Did you know that Denver Botanic Gardens is ranked one of The World’s Most Beautiful Botanic Gardens? I’ve walked there every month for a year, sometimes more. Comfortable with the sweetness of time passing, I walk with friends or I walk alone. I always have an extra ticket…
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
To say that life is sweet and we are lucky is a sentiment reserved for the days spent looking backward. Rare are the moments spent fully present, when the experience and appreciation collide. This summer, in a 16,000 square feet warehouse in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, a confluence of elements comes together to create a unique experience where life comes alive and the past is fully present. Presented by DCPA Off Center in collaboration with Third Rail Projects, Sweet & Lucky is a theatrical time ballet exploring the nature of love, memory and the objects that connect us to both. Lush, romantic, universal, metaphoric and delightful― there is magic happening here and you feel it.
Describing the event without giving too much away- not in plot spoilers, but careful not to interfere- is tricky for this is immersion theatre. Rather than the traditional sitting-in-the-dark-watching-actors-tell-the-story or the interactive style of Tony & Tina’s Wedding, Sweet & Lucky invites you into its world, takes your hand and guides you through it, while leaving space for the sound of your soul to fill the silence.
It is a story of love through decades and the moments that ultimately define us. My first venture into Sweet & Lucky took me on a deeply personal journey as touchstones of the central relationship reveal the heartaches, kisses, treasures and gratitude that make a life. Audience members are allowed to snoop around in the lovers’ psyches; reading letters, guessing outcomes, drinking in the ambiance a taste of the Sweet & Lucky cocktail created by Williams & Graham mixologist, Sean Kenyon.
Everyone starts together in the huge warehouse space, culled into smaller groups, and moved room-to-room as the twelve performer piece unfolds. Each room is its own environment, designed to evoke engagement through the senses with exquisite visuals, tasks, scents and “audio texture”, contributing to a deeply moving and dream-like evening, bearing witness to the core of the story and finding resonance in your own.
Given the opportunity to return, I took my son, August Witherspoon, curious to see how the evening would play in his open, twenty-two-year-old heart and compared notes over a cocktail in the post-show speakeasy. A few questions led us to the realization that we’d each tracked a different cast-
So we saw different actors playing the same story? I like that, and how you were left to fill in the blanks in what happened; we got different views of the same play. I love how as you’re taken from scene to scene, you start to notice trending objects; symbols and motifs become apparent the further along into the story you progress and wrap around again. Like how every sense is pleasantly utilized, from smelling the chamomile and lavender to the taste of the same herbs in the cocktail. I felt these things starting to have an effect on me― they were not only connecting the story together but they started connecting me to my own memories. You’re watching this story, putting together the pieces and becoming introspective into your own memories of loved ones. That’s never happened to me at the theatre. I realized how many memories I’ve made in my short time on this Earth, many of which I hadn’t thought of since the events themselves. It really makes you wonder what creates a memory, and how the more memories you make with someone, the closer you become with them. I guess that’s why they seem to never dissipate.
How true my son. We’re just spinning around on a rock amid the stars, without reason, making all the memories we can. Sweet.
SWEET & LUCKY is produced by DCPA’s Off Center, a commission of Brooklyn-based Third Rail Projects. Running through August 7 (at which time it must close) tickets are limited, non-transferable, and available at 303.893.4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org
Ever wonder what to do or what’s going on around town? Me too. That’s why I’ve created this easy cheat sheet for Denver Events running from July through October. You’ll find arts and culture, music and barbecues, pet-friendly gatherings and social soirees at your fingertips. Print it out, save it to your phone, grab your sunscreen, a blanket, a friend (furry or not), pack up the family or head out alone to any and all of these great events. They’ll remind you what makes living in Denver so spectacular!
Oh, and if you’d like to beat the heat looking at houses in Denver’s hot real estate market, we can do that too! I’m air-conditioned.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It was less than 24 hours after the shock of The Purple One’s untimely death that the Denver Film Society announced they would open the annual Film on the Rocks program two weeks early to honor Prince with a screening of “Purple Rain”.
“The film was the thing from the first moment of the sad news”, says Film Society’s Festival Director, Britta Erickson. “We’d just announced our 2016 line-up, but it didn’t take long to pull the trigger on making a decision to add the show.” The epic event, and it had to be epic, meant securing an open date at the Red Rocks venue, negotiating the film rights from Warner Brothers, and pulling together some of Denver’s most talented musicians for a local all-star tribute.” Kristin Nolan stepped it to round up more than 170 performers from a wide range of musical styles, they rehearsed, sound-checked and jammed. In a syncopated collab between Denver Arts & Venues, Denver Film Society and Ms. Nolan, all of this happened in three weeks.
And. It. Was. Epic.
The Red Rocks Amphitheater became a lavender sea as fans and their families filled the seats, squeezing close together to accommodate the record-breaking FOTR crowd; a sell-out at 9000 within 24 hours. The party started appropriately when Andy Rok and the Real Deal took stage to with The Artist Formerly Known’s party anthem, Let’s Go Crazy, as we waited for the dusk to descend. So much more than Prince cover bands, each of the thirteen groups offered an original rendition— Flobots, Shady Elders, Ian Cooke Band with Kevin Johnson of The Bright Silence, Elin Palmer and members of Chimney Choir, Bluebook and more. Wheelchair Sports Camp brought the funk, others were spot on in style, spirit and soul; and some brought a more personal tack with their arrangements that, if not the immediate pop-song ear-worm, revealed the strength of Prince’s music. The Heavy Heavies brought me to my feet, while jazz singer and KUVO hostess, Venus Cruz, brought me to my knees.
The evening turned toward the sacred when 115 members of the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus took center stage for the grand finale; a splendid rendition of Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever”. Hearts were shaken and stirred. This heavenly choir stepped back, allowing the other 60 artists onstage for the title track of the evening, Purple Rain. The stars were out, the house was standing, swaying, singing, and by the time we got to the ooo-ooo-ooo-oooo at the end of the song it was as if there was a great shaft of purple light and love beaming from Morrison, Colorado to the celestial sphere.
Moments later, the movie started to a roar from the sated crowd and just as I remembered— Morris Day was campy, Apollonia was stunning, and Prince… my god he was a star.
Film on the Rocks opens its regular season on May 23rd with Grease and continues with summer favorites, The Big Lebowski and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, cinema greats, Citizen Cane, standouts like Deadpool and closing in September with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. July 27th brings another tribute to another fallen star with the 1986 David Bowie film, Labyrinth. Summer nights just got epic.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
How do you mourn someone you’ve never known? How can loss be so palpable for one you’ve never laid a hand on? There’s been enough death and destruction in our lives lately for us to be not only too familiar, but inundated with it. We know the leaden days that follow endless succession after a personal loss, we are all too intimate with hollow nights where space expands to hold the echo. Paris, Belgium, parents, pets, and people who have touched our lives through bringing their talents so richly to theirs- now gone. How can the days feel empty with the loss of one who never filled them?
I’ve cried over a celebrity death twice before; when John Lennon was shot and the tragedy of Princess Diana. I lived around the corner from the Dakota on that cold December night and I joined the disbelieving vigil, passing candles and singing songs with strangers. With Princess Diana’s death I couldn’t take my puffy eyes off of the news coverage, watching over and over as if truth could be digested one soundbite at a time. That seems so long ago. It was all so unreal; one very macro, the other was a personal experience, and now these shocks and stunners have become so close together, they teeter on the mundane. Until Bowie.
“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” – Stella Adler
After a childhood trying to pass as normal, this freak of a teenager found out that there was an English glam rocker hanging out in a club on the Sunset Strip. A high school friend would pick me up, toss me a bag with my outfit for the outing; hot pants, halter and glitter platforms and I’d ch-ch-change from suburban cheerleader to glam-child on the I-5 as we sped toward the center of the Universe; the Sunset Strip. The Strip, post Jim Morrison jumping off the Whisky A-Go-Go, was resurgent with a glam and reckless 70s energy to counter the macramé of my suburban safety and Rodney Bingenhimer’s English Disco was where we’d encounter the Starman. Like Elvis, only better, he was an artist like the world has never seen: exciting and dangerous, a legendary chameleon who could embody the character and the story, our story. The Patron Saint of the Outlier, equal parts showman and shaman, David Bowie burst from my dreams in Technicolor, alien, human, godlike and humble. He gave me the vision of a world beyond my straight-A sister and the fear of spending my adulthood in a world that felt so alien. I wore the grooves off his records, slipping him into the Hi-fi stack among the Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond and CSNY of my elder sibs. I saw him live every chance I got, slithering my way to the front of the stage like the nubile blonde that I was.
During my New York years, he was HERO; LODGER & LOW wafting through the loft, or waiting by the stage door after seeing him in The Elephant Man. David Bowie was an artist I claimed as my own; interesting, relevant, fluid. Bowie’s impression upon my youth was seminal. He not only gave us permission to be our different selves, he demanded we celebrate it, challenged a generation to take creativity to the limit and begin there.
I got home late the night he died, went to bed with a broken heart, knowing the world would be different. I couldn’t bear to see the pain on social media the next morning- perhaps if I don’t don’t logon I can pretend it never happened. But it had. Like everything has. And though I knew I’d have to face the tributes, the Ziggy profile pics and the music- oh god, the music- flooding the airwaves. It was an unavoidable reminder of what we’d lost, and what we’d gained.
In the months that have passed since his death, I’ve wondered why this death was so different. Not only for me (whose Plan A was movie star, Plan B- bear Bowie’s babies), but for millions around the globe. This star extinguished reminds us of our youthful promise to be wholly ourselves. A sobering, somber moment as we check in with our velvet covered middle-aged selves to see how our quest for artistry may have morphed into the mundane, or disappeared in the pursuit of money. For me, this is the challenge, to return to the edge and begin there once again.
A gorgeous Saturday on Larimer Square, you’d almost think it was springtime and lucky girl that I am, I got to sit down with two of Buntport Theater Company’s smarty-pants collaborators, Erin Rollman and Brian Colonna. The subject of our conversation should be their new show 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products, but swiftly veers to mythological 80’s bands, creative cluster-f*cks and the beauty of Diana Dresser.
Joining in in this eggy-bagel-sandwich of a morning is musician/author/muse, Miriam Suzanne, whose book in a box, Riding SideSaddle, inspired this current offering. Suzanne moved to Denver, identified Buntport as kindred spirits and managed to squidge her way into working with the group soon after. Her dark, indie trio, Teacup Gorilla, provided theatrical soundscape for the ReTriplicate performances, inspired by the Clyfford Still Museum Repeat/Recreate exhibition and now she’s moved front and center. 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products is the opener, adapting, supplementing and riffing on themes introduced in Suzanne’s non-linear , “open source” Riding SideSaddle tale, written on 250 index cards to be read in no particular order.
Following a group of friends that resist order, category and completion, this play weaves myth and storytelling with every day rituals. It is about people deeply in love, suffering loss, celebrating strangeness, all while they pluck their eyebrows. It is about the Greek myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, who are merged into “one being of both sexes” and about what we see when we look in the mirror. Oh, and the whole thing is underscored by a three-piece band standing in the bathtub.
After a nine-month hiatus to focus on different kinds of creative endeavors- a book on collaborative writing, among them- Buntport Theatre Company returns for their fifteenth season and three back-to-back original shows…because apparently, they missed the joys of summer stock. As a writer, I’m insanely jealous of Buntport’s talents and asked them about their process in hopes I could channel my inner voices into a collaborative style of my own. “It’s always the same” says Rollman. “We get together for a pitch session to see who’s thought of something interesting-“, “And then we Google it”, bumps Collona. Once a topic is chosen, they go their separate ways to research and write singularly, sending their individual offerings to Erin who edits it into a kind of first draft cohesion. “That’s where we start the rehearsal where we rewrite, reshape and revise. A lot”, she continues. “When it comes to casting, we start with ‘anyone want to play something specific?’ and fill in around that. Usually it becomes clear who should take which role.” (I can’t imagine this happening in many other groups.) Which brings us back to Diana Dresser… “We started working on a different piece with Di, which kind of fell apart. It’s back to the morphing kind of thing our shows go through. We’ve always performed as ensemble so having Diana Dresser and Michael Morgan joining us in 10 Myths is a great and different kind of stretch for us. I’m sure our way of working’s been a bit different for them, too.”
10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products is the first full-length show of Buntport’s 15th Season, followed by a one-person-piece about a museum guard called The Rembrandt Room, where Erin Rollman goes solo. The ensemble comes together again for the third installment, Greetings from Camp Katabasis, an epic exploration of descent and ResussAnnie. Don’t ask, just get your tickets. Because when Buntport Googles, people listen.
10 MYTHS ON THE PROPER APPLICATION OF BEAUTY PRODUCTS runs March 4-26th. Tickets available at Buntport Theater Company
Join us at Buntport Theatre when The Card Table opens on March 19th from 3-5pm. We’ll gather, start the schmoozefest and then read from Miriam Suzanne’s book in a box. Because it’s written on INDEX CARDS! You don’t need to bring anything but your reading glasses and maybe a few bucks to toss into the hat for that ‘do-good’ feeling.
I spent the first ten days of November in the dark, enveloped in the swirl of the Denver Film Festival, embraced by the magic of movies. My head and heart were filled with the stories of the twenty or so films I’d seen: love stories, tales of triumph and redemption, documentaries and comedies to shine their light on our human foolishness. And there were lots of war stories: old wars, new wars and wars yet to come, each carrying the weight of “why” on their backs like a wounded soldier. By closing weekend the darkness had changed. Paris had been attacked and the world was in mourning once more. Grateful for the darkened theatre, the light as it hit the silver screen, and the gift of being swept from reality for a brief span of time.
Life has always been brutal; it’s that now we have Twitter. Throughout history when tragedy strikes, by the hands of man or the slap of Mother Nature, we have managed to plod on. We survive, sometimes little more. Healing is a matter of time and the feeling of putting the pieces back together. The leaden feeling lifts and we go on… but how do we make sense of the senseless? Our leaders offer condolences, pledges of support and election year rhetoric. Our pulpits offer duality and confusion as we struggle with loving our enemy. Where do we turn for guidance?
Look to your artists.
Mankind is complex, humanity, elusive; we search for certainty when “the center cannot hold”. We blame, strive to right the world, to get back to normal knowing nothing is certain and there is no normal. Art has no normal. It has no answers. You can rearrange the pieces as you put them back together, creating something new the world has never seen. Artists give us what the 24 hour news channels don’t even dream of; context. After the films were over I was left with nothing but an empty feeling, inundated with the 24 hour news I’d been watching for 48 hours. I switched the channel and there it was, a movie of war and triumph and the power each one of us has on the life of another. The film was Life is Beautiful, and it was.
“There’s a moment during every single festival that I love the most, it’s that moment after the speeches on opening night and the anticipation of that first flicker of the image, where it’s a frame no longer and the first story we’ve chosen finally begins.” Britta Erickson, Festival Director Denver Film Society
Wonderbound had scheduled the Rock Ballets into their 2016 season well before the world heard the news. In a perfect confluence of time and space, sound and vision, Artistic Director Garrett Ammon’s ballets, set to the music of David Bowie and Queen take flight a month after the legendary artist’s ascent. The popular program has been here before, but you haven’t seen it like this.
Not only will the Wonderbound supernova perform these stunning works, the music will be played live by a supergroup comprised of Denver’s Chimney Choir and the Ian Cooke Band.The music of Queen and David Bowie will be featured along with original tunes by both bands.
Can you imagine the kinetic imagination of Garrett Ammon set free to the lyrical strains of Queen’s “Love of My Life”? Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it so I’m sure that when the dancers take stage for “Bohemian Rhapsody” I’ll be in tears, and “We Are The Champions” should give me a chance to pick myself up off of the floor.Ammon’s star shines in “An Occasional Dream,” delving into one of the most famous tales of history and Bowie’s edgier songs, “Life On Mars,” “Time” and “Space Oddity” while Wonderbound Company Artist Sarah Tallman opens the night with her creation , “Unbroken Sky”. This world premiere will feature songs created by the supergroup septuplet of Chimney Choir and Ian Cooke Band and will evoke the explosion of the Beatnik generation.*snaps*
“We are very excited to be a part of Rock Ballets . It will be a lot of fun to team up with Ian Cooke Band and reinvent some of the classics.“ – Kevin Larkin, Chimney Choir
And if that’s not enough, Leon Gallery has curated Denver Artist Mario Zoots for an exclusive exhibition of new works exploring themes from old Rolling Stones issues from the Bowie and Queen eras. (Oh great, now I belong to an ‘era’).
Rock Ballets opens February 13 and will run for five (5) performances throughout Denver. More information on the production can be found at wonderbound.com .
If you can’t wait, stop by a limited seating Teaser at the Wonderbound Studio at Junction Box, for a taste of what the full-length performance will hold. Teaser #9 is on February 2, 2016 at 6:30 pm.
The Denver holiday season is upon us, a time when the darkest days lean toward the light, and heaven knows we need it. The past month tempts me to turn off the news, flop on the couch and Kurl up with the Kardashians but I’m craving a more fulfilling escape. Something sweet. Something magical. Something with the power to remind me of more innocent times and feel better about the state of mankind. I need a miracle.
I’ll start with a stroll through the lights, lots of ’em. Denver Zoo has doubled the size of the Zoo Lights and if the weather allows me to feel my fingers, perhaps my heart will melt a bit, warmed by the artistry and cocoa.
Charles Dickens favorite ghost story, A Christmas Carol, haunts the Denver Center once more. This year’s wassail will be just a bit sweeter as Philip Pleasants takes his bow as Ebenezer Scrooge. Delighting Denver audiences for the past eleven years, Pleasants feels it’s time to put the Ghost of Christmas Past behind him. Now, I’ve seen this show. I’ve read the book, I’ve seen the movies—from Albert Finney to Michael Cain—and I’ve never been more delighted than watching the talented Mr. Pleasants explore the complexities of the human soul. Truly despicable, authentically redeemed, I’m not sure there’s a more apt Christmas story for the 2015 holiday season.
One winter’s tale is sure to sweep me away as Garrett Ammon’s magpie lands on the windowsill once more. Wonderbound’s Winter is a stunning gothic fairytale of love’s loss, the fire of passion and the souls lonely search to find it once more. Performed in their home space, Junction Box, the experience becomes intimate, vibrational as the dancers engage and envelope the audience, just as the fairy cursed into the guise of the magpie wraps true love inside her wings. The original composition, written by Denver Singer/Songwriter Jesse Manley is elegant and haunting, winding you into this sensual allegory of the season. Ammon’s collaborative spirit brings Kristopher Collins to the house to surround the space with a collage of mysterious projections creating a world of layered reality. Scents, curated by Michelle Roark, and flavors provided by local eateries are part of the journey, rounding out the sensory experience. Winter is stunning and unlike anything I’ve seen. This gorgeous, masterful fairytale allowed me the privilege of going deep into the dark of winter, and the hope that spring would come again. Running on December 8-10 & 15-17 with two shows a night, audiences will have the opportunity to choose between an appetizer and dessert show. Tickets here.
If snark and Sedaris is your cup of nog, there’s the Santaland Diaries, a one-man show starring Michael Brouchard as the grumpy Macy’s elf voicing all we hate about the whole affair. An irreverent, hilarious, and somewhat bitter little candy cane, guaranteed to make you smirk.
Another Denver Christmas tradition, Balls! wraps up a six year run as some of Denver’s finest and funniest performers gather their sock puppets for an evening of story, song and Christmas spirit. This year’s beneficiary is The Gathering Place as Balls! rolls into Lannie’s Clocktower Caberet for two nights, Dec. 7th & 14th, doors open at 6:00 to enjoy the food and full bar, show starts at 7:00. Tickets here.
There’s so much more to do in our little postcard, the holidays look good on Denver. But this is my list of the naughty and nice, sure to pull me off the couch.
“God bless us everyone!”
Opening with the usual hoopla, the 37th STARZ Denver Film Festival is well underway. Red carpet screenings at The Buell and their requisite parties ushered in some of the big films, while the 200+ films being screened over the twelve day fete continue to intrigue, provoke, terrify and delight moviegoers.
Opening night brought a very pretty but far too predictable “5 to 7”, directed by Victor Levin and starring the lovely Berenice Marlohe and Anton Yelchin in a rendezvous I never quite believed. Yelchin plays an aspiring, unpublished writer, living in a nice Manhattan flat I kept wondering how he paid for. Nice comic turns by Glen Close and Frank Langella as Yelchin’s parents. I guess they pay for the flat.
The Big Night fared much better, offering The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s Sherlock) leads a spot on cast in this solid biopic about a British mathematician, Alan Turing, who broke the German’s Enigma code, diminishing Nazi power in World War II. I loved how the story marched forward with strength and vitality while never allowing itself to get too showy. Cumberbatch pulled off a very graceful performance full of nuance but with the seams tucked in. Nice to see a leading man lead the story without feeling the need to steal the show.
My chaos theory and chaotic reality clash as I approach the twelve day cinematic binge-fest. Poring over the film guide, I circle, highlight and mark out my must see list. Then real life happens and I show up when I can and roll into the next available screening. My free-form-festing brings surprise and serendipity, leaving vapor trails that connect themes in mysterious ways.
Leah Meyerhoff’s I Believe in Unicorns is a feature film debut, told by an old-soul storyteller. Her painterly eye and 16mm format sweep us into a mythical tale that lifts beyond the coming of age story, stirring up the memory of first love. The characters are young and perfect; hearts true, logic flawed, but they press on in heroic longing, even as the ugly reveals. Haunting, and beautiful, and as painful as love can be, “I Believe in Unicorns” left me musing on the power of our personal magic, wondering why we choose to spend it where we do.
Slipping into an afternoon screening of the documentary, 3 Still Standing was a dream-stand-still of another time. San Francisco in the early 80s was the Mecca of stand-up comedy. Sure, New York and LA had their stars and bars and comedy clubs, launching careers of our comedy pearls, but the oyster was the City by the Bay. In 3 Still Standing, directors Robert Campos and Donna LoCicero follow three comics from back in the day and the realities of what happens when your dreams don’t come true. Or do they? Larry Bubbles Brown, Will Durst and Johnny Steele were some of the rising stars of the SF stand-up scene, but unlike their friends and peers, Dana Carvey, Paula Poundstone and Robin Williams (each of whom appear in the film), their arcs were not stratospheric. There is something lonely and tragic in the film. The characters are not to be pitied; each man takes responsibility for his choices, but the whims of fate can be cruel and when the work dries up the dream often goes with it. The beauty in this yarn lives in the integrity of the three comics who continue to pursue and perfect an art form in a world that holds no place for it. And stand-up is hard. It takes craft and guts, high intelligence and a musician’s ear to find and formulate the funny. Will Durst, Johnny Steele and Larry Bubbles Brown stand for something, reminding us that the dream is not always connected to fame and fulfillment; sometimes the dream is in the doing.
Now it’s off to the shorts and the Brazilians!
Photo courtesy of Leah Meyerhoff