Even the nuisance ding-ding-ding of the piano tuner took on the comforting promise of theater’s return for Helen Murray, sitting in her office above the Aurora Fox, where she has been executive producer for two years.
“Omigosh, you know that sound that I used to be so annoyed by? Now it’s like, ‘The piano tuner’s back!’ ”
In two weeks, the Fox will become the largest of the metro area’s theaters to open its doors to patrons during what has become a heartbreaking season for the performing arts. Since mid-March, the coronavirus and its health demands have devastated live, in-person, indoor theater. And that makes the launch of the musical “Tomfoolery” on Sept. 18 at the city-supported theater on East Colfax Avenue auspicious.
“We’ve worked so hard,” Murray said during a video call. “We’ve really spent the entire closure trying to first understand exactly the nature of what we’d have to undertake in order to reopen, and then working with the city, through Tri-County Health and the governor’s health orders and getting a lot of feedback from physicians … . We’re back, but it’s a new back.”
There have been examples of put-on-a-show creativity, even glimmers of joy. Necessarily modest productions have hewed to the social-distance protocols, with temp checks, masks, sanitizer stands and no small amount of cleverness.
Some shows sold out in no time flat. Buntport’s second run of “The Grasshoppers” — in which audience members watch four bugs’ lives from the safety of their cars, drive-in style — sold out in 90 minutes. (The winking troupe hopes to take it to Colorado Springs in October.) The Catamounts sold out both runs of “The Rough,” in which the audience travels the front nine of a Westminster golf course in carts, listening to crickets and mythic tales of stick and balls narrated by a kilt-wearing Scotsman.” (There is a waitlist for this weekend’s final shows.)
In years past, there’d be a surfeit of plays and musicals to highlight come fall. Instead, most venues will remain shuttered into the new year. Even so, a number of companies have envisioned ways to serve their patrons and art: with virtual plays, live-streamed shows, even an interactive concoction. Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ out-of-the box arm, Off-Center, is set to return (but not exactly) to “Camp Christmas,” in November. Installation artist Lonnie Hanzon’s immersive holiday offering was a hit last winter. Here are some more local theater-makers doing their darndest to put on a show.
Black Actors Guild, “Hype Man”
In-person and streaming
Given the event that sends this play’s hip-hop trio on a collision course, one might imagine Idris Goodwin wrote “Hype Man” in response to George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests. That’s not the case. The show had a run off-Broadway in 2018 and a number of other productions — which doesn’t make it any less (painfully) timely. The Black Actors Guild has been presenting the show in-person (with precautions) and virtually. Either way you see it, there will be a talkback with Goodwin after. Virtual and at the People’s Building, 9995 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. Tickets and more info at blackactorsguild.org or 720-557-6127. Through Sept. 16.
Vintage Theatre, “I’m Here: A Bipoc Celebration”
Life has become a cabaret at the Aurora mainstay. This fall, it continues its Virtual Cabaret series. This Friday’s streamed gathering, “I’m Here: A Bipoc Celebration,” features performers Preston Adams, Isabella Duran and Brandon Metoyer. The month concludes with free live-streaming shows honoring musical theater titans: “An Evening with Lerner and Loewe” (Sept. 18) and “An Evening with Sondheim ” (Sept. 25). Shows stream at 7:30 p.m. vintagetheatre.org.
Holdtight, “What Distracts You?”
The New York-Denver dance/experimental theater company asks, “What Distracts You?” and then ponders the good and ill of that common state of mind. The two-person show — with Holdtight founder Gwendolyn Gussman and Black Actors Guild luminary Kevin Quinn Marchman — unfolds on the lawn of a Wash Park church. Grammy-winning saxophonist Johnny Butler wrote the music and created the sound design. Washington Park United Methodist Church, 1955 E. Arizona Ave. Tickets and info at holdtightcompany.com. Through Sept. 19.
In-person, Sept. 18
The theater kicks things off live with reduced seating, no concessions, contact-less tickets and other precautions. But for audiences that have been hungering for live theater, there’s music and performers — four of them — and even a musical director tickling the ivories. “Tomfoolery” is a revue-style show, featuring the cheeky tunes of Tom Lehrer. The Harvard grad and mathematician wrote satirical ditties calculated to tease pieties. Among them: “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” (“Every Sunday you’ll see my sweetheart and me as we’re …” — well, you get the picture.) It runs through Oct. 11. If all goes according to careful planning, November will bring Harlem Renaissance man Langston Hughes’ gospel take on the story of Jesus’ arrival, “Black Nativity.” (Nov. 27-Dec. 29) The Aurora Fox, 9900 E. Colfax, Aurora. AuroraFox.org, 303-739-1970.
Stories on Stage
Stories on Stage went all-in on virtual presentation for its 20th anniversary season. What that means is it’s taking seriously the production values of its show, which will have multi-camera setups and be streamed live from Boulder’s Nomad Theater. The new season begins with “Simple Pleasures” (Sept. 25). October brings “Don’t Look Away — Black Stories Matter.” November celebrates the program’s annual collaboration with the zany-gifted folk at Buntport for “Morale Is at an All-Time High.” Information and tickets storiesonstage.org or call 303-494-0523.
Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
Streaming, starting Sept. 17
For its first-ever devised theater piece, “CO-2020,” BETC has been collecting stories from across the state about life in the midst of COVID-19 and the resurgent demands for racial justice. Artistic director Stephen Weitz trusts the collaborators he’s gathered — actor-director Jada Suzanne Dixon, actor Ilasiea Gray, dramaturg Lynde Rosario and former Denver Post critic John Moore — will have wrestled the bear of material in time for a virtual fall opening. Meanwhile, BETC invites audiences to Lit Club, a subscriber series in which playwright and play are paired. Lauren Yee and her heralded “Cambodian Rock Band” kick things off Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. October features Idris Goodwin discussing the five scripts that comprise “Free Play: Open Source Scripts Toward an Antiracist Tomorrow” (Oct. 22). Karen Zacarias takes over in November with her play about a mass kidnapping, “The Cooper Children” (Nov. 12). Each begins at 6 p.m. For more info, tickets and links, go to betc.org.
Local Theater Company
Streaming, starting Sept. 27
Known for shepherding new American plays, this Boulder theater company has pivoted to online for the rest of 2020. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be delving into art-making. Its Living Room Local series invites subscribers to enter the virtual abodes of some rather impressive creatives, starting with John Lithgow. The multi-hyphenate will share thoughts on “What’s the Role of Satire in Art and Politics?” His book of poems, “Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse,” earned a place on the New York Times bestseller list last fall. He’s sure to read from the follow-up, “Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown,” due out later this month. In October, Tony-nominated actor Forrest McClendon (“Scottsboro Boys”) dives into the process he’s created to build deeply rooted characters; he calls it “Choicework” (Oct. 25). Visual artist Alexandra Grant shares her take on text, image and storytelling, starting Nov. 15. localtheaterco.org, 720-600-7082.
Curious Theater Company
Streaming, starting Oct. 3
The ace theater outfit whose motto is “No Guts, No Story” took a coronavirus punch to the gut but should regain a bit of its fancy footwork with the virtual performance of Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton” — just in time to rile pretty much everyone in one way or another. “One of the most fascinating things about this play is all of the ‘what ifs?’ that it poses,” artistic director Chip Walton wrote in an email. “I think that it is crucial for us to be reminded of those ‘what ifs’ from past elections, in the run-up to the present election in November.” In spring 2019, the Broadway version featured Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow as Hill and Bill. At press time, Curious wasn’t ready to confirm the cast. Suffice it to say, some local talent will have the tasty pleasure of delivering a ballad of co-dependency, political ambition and marital give-and-take. Oct. 3-24 free to subscribers; single tickets on sale. Curioustheatre.org or 303-623-0524.
Denver Center Theatre Company
Streaming and then some, starting Nov. 12
Some 70,000 people visited CampChristmas — Off-Center’s collaboration with Lonnie Hanzon at the Stanley Marketplace — last year. Before the coronavirus hit, the art installation whiz had been trying to figure out how to welcome 100,000 folks to the hyper-baroque holiday installation. He was going full steam ahead, and then the shutdown came. “So I had to look at what was working,” Hanzon said during a phone call. “What I saw was that we were still getting food delivered, our liquor, everything was still coming to our door. That’s when a lightbulb went off.” Camp Christmas turns out to be an out-of-the-box idea, thanks to boxes. “Campers” can sign up to receive packages — up to five — that are part of an interactive experience supported online. Hanzon envisions a wonderland for the imagination, one with gifts, no less! Boxes go on sale Nov. 1. Campers can start their experiences Nov 12. Hanzon plans to do a daily broadcast come December. Sign up for alerts at camp-christmas.com. Packages on sale, Nov. 1; adventures begin Nov. 12. Through Dec. 25. Camp-christmas.com
This content was originally published here.