Aurora Fox Arts Center continues to stretch its artistic wings

Can a mid-western family-businessman expect success in the vast Chinese market? Daniel Cavanaugh is disillusioned when he quickly realizes the language barrier is perhaps the smallest of his hurdles. Business practices, culture, customs and government involvement all thwart Cavanaugh’s immense faith in himself.

The artists at The Fox didn’t know how hard it could be. Just as a businessman in China has difficulties learning the culture, so too does an American theater company producing a play with Chinese characters and themes. We chose Chinglish in part out of narcissistic self-confidence, but also because it is the right show to do at the right time. When we chose it over a year ago, we suspected that early 2017 might be a fine time to reflect on America’s place in the global economy and how to begin to find out what we don’t know.

We didn’t know how to speak Mandarin. We received early advice from our friends at Theatre Esprit Asia and now have six Mandarin speakers in the cast.

We didn’t know anything about the Chinese bureaucracy. Now we have an amazing dramaturg, Philip Beck, who was immersed in the architecture boom working for Chinese firms with foreign investors under the watch of party officials.

We didn’t know how to perfect the comic rhythms in two languages and subtitles. Now we have director, Steve Wilson, actors Mark Rubald and Ke Zang, and El Armstrong’s nimble projections. The result is a hilarious linguistic circus act.

We didn’t have guanxi. To poorly translate, guanxi means relationship. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guanxi . Through the careful and respectful cultivation of our new relationships, the Aurora Fox may just be starting to have guanxi with the Chinese.

We have had a long relationship with you; come to the theater and let us make introductions.

By Charles Packard

 

Don’t miss the regional premiere of “Chinglish” by David Henry Hwang. Opening March 24 on the Fox Main Stage. Tickets at www.aurorafox.org or call 303.739.1970.

Do You Believe in Bigfoot?

Have you heard Native American folklore referring to a large hairy primate? Those stories were handed down perhaps over thousands of years by oral tradition. Did the stories begin as fiction and morph in the retelling or is there truthful cultural memory of the creature? A person living today does not have to have first hand experience for something to be accepted as fact in their culture.

Is the Patterson-Gimlin film authentic? The one you have probably seen: 1967, large female biped striding along a river and turning to look back at the camera. That is the modern American myth. The evidence is sound to some, inconclusive to others and absolute proof of a hoax to many.

Do you have romantic hypotheses regarding the extinction of Gigantopithicus, a large ape, known in the fossil record but uncertain as to its size, locomotion and date of extinction perhaps within the last 100,000 years?

Every person has a unique gray area between fact and faith. How much proof is required to convince you one way or the other? Have we searched the great North American forests thoroughly enough to prove it does not exist? Does the lack of a corpse prove it does not exist? Are grainy photos, eyewitness accounts and old legends enough to prove it does? “Truth” and “fact” have become more elusive in recent months; is it enough to just believe?

Don’t miss the world premiere of “Myth” by Charles Wefso. Opening January 20 in the Studio Theatre, “Myth” explores the question of whether Bigfoot exists and the trustworthiness of storytelling. Tickets at www.aurorafox.org or call 303.739.1970.

by Charles Packard

Actor Jack Casperson: Jack of all Trades

Jack Casperson was born in Denver on the same day Orson Welles broadcast his classic radio program The War of the Worlds. He has lived in Aurora for the past 14 years. In addition to acting, playwrighting and directing for stage, screen and radio, Jack has repossessed cars, run an art gallery, framed pictures, hung art shows, published poetry, shoveled snow, taken the census, worked with at-risk children, volunteered for Aurora Public Schools, painted, produced and starred in a radio show and was a winning basketball, football, swimming, soccer, baseball and rugby coach. Also, in 1955, he did the first Elvis Presley imitation in Colorado.

An award-winning actor in the region since 1963 and now going into his 12th season at The Aurora Fox Arts Center, beginning January 20 Jack plays half of a two-man show in the world premiere of Myth, the third in The Fox’s Season 32. His award-winning roles at The Fox include Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Albert Soady in Escanaba in da Moonlight. Other favorite roles include the Herald in Marat/Sade, Sitting Bull in Two Men, Caliban in The Tempest, Marco the Magnificent in Carnival, Oscar in The Odd Couple, Weller in The Gin Game and Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Over the years Jack has had the privilege of working with great actors including Robert Preston, Will Geer, Annette Benning, Delta Burke, Robert Yurich and Rosemarry Harris. When not performing he paints and sells impressionistic Southwest landscapes.

A thriller, Myth explores the intense relationship between two characters, Jason and Cass, played by Jack. The two must quickly come to an understanding about whether to perpetuate or protect the Bigfoot myth. Theater goers will experience the intense conflict and emotion of an intimate relationship on stage, along with The Fox’s unique ability to tell a story that takes place in an exotic location – in this case, Yellowknife, Canada.

“Acting allows me to discover what life is and what my purpose in life is,” says Jack. “I know it’s selfish, but I honestly just enjoy it.”

Myth runs January 20-February 19 at The Aurora Fox. Tickets on sale at aurorafox.org or by calling the Box Office at 303.739.1970.

Meet Tracy Camp

It is rare that The Aurora Fox brings talent in from out of town, but it is also rare to take on a show as challenging as “Porgy and Bess.” Producer Charles Packard says that it is in fact extremely rare to see a fully staged version and Colorado audiences have never seen it in this latest version. “We knew it was a tough show and, at auditions, we knew we needed Tracy to play Bess,” Packard said.

Tracy Camp comes to the Fox for the first time from her home base in California. She works all around the country in musical theater and opera. Some of her favorite past projects include “Show Boat” at San Francisco Opera; “Big River,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “A Civil War Christmas,” and “Caroline, or Change” at TheatreWorks; “Jerry Springer the Opera” at Ray of Light Theatre; “The Amen Corner” at AlterTheater; “The Snow Queen” at San Jose Rep; and “Caroline, or Change” at Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. Camp is a recipient of the Theater Bay Area Titan Award and is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association and the American Guild of Musical Artists.

Welcome to Aurora, Tracy!

Porgy and Bess

Who Tells Whose Story?

I was in my office late one evening last week. The sounds of a Porgy and Bess rehearsal began. Stage door slamming, greetings, music, laughing, hubbub.

The stage manager barked something to bring attention to the piano; and the piano started playing.

Part-by-part, baritones, tenors, altos and sopranos repeated back the Gershwins’ melodies. I had to get close and see the people from whom these sounds were coming. Bouncing down the steps all I could think was, “This music is HARD! Do we have the people that can do this?” I went on stage and stood in back and part-by-part I thought, “YES, we do.” Baritones, tenors, altos and sopranos each proved their place at the piano.

I stood in back but as badly as wanted to jump in and join and offer advice and encouragement I stayed behind. I know I don’t really belong in this group. I worry that I won’t be respected or accepted. Who am I to tell them how to tell the story of Porgy and Bess?

People who know me well know I have long been self-conscious regarding my legitimacy as the teller of some stories.

Can a middle aged white guy properly tell the story of Porgy and Bess—if he is non-musical? Full confession: I am non-musical. I sang badly in choirs and was useless at the few instruments I tried, but I have had a wonderful career stage managing, producing and directing dozens and dozens of musicals. Legitimately. I study hard. I respect what I don’t know. And I surround myself with enormously talented people. I do not have to play violin to facilitate the violin part for it to have emotional impact on the audience. I need to appreciate the instrument and trust the expert playing it. The player trusts me to interpret what the audience will feel back to her.

Now the other part of legitimate: Middle-aged, middle class white guy. Can I tell the story of the impoverished black residents of Cat Fish Row? Can DuBose Heywood and Ira Gershwin be trusted with the story?

I believe the answer is yes. This is a complex question and answer of cultural appropriation, exploitation, style, class and motive, but the answer is yes. I enter the rehearsal hall with an open heart. I know what I don’t know. I trust and empower the experts. The Gershwin and Heywood estates knew to trust the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks to ring out of the script our last nagging doubts of stereotypical characters and derogatory language when the musical was revived on Broadway in 2012.

You won’t ever hear me sing along, but you will know I am in the wing, listing and rooting for every note from every throat.

by Charles Packard

For more information about The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess read this LA Times article and this NPR story.

Is it OK to talk about sex?

Dracula is sexy. Both as a character and as a show. It is also violent in the old school bloody stake-through-the-heart kind of way. I brought my eight-year-old daughter to rehearsal to help gauge what age the show is appropriate for. After looking at a few scenes she announced:

“Definitely no kid under twelve should see this and even a little older if they are a child that is prone to nightmares!”

My daughter Renia is articulate but also bit squeamish. The 12-year-old limit might be a little high. Then it crossed my mind that I had only been showing her the violent parts. I hadn’t shown her anything that was at all sexual. I don’t think I would like her to see that even in a rehearsal. I think many parents like me are more willing to let our kids be exposed to graphic violence than passionate sex. Why is that? Sex is normal and common, violence is not. As an adult, Renia will probably participate in sex but hopefully never be exposed to violence. So why is my instinct to hide the sex? Is it that violence is easier to dissociate with and be explained away as just a story? Is it that I just don’t want to have a “birds and bees” conversation with her yet? Is it good parenting or weird culture or my personal hang-up? Really, please answer because I need some help on this one.

It may be that I don’t want to have to explain to my daughter the adult emotions that excite me about this story. Dracula is very seductive. The female vampires are sensual. All are dangerous and we know not to touch them, not to kiss them, but they are too enticing to stop. The mortals can’t get their brains to override the lust. We all know what will happen if we invite a vampire into our home—and we all really want to do it.

Experiencing this show is dangerous. It will arouse feelings. You will have to confront them. You may have an awkward discussion with your mom, spouse or first date. I won’t be having those discussions with my kids. Not this time. Not yet.

By Charles Packard

beau

Production Ramping Back Up at The Fox

Production is finally ramping back up at The Fox. During the summer we’ve been working on lots of projects for long-term success. We are participating in programs and policies with Shelley McKittrick, the City of Aurora’s new Homelessness Program Director, and doing a major overhaul of business practices and policies. If you think business practices sound boring for an artist, well, they are, but I am excited about how these practices are allowing us to bravely make some really bold programming choices in the near future. We are well into season selection for the 2017-2018 season. If you want to make sure I’m not forgetting about your favorite title, now is the time to ring me or send an email.

Audiences will be here the next two weekends for Final Flight of the Freedom Fighter, a world premier play produced by Grand Design on the Fox mainstage. The play delves into the inner workings and motivations of today’s civil rights movements.

Dracula construction is well underway. Our Technical Director, Brandon Case, is back again for the full season and full of ideas about how to show you even more things you’ve never seen before on The Fox stage.

Our Board of Directors is gearing up for the Annual Gala which will be held October 8. If you’ve never been to this glittering event, this is the year. Enjoy the full performance of Dracula, share a great dinner and select wines with Aurora’s business, arts and civic leaders, and experience a special surprise at intermission. Our  board members will also be working the crowd to recruit new members. Have your resume ready!

It’s not too late to get your family or business name on our sponsor board and enjoy all of the benefits of Fox sponsorship.

This summer we said goodbye to Bobbie Rubin, our box office manager who retired after 27 years. You might have only known Bobbie’s first name or her voice on the phone but I promise she knew you well… the types of shows you like, friends who attend with you and of course which seats are always yours on opening night. We miss her very much.

But exits stage left are followed by entrances stage right. Beau Bisson, our new patron services manager, looks nothing like Bobbie but he already seems right at home in the Box Office. Please introduce yourself, if you phone in and say “Hi Beau, welcome to the Fox” and we’ll add $25 to your Rising Star account. Some donors are really moving up on the Rising Star wall.

We also welcome Brandi Patrick working both front-of-house and as our part-time administrative assistant. You might also know her as The Aurora Singers Board President. Gary Margolis joins us as the new Cultural Services Manager—my boss and Aurora’s #1 arts advocate. Gary moved to Aurora from San Diego to carry on the great work of Alice Lee Main who retired after 40 years of service.

Over the next few weeks when you notice a wind in the trees, or a nip in the overnight air, think “it is time for Dracula”. Don’t let opening night sneak up on you.

by Charles Packard

How Do You Quantify a Henry?

The 11th Annual Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award nominations were announced in June. Named for long-time Denver theater icon Henry Lowenstein, The Henry’s honor outstanding achievements in the Colorado theater community in the last season, and are known locally as the Tony Awards of Denver. A Henry is the highest honor in Colorado Theater today, and The Aurora Fox Arts Center received six nominations!

The Aurora Fox received the following nominations:

  • Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company
  • Outstanding Production of a Musical: El Armstrong, Director; Martha Yordy, Musical Direction for “Jekyll and Hyde”
  • Outstanding Choreography: Piper Lindsay Arpan, Choreographer for “Catch Me If You Can”
  • Outstanding Actress in a Musical: Lauren Shealy for “Jekyll and Hyde”
  • Outstanding Costume Design: Laura High for “Little Women”
  • Outstanding Costume Design: Nikki Harrison for “Catch Me If You Can”

“How do you quantify the art of theatre?” asks Charles Packard, executive producer at The Aurora Fox. “The Outstanding Season Award is the closest thing to measuring this across the Denver area’s theatre companies, so we are very pleased to receive this nomination.”

The Henry Awards are produced by the Colorado Theatre Guild, a statewide theatre advocacy group. The number of nominated theatre groups this year is 31, with honored companies ranging from Colorado Springs to Dillon to Aspen to Creede. Like all of the theatre groups across Colorado, audiences and applause feed continued artistic achievements, and the Henry Award nominations are an extra accolade for those in the theatre business.

The Henry Awards adjudicates shows throughout the year by through a team of about 45 statewide theatre reporters, educators and assigned judges who score each show in all categories using a 50-point scale. A show must have been seen by six judges in order to be eligible. The number of shows eligible for a 2016-17 Henry Award consideration totaled 196.

Finding a fair and objective method for scoring performing arts can be difficult. There are two basic challenges to fairness in judging a performing arts production: 1) who selects the winners, and 2) deciding whether or not the size of the production matters. Oscar and Tony award winners are selected by industry insiders—basically the honors societies of their disciplines. The Henry’s panel of critics and civilians do not see all eligible productions, but are given somewhat randomly their viewing assignments. Henry judges have a wide variety of education, experience and taste. But a judge with a doctorate degree in Italian Renaissance poetry may not care for a designer’s genius Bauhaus scenery, therefore who judges your show can be quite important to winning.

As for the question of size, is it fair to judge an entire cast of Broadway vets against a small company made up of passionate kids from the neighborhood? The Fox’s producer ran headfirst into that problem when, as the Colorado Theatre Guild President in 2007, he promoted an agenda of judging rules stating that Henry-nominated productions could only include qualified local artists. “The Denver Center was not fond of that idea,” reflected Packard. “I nearly caused the year without the Henrys.”

He is more circumspect these days. “Win or lose, fair or not, the awards are good advocacy—good marketing.”

One remaining item on Packard’s rules wish list involves the secrecy of the ballot. Judges are not permitted to discuss their opinions about shows they see. Period. If they do so, they run the risk of losing their status as a judge and $100’s worth of comp tickets that go with it. “These judges are local theatre super fans, so silencing them to promote fairness actually defeats our best advocacy and marketing tool: word of mouth coming from people that most appreciate the art form.” Packard suggests that the guild require judges to blog about every theatre experience they have rather than suppress their expert thoughts.

The Henry Awards will take place Monday, July 18 at the PACE Center in Parker.

The Aurora Fox Arts Center looks forward to another series of nominations for its upcoming 32nd season, running October 2016-May 2017 and featuring the spine-tingling “Dracula”, an operatic adaptation “Porgy and Bess”, the world premiere of “Myth”, the hilarious regional premiere of “Chinglish” and the regional premiere of the high-energy musical, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. Tickets are on sale at aurorafoxartscenter.org or by calling (303) 739-1970.

By Charles Packard, Executive Producer

There’s an Eerie Silence at The Fox

There is an eerie silence at The Fox today. It will extend out many weeks. Through a combination of fluke and design The Fox is dark. We have classes and some rentals and advance work in the scene shop and offices, but the stages are dark. They will stay dark for the summer. I wrote to you before about the melancholy that sinks in for a few hours between shows A show closes…then what? Now we are dealing with that emptiness on a whole different level. Theatre people measure their lives based on a never-ending parade of show memories. I was married during How to Succeed in Business, my daughter Zosia was born while we were working on Death of Salesman and my basset hound Newton died just before Red Ranger. Whatever milestones pass this summer will not have an accompanying work of art to attach to my memory. It is an eerie feeling.

Theatre people also live with extreme deadlines. Imagine that 500 people are coming to your house this weekend. These next few months have no such pressure for us. We do not feel the pressures of rushing paint to dry before rehearsal or memorizing lines or finishing light cues late the night before tech rehearsal. We will have to learn what weekends are. You see, theatre people work while you are at rest. You need us to work and we need you to rest at the same time. We are not accustomed to two consecutive sun-lit days of leisure in a row. We call that unemployment. You call it the weekend. I often have business at the City Hall on Friday afternoons when it seems that the elevators only go down and everyone passing wishes me a great weekend. I silently shoot back that they have no idea…

So how will we spend our time? We are fitfully resting but we are also using the time to study, plan and get ahead. We are studying the state-of-the-art. We are reading plays and searching out trends in other markets. We are studying so we will recognize the next trend before it happens.

We are planning by putting administrative procedures in place so that routine work stays routine. We tend to prioritize work based on deadlines, but this summer we are able to work based on what will help the company long term. And we are getting ahead. We are creating artificial deadlines to keep our skills sharp and production ahead of schedule. Things are getting finished well ahead of deadline because once the Aurora Fox staff gets a taste of weekends, they might want some in the future.

Charles Packard, Executive Producer

Life on the Margins of Polite Society

The “Wonderful Bag” contains many things.  In the past, it has held the world’s most dangerous mountain, a katana, the Soady Ridge buck, a can of Spam, and many, many other items. Its contents are the imaginations of all of the artists that are part of The Fox. On the Ides of March, 2016, we opened up our “Wonderful Bag” and found an interesting theme for our 32nd Season: “Life On The Margins of Polite Society.”

Nowhere else but in Aurora will you find a vampire, a disabled beggar with a goat cart, an obsessed explorer of an undiscovered species, a Midwesterner trying to build a business in China and three drag queens traveling across the Australian Outback–all under one roof!

Season 32 explores “Life on the Margins of Polite Society”-–how does mainstream society work consciously and unconsciously to exclude groups of people, and how do those excluded groups find the strength to survive and succeed? Be prepared to be amazed and entertained!

Season 32 begins on October 7, 2016. You won’t want to miss it!

Dracula
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Conceived by Don Black, Christopher Hampton and Frank Wildhorn
On the Aurora Fox Mainstage
October 7 – November 6, 2016

Dracula is a thrilling drama of suspense and a Gothic romance, set in Europe at the end of the Victorian Age. The story follows the famed vampire as he lusts for new blood. Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray fall victim to Dracula’s unnatural charm, and along with Doctor Van Helsing, must fight Dracula’s supernatural powers. Dracula will enthrall audiences with its powerful score and its potential for bringing the undead to life in this haunting musical of unrequited love.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
By George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin
Book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks
Musical Score Adapted by Dierdre L. Murray
On the Aurora Fox Mainstage
November 25 – January 1, 2017

This operatic adaptation of Heyward’s play, Porgy and Bess, follows the lives of the inhabitants of Catfish Row, an African-American section of Charleston, South Carolina. We follow the crippled Porgy and his beloved Bess, who is under the thrall of the dangerous Crown, and the sinewy drug dealer Sportin’ Life.

Myth (World Premiere)
By Charles Wefso
In the Aurora Fox Studio Theatre
January 20 – February 19, 2017

Jason’s small campfire and videocamera strain to penetrate the darkness of the remote woods outside of Yellow Knife, Canada. Jason is doggedly searching for the definitive proof of an undiscovered species he is certain exists, and must exist in this place.

Chinglish (Regional Premiere)
By David Henry Hwang
On the Aurora Fox Mainstage
March 24 – April 9, 2017

A hilarious comedy about the challenges of doing business in a country whose language and underlying cultural assumptions can be worlds apart from those of the West. The play tells the adventures of Daniel, an American businessman from the Midwest, who hopes to establish his family’s sign-making business in China. Through a comic exchange, he learns what is lost and found in translation.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
(Regional Premiere)
Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Arranged by Stephen “Spud” Murphy
On the Aurora Fox Mainstage
April 21 – May 28, 2017

Based on the popular 1994 film of the same name, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert follows two drag queens and a transsexual who buy a run-down old bus (they call it Priscilla) and set out on a road trip across the Australian Outback. During their journey, the trio encounters an array of Australian citizens, some of whom aren’t receptive to their lifestyle, but they persevere, while strengthening their own friendships.

Season tickets are available by calling the box office at 303-739-1970.

Renewals are available at last season’s price, new subscribers get all five shows for as low as $85 (opening nights) or $120 (pick your dates) for all five shows PLUS Phamaly’s production of Pygmalion.