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Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Issue

I hope that last week's Democratic National Convention here in our Mile High City has inspired you to take an active part in the coming election -- whether Democrat, Republican, or other.
I am narrowing in on my candidate choices both nationally and locally, but what is really important to me are the issues and where the candidates stand on them.
The issue of greatest importance to me right now is the support of the arts.
Now, in a perfect world, the arts would not require external support and would largely be able to support themselves. However, we know that things don't always work out quite that way.
Over the next couple of months, I will endeavour to raise awareness about support for arts programs and shine light on those candidates whose platforms recognize the importance of arts to communities and schools. (If any of you out there happen to be working for or supporting such a candidate, please drop me a line here, and we'll see if we can't find a little bandwidth here to hear them out.)
Today, I will start with a personal anecdote that I call upon whenever anyone asks me why I think the arts are important for kids.
A few years back, when I was the Artistic Director of the Ascot Theatre, I was directing a summer kids' musical. About midway into the first day, a woman walked into the rehearsal room and said, "Is it too late for my daughter to join you?"
I looked around puzzled, because, as far as I could tell, she was by herself. At that point a small blue eye emerged from behind her back, looked at me, then immediately disappeared again.
"She's a little shy. We're just in Denver for the summer visiting my mother. We don't really know anyone, and Jenny (we will call her) hasn't really made any friends yet. My mom is really sick, and I have to help her, so we aren't able to get out much. I thought that a theatre day camp might be fun for her, but she doesn't really have any experience. Is that okay?"
I smiled. "This is the experience."
Jenny and her mother negotiated for a few moments about whether Jenny would stay with us or leave with her mom, and came to the compromise that both would stay for an hour "just to see."
Now, the thing about theatre kids is that, once the performance bug has bit, there is a quality that overtakes them that can only be described as "magical," and, in this group of about a dozen pre-teen girls, I had a couple of downright "veterans." I waved one of them over, introduced Jenny and asked if they'd like to partner up for the morning. Of course, my veteran enthusiastically grabbed Jenny's hand, welcomed her, and together they re-joined the rest of the group.
Jenny was so mesmerized by the group's enthusiasm in greeting her that she barely threw a glance in her mother's direction for the rest of the hour as we all played theatre games and learned a song. In fact, Mom had to flag Jenny down like a passing airplane in order to ask her if she wanted to stay for the rest of the day. Jenny paused for a second, looked over her shoulder, and nodded an emphatic "Yes!"
Mom looked at me, smiled, a little baffled, and said, "I guess I'll go then."
I smiled back and said, "See you at four."
Over the course of the next two weeks, Jenny gradually came out of her shell. She sang, she danced, she squealed with all of the other girls, and I discovered that Jenny also had a gift for comic timing. By the end of day four, when Jenny's mom came to pick her up in the afternoon, she asked me, "Are you sure this is the kid that I dropped off?"
After the musical showcase at the end of camp, all of the parents gathered around me to talk about their little thespians, but Jenny's mom hung back a bit. After the crowd had cleared, she approached me and I could see that she had been crying.
I asked her if she was okay, and she took a deep breath.
"Jenny . . . talks. All the time. She sings, too. Ever since she was little, she's always been very quiet. We even thought for a while that there might be something wrong with her." She pointed across the room at Jenny, who was bounding across the lobby hand-in-hand with another girl, both of them singing and laughing. "Now I have a daughter who skips through the house and laughs. She laughs. I love her laugh! You gave my daughter a voice!"
I laughed. "No. She always had it. We just helped her find it is all."
Now, Jenny and her mom went home at the end of the summer, and I hope that they found more theatre for Jenny where they live, because she really seemed to have a knack for it.
However, even if Jenny never steps on the stage again, Jenny picked up some skills that will help her throughout her school years and even into her adult life.
Theatre teaches us how to use our voices, how to stand up tall, how to tell a story through our body language, or how to read someone else's. In theatre we learn to listen actively. We learn to work as part of an ensemble. Theatre teaches how and when to take center stage, and how and when to give the spotlight to someone else. In the more academic sense, theatre stimulates critical thinking, hones comprehensive reading skills, inspires historical research, and, in the case of musical theatre, can even liven up arithmetic.
I have seen Jenny's experience repeated time and time again in the smiles and twinkling eyes of kids and adults of all ages.
Every school should have programs in visual art, theatre, and music.
Every kid should have the opportunity to find a voice.

Americans for the Arts

Monday, August 25, 2008

Star-Spangled Denver

Here are four of PHAMALy's stars (left to right: Amber Marsh, Regan Linton, Linda Wirth, and Don Mauck) performing the National Anthem at Elitch's for the opening of the DNC here in Denver. The arrangement is by the amazingly talented Donna Debrecini.

Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shown Up

Amid the sea of George Bush spoofs and electoral burlesque acts that are cropping up in Denver hoping to gain an audience from the DNC, there is at least one new work that hopes to uplift and enlighten even the most disenchanted of eligible voters.
Show Up for Democracy doesn't sugar-coat the current state of American affairs, but it also doesn't sound the death knell either. It is intelligent and hopeful at the same time, and, oh, by the way: it is the latest theatrical endeavour from one of the Big Bad Wolf's favorite theatre companies, PHAMALy.
The original one-act musical with book by Mimi Stokes Katzenbach, music and lyrics by Ben Greenwill, and directed by Charlie I. Miller, is a clever allegory of the political and historical landscape of America presented as a cabaret act trying to reach a wider audience. Sound a little hokey to you? It did to me, too, but let me tell you, this show packs a wallop. It certainly did for me. It also did for the crowd at yesterday's preview of the show presented at the Mizel Center. My good friend and regular PHAMALy volunteer, Kendall Rohach, was one of many who were visibly moved by the play's message -- a message reinforced by the moment in the show where each of the characters shares the personal story of the actor who portrays him or her. Powerful stuff.
Not to be missed: Leonard Barrett's rendition of the haunting "Wave" -- a song about, well, you'll just have to see (and hear) it for yourself. Let me just say it would still be a very moving song, even if performed without Leonard's stunning vocals -- which, to paraphrase Kendall Rohach, could bring us all to tears just singing the phone book.
Show Up for Democracy will be showing a few times during the Democratic National Convention, and there are two performances that are free and open to the public.
The first is today, August 24th at 1pm in Civic Center Park as part of the Denver 2008 Marketplace. (Yes, it's short notice. You'll deal.)
The second is Wednesday, August 27th at 7pm in the Air Forest in City Park just west of the Museum of Nature & Science as part of Dialog: City.
If you get out to see any theatre during this week -- and you really should, there's a lot to see -- make sure you seek out PHAMALy's Show Up For Democracy.
Incidentally, John Moore's column in the Denver Post today has a lot of coverage of PHAMALy-related news, so be sure to check that out as well.
And, because it's my blog and I can do pretty much whatever I want, here's a link to Kendall Rohach's website,, where he markets his services as a magician-for-hire.
Check it out. He's pretty freakin' good. I have interesting friends, let me tell you . . .

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Some of you may have read about Buntport's generosity in donating the proceeds of one of their performances of The Musketeer to benefit fellow Denver theatre company Paragon. That performance will be tonight at 8:00 pm. This is an opportunity to support two local theatre companies in one night.
On a related subject, The Crossroads Theater -- where Paragon is currently hanging its proverbial hat -- has its own producing company and opens this weekend with Manhattan's Last Fight, an original play by promising local playwright Jonson Y. Kuhn and featuring the talents of Ariana Griffith, Rich Sater, and Dayna Smith, among others. Also, look for a brief return to the stage of a certain bad wolf blogger in the title role of Bobby Manhattan.
It's been about five years since I've been on stage -- preferring the comfort of the director's chair to the smell of the greasepaint, as it were. However, this is a very good script, and I just couldn't pass on the opportunity.
So check out The Musketeer tonight, then come see Manhattan's Last Fight on a Friday Saturday or Sunday through September 7th.
I might even sign a beer can for you. (That will make more sense when you see the show -- as will my pun about "brief return.")

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"There's Still Hope For Dreams" Preview Cancellation

Hey, quick update people: the August 13th preview for "There's Still Hope for Dreams" has been cancelled. It was a tough decision for director/producer Mark Dissette to have to make, but -- well, why don't I just let him to tell you himself:

Dear PHAMALY friends, crew, cast and volunteers. I am very sad to let you know that I have to cancel the showing of "There's Still hope for dreams...A PHAMALY Story" planned for Wednesday, August 13th. I did not do my homework on this showing and I have found out that if there is any public viewing the film will be taken out of contention for many festivals and awards that we are hoping for, including the Oscar. I have also been informed by my Executive Producer that several distribution possibilities will be eliminated as well. While the cancellation is embarrassing and disappointing to me, my crew and PHAMALY, I know that you want the best for the documentary and hope that you will understand. I desperately wish to show this film to all of you and let you see how wonderfully it has turned out, but that wish clouded my judgment and I now have to admit my mistake and ask for your understanding in cancelling the showing.

Again, my sincere and humble apologies,

Mark Dissette

I say, "No worries, Mark."

That makes perfect sense. By showing it early to all of us here who already know and admire PHAMALy, he'd be cutting out the rest of the world from learning about this amazing and unique company. The little bits I've seen and heard about this film hold the potential to educate, enlighten, and enliven the worlds of people around the globe who live with disabilities, or, for that matter, anyone with a dream that has been deferred for one reason or another.

Given that possibility, I think we can afford to wait and see this film with everyone else, don't you? Besides, PHAMALy is right here in our town, and they've got some great stuff coming up that we can all see live and in person.

Oh, and don't let's forget about Kathleen Traylor, for whom next Wednesday's preview would have been a fundraiser. PHAMALy Executive Director Melanie Mayner has come through with another solution for you to help Kathleen with some of her recent medical expenses:

If you still would like to make a donation to help out Kathleen Traylor, please make the check payable to her & send it care of PHAMALY P.O. Box 44216 Denver, CO 80201-4216. We’ll make sure she gets your donation.

Melanie Mayner

Okay, folks, that about covers it.

Good luck to Mark and his team in bringing the PHAMALy story to an international audience, and get well soon, Kathleen!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Suffer the Little Children (Non-Theatre- Related Rant)

I turned on the T.V. the other day at one of those times that most networks figure not enough people are watching to bother showing a rerun of "Reba," so they sell the time to some other organization. This is often when we find ourselves being offered some "fantastic" item at a "low, low, price" like a kitchen knife set that can cut through a can. (Have any of you ever needed to cut through a can? Just curious. I haven't.)
Well, on this particular day, the hour was devoted to fund-raising for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Those of you who have been reading this blog since the beginning know that the one and only real soft-spot in this old wolf's tough hide has to do with kids.
Needless to say, about ten minutes into the program I was a bit of a wreck. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. (The end of Con Air tears me up, too. Yeah, shut up.)
I watched a lot of stories of kids who were battling horrible, relentless diseases, but still managed to be all smiles. Some of the battles had happy endings. Some, not so much.
As the program went on, I found myself getting angrier and angrier.
How have we not beaten these cancers yet? Why are these kids still suffering?
We can make sure that 60-year-old man can get a four-hour erection! We can clear up Jessica Simpson's acne! We can increase breast size and penis size (potentially, in the same individual)! We can make a birth control pill that will give you softer skin! We can make a phone that you can talk on while driving, equipped with a camera so you can take pictures of the accident you caused while talking on the phone!
Congress enacted a law that requires all television stations to switch to a digital signal by 2009, because God forbid anyone should have to watch "Super Nanny" in anything other than HD!
And yet, there are still children dying from diseases that killed children fifty years ago!
What the hell are we doing?!! How are these things the priority, but children with cancer are not?
Now, there is some good news here. Cancer research, in which St. Jude's has been a leader, has increased cancer survival rates to as much as 95% in some cases.
But not in all cases, and the downside of even a 95% survival rate is a 5% non-survival rate. Non-survival. As in dead. Dead kids. Haven't thought about it like that before, have you?
Maybe you think I should sugarcoat that rather than being so blunt. Maybe you forgot whose blog you were reading.
The point is that more work needs to be done and more help is needed, and by help I mean money. There are a lot of ways to give money to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. You can just send money outright. You can become a Partner in Hope and give on a monthly basis. You can even go to the online catalog and buy clothes, toys, books, DVDs, stationery, and all sorts of things -- all of which go to supporting this hospital that provides hope, comfort, and often even cures for kids living with cancer.
You don't have to be independently wealthy to help in the fight against cancer. It's a numbers game. A few people can give a lot or a lot of people can give a little. It works out the same.
Rather than buying that seventeenth purse to hang in your closet or throwing fifty bucks into that fantasy football pool at work, why don't you put the money instead where it can actually do some good?
Now, I don't speak on behalf of St. Jude Children's Hospital in any sort of officially capacity. I'm not sure that they would like my style. If I've said anything here that has irritated or offended you, then be irritated or offended at me. Not at St. Jude's.
Send the nasty e-mails to me. Send the money to St. Jude's.
Spend a little time perusing their website. See if you don't see an organization worthy of your support.

And for those of you who doubt me about Con Air:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Just shy of twenty years ago, a small group of artists banded together to fulfill a dream. This dream was to allow their passionate fire for performing musical theatre in spite of their disabilities burn and shine hotly for all to see.
This was the genesis of the most beloved and most original theatre company in all of Denver. This was the beginning of PHAMALy. Season after season, show after show, the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League won the hearts and turned the minds of audiences who had previously seen only limitations when they looked at a person with a disability. PHAMALy was and is about possibility.
PHAMALy has received a bit of press beyond the city of Denver, but soon the whole world will be enlightened to the wonder that is PHAMALy. For the last few years, PHAMALy company member and film auteur Mark Dissette has been lovingly crafting a documentary that is both a history and tribute to this amazing theatre company, and, on August 13th, you all can be among the first to see it.
Here is a portion of the recent announcement from PHAMALy Executive Director Melanie Mayner:
“There’s Still Hope for Dreams… a PHAMALY Story” is an engaging new documentary produced by Terry Austin and Dissette/Wyss Productions. I have seen rough cut versions of the film and feel it is a wonderful representation of our theatre company.
Please join me at the Lab at Belmar on August 13 for a sneak peek of the film before it goes public. The film screening is free but the producers are requesting a minimum $10 donation to support PHAMALY founder Kathleen Traylor as she struggles with health issues. All proceeds from the night will go to Kathleen to help with medical and living expenses.

I could go on and on about what a wonderful person and talented performer Kathleen Traylor, and I just might, but, before I do that let me just add a few words from Mark Dissette:

There’s Still Hope for Dreams…a PHAMALY Story” is a feature length documentary that follows PHAMALY from its creation through this June’s production of “Side Show.” It features interviews with many of the cast and crew, footage from past shows going back to the first production of “Guys and Dolls” – and many surprises. We have put two years of sweat and tears into this film to show the world what a wonderful company we have created here in Denver.

Kathleen has been having a rough time with her health, (as some of you know, she had to drop out of “Side Show” because of these issues), and this is also our chance to say “Thank You” for her love, support and hard work over the last twenty years of PHAMALY. Now it’s our turn. All of the donations from the event will go directly to Kathleen.
Please join us in celebrating PHAMALY and a woman who has given us so much. I am very proud of this film, but even more proud to call myself a member of PHAMALY.

Mark Dissette

I first met Kathleen Traylor (one of those original founders from 1989) backstage during PHAMALy's production of The Wiz.

I was shooting off my mouth probably trying to impress Regan Linton (at which I failed) by pointing out what I felt were flaws in the score of the original musical. I said that I felt that Aunt Em's song in the first act, while beautiful, was unnecessary and slowed the momentum of the story. Kathleen, who played Aunt Em, overheard me, sought me out, introduced herself, and then proceeded to let me know just exactly what she thought about my opinion of her song. (I'll leave her precise words to your imagination.)

Needless to say we have been friends ever since.

So, come out and preview the show and fill the coffers to help out my friend (and a lot of people's friend) Kathleen Traylor.

That's Wednesday, August 13th at the Lab at Belmar in Lakewood at 6:30 pm.

Oh, and that's not a request, piglets.

**Update: Never mind, folks, this event has been cancelled. See entry for August 9th.**