Arvada Center Blog
A Q & A with The Electric Baby director Rick Barbour
What makes you excited to direct The Electric Baby?
I’m excited about working with some of Denver’s best actors and designers on this beautifully-written play. It requires and celebrates great ensemble acting and the simple, honest, transformative power of theatrical storytelling. Some contemporary plays read and feel and expect to operate as film or television does. Trouble is, when we try to produce camera-centric stories on stage, it usually doesn’t work out so well – theatre’s storytelling language is distinctly different than film or television’s. The stage is the place for metaphor, for heightened language, for poetry, if you will, and The Electric Baby was built for it. Bottom line: I get to work with great collaborators on a great script at a company that is dedicated to the power and beauty of actor-driven storytelling, on a schedule that is uniquely generous in supporting a depth of process unlikely to be encountered elsewhere. I’m in heaven.
What do you look forward to sharing with audiences?
Great acting within the intimacy of a black box space. Experiencing the power of this at the age of 15 propelled me into the theatre in the first place, and has sustained and driven me ever since. From the first time I read it and through each rehearsal, I’ve been deeply moved by The Electric Baby. It is not a heady or intellectually analytical play, it is very much an intuitive, heart-based play that works its magic in visceral ways. I’m eager to enjoy the play in live performance with our audiences – my hope is that we create a memorable experience of surprising, delightful, and emotionally powerful one-ness for our audiences with each and every show.
How does the idea of storytelling impact your vision of this production?
My vision of this or any other play is based on what the playwright gives, or suggests, or implies to us, through the writing on the page, through the actions of the characters. The Electric Baby is all about storytelling – it’s built on the strong and comprehensive use of folk lore, folk tales, parable, and metaphor, yet is simultaneously rooted in the painful realities of its contemporary, fully-dimensional, all-too-human characters – characters that we initially meet in varying degrees of emotional isolation, yet who wind up unexpectedly interconnected in ways that invite resurrection. My goal is to communicate the soul of the play as clearly as possible by fully embracing its nature, its structure, and by encouraging our actors and designers to breathe into each moment of the text with full attention, empathy, emotional courage, and intuitive confidence.
How does having stories within a story make it more challenging to direct?
I’m not sure that having stories within a story make it more challenging to direct. All the stories related or revealed in the play are, like all human utterances, based in need. That is to say, each story is expressed in the pursuit of a specific character need – no one is “telling a story” just for the sake of doing so. There’s motivation, purpose, and intent behind it. In rehearsal, our basic assumption has to be that the story is the best and most effective way for the character to get what they need from another person in that particular moment and situation. We do this all the time in real life. A well-constructed play like The Electric Baby uses this fundamentally human impulse in ways that might be more heightened than may be expected of most moments in our everyday lives, but that’s what dramatic writing is supposed to do – distill and elevate the truth of our shared humanity in ways that, at their most potent, invite catharsis.
This play has elements of magical realism. What are the important things to consider when directing a play with fantastic elements?
That what we may call fantastic elements are in fact expressions of the play’s essential DNA. That these elements are the defining features of the play’s world, its logic, its power and truth. That they are as “real” as any other element that defines the specific world of the play, and almost always more “real” than anything our everyday reality could possibly evoke. Theatre is at its best when it unapologetically embraces metaphor as its way of telling us the truth. As long as we are consistent in how we employ and relate to a play’s essential conventions, no matter how fantastic, an audience will follow us anywhere. With The Electric Baby, the playwright isn’t concerned with explaining how or why a baby that “glows like the moon” is the central presence, crossroads, and catalyst for the action of this hauntingly beautiful play. It just is. We are given it as fact. And as the play unfolds in delightful and unexpected ways, as we witness the struggles of its characters, as we are swept up in events that affect us and reward our faith in the power of story, The Electric Baby offers us a beautiful and desperately important reminder that only by opening ourselves to another can we possibly begin to heal. If metaphor and magical realism can open the way to truth such as this, then all of us – artists and audience alike – have cause for celebration.
The Electric Baby is open now and runs in repertory until May 4.
Executive Director Philip Sneed celebrates 85th anniversary of Maxim Gorky Theatre in Vladivostok, Russia
It’s not easy getting to Vladivostok. I’ve been going there for years, and it always involves multiple plane flights (and sometimes train trips). This time, it was Alaska Airlines to Seattle, Korean Air to Incheon (Seoul), and then Siberian Air to Vladivostok. The time difference is challenging – especially since the route crosses the International Date Line. The Russian Far East is about 16 hours later than Colorado – but really it’s 8 hours earlier, minus (plus?) 24 hours for the Date Line. Except when the time change happens in the spring and fall, when it changes again, since Daylight Savings Time isn’t observed at the same time…if at all…I can’t remember! Long story short – I arrive in Vladivostok at about 2am (which I think is 10am the previous day, back in Colorado). I check into my hotel about 3am, and am asleep by 4…but I have to get up at 8, to be ready for a press conference.
I have been invited to Vladivostok as a guest of the Maxim Gorky Theatre – the largest theatre in Eastern Russia. The reason for the invitation is their every-five-year celebration of the theatre’s anniversary and the Artistic Director’s birthday – the Gorky is 85, and the Artistic Director, Efim Zvenyatsky, is 70; he’s been leading the theatre for 35 years (half a life) and started there as a young actor 50 years ago. My wife and I have been collaborating with them for about 25 years – I’ve had the great pleasure of playing Hamlet at the Gorky (in English, with most of the other actors speaking Russian), I’ve directed a play there, I’ve brought the Russians artists to California and to Colorado to act, design, and direct – it’s been a great cultural exchange, and I hope I can find a way to continue it here at the Arvada Center.
Maxim Gorky Theatre, Vladivostok, Russia
So, the press conference. I’m seated at a long table, between Efim and my translator, Julia. Others at the table include the directors and designers and other artists involved with the week’s festivities. Dozens of reporters and photographers crowd around us, asking questions about the celebration. I’m pleased to be asked about my various projects with the Gorky, and I’m especially flattered that they remember me as Hamlet, 23 years ago.
After the press conference, I get to rest. Later in the day, I am treated to a special screening of a new Russian film, Salyut-7, based on a true story about an accident during the Soviet Union’s space program, followed by a small dinner with Efim and a few of the Gorky Theatre’s sponsors.
Press Conference, October 23rd, 2017
In the morning, I’m a guest speaker at an Academic Conference held in conjunction with the Gorky’s anniversary. They ask me about Shakespeare, and about diversity in the arts – two subjects about which I’m passionate. Everything is conducted through translators, of course, and Julia’s not available –and whenever I don’t have Julia, I worry that what I’m saying is not being communicated, especially when it’s an intellectual or political concept. Julia has been working with me since Hamlet, and she’s not only fluent in English, she’s also really smart, and I know she’ll translate me correctly, fully nuanced. But the audience of mostly students and faculty seem to get what I’m saying (assuming I understood their questions correctly!).
The afternoon is free, and I’ve been assigned two of Julia’s undergraduate English students to guide me around town. Despite missing Julia, it’s delightful to hear the perspective of Russian youth – born after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We spend a few hours wandering around the city, and we try to understand each other’s perspectives (exactly how they feel about Vladimir Putin, for example – a question they artfully dodged).
Late afternoon, I’m to appear at the opening of an exhibition at one of the city’s major art galleries. The exhibition is mostly a retrospective of theatre design work, by the Gorky’s designers and others. There’s a reception (with vodka…always with vodka), and the usual mix of press, students, art-lovers, and theatre workers. I see the work of Vladimir Koltunov, a Moscow-based designer with whom I’ve worked in Vladivostok, California, and Colorado.
Vladimir Koltunov (L) and Efim Zvenyatsky (C, speaking) at Gallery Opening
In the evening, I get to see one of the plays in the Gorky’s repertory – a two-actor play whose title apparently defies translation; the best English title Julia could come up with is Laughing Lobster, and it’s about the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. Afterward, I round out the evening with a private dinner with Efim and his family and some close friends.
Julia doesn’t have to teach today, and I’m free until the evening, so she arranges a car from the theatre and takes me to Russian Island, just off the southern tip of the peninsula on which Vladivostok is situated. It’s a beautiful hike, with some dramatic views of the ocean. Russian island was until recently used mainly as a military base, and there are also a few small villages and a monastery, but most of the island is undeveloped. A few years ago, a new campus for the Far Eastern Federal University (where Julia teaches) was built on the northern end of the island, as well as a bridge to connect it to the mainland – until then, ferry service was the only option for getting to Russian Island. The university has also been used for meetings of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), which annually attract leaders from Pacific Rim countries.
Russian Island – the cape at the end of our hike.
In the evening, I’m invited to another birthday dinner for Efim, this one for about 100 people, including the former Governor of the Primorski Region, of which Vladivostok is the capital. I’ve been to these before, and I know what I’m in for – a very long evening! Julia and I arrive at six, and we don’t leave until after midnight. There are a dozen or more courses of beautifully-prepared food, much of it consisting of various seafood delicacies. Vladivostok is a port city, after all, and they have always depended on the sea for sustenance. Some of the dishes, it must be said, are a challenge for anyone raised on an American diet (ever tried jellied sea cucumber?). In addition to seafood, there are also some rare dishes from the taiga – the vast boreal forest found in northern climes, particularly in Russia. But the evening is also filled with speeches of congratulations, songs, laughter, and – of course – vodka.
A dish made from the lower lip of an elk – a delicacy from the forests of northern Russia.
Jellied Sea Cucumber
Former Primorski Governor Sergei Darkin, congratulating Gorky Theatre Artistic Director Efim Zvenyatsky on his 70th Birthday.
Tonight is the first of two big “shows” – a large-cast variety show honoring Efim’s birthday. This sounds strange and a little egotistical to Americans, but it’s common in Russian theatre to celebrate major birthdays of the artistic director. The first half of the evening is filled with speeches – including one by me – while the second half is devoted to musical numbers performed by the acting company, video tributes to Efim’s career, and other celebratory entertainment. It’s a big party, performed for a full house of 1,000 devoted fans. There’s nothing like it in American theatre!
The poster for Efim’s 70th birthday show
Afterwards, there’s a big dinner party in the upper lobby, that lasts for hours. Have I mentioned vodka?
Most of my day is free, until another exhibition opening at 5pm. This one is at the Arseniev Museum, and it’s a retrospective of the Gorky Theatre’s 85-year history. I’m pleased and flattered to see that the display cases include relics of some of the work I’ve done there over the past 25 years – including the program from the production of Hamlet I was in. Fortuitously, I meet the new Consulate General from the American Consulate in Vladivostok, and he expresses interest in helping to facilitate more Russian-American theatre exchange. I tell him all about the work my colleagues and I have done with the Russians, both in Vladivostok and in America, and we exchange emails addresses. I hope he will be able to help us find funding for taking some of our productions to Russia.
That evening, I get to see another production in the Gorky Theatre’s repertory – a new play commissioned and premiered by the Gorky, called Edith and Her Demons, about Edith Piaf and the “demons” who haunted her. The actor playing the lead is fantastic, capturing both the young as well as the frail and aging Piaf, and beautifully rendering her songs. As with every production I’ve seen in Russia – and I’ve seen dozens over the years – I can’t understand everything I see. The language is a barrier, of course – although I know a few words, and Julia tells me the story of the play beforehand. But more than that, I don’t always understand the theatrical style, the design choices, the directorial ideas. The actors are always very, very good, and the production values are high (this is a large-budget theatre) – but this is what I find so fascinating about international cultural exchange. Artists in other countries perform/direct/design in ways that we don’t always “get” – but it’s always an adventure, and of course it’s one of the main reasons to engage in cultural exchange. We all need to be exposed to work we don’t understand, because it helps us grow.
The poster for Edith and Her Demons
October 28 (My final day)
Tonight is the big night – the final and biggest show of the week. It’s the show that honors the Gorky Theatre’s 85th birthday, and it’s a variety show, with music, dance, performances of all kinds, salutes by a military band, speeches by dignitaries (not me this time), photos and videos of major productions since the theatre opened in 1932, a tribute to some of the great actors of the Gorky who have died, etc. There’s even an appearance by the granddaughter of famous Russian writer Maxim Gorky, for whom the theatre is named (I end up in an airport shuttle with her the next day; she’s an actor and director in Moscow, and she’s delightful and filled with great stories). And of course, an even bigger party afterward in the theatre’s upper lobby (which is huge). Guess what we had to drink?
It was an exhausting but fantastic week, and a got to spend some time with many old friends – Russian actors with whom I have appeared on stage, who I have directed, and with whom I have taken many excursions, in Russia, California, and Colorado. We have shared so much over the past quarter-century, and yet I still can’t speak to them without dear Julia translating. Still, there’s a non-verbal language that we share, both on-stage and off – and there’s history, and deep friendship. I hope I can share them with our audiences at the Arvada Center.
The train station in Vladivostok – Eastern Terminus of the famous Trans-Siberian Railway.
The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. You can read through the complete list of winners here!
The 2017 Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards have been announced, and the Arvada Center has received 16 nominations for awards that recognize our theatre season, directors, designers, actors and ensemble! We’re one of six theatres to receive a nomination for Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company this year, and our spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar received seven nominations in total.
Keep reading for the complete list, and congrats to everyone nominated!
Established in 2006, the Henry Awards serve as the Colorado Theatre Guild’s annual fundraising event. The awards are named for longtime local theatre producer Henry Lowenstein. Nominations are determined through a judging process conducted by more than 45 statewide theatre reporters, educators and assigned judges.
2017 Henry Award Nominations
Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company
Outstanding Production of a Play – Tartuffe
Outstanding Direction of a Play – Lynne Collins, The Drowning Girls
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical – Matt LaFontaine (Judas Iscariot), Jesus Christ Superstar
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical – Jenna Bainbridge (Mary Magdalene), Jesus Christ Superstar
Outstanding Ensemble Performance – The Drowning Girls
Outstanding New Play or Musical – I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Outstanding Costume Design – Clare Henkel, Jesus Christ Superstar and Clare Henkel, Tartuffe
Outstanding Lighting Design – Shannon McKinney, Jesus Christ Superstar and Jon Olson, The Drowning Girls
Outstanding Scenic Design – Brian Mallgrave, The Drowning Girls and Jesus Christ Superstar
Outstanding Sound Design – Jason Ducat, The Drowning Girls, Morgan McCauley, Tartuffe, and David Thomas, Jesus Christ Superstar
The 12th annual Henry Awards will be presented July 17 at the PACE Center in Parker. Read the complete list of nominees here – and congrats to everyone nominated!
The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is excited to announce its 2017 Summer Stage Concert Series, featuring a wide array of critically acclaimed and award-winning artists including Marc Cohn, Three Dog Night, The Robert Cray Band, Boz Scaggs, Chris Botti, Clint Black and more!
In partnership with Swallow Hill Music, the 2017 Summer Stage Concert Series also features dance and music concerts from 3rd Law Dance/Theater, Wonderbound, Colorado Symphony, The Denver Brass, Colorado Ballet, and Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra.
Tickets are on sale now! Check out the full lineup and purchase tickets on our webpage.