Arvada Center Blog
Light that Gets A-Round
by Leslie Simon
This spring season, the Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre has undergone a significant change, converting to a brand new configuration that brings the audience inside the plays. A “theatre-in-the-round” configuration takes background scenery out of the equation, and places all the emphasis on the actors. However, when the audience surrounds the stage on all sides, unique challenges arise. This season’s productions of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Small Mouth Sounds have provided our lighting and scenic designers with interesting problems to solve.
“The greatest challenge in-the-round is lighting the actor from all directions so that all audience members see mostly the same stage picture, and have the same theatrical experience,” says Lighting Designer Shannon McKinney. “Front light for one section of the audience is back light for another section, so balancing these angles and directions of light is quite a challenge.”
To ensure that audience members have equal theatrical experiences, lighting, sound and set designers spend a lot of time collaborating and planning. “If my lighting choices are out of step with the scenic, costume, or even sound design, then you get a product that is incoherent and disorienting to the audience,” says Lighting Director Jon Olson. “The best designs are the ones that complement one another.”
Not only is it important to carefully plan out the lights in a good lighting setup, but you also have to factor in the shadows (or “modeling” as it’s called in Lighting Design). “It’s not where you put the light, but where you don’t,” says Olson. With light and shadow being equally important, a lot of careful consideration is required when working in-the-round. McKinney adds, “I will spend a great deal of time making sure I’m sculpting an interesting picture with highlights and shadows on all sides.”
One of the unique challenges they have faced when designing for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is how to turn the stage into a train car. “Scenic Designer Brian Mallgrave has masterfully designed a floor pattern that implies the train car’s composition, and I have brought in top lights from above with sharp edges to create the boundaries of the train cars,” says McKinney. “Hopefully, the combination of floor paint, lights, and furniture will help the audience feel like they see a train.”
Once the rehearsal process begins, new challenges and obstacles are discovered. “Creating the repertory lighting plan is like a painter picking a palette, and in this case, it’s two painters sharing a palette,” says Olson. “Once rehearsals start, we find moments where a show needs something very specific, and then those needed elements are layered on top of the plot. Shannon and I always try to leave ourselves room for adjustments as a production starts to take shape.”
During the rehearsal process, the designers are able to see the work they have created in action, and the addition of the actors provides a lot of new inspiration. “The actors always spark new ideas — there is always that magical moment when I see them doing something that sparks a new concept that I would never have imagined without them,” says McKinney. “I love those moments, so I try to be as nimble as possible in my planning to allow those inspirations to influence the design until the show is open.”
To see Jon and Shannon’s lighting-in-the-round designs in action, make sure to enjoy all three productions playing this spring during the Black Box Theatre’s repertory season.
What is theatre-in-the-round?
by Leslie Simon
“Give me the best seat in the house!”
“Well, they are ALL the best seat when it’s theatre-in-the-round.”
This spring season, the Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre has undergone a significant change, converting to a brand new configuration that brings the audience closer to the plays. “Theatre-in-the-round” takes background scenery out of the equation, placing all the emphasis on the actors and providing extraordinary theatre at every angle.
Also known as arena theatre or central staging, this layout puts the action in the center of the room and places the audiences around the stage on all sides. The stage can be a circle, square, octagon, icosagon – whatever polygon or shape the director desires. While the acting space may be at the same level as the audience, you sometimes see the stage sunken down into a pit, or alternately, on a raised platform. These adjustments make for a more informal viewing experience and create more rapport between audience and actors.
However, when the audience surrounds the stage on all sides, unique challenges arise. To ensure that patrons have equal theatrical experiences, lighting, sound and set designers spend a lot of time collaborating and planning. “If my lighting choices are out of step with the scenic, costume, or even sound design, then you get a product that is incoherent and disorienting to the audience,” says Lighting Director Jon Olson. “The best designs are the ones that complement one another.”
There are also interesting obstacles in regards to changing scenery and props. Everything must be done with the audience watching, so directors get to try out solutions like creating choreography that makes taking away furniture and props intentional and part of the action.
Fans of popular culture may recognize this configuration from Elvis Presley’s televised ’68 Comeback Special, which saw the King clad in black leather from head to toe and playing guitar surrounded by adoring fans on all sides. If you have never attended a performance that is “in-the-round,” come see what the fuss is about this spring in the Black Box Theatre.
For a list of performance dates, visit our website at https://arvadacenter.org/on-stage/black-box-plays-2019
by Leslie Simon
2019 Arvada Center Year in Review
As the past decade comes to an end, the Arvada Center thinks fondly back on a year of big changes and fun times. From the unveiling of a new look and logo, to celebrating local artists from all mediums, this is our list of 19 moments we loved from 2019.
What were your favorite moments at the Arvada Center in 2019?
We unveiled our new logo!
This year was the beginning of a new chapter for the Arvada Center as we presented a new logo and mission conceived by local Denver agency AOR. Replacing the old logo that we affectionately called “the eyebrow,” the new starburst logo is multi-faceted and dynamic, and accurately represents who we are and what we do. With a new brand as our backbone, the Arvada Center will continue to act as a beacon of creativity in our community for 2020 and beyond.
We installed a beautiful sign with that new logo on our building.
No longer does anyone have to wonder “what is this large building back here?” For the first time in the Arvada Center’s history, we have a big, beautiful sign with our big, beautiful new logo on our main building. It looks even better when it is lit up at night!
Jessica Austgen’s Sin Street Social Club had its world premiere.
We specially commissioned local thespian powerhouse Jessica Austgen to write a new play, and this past spring in the Black Box Theatre, audiences laughed until they cried as they watched the world premiere of Sin Street Social Club, her hilarious adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover. Aphra’s play was perhaps the first known play written by a woman, and she paved the way for other smart, talented women such as Austgen.
The Diary of Anne Frank was the highest-grossing play in our Black Box Theatre history.
The Black Box had its most successful and highest-grossing play ever with The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Christy Montour-Larson. Extra performances had to be added, and the Arvada Center was packed with school groups coming for our special school matinee performances.
Darrow Klein (Anne Frank) won a True West award.
It’s no easy feat portraying one of the world’s most famous teenagers, but local talent Darrow Klein brought authentic heart and pathos to her portrayal of Anne Frank – and her riveting performance won her a True West award! We can’t wait to see what 2020 brings for Darrow.
Bright Star regional premiere received much critical praise.
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s bluegrass-tinged Broadway musical Bright Star had its regional premiere this past fall here at the Arvada Center, and critics and patrons alike showered the production with praise – in particular the clear, robust vocals of lead actress Merideth Kaye Clark.
Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical had a special visit from Co-Bookwriter Gary Holmes
Co-bookwriter Gary Holmes was on deck and in person to celebrate the regional premiere of Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical. Toes were tappin’ and fingers were snappin’ as the Harlem Renaissance/ Tin Pan Alley-influenced songs stuck in audiences’ heads for days after.
A Christmas Carol – The Musical was presented with an all-local cast.
Larry Cahn led the way with his empathy-inducing portrayal of the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge in the Arvada Center production of A Christmas Carol – The Musical. The production saw an all-local cast performing this beloved holiday favorite to their hometown families, friends, and fans.
Arvada Center Literary Series kicked off with Salman Rushdie.
They don’t get more internationally renowned than author Salman Rushdie, and a sold-out crowd listened and laughed at the inaugural event for our new Arvada Center Literary Series. The Salman Rushdie event was in partnership with indie bookstore favorite Tattered Cover Book Store, and Rushdie signed copies of his latest novel Quichotte for those in attendance.
National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Arvada Center with the Big Read grant.
The Arvada Center was honored to be the only organization in the state of Colorado chosen as a recipient for the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant. We celebrated with interesting discussions and book clubs, and Arvada Center arts instructors held interactive workshops at various Jefferson County Public Library branches. We also hosted the Colorado Book & Arts Festival which centered around the dystopian themes of Big Read book selection Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
Front Range Youth Symphony created a new Teacher of the Year award.
Ms. Kelly Watts was awarded the 2019 Teacher of the Year award, the first award like this given to a music teacher by the Front Range Youth Symphony (FRYS). Students who participate in FRYS also participate in their own schools’ musical programs, with FRYS enhancing rather than replacing that curriculum.
Jeffco Schools alumni Austin Parkhill honored with his solo exhibit Unselfie.
The chickens came home to roost as former Jeffco Schools student Austin Parkhill was celebrated with his own solo exhibit as part of our Jefferson County High School Art Exhibition. Teacher Keith Oelschlager also had a solo exhibit during this annual exhibition.
The third installment of Art of the State took over the Center.
Art of the State 2019, the third installment of this juried exhibition, saw art from all mediums by 135 local artists from throughout the state of Colorado. Jeffco Schools’ Warren Tech provided the poster art design, and was onsite screenprinting t-shirts and sweatshirts.
The celebration of the 10th anniversary of seminal art book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture.
In partnership with Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Colorado abstract art book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture by Michael Paglia and Mary Voelz Chandler. The Arvada Center hosted Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey, and Kirkland Museum held the complementary exhibit Colorado Abstract +10: A History which celebrated the history of abstraction in Colorado, and the artists who led the way.
Brothers of Brass provided sassy, brassy tunes for our Mardi Gras Parade in Olde Town Arvada
Known for their upbeat renditions of both classic jazz favorites and newer danceable tunes, local horn-and-drum outfit Brothers of Brass joined forces with the Arvada Center and Olde Town Arvada and threw a festive Mardi Gras second line parade that saw festive participants dancing along through the streets of downtown Arvada.
The Colorado Symphony played the music of Comic Con.
The Colorado Symphony delighted audiences with their performance “Symphonic Tribute of Comic Con,” containing orchestral renditions of songs from various video games and movie soundtracks including The Empire Strikes Back, Tron, and Harry Potter.
Steuben’s Arvada hosted a summer pop-up kitchen during our outdoor concerts.
Local favorite Steuben’s Arvada fed hungry tummies at our outdoor concerts this year with their summer pop-up kitchen. Patrons were delighted with having the option to eat some of their signature dishes, as well as a specially created Fried Chicken Waffle Cone.
Breakout stars Orquesta Akokán impressed music lovers during our Summer Concert Series.
Daptone Records’ Orquesta Akokán had people moving and grooving during the Cuban Big Band’s stop at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheatre on their biggest American tour yet.
Ceramics classes studio got major facelift and operated at peak capacity.
With a second kiln added and major facelift done to the studio, the ever-popular ceramics program continued to grow and keep up with demand in 2019. Two sales each year at the Center allow patrons to purchase some of the beautiful ceramics made by these talented students.
DIY Dickens Victorian Christmas Carol Costumes
By Leslie Simon
Halloween has come and gone, but that’s no reason to quit playing dress-up. In the spirit of our current production of A Christmas Carol, the Arvada Center invites you to put together and share your best Do-It-Yourself Dickens Victorian Christmas Carol Costume. We have pulled together some simple ideas that take the spirit of the 1800s from the stage to the audience. Show us what you come up with by sharing on your photo on social media with hashtag #ArvadaChristmasCarol and come see the real thing playing until December 22.
Scrooge – All you really need is slippers, a long white nightgown, and a robe. Use an oversized button-down shirt if you don’t have a nightgown. A stocking cap and a red scarf let you look just like the Arvada Center Scrooge, and a “Bah, Humbug!” will have you sounding like him too.
Marley – Throw on a torn and dirty old white shirt, and wrap chains around your shoulders/neck/chest. Dip a wet paintbrush into baby powder for an at-home white face paint. Now shake, rattle and roll those chains.
Ghost of Christmas Past – This costume can be a long white or cream dress or a white shirt and white pants. The Ghost of Christmas Past is sometimes shown as having a glowing head, so some white Christmas lights around your head makes a great photo, but be careful not to tie them around your neck or you’ll end up as a ghost yourself!
Ghost of Christmas Present – This costume uses a green robe or big green sweater with a brown belt around your waist, and a green wreath with holly for your head – a garland can often be found in Christmas decorations. You could even take a couple of pine branches and tie them into a circle if you wanted the real thing.
Ghost of Christmas Future – This scary ghost is often basically a Grim Reaper costume without the sickle. Wear all black clothes with a large black cape over them. Try to hide your face as much as possible, or cover with black makeup. Hanging around cemeteries and dancing on graves is optional.
Tiny Tim – Newsboy cap, scarf and a crutch with a coat that is a little too big is all you need. Even funnier if you are not tiny.
The Cratchits – The family wears outfits like the Mens and Womens costume descriptions below, but shabbier. Take a button-down shirt and cut the collar off, leaving a frayed raw hem. Tie rags and pieces of torn cloth to hats and clothes. The more layers the better. It gets cold when there is no wood for the fire.
Women – Long maxi skirts (or add a long skirt under a shorter dress), with a thick ribbon tied around the waist with a big bow in the back. On top wear a high neck ruffled shirt, a plain turtleneck, or a sweater with puffy sleeves. A white button-down shirt can be worn backward with the buttons up the back for a clean high-neck look. Make sure to wrap a solid or plaid scarf or crocheted shawl around your shoulders. (Or use last year’s green velvet Christmas tree skirt for the ultimate in reusable costuming!) Big hats and bonnets were popular, but if you want to go hatless, a bun low at the nape of the neck or braids are also a classic look. Fingerless gloves or a muff finish the look off.
Men – Dark or plaid pants, a white, dark solid or paisley shirt, knee-length coat, vest, top hat. Finish off with either a scarf, velvety cravat in any color, or a simple thin black ribbon tie. To create a simple cravat, take a scarf and put the middle of it at the front of your neck, wrap the ends all the way around your neck and then tie in the front like a bow. Leave loose or tuck in to a vest or buttoned-up coat. Now get out there, love mankind and be merry!
Larry Cahn – On Becoming Scrooge
By Leslie Simon
There is a little good and a little bad in all of us, and when seasoned actor Larry Cahn takes on a role, it’s up to him to find all of those facets of a character’s personality. In the Arvada Center’s upcoming production of A Christmas Carol, Larry portrays Ebenezer Scrooge, a character who seems bad on the exterior, but finds his good with the help of others.
To see show times and buy tickets to A Christmas Carol, visit the webpage at https://arvadacenter.org/a-christmas-carol-the-musical-2019
- Here at the Center, audiences may have seen you in a variety of different roles. Do you prefer playing a hero or a villain?
What I am truly grateful for is the opportunity the Center has afforded me to play such diverse roles. What is most important to me is the work, not the specific character. I am fortunate that I’m a character actor, and can’t really be pigeonholed as a hero or villain.
- How does your approach to building a character differ when you are a good guy (Cahn played Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank this past spring) versus a bad guy (like Mayor Dobbs in Bright Star, this fall)?
Everything starts with the written word. After that, the approach is the same. Who is this guy? What does he want? What does he need to do to get it? What is standing in his way? The answers can be found in the text. What informs my character most is “where does the character begin, and where is he when the story is ended?” My job is then to create a character who can start and end in line with the story that the author is telling.
- There have been many adaptations of A Christmas Carol over the years. Which version is your favorite, and did its Scrooge influence your portrayal?
Hands down, my favorite adaptation is Alastair Sim’s portrayal from the 1951 film. In my opinion, it’s one of the great performances on film. You can see from the beginning that what some people would see as his villainy is deeply rooted in the pain he feels, the loneliness, the bitterness. I am wary of psychoanalyzing a fictional character created 50 years before psychoanalysis, but the Scrooge we see at the end of the 1951 film is clearly the man that was inside him all along, and no one ever showed us that better than Sim. Does it influence my portrayal? Absolutely! I will unabashedly and unashamedly steal from Mr. Sim at every opportunity!
- Who would you rather be visited by in real life- Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, or Future?
I’d have to say the Ghost of Christmas Past. I don’t live in the past as a rule, but the opportunity to see myself as a child or younger man from the perspective of the current me is so intriguing. And the opportunity to once again see those people who are important in my life but are long gone is almost irresistible.
- What message does Scrooge have for people out there regarding having compassion during the holiday season?
Well, of course, the story has never really been about the holiday season. I think Dickens uses Christmas as an opportunity to remind us all of what’s really important – 365 days a year. How terrible would the world be if all bets were off on human behavior except for the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Hopefully, the story is an opportunity for all of us to do a bit of self-reflection. And to appreciate what we have, what we can give, and ultimately the understanding that it’s never too late to strive to be our best selves.