams as Valerie Johnston

    McCracken, a graduate of the DCPA's National Theatre Conservatory and now the Head of Acting for DCPA Education, has previously appeared in Theatre Company productions of A Christmas Carol, Jackie and Me, The Giver and others.

    A Smart People 360 Jaso VeasayVeasey, a native of Colorado Springs, graduated from Coronado High School and the University of Northern Colorado. His local credits include playing Jesus in Town Hall Arts Center's Godspell in 2003 (pictured right), and the ensemble in the Arvada Center's Ragtime. Last year, he performed in the Henry Award-nominated Best Musical Motones vs. Jerseys at the Lone Tree Arts Center. He made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of The Lion King.

    Garrett was profiled in American Theatre as “One to Watch,” saying she is attracted to “plays that impact us in tremendous ways, chasing us out of our comfort zones.”

    Veasay, Chen and Williams will be making their DCPA Theatre Company debuts in Diamond's acclaimed new play, a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life. Fiercely clever dialogue and energetic vignettes keep the laughs coming in a story that Variety calls “Sexy, serious and very, very funny.”

    Diamond’s award-winning plays have been produced throughout the country, including the 2011 Tony Award-nominated Broadway production Stick Fly.

    The creative team for Smart People will include:
    • Efren Delgadillo Jr. (Scenic Designer)
    • Lex Liang (Costume Designer, DCPA's Disgraced)
    • Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (Lighting Designer)
    • Curtis Craig (Sound Designer)
    • Kaitlyn Pietras (Projection Designer)
    • Lyle Raper (returning longtime Theatre Company Stage Manager)
    • Corin Ferris (Assistant Stage Manager).
     

    Smart People: Ticket information

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • First performance Oct. 13, through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
  • City Council approves referendum on DCPA improvements

    by John Moore | Aug 15, 2017
    Michael B. Hancock. Photo by John Moore
    "This is a thoughtful, balanced and responsible investment package created by and for the people of Denver," said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, pictured today at the reopening of the DCPA's Space Theatre.

    Voters in November will consider wide slate of improvements including Stage and Ricketson theatres

    By John More
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The Denver City Council on Monday unanimously referred a bond to the November ballot that if approved by voters will make funds available for 460 projects valued at $937 million, including $19 million to renovate the Denver Center for the Performing Arts' Stage and Ricketson theatres. Without a tax increase.

    Roughly half of the total bond program would go toward road maintenance, sidewalk connections, intersection improvements and transit infrastructure, Denverite reported.

    The slate includes library renovations; new recreation centers and playgrounds; and upgrades to police and fire stations, cultural institutions such as the Denver Center and enhancements to Denver Health Medical Center.

    Mayor Michael B. Hancock called the initiative "a thoughtful, balanced and responsible investment package created by and for the people of Denver." He said the November vote represents an unparalleled opportunity for the city. 

    More than half of the projects on the list will fix and repair existing infrastructure, with the remainder dedicated to upgrades and new infrastructure across the city.

    There was no opposition voiced at the council meeting.
     
    The proposed improvements will be presented to voters as seven separate spending packages. The referendum including the DCPA and other cultural institutions will be known as 2B, which DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden took as a positive sign, given its proximity to Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" speech from Hamlet.

    "We're excited to work with the city on the upcoming bond campaign," DCPA Sinden said at this morning's reopening of the DCPA's Space Theatre - which benefited in part from the city's 2007 "Better Denver" bond package. "I will be plugging it shamelessly." 

    The improvements would not mean an increase in the tax rate, Denverite reported, which will likely be a taken as major selling point. Property owners would be paying more for debt service than in the past because their property generally is worth more.

    "These measures were created with the most public input of any bond proposal in Denver’s history,” Hancock said.

    The seven separate ballot questions include:

    • $431 million for transportation and mobility projects
    • $116.9 million for city-owned cultural facility improvements (including the Stage and Ricketon theatres)
    • $75 million for a new outpatient care center at Denver Health Medical Center
    • $77 million for safety facility projects
    • $69.3 million for Denver Public Library improvements
    • $151.6 million for parks and recreation
    • $16.5 million for city-owned facility improvements
    Visit 2017GObond for more information about the bond process and projects.
  • Meet the cast: Benjamin Pelteson of 'Disgraced'

    by John Moore | Apr 12, 2017
    Disgraced Benjamin Pelteson-photo-credit-adamsviscom
    Benjamin Pelteson plays Isaac, a curator at the Whitney Museum, in 'Disgraced,' playing through May 7. Photo by Adams VisCom.


    MEET BENJAMIN PELTESON
    Isaac in Disgraced

    At the Theatre Company: Debut. Other Theatres: Ensemble Studio Theatre, City Opera, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Baltimore Centerstage, Wilma Theater, Williamstown, Capital Repertory, McCarter (tour), Pittsburgh Public and others. TV: "The Americans," "Homeland," "Law & Order," "Unforgettable," "Silly Little Game" (ESPN). Barrymore Nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actor for Angels in America (Philadelphia).

    • Disgraced Benjamin PeltesonHometown: Orlando
    • Training: BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh
    • What was the role that changed your life? When I was 17, my high-school drama teacher handed me The Merchant of Venice and asked me to play Shylock. Not a good idea. One rehearsal I found myself weeping and spitting on people and grabbing them by their collars. The language did something to me that was very unplanned and very surprising and addictive. Those poor kids who had to act with me ... I am so sorry. But that show 900 years ago is why I decided to do this for a living.
    • Why are you an actor? I learn more by being other people than by being myself. Also: Affordable health insurance. 
    • What would you be doing if you weren't an actor: I would be a writer or a civil-rights lawyer. I like words. I like clarity and argument. I like changing people’s minds.
    • A Mark RylanceIdeal scene partner: Mark Rylance. He never stops inventing. He always listens.
    • Why does Disgraced matter? To me, this is a play about the problem of tribes. Can we get past our ancient group hatreds, or are we - no matter how hard we struggle - going to be beholden to them forever? That seems like a pretty pressing question for all of us right now.  
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of this play? I want the funny stuff to be funny, the sad stuff to be sad and the surprising stuff to be surprising.
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ..."
      "... public institutions and politicians we can put our faith in. A general restoration of belief in empiricism. The National Endowment for the Arts to be well-funded into perpetuity, so that the Denver Center and others like it can keep bringing you great work. ... That, and a really nice cup of coffee."

    Disgraced Benjamin Pelteson-photo-credit-adamsviscom'Disgraced' actors, from left, Dorien Makhloghi, Christina Sajous and Benjamin Pelteson. Photo by Adams VisCom for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Disgraced
    : Ticket information
    DisgracedIn this raw new play, Amir has built the perfect life. But as a high-profile case and his wife’s art show reveal how little his culture is understood, their misconceptions become too much to bear.

    Through May 7
    Ricketson Theatre
    ASL and audio-described performance: 1:30 p.m. April 30

    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Disgraced:
    Perspectives: Disgraced is about starting, not finishing, conversations
    Video, photos: Your first look at Theatre Company's Disgraced
    Video: A talk with Disgraced Costume Designer Lex Liang
    Disgraced
    has been known to leave audiences gasping
    Disgraced Director promises to push your (empathy) button
    TED Talk: On the danger of a 'single story'

    More 2016-17 'Meet the Cast' profiles:
    Steven J. Burge, An Act of God
    Liam Craig, The Book of Will
    Aubrey Deeker, The Glass Menagerie
    Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, Frankenstein
    Meridith C. Grundei, Frankenstein
    Steven Cole Hughes, An Act of God
    Sullivan Jones, Frankenstein
    Mark Junek, Frankenstein
    Dorien Makhloghi, Disgraced
    Charlie Korman, Frankenstein
    Jennifer Le Blanc, The Book of Will
    Cajardo Lindsey, The Christians
    Rodney Lizcano, The Book of Will
    Wesley Mann, The Book of Will
    Robert Montano, Two Degrees
    Amelia Pedlow, The Glass Menagerie
    Jessica Robblee, Frankenstein
    Erik Sandvold, An Act of God
    John Skelley, The Glass Menagerie
    Kim Staunton, Two Degrees

     

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'Disgraced' and The Denver Muslim Women's Art Collection

    by John Moore | Apr 12, 2017
    Photo gallery: The Denver Muslim Women's Art Collection:

    Muslim Women's Arts Collection

    To see more photos from the exhibit and learn more about the individual artists, click the forward arrow on the image above.


    The Denver Muslim Women's Art Collection is on display in the lobby of the Ricketson Theatre throughout the run of the DCPA Theatre Company's Disgraced, playing through May 7. Here is how the exhibit is described:

     

    American Muslims, with around 3.3 million citizens in the United States, have the most diverse community in the world in terms of ethnicity, sect and variations in practice. To reduce the breadth of their experiences, insight and expression to a single identity is impossible.

    The play Disgraced represents one voice and one perspective. Amir struggles to balance and understand the two worlds that shape the identity of all American Muslims. But his crisis should not stand for everyone.
     
    This exhibit is meant to provide a visual representation of actual American Muslims and to illustrate the fact that some individuals have found strength and beauty in the dichotomy of their backgrounds.
     
    March For Humanity is honored to present to you the Denver Muslim Women's Art Collection: To take you on an inside tour of the creative Muslim community, to provide education and to build understanding between people of all kinds.

    American Muslims, with around 3.3 million citizens in the United States, have the most diverse community in the world in terms of ethnicity, sect and variations in practice. To reduce the breadth of their experiences, insight and expression to a single identity is impossible. 

    The play Disgraced represents one voice and one perspective. Amir struggles to balance and understand the two worlds that shape the identity of all American Muslims. But his crisis should not stand for everyone.
     
    This exhibit is meant to provide a visual representation of actual American Muslims and to illustrate the fact that some individuals have found strength and beauty in the dichotomy of their backgrounds.
     
    March For Humanity is honored to present to you the Denver Muslim Women's Art Collection: To take you on an inside tour of the creative Muslim community, to provide education and to build understanding between people of all kinds.




    Disgraced
    : Ticket information
    DisgracedIn this raw new play, Amir has built the perfect life. But as a high-profile case and his wife’s art show reveal how little his culture is understood, their misconceptions become too much to bear.

    Through May 7
    Ricketson Theatre

    ASL and audio-described performance: 1:30 p.m. April 30

    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Disgraced:
    Photos: Opening night of Disgraced in Denver
    Perspectives: Disgraced is about starting, not finishing, conversations
    Video, photos: Your first look at Theatre Company's Disgraced
    Video: A talk with Disgraced Costume Designer Lex Liang
    Disgraced
    has been known to leave audiences gasping
    Disgraced Director promises to push your (empathy) button
    TED Talk: On the danger of a 'single story'
    Meet the cast: Dorien Makhloghi, who plays Amir

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Photos: Opening night of 'Disgraced' in Denver

    by John Moore | Apr 10, 2017
    'Disgraced' in Denver

    Photos from opening night of the DCPA Theatre's Company's production of Ayad Akhtar’s celebrated play Disgraced. To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. Scroll through and you will find pictures from throughout the creation of the play here in Denver, dating to the first rehearsal. All photos are directly downlodable from the Denver Center's Flickr account.

    Disgraced is the story of an American-born, Muslim-raised New York corporate attorney and his struggle with assimilation and his conflicted identity. Amir Kapoor has has turned his back on his faith, but is now thriving in post-9/11 Manhattan. The play bluntly asks whether Americans must renounce their “other” cultural identities to gain mainstream acceptance.

    Disgraced. John Moore photo. Our photos include activities before the performance, including a pre-show (non-alcoholic!) cider toast, as well as the post-show discussion from the stage of the Ricketson Theatre (pictured right) with members of the local Muslim community, and the cast celebration afterward in Club Denver.

    The director of Disgraced is Carl Cofield, and the cast includes Benjamin Pelteson, Olivia Gilliatt, Dorien Makhloghi, Christina Sajous and Vandit Bhatt.

    Cofield made an inspirational pre-show speech expressing his admiration for his actors' courage to act. He referenced results of scientific studies that showed the number of people who suffer from the fear of speaking in public is nearly twice as great as the number of people who number who fear death or serious illness.

    He quoted William Ball, from A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing:

    An actor is a hero. All acting is praiseworthy if for no other reason than that the actor has the courage to walk from the wings to the center of the stage. For his entrance alone, he should be praised. Speaking takes more courage; and speaking in the person of another individual, with a commitment to a belief in that individual's emotional life, is not only praiseworthy; it is awesome. Those of us who have the opportunity to assist the actor, by making his path more smooth, are honored to aid him; and we are grateful for the great gifts he bestows upon us - his creativity, his wit, his humanity, his suffering, his imagination, his energy, and his complete and perfect self."

    Disgraced plays through May 7.

    Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Disgraced. Olivia Gilliatt. Photo by John Moore

    Vandit Bhatt, left, and Olivia Gilliatt after the opening performance of 'Disgraced.' Photo by John Moore.

    Disgraced
    : Ticket information
    DisgracedIn this raw new play, Amir has built the perfect life. But as a high-profile case and his wife’s art show reveal how little his culture is understood, their misconceptions become too much to bear.

    Through May 7
    Ricketson Theatre
    ASL and audio-described performance: 1:30 p.m. April 30

    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Disgraced:
    Perspectives: Disgraced is about starting, not finishing, conversations
    Video, photos: Your first look at Theatre Company's Disgraced
    Video: A talk with Disgraced Costume Designer Lex Liang
    Disgraced
    has been known to leave audiences gasping
    Disgraced Director promises to push your (empathy) button
    TED Talk: On the danger of a 'single story'
    Meet the cast: Dorien Makhloghi, who plays Amir

    Disgraced. Christina Sajous. John Moore photo. Disgraced actor Christina Sajous was surrounded by loving family after the opening performance. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
  • Perspectives: 'Disgraced' is about starting, not finishing, conversations

    by John Moore | Apr 07, 2017
    Photo gallery: The making of Disgraced in Denver:

    'Disgraced' in Denver

    Perspectives is a series of public panel discussions held just before the first public performance of each DCPA Theatre Company staging. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    Disgraced opens tonight, but
    the conversation is only just beginning.


    By John Moore

    Senior Arts Journalist

    Disgraced
    is the most-produced play in America right now for one very good reason, says actor Vandit Bhatt: “It's a really good play.” If it were not, he surmises, “the DCPA and all those other theatres around the country probably wouldn’t be doing it.”

    But playwright Ayad Akhtar’s provocative, Pulitzer Prize-winning story is one that ultimately - and perhaps intentionally - leaves audiences uncomfortable. And that’s OK, says DCPA Theatre Company Director Carl Cofield. Because he believes a fundamental responsibility of the theatre is to stage plays that sometimes upset us.

    A Disgraced Perspectives 800“Theatre is supposed to lay important questions on the table,” said Cofield, whose production of Disgraced opens tonight in the Ricketson Theatre and runs through May 7. “There is no better place to ask tough questions than in a theatre. “If we're not, then why even bother?”

    As long as the most compelling question audiences walk away asking is not something so banal as: “Do they validate parking?”

    "The Greeks asked big questions about how you deal with love, grief and treachery,” Cofield said at Perspectives, a series of public panel discussions held just before the first public performance of each Theatre Company offering. “Shakespeare asked big questions that we continue to grapple with to this day. So did August Wilson. Theatres are a safe space where we can all come together and devote our attention to one story for 90 minutes and hopefully leave asking questions about ourselves, and about what we just experienced together.”

    Disgraced is the story of an American-born, Muslim-raised New York corporate lawyer and his struggle with his conflicted identity. Amir has rejected Islam and wholly embraced capitalism while his white wife — an up-and-coming New York artist — sees the beauty and wisdom in the Islamic tradition. The play bluntly asks whether Americans must renounce their “other” cultural identities to gain mainstream acceptance.

    A Disgraced Perspectives QuoteBut Akhtar’s play comes along at a highly charged and polarizing time in America, especially given the President’s pledge to ban some foreign Muslims from entering the United States.

    “We are spending more and more time on our telephones and devices these days,” Cofield said. “We get into our vehicles and we drive to our subdivisions where everybody looks just like us and talks just like us. We don't have conversations with people who think differently from us. We just yell and scream over one another.”

    Most important, said Dramaturg Heidi Schmidt: “This play is about starting a conversation. It's not about finishing one.”

    Toward that end, and for the first time in the nearly 40-year history of the Theatre Company, there will be moderated talkbacks following every performance of Disgraced led by rotating members of the local academic community.

    “Some of these conversations might be uncomfortable,” Cofield said. “But important conversations are sometimes uncomfortable. And when we get to the other side of them, we're better for having them than pretending the question does not exist.”

    For Cofield and Schmidt, the conversation began months before the play even began rehearsals. “When I signed on to do this piece, it was explicitly important to me that we actively seek out members of the local Muslim and Islamic faith and culture, invite them into our theatre and how we can start a dialogue,” Cofield said. “How can we talk about this play and this experience together?” 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Disgraced Lighting Designer Richard Devin, who was the longtime Artistic Director for the famed Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder, said he thinks it is important for the Denver Center to stick its neck out and offer audiences stories that will challenge them. “This is a play audiences want to stick around afterward and talk about,” Devin said. “They want to work through some things.”

    Disgraced Perspectives Vandit BhattWhile the playwright wrote Disgraced through the veil of Islam, "he could have told it through many other veils," said Bhatt. "A lot of times it is looked at as a Muslim play, but the genius of it is that it's really about a fractured person, and that's what makes it universal and relatable."

    At the end of the very first talkback, following the first public preview performance of the play on March 30, a Muslim man made the point that the protagonist of the play was but one man and not a representative of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims. As this same man was exiting the theatre, another audience member stopped him and asked if he wished they Denver Center were not presenting the play at all.

    "I am not at all against the play,” he responded, “because it will spark a conversation like the one we had it tonight after the play. And we need that."

    Actor Christina Sajous said the play is really much more than one man’s story. It addresses larger universal issues of humanity, violence and our common humanity – for starters.

    “One of the biggest diseases in our world is racism,” Sajous said, “and if we don't address it head-on, then we can never fix it. So why not address it through the story of Disgraced? We want things to be different but it has to start with us.”

    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.


    Disgraced
    : Ticket information
    DisgracedIn this raw new play, Amir has built the perfect life. But as a high-profile case and his wife’s art show reveal how little his culture is understood, their misconceptions become too much to bear.
    Through May 7
    Ricketson Theatre

    ASL and audio-described performance: 1:30 p.m. April 30

    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Disgraced:
    Perspectives: Disgraced is about starting, not finishing, conversations
    Video, photos: Your first look at Theatre Company's Disgraced
    Video: A talk with Disgraced Costume Designer Lex Liang
    Disgraced has been known to leave audiences gasping
    Disgraced Director promises to push your (empathy) button
    TED Talk: On the danger of a 'single story'
    Meet the cast: Dorien Makhloghi, who plays Amir

  • Video: A talk with 'Disgraced' Costume Designer Lex Liang

    by John Moore | Apr 06, 2017

    Video above by Video Producer David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter. Interview by Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.


    Ayad Akhtar’s celebrated play Disgraced is a controversial cultural study of an American, Muslim-raised corporate lawyer who has rejected Islam and embraced capitalism. What's not controversial is the work of Costume Designer Lex Liang, who helps bring out core character traits with clothing choices that reveal backgrounds, income and interests at a glance.

    "Amir is an individual who is desperately trying to fit into a world where society does not feel he belongs," says Liang, who works with LDC Design. You should be able to see that, he believes, just by looking at the suit worn by actor Dorien Makhloghi.

    The DCPA Theatre Company presents Disgraced through May 7 in the Ricketson Theatre. The Director is Carl Cofield, and the cast includes Benjamin Pelteson, Olivia Gilliatt, Dorien Makhloghi, Christina Sajous and Vandit Bhatt.

    Lex Liang
    'Disgraced' Costume Designer Lex Liang. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Disgraced
    : Ticket information
    DisgracedIn this raw new play, Amir has built the perfect life. But as a high-profile case and his wife’s art show reveal how little his culture is understood, their misconceptions become too much to bear.
    Through May 7
    Ricketson Theatre

    ASL and audio-described performance: 1:30 p.m. April 30

    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Disgraced:
    Perspectives: Disgraced is about starting, not finishing, conversations
    Video, photos: Your first look at Theatre Company's Disgraced
    Video: A talk with Disgraced Costume Designer Lex Liang
    Disgraced has been known to leave audiences gasping
    Disgraced Director promises to push your (empathy) button
    TED Talk: On the danger of a 'single story'
    Meet the cast: Dorien Makhloghi, who plays Amir

  • Video, photos: Your first look at DCPA's 'Disgraced'

    by John Moore | Apr 05, 2017

    Video above by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Ayad Akhtar’s celebrated play Disgraced is a controversial look at assimilation in contemporary America.

    Disgraced. Olivia Gilliatt, Dorien Makhloghi. By Adams ViscomThe story follows an American, Muslim-raised corporate lawyer who has rejected Islam and embraced capitalism while his white wife — an up-and-coming New York painter — sees the beauty and wisdom in the Islamic tradition.

    The play asks: Must Americans renounce their “other” cultural identities to gain mainstream acceptance in the U.S.?

    The Director is Carl Cofield, and the cast includes Benjamin Pelteson, Olivia Gilliatt, Dorien Makhloghi, Christina Sajous and Vandit Bhatt.

    (Pictured at right: Olivia Gilliatt and Dorien Makhloghi by Adams VisCom.)

    Photo gallery: DCPA Theatre Company's Disgraced

    Disgraced- 2016-17 Theatre Company Season
    To see more, click the arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams VisCom for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Disgraced
    : Ticket information
    DisgracedIn this raw new play, Amir has built the perfect life. But as a high-profile case and his wife’s art show reveal how little his culture is understood, their misconceptions become too much to bear.

    Through May 7
    Ricketson Theatre

    ASL and audio-described performance: 1:30 p.m. April 30
    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Disgraced:
    Perspectives: Disgraced is about starting, not finishing, conversations
    Video, photos: Your first look at Theatre Company's Disgraced
    Video: A talk with Disgraced Costume Designer Lex Liang
    Disgraced has been known to leave audiences gasping
    Disgraced Director promises to push your (empathy) button
    TED Talk: On the danger of a 'single story'
    Meet the cast: Dorien Makhloghi, who plays Amir

  • 'The Book of Will': Five things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Dec 31, 2016
    'The Book of Will' in Denver
    Photos from the first rehearsal for Lauren Gunderson's world-premiere play 'The Book of Will' by the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Click again to download. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    Rehearsals are underway for the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere play The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson. The play tells how two obscure members of William Shakespeare’s acting company took it upon themselves to publish the “First Folio” - the first complete published collection of Shakespeare's plays. Had they not taken on this Herculean task, we would have lost half of Shakespeare’s plays forever, including Romeo and Juliet. Here are five things we learned at first rehearsal, along with photos (above) and a cast list (below):

    NUMBER 1The Book of Will Davis McCallumThe Book of Will is a new play, so people naturally want to know what it's about. Director Davis McCallum is tempted to say, yes, it is about the publication of the First Folio in 1623. “But I don’t think that's what the play is actually about,” he said. “That is the occasion of the play. I think the play is about a theatre company, and the people who make up that company. It's about the relationships that animate that theatre company. And at the center of that is this relationship between these two guys, John Heminges and Henry Condell. They weren't the greatest actors in Shakespeare's company. They were more like the middle of the batting order, in baseball terms.” Playwright Lauren Gunderson agrees that at heart, her play is about many sets of friendships. One of her favorites is one she couldn’t have made up. “Shakespeare's friends could not physically find a publisher in England to put all of these plays together in one document," she said. "Nobody was able to do it - except for the one guy Shakespeare hated most. Now that’s great drama, and that's real." Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson calls The Book of Will "a love letter to Shakespeare, to actors and to the theatre." 

    NUMBER 2Nance Williamson and Kurt Rhoads. Photo by John Moore. Kurt Rhoads, who plays Henry Condell, and wife Nance Williamson, who plays Rebecca Heminges and Anne Hathaway, are DCPA Theatre Company veterans. Rhoads most recently played Clarence in Richard III in 2009. Williamson first worked at the DCPA in 1999 (A Hotel on Marvin Gardens) and most recently played schoolteacher Alene Johnson in 2015's Benediction. The couple have appeared in 62 plays together – but this is their first time appearing in the same play at the Denver Center. The cast also includes two graduates from the DCPA’s former National Theatre Conservatory: Jennifer Le Blanc and Rodney Lizcano.

    Video bonus: Our profile of Nance Williamson from 2015:


    NUMBER 3Nationally acclaimed Scenic Designer Sandra Goldmark is personally committed in using as much recycled and reclaimed material as possible in all of her work. So many of the materials that make up the scenery for the Book of Will are being repurposed from recent productions of Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie. “Our task was to pull as much stuff as we could from (our storage), or find things that people were throwing away that we could somehow repurpose,” said DCPA Director of Design Lisa Orzolek. The planks that will make up Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, for example, were old gymnasium bleacher boards she found on craigslist. “The paint department spent a good deal of time scraping off the nastiness that you often find under old bleachers,” she said to laughs. They are being stained and treated to look as though they are the boards of a theatre stage that have been walked upon for many years. Posts and beams and railings come from raw timber found at a mill just outside of Boulder. The trees had been cut down to make room for the expansion of a local ski resort.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    NUMBER 4McCallum, also the Artistic Director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, is an admitted Shakespeare romantic, but he says no one should be intimidated by the language of the period. “Do you know how Juliet says, 'A faint cold fear thrills through my veins?' " he said. "Some people just see the word 'Shakespeare' and they feel that faint, cold fear. They have this sense they might not understand the language. But Shakespeare’s plays have a very open, warm and human center. They are about people's hopes and dreams and fears. I see a lot of my own life in these 37 plays. I see my family, my relationships and my experience of what it fully means to be alive in these plays. And that will be our guiding principle as we work on this play.”

    NUMBER 5OK, so maybe you remember that the DCPA Theatre Company commissioned the world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale back in 2012. The play, about a 500-pound home-bound gay man who wants to reconnect with his daughter before his dies, was directed here by Hal Brooks. But when the hot property was picked up for a run in New York by Playwrights Horizons, it was none other than McCallum who directed it there. "Cleanly," wrote the New York Times.

    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.

    A The Book of Will. Davis McCallum. Photo by John Moore.
    Director Davis McCallum addresses those gathered for the first rehearsal of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Book of Will.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    The Book of Will: Cast list
    Written by Lauren Gunderson
    Directed by Davis McCallum

    • Liam Craig (DCPA Debut) as John Heminges
    • Thaddeus Fitzpatrick (Frankenstein) as Marcus/Boy Hamlet/Bernardo/Crier
    • Miriam A. Laube (DCPA Debut) as Elizabeth Condell/Emilia Bassano Lanier
    • Jennifer Le Blanc (Pride and Prejudice) as Alice Heminges/Susannah Shakespeare
    • Rodney Lizcano (Frankenstein) as Ralph Crane/Barman/Compositor/Francisco
    • Wesley Mann (DCPA Debut) as William Jaggard/Barman 2/Sir Edward Dering
    • Andy Nagraj (Colorado New Play Summit) as Ed Knight/Isaac Jaggard
    • Kurt Rhoads (Richard III) as Henry Condell
    • Triney Sandoval (DCPA Debut) as Richard Burbage/Ben Jonson/Horatio
    • Nance Williamson (Benediction) as Rebecca Heminges/Anne Hathaway

    The Book of Will: Ticket information
    The Book of WillWithout William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet. But without two of his friends, we would have lost Shakespeare’s plays forever. A comic and heartfelt story of the characters behind the stories we know so well.

    Jan. 13-Feb. 26
    Ricketson Theatre
    ASL and Audio-Described Matinee 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4
    303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Book of Will:
    'The Year of Gunderson' has begun in Colorado
    Shakespeare in a season with no Shakespeare
    First Folio: The world's second-most important book heads to Boulder
    2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics
    Video: Our look back at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
    Summit Spotlight: Playwright Lauren Gunderson
    Lauren Gunderson wins Lanford Wilson Award from Dramatists Guild of America
    Just who were all the king's men, anyway?

  • The Book of Will: Just who were all the King's Men?

    by John Moore | Dec 15, 2016

    By Douglas Langworthy
    DCPA Literary Director and Director of New Play Development

    The Book of Will Richard Burbage In 1613, William Shakespeare retired his pen and moved back to Stratford, where his wife and daughter had carried on for years without him while he devoted himself to his London “family” — the theatre. When he died three years later, he left in his will a telling bequest: 26 shillings and eightpence each to Richard Burbage, John Heminges and Henry Condell to buy mourning rings in his memory.

    But who were these three men and why did Shakespeare care that they remember him?

    The Book of Will has always been about the power of friendship, and those rings are the perfect symbol of it," said playwright Lauren Gunderson. "We don’t have many details about who Shakespeare was, but this fact is one of them: that he bequeathed mourning rings to his core group of friends on his death. It was an unique tradition in Elizabethan times that let me imagine the kind of love, respect and cherished intimacy of this special group of men.”

    (The illustration above and right shows Costume Designer Camille Assaf's sketch for Richard Burbage.)

    William Shakespeare was the house playwright for The King’s Men (formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men), an acting company that included legendary actor Burbage, as well as Heminges and Condell, actors who are best known as the masterminds behind the First Folio, the book that immortalized Shakespeare’s plays.

    Burbage, Heminges and Condell figure prominently in The Book of Will, a DCPA Theatre Company world premiere opening Jan. 13 in the Ricketson Theatre. Several years after Shakespeare’s death, and immediately following the death of Burbage, Heminges and Condell realized that if they didn’t act soon, many if not all of Shakespeare’s plays could be lost in the wake of history. Both men dropped everything to devote themselves exclusively to locate and edit the scripts, and then have them printed in a single, majestic volume. Their instincts were correct: if not for their tireless devotion to the plays and their love for their friend Will, we would have lost half of the plays that today make up his canon.

    So why were these men so dedicated to each other? Why were Heminges and Condell willing to give up two years of their lives to make sure their friend’s words lived on? First of all, by the time Gunderson’s play starts, the four men had been working together in the same acting company for more than 20 years. In that time, Shakespeare had written 38 plays for The King’s Men, affording Burbage the chance to create the roles of Hamlet, Othello, Richard III and King Lear for the first time. And conversely, Shakespeare got to create those monumental characters with Burbage’s prodigious talents in mind.

    Gunderson imagines this group of theatre artists as visionaries: “They invented theatre as we know it today — not just the plays but the experience of seeing a play. When my play introduces them, they are seasoned experts with great acclaim, but at their hearts I see them as the same scrappy, creative, rebellious band of ‘upstart crows’ they must have been when they were young.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    All four men were shareholders in The King’s Men, which meant they were financially invested in the company’s operations and able to cash in on the theatre’s profits. Yes, Shakespeare’s theatre was a for-profit enterprise run chiefly by its actors. Given that Shakespeare was the most popular playwright in London at the time, business for The King’s Men was brisk. This meant that instead of being starving artists, these shareholder-actors became modestly wealthy. In fact, when The Globe burned down in 1613, the company was able to afford an expensive rebuild, even replacing the thatched roof with tile. Conveniently, the actors wouldn’t have had to go far to grab a drink after a show, as Heminges, who was a grocer by trade, also ran the ale house just outside the entrance to the theatre.

    A The Book of Will QuoteThe King’s Men were a well-knit community with many of them marrying each other’s family members and, in some cases, widows of other company members. In fact, John Heminges married Rebecca Knell (also a character in the play), the widow of the actor William Knell, who was killed by another actor while on tour near Oxford. Some speculate that this job opening gave Shakespeare his first acting job. Heminges and Condell lived very close to each other in the London parish of St. Mary of Aldermanbury, their children grew up together, and the two men were married and buried at the same church. Shakespeare lived just around the corner. They all lived a short walk from their two performance venues: the open-air Globe Theatre or the indoor Blackfriars Theatre.

    Video: Our interview with Lauren Gunderson:


    Our video interview with DCPA commissioned playwright  Lauren Gunderson, author of 'The Book of Will.'


    A sign of his generosity, when Richard Burbage inherited The Blackfriars Theatre, he allocated equal shares of it to all of the existing shareholders of The Globe with no fee. With the addition of the much smaller, indoor Blackfriars, the King’s Men became the first company to operate two theatres under a seasonal model — Globe in the summer and Blackfriars in winter. The audiences of the Blackfriars were vastly different from that of the Globe, which attracted a wide spectrum of social classes. Audiences at the smaller and pricier Blackfriars were more affluent and women attended in greater numbers, which could have been why Shakespeare wrote some of his strongest female characters at this time.

    “It is quite clear,” Gunderson points out, “from Shakespeare’s own portrayal of women in his plays that he must have known some incredible ladies in his time. The women are complex and thoughtful and layered and emotional and human. I wanted to believe that he was inspired by the women around him and his comrades, so I wrote the coolest, wisest and strongest women I could imagine to pair with the heroes in The Book of Will.”

    If not for the love these men felt for each other and their work, Condell and Heminges might have given up somewhere along the way before reaching the finish line. But the love expressed in those mourning rings got doubled down by the two friends with the publication of the First Folio. 

    And the rest, as they say, is history.

    The Book of Will: Ticket information
    The Book of WillWithout William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet. But without two of his friends, we would have lost Shakespeare’s plays forever. A comic and heartfelt story of the characters behind the stories we know so well.

    Jan. 13-Feb. 26, 2017
    Ricketson Theatre
    Written by Lauren Gunderson
    Directed by Davis McCallum
    303-893-4100 or ONLINE TICKETING

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Book of Will:
    'The Year of Gunderson' has begun in Colorado
    Shakespeare in a season with no Shakespeare
    First Folio: The world's second-most important book heads to Boulder
    2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics
    Video: Our look back at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
    Summit Spotlight: Playwright Lauren Gunderson
    Lauren Gunderson wins Lanford Wilson Award from Dramatists Guild of America


  • 10 Ways 'Georgia McBride' is Going to Blow Your Theatregoing Mind

    by John Moore | Jan 09, 2014

    image

    Ten ways attending the Denver Center Theatre Company's new world-premiere comedy "The Legend of Georgia McBride" is going to change the way you think about going to the theater: 

    1. Margarita Machine!

    1a. Drink specials!

    2. Picture-taking with Elvis!

    3. For the first time ever at the Ricketson Theatre -- you can take your drink with you to your seat.

    4. Goodbye, staid old usher bow ties. Hello ... Panama City, Jimmy Buffet dress attire.

    5. Permission to try something new, leave your old self at the door, and hoot and holler as you please.

    6. Come prepared. What's your drag name? Run your name through RuPaul's Drag Name Generator here.

    7. Forget what you think you know about drag. In Matthew Lopez's heartwarming comedy, the lead drag queen is a straight man who is trying to make ends meet for his growing family.

    8. Jamie Ann Romero in a mustache.

    9. A fully curated patron lobby experience from the imaginations of Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin of Off-Center @ The Jones. Take a mental picture of what the lobby looks like when you walk into the theater. (That's all we're saying for now).

    10. Continuing post-show entertainment in the Club Denver lounge.

    "Go on now, go walk out the door ..." And come come see "The Legend of Georgia McBride." It opens Jan. 10 and runs through Feb. 23. Tickets: Call 303-893-4100 or go to our web site here.

    Oh, I almost forgot ... Look out for the four Magic Seats!

     

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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.

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.