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.

Twelve Days of A Christmas Carol Adaptations

Twelve Days of A Christmas Carol Adaptations

By Leslie Simon

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… twelve different adaptations of A Christmas Carol! The 1843 novella by Charles Dickens is part redemption tale and part social commentary on the poor factory working conditions at the time. There have been over 35 adaptations of this holiday classic on both the stage and the silver screen, from the good to the bad, ranging from choppy silent movies to animated versions featuring Scrooge McDuck. Share your favorite with us, and come see the Arvada Center’s musical production of A Christmas Carol opening Nov. 22nd!

For show times and tickets click here-


  1. Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) Known as the earliest film adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this silent movie uses clever film tricks to superimpose Jacob Marley’s ghostly face on a doorknob.



  1. A Christmas Carol (1910) This silent film version from the Thomas Edison film studio relies heavily on body language and descriptive on-screen captions.


  1. Scrooge (1951) Considered by many to be the finest portrayal of Scrooge, Alastair Sim brings a lot of heart and depth to the miserly curmudgeon.


  1. The Stingiest Man in Town (1956) Famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone’s Scrooge sings and dances in this full-length musical version that has a bestselling soundtrack containing music by Canadian singing quartet The Four Lads.


  1. A Christmas Carol (1982) This cheaply-made but cheerfully charming Australian made-for-television animated version stays true to the book, and some of the animators went on to create Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


  1. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) This popular animated version stars Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge – who else? It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film, Mickey’s first nomination since 1948.

  1. A Christmas Carol (1984) Filmed in the English medieval town of Shrewsbury, this made-for-tv classic sets the standard for gorgeous film locations and mean Scrooge portrayals. Nobody says “Bah, humbug!” with as much gravitas as George C. Scott.

  1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Narrated by Charles Dickens (played by Gonzo), this wacky but earnest popular classic loved by audiences both young and old has everyone’s favorite puppets stealing scenes from Michael Caine’s Scrooge.

  1. A Christmas Carol (1997) This critically panned version sees Scrooge with a pet dog named Debit and is notably voiced by Tim Curry and Whoopi Goldberg.


  1. Scrooged (1998) Bill Murray portrays Scrooge as a selfish TV executive in this modern adaptation of the Dickens classic. Scrooged was Murray’s first film after Ghostbusters, and the script has many ghost jokes that pay homage to the blockbuster. Carole Kane steals the show, playing the Ghost of Christmas Present as an unstable and volatile fairy.


  1. A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000) This updated retelling shows Scrooge as “Ebony Scrooge,” an egotistical, foul-mouthed pop diva played by Vanessa Williams. It’s a blast to watch Williams as she camps it up and finds the Christmas spirit by singing high-octave ballads.


  1. A Christmas Carol (2009) You better be a Jim Carrey fan if you are going to watch this. The zany comedian carries this film, voicing the characters of Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present AND Future. Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) says that he chose to make this adaptation because A Christmas Carol is his favorite story about time-travel.

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.

Young brains need theatre on the mind

Young brains need theatre on the mind

By Leslie Simon

You can learn a lot from a fairy tale! Experiencing live children’s theatre lets kids learn and explore important lessons that leave lasting impressions. Their curious minds become nourished with exciting new ideas and a better understanding of other cultures and the world around them.

All photos in this story courtesy Matt Gale Photography

At the Arvada Center, we are passionate about the positive effects that interacting with live arts have on young minds. We produce award-winning children’s theatre that engages thousands of children from the Denver metro area every year, including this fall’s production of Ella Enchanted and next spring’s take on the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit.

“Children’s theatre is so important for children to experience!  It not only exposes them to literature, music, art, dance and poetry, it also sparks their creative brain and, perhaps without realizing it, they learn life-lessons by watching conflict resolution,” says Arvada Center Director of Education Lisa Leafgreen. “Many young lives have been changed by that first moment when the lights dim, and they are transported into what imagination can do.”

Ella Enchanted

We get so many comments from people talking about the impact the Center has had on their lives- from parents whose children talk about plays they saw for months, even years afterward, to patrons who saw our children’s theatre productions through school field trips. We even have former students whose artistic interests were nurtured in our arts education classes now performing on our stages professionally.

Lessons learned from these plays and musicals imprint onto inquisitive minds and influence them into adulthood. Getting a glimpse into what goes on inside a character’s head helps children put themselves into another person’s shoes, nurturing understanding and empathy for other people and cultures.

In our current climate of social media echo chambers and biased news outlets, being able to see multiple sides of the story cultivates children who are better equipped to create lives filled with compassion and appreciation of others.

A research study performed by Brookings Institution showed that elementary school students who are exposed to live arts experiences were found to have an 8% increase in compassion and greater empathy for others, versus those who did not participate. Students who attended live children’s theatre were more interested in how other people feel, and more likely to want to help people who are treated badly- important traits for a caring community member to have.

Being in the audience of a children’s theatre performance also actively allows children to learn important lessons in etiquette and respect for those around them. Sitting through a theatre production lengthens short attention spans, and learning when to stay quiet and when to applaud gives young theatre patrons a chance to practice good manners and be an active participant in society. In a famous national study of 25,000 students, UCLA researchers found that students who were involved in the arts watched less television, participated in community service, and reported less boredom in school – behaviors that every parent and guardian can appreciate.

If you want to provide amazing live arts experience to your children or students, the Arvada Center has many opportunities for the theatrical exploration that kids need.

For more information on our programming including details about our upcoming children’s theatre productions of Ella Enchanted and The Velveteen Rabbit, visit our website: