Arvada Center Blog

2019 Arvada Center Year in Review

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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

Zachary Andrews and Lance Rasmussen in Sin Street Social Club – photo by Matt Gale

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Darrow Klein as Anne – photo by Matt Gale

  1. 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.

Dieter Bierbrauer (Jimmy Ray Dobbs) and Merideth Kaye Clark (Alice Murphy) in Bright Star – photo by Matt Gale

  1. 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.

Natalie Oliver-Atherton
(Billie) and Milton Craig Nealy (George Walker) – photo by Matt Gale

  1. 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.

Larry Cahn as Scrooge – photo by Matt Gale

  1. 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.

Salman Rushdie speaks at the Center – photo courtesy of Tattered Cover Bookstore

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

The Front Range Youth Symphony recognized Ms. Kelly Watts as the 2019 Teacher of the Year at the May 6 concert.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Clark Richert, chronosphere – photo by Leslie Simon

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Matt Gale Photography

Larry Cahn – On Becoming Scrooge

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

  1. 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.

Larry Cahn as Otto Frank in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with Darrow Klein. Matt Gale Photography 2019.

  1. 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.

Larry Cahn as Mayor Dobbs in “Bright Star,” with Dieter Bierbrauer. Photo by Matt Gale Photography.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Talking abstract: A Q and A with local artist Martha Russo

By Leslie Simon

This fall, the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities and Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art are proud to partner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the seminal 2009 book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture with exhibits highlighting the history and continuing tradition of abstraction by local artists in the state. The Arvada Center exhibit Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey highlights the work of 70 local abstract artists, and opens September 12 at 6:00pm with a reception and exhibition discussion with book co-authors Mary Voelz Chandler and Michael Paglia. In the second installment of our series of conversations with featured artists, we spoke with Martha Russo about her influences, process, and advice for young artists. For more details on the exhibition visit the event page here:

  1. Ever since Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture came out in 2009, how has your work evolved? 

Most of my investigations involve activating space. I challenge myself and the viewer to be engulfed by thousands of objects that create an eerie and unknown gestalt.  I abstract materials and forms to the point that it is difficult to name them and, thus, one has to stay longer to conjure up a sense of place, feeling, or perhaps some ancient story.

  1. What was your journey to abstract art like?

I started thinking about what goes on in the interior of the body, specifically the stomach, when you react to what is before you.  It is all about the “id” and the Autonomic Nervous System, which are both responsible for giving our bodies/minds immediate signals to either stay with something or leave- otherwise known as “The Fight or Flight Mechanism.”  The suspension of language and activating the primal senses are what initially drew me abstraction and has had a grip on me for over 25 years.  I see no end in sight-happily.

  1. What is your process in creating new work?

I start with a notion. I give myself a parameter to push up against with some sort of timeline. Then I find patterns or trends in the work, do some research and start making more.  Sometimes I refine it if needed, or make it more raw.  All depends on how the idea is coming into focus.

  1. Who are the other artists that inspire you?

Started with Toshiko Takaezu, slid into Eva Hesse, forever grateful for Scott Chamberlin, rejoicing in Louise Bourgeois, always hearing the words of  Garrison Roots and Toni Rosato, incessantly marveling at Antoni Gaudi, mesmerized by Ann Hamilton, continually astonished by Henrique Oliveira, smitten with Studio Ensemble and Hypersonic, continually inspired by my graduate school peers, and in awe and admiration of Eric Mesple, Joe Riche and his Demiurge team, John Lupe and Steve Osborne and the Denver Art Museum curatorial and installation teams.  And the list could go on and on and on and on. Lucky me.

  1. What do you want people see when they view your non-objective art?

I want them to be able to relate to the abstracted organic forms in a way that draws them in from a distance, and continues as they get closer and closer to the works.  And even by looking and experiencing the work for a good bit of time, my hope is that they can never quite fully understand it.  I want to activate something deep inside that is about our basic human instincts and conjure up moments about growing up and being in the natural environment. I want them to feel slightly ill at ease, interspersed with moments of sheer delight or wonder.  Abstracting forms, materials, and colors, gives me this freedom.

Martha Russo; pensum

  1. What cool projects do you have coming down the pipeline?

I am thinking about all things “in between.” Making sculptures and installations that are physically, emotionally and intellectually liminal. All this “in between-ness” will culminate in a show at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Sept- 2021- Jan 2022, curated by the very smart Joy Armstrong. I am really looking forward to it all especially a new installation that has elements that are inspired by redwood tree canopies and some disruptive fungus, having a sense of oddness, airiness, and faint light.

  1. What advice do you have for new artists out there?

Show up every day and night in your studio or away from your studio and really pay attention.  Sometimes it is good to have solid plan about what you are making, and other times it is really important to do some serious play and not worry if something is going to survive or not.  Give yourself time and space to find out what lurks below the surface of your consciousness.  It is always a never-ending surprise.

Kate Gleason on creating and performing multiple characters in Plaza Suite

By Leslie Simon

Three marriages in turmoil. Well, two marriages in turmoil, and one marriage that might not even happen if the bride-to-be doesn’t come out of the bathroom! Suite 719 at the Plaza Hotel sees a lot of activity, from the absurd to the dramatic. Traditionally, the play is cast with the same actors playing different characters in three one-acts, a sort of mini-repertory, and Plaza Suite’s Kate Gleason spoke with us on preparing and playing multiple characters in the same play.

In Plaza Suite, you play a different character in each of the three acts. As an actor, how do you prepare for multiple roles like this?

The great fun of developing a character, no matter what project, is finding out what makes them tick. I usually start at the beginning of the script with specific questions: Where do they come from? What brought them to this particular moment? What do they want? How do they get it? What are the stakes at any given moment? The added bonus in doing three one-acts is that you get to do this detective work three times, and you find out what connects them and what makes them distinct from one another. The fun lies in the investigation.

What makes playing Neil Simon characters special?

I am an unabashed fan of Neil Simon. I consider him a true artist, in league with Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Jonathan Swift. I’ve directed two of his plays, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound, and also taught a Neil Simon scene study class for DCPA Education. What I found was a master of the comic drama. The comedy lies in reality and it is always character driven. It’s what makes GREAT comedy- the laughs emerge from the truth in the moment. It’s a kind of heightened non-fiction and a joy to play. Simon said every play he has written was a drama with “comic moments.” When warned by Lillian Hellman not to mix comedy with drama, Simon replied, “if it’s mixed in life why can’t you do it in a play?” As an audience, we see ourselves up there on stage and we share in the experience because even in the absurdity, it feels real.

You will also be a part of our Black Box repertory company again next spring. What is that like to work with the same people for three overlapping plays?

It all comes down to trust. The plays are all different but the faces are the same. You start counting on those faces. We develop a shorthand with each other. We PLAY. We are allowed to be creative and messy because we are all in this together. Some of these people I have known and worked with, some are new faces, some are fellow artists I have admired but never worked with, but when we all get in the room at the beginning of that rep season, we know we are all on the same team. We are all in this together for the long haul. It’s a rare and extremely valuable experience, and I feel VERY lucky to be on the team.

What has acting and directing taught you about life?

Well, this is a BIG question… I suppose the best answer I can think of is something that was told to me by my friend, Allison Watrous. She was working with some teenagers, and they said acting was like learning how to be a “professional human.” What they meant, of course, is that as actors and directors we step into someone else’s shoes (sometimes literally) and we tell their story. That’s what we do: we are storytellers. And in the telling of the story we can, and often do, learn something about ourselves and others. It can be a noble adventure. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s enlightening. Sometimes it’s hilarious. But it’s NEVER boring. Kinda like life.




The 2019 Henry Award Nominations Are…

The 2019 Henry Award Nominations Are…

by Amberle N.

The 2019 Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards have been announced, and the Arvada Center has received 17 nominations for awards that recognize our theatre season, directors, designers, actors and ensemble! Our adaption of The Diary of Anne Frank was notably recognized for direction, design, its ensemble cast, and the acting of 16-year-old Darrow Klein who starred as Anne. We were also nominated for Outstanding Production of a Play and Musical, for new work Sin Street Social Club by Jessica Austgen, and for lighting, choreography and set design.

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.

Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company

Outstanding Production of a Play – The Diary of Anne Frank, Directed by Christy Montour-Larson

Annie Barbour, Darrow Klein, Emily Paton Davies and Larry Cahn in The Diary of Anne Frank; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Production of a Musical – ELF – The Musical- Directed by Gavin Mayer, Musical Direction by Christopher Babbage

Josh Houghton in Elf – The Musical; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Direction of a Play – Christy Montour-Larson, The Diary of Anne Frank

The cast of The Diary of Anne Frank; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Actor in a Play– Geoffrey Kent, Sin Street Social Club

Geoffrey Kent stole the show – and some hearts – as the rakish pirate Wilmore, and was also featured in The Moors, as well as choreographing fights for the repertory season. We’re excited for him to direct Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express this spring.

Geoffrey Kent and Lance Rasmussen; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Actress in a Play– Darrow Klein, The Diary of Anne Frank

16-year-old Darrow Klein moved everyone night after night in her role as Anne.

Darrow Klein in The Diary of Anne Frank; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical – Ian Coulter-Buford, Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical

Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Ensemble Performance –  The Diary of Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank starred Darrow Klein, Larry Cahn, Regina Fernandez, Annie Barbour, Emma Messenger, Abner Genece, Lance Rasmussen, Zachary Andrews, Daniel Crumrine and Emily Paton Davies.

Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Choreography Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Mamma Mia! and Elf – The Musical

Mamma Mia!; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding New Play or MusicalSin Street Social Club by Jessica Austgen, Directed by Lynne Collins

This new work commissioned by the Center is a bold new take on Aphra Behn’s restoration comedy classic play The Rover, adapted by Denver playwright Jessica Austgen.

The cast of Sin Street Social Club; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Costume Design, larger budget Clare Henkel, The Diary of Anne Frank

Annie Barbour, Darrow Klein and Daniel Crumrine in The Diary of Anne Frank; Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Lighting Design, larger budget – Shannon McKinney, The Diary of Anne Frank, & Jon Olson, Educating Rita

John Hutton in Educating Rita; McLeod Creative

Outstanding Scenic Design, larger budget – Brian Mallgrave, The Diary of Anne Frank

This season, his outstanding sets will be featured in Plaza Suite, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Small Mouth Sounds.

Matt Gale Photography

Outstanding Sound Design, larger budget -Jason Ducat, The Diary of Anne Frank, & Becca Pearce, Educating Rita

Emily Van Fleet and John Hutton; McLeod Creative


Winners will be announced at a gala event July 22 at the Lone Tree Arts Center.