Arvada Center Blog
The new visual identity of the Arvada Center represents the multi-faceted and dynamic work that takes place in our building every day.
Conceived by local Denver agency AOR, the new visual identity of the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is a multi-faceted, dynamic representation of who we are and what we do. The bold colors illuminate the vibrancy that the arts and humanities bring to the lives of our visitors, while the starburst shape emulates the energy and varied nature of our cultural landscape.
As the Arvada Center celebrates our past, we simultaneously look forward to the future.
With a record of excellence spanning over 40 years, the Arvada Center maintains our commitment to curating, creating, and producing national-caliber arts, humanities, education and entertainment.
“We truly believe that there’s something for everyone when you step through our doors,” says President and CEO Philip Sneed. “We are proud to be truly multi-disciplinary and offer programs that you can not only relate to, but programs that resonate – no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from.”
Visitors of all ages and backgrounds experience the power of the arts and humanities at the Arvada Center. We embrace and leverage the power of these experiences to expand our reach to more patrons, students, teachers, volunteers, and community members.
With a new brand as our backbone, the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities continues to act as a beacon of creativity in our community. Our vision is to enrich the lives of our visitors through powerful experiences in the arts and humanities – helping others to see, hear, feel, and think a little deeper. Here, you can truly find your Center.
I first met J.C. Johnson when I was about ten years old.
I was playing in the back room of the bank in Wurtsboro, N.Y., that my father managed. He called me into his office and introduced me to an older gentleman he said was a songwriter from New York who now lived in our village. That man turned out to be J.C. I had recently started piano lessons and was passionately interested in my lessons and music in general. I chatted a bit with Mr. Johnson about my playing and the kind of music I liked, after which he excused himself.
Within the hour, he returned with a published copy of one of his songs, BELIEVE IT BELOVED, and gave it to me. On the front he had written, “GARY, If you learn to appreciate good American music, you should succeed, J.C. Johnson”. Thus began a friendship and mentorship that lasted until J.C.’s passing in 1981.
I often visited J.C. at his house. On Saturday afternoons, I would go to the living room concerts he held with fellow musicians. A few were from J.C.’s past career, most notably the violinist and conductor, Billy Butler. But mostly, I would bug him to tell me stories – stories of Harlem and the people he knew there, famous and otherwise. He did, but always reluctantly – he was not one to toot his own horn.
As a teenager and in college, I started doing little shows at the barn in the town park. I would ask J.C. to come up and play a tune or two, and he was always the hit of the show. When I was driving him home from these events, he told me that as much as he liked his songs being in Broadway revues such as ME AND BESSIE and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, he would prefer to have them in a book musical, with a full plot and characters. He also indicated that if such a project were done, he would like me to do it.
At J.C.’s wake, I mentioned this conversation to his widow Julie and said I would like to create a full show using his music. She gave the project her total support and I went to work. The first thing I did was take J.C.’s 500 songs, literally lay them out on the floor and start picking the ones I thought would fit best. The pile quickly diminished to about 40 – and looking at those 40 songs, it became clear there were three levels of love stories to be told. (J.C. mostly wrote about love!)
Out of J.C.’s songs and stories, Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical was formed.
At the same time, all the stories J.C. had told me were swirling around in my head, inspiring the characters and feel for the musical. Remarkably, although the show has changed in many ways, the basic characters, songs and plot structure have remained very similar to the original 1981 concept.
By 1984, I was a graduate student in the Dramatic Writing department of N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts. Julie and I visited Allan Shapiro, then a music and Broadway attorney, to see about legal representation for Trav’lin. Allan was instantly interested in the project, became passionate about it as well, and took on the role of creative producer. In that capacity, he was intimately involved in the creative and writing process.
Then, in the late 1980s, life got in the way and the script was put on the shelf. Allan and I went on to other cities and projects until 2003, when I decided to start up with Trav’lin again. I contacted Allan and asked him to come back to the project, this time as co-author. And then, well….life got in the way once more, and we didn’t start working in earnest until mid-2005.
In 2007, we had a private reading of the show in New York, followed by successful public readings in 2009 and 2010 at The York Theatre Company in Citicorp Center as part of their Developmental Reading Series. Then in October, 2010, nearly 30 years after the journey began, Trav’lin was fully staged for the very first time as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The journey continues to unfold . . .
A funny and heartfelt look at love, Trav’lin rediscovers the music of Harlem Renaissance songwriter J.C. Johnson. His songs were recorded by legendary jazz and blues artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. Keep reading to learn more about Johnson, the time period this musical takes place in, and the men who adapted these tunes for the musical theatre stage.
- It’s the 100th year anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance! The 100th year anniversary celebration started Fall of 2018 and goes on until 2020. Generally considered to have spanned from 1918 to the mid-1930s, the Harlem Renaissance’s unique cultural expressions of literature, art, music and culinary arts spread rapidly across the country.
- As World War I slowed the immigration of workers from Europe, the war effort demanded unskilled industrial labor workers, giving rise to a working class of African-Americans and a new mass culture.
- Co-bookwriter Gary Holmes met J.C. Johnson when he was ten years old and got to attend many living room concerts that J.C. held with fellow musician friends. Gary has dedicated his life to preserving and promoting J.C. Johnson’s music and legacy.
- Most of J.C.’s over 500 songs were about love, so it is fitting that Trav’lin would follow the story of three couples from three different generations striving to hold onto each other in a complicated time.
- Character Billie is based off Pig Foot Mary (real name Lillian Harris Dean), a Harlem street cart entrepreneur and cook from the Mississippi Delta who turned her successful cart into a famous Harlem restaurant and brought her Southern-inspired Harlem cuisine (pigs feet, fried chicken, chitlins) to national attention.
- The characters of Billie and Ella are named after Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, but the characters are not meant to be the real people; they are combinations of fictional and famous Harlem characters.
- The Harlem stride style of piano playing was invented and changed the sound of jazz forever. Previously, jazz had been about brass instruments, but the addition of the piano changed the sound and mood of the music forever.
An Interview with Jessica Austgen, playwright of Sin Street Social Club
by Leslie Simon
When English Restoration writer Aphra Behn wrote The Rover in 1677, she broke cultural barriers and became a role model for women authors everywhere. Reputedly the first Englishwoman to make her living writing, Behn broke barriers that subversive female playwrights continue to break down today. The Arvada Center is proud to present the World Premiere of Sin Street Social Club, a play based off The Rover that we commissioned Colorado playwright Jessica Austgen to write. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Jessica Austgen about writing Sin Street Social Club and the importance of female playwrights.
Q: Why did you choose to adapt The Rover, and what differences will we see in Sin Street Social Club?
A: The Rover is widely considered to be the first play written by a professional female playwright and is an important part of theater history but…it hasn’t really aged well. The cast size is humongous (twenty-one named characters!), some of the language is pretty antiquated and—most notably—it features one of Restoration Comedy’s most problematic tropes: comic sexual assault. Sin Street Social Club cuts the cast size to nine, streamlines the plot and moves the action away from 17th century Naples and lands in the tawdry Storyville District of 1917 New Orleans. The plot does still involve the aforementioned moments of sexual harassment and assault but reframes them and, hopefully, puts more power in the hands of the female characters.
Q: Have you learned anything valuable from Aphra Behn on your own journey as a playwright?
A: Aphra Behn was a phenomenal, fascinating figure. I think I was impacted by her tenacity and willingness to compete with her male peers and succeed. She made it into the history books and that is no small feat.
Q: Why is it so important to have female voices represented, both as a writer and a character on stage?
A: While any writer of any gender can write female characters, there’s a difference between imagining a life, and drawing from your own life experiences. Also, it’s so important for everyone—women, people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, people of different ages—to see themselves represented on stage. If theater is for everyone, then it is crucial that—at some point, in some script, at some theater—they see a version of themselves up there under those lights. How can a human know that they are welcome at the theater if they don’t ever see someone up there who looks like them? Or sounds like them? Or moves like them? They can’t. We have to tell all kinds of stories if the theater is truly for all people.
Q: What do you hope the future of female playwrights looks like?
A: I hope at some point, female (and POC, and LGBTQ, etc) playwrights are prevalent enough in this industry that we can just call them “playwrights.”
Sin Street Social Club opens in the Arvada Center Black Box Theatre on March 15, and runs until May 19. Tickets are on sale now!
An interview with Abner Genece of The Diary of Anne Frank
How often have you attended a play with a vision of what the characters look like beforehand? What happens when they look nothing like what you expected? With today’s atmosphere geared toward inclusion and racial equity, diversity in casting is a hot topic. Color-conscious casting aims to choose performers based on their skill and character fit, but also to embrace how an actor’s race, gender, or disability can reveal new and interesting elements of a character and a story. In the Arvada Center’s 2019 Black Box Repertory season, The Diary of Anne Frank uses color-conscious casting for the role of the Dutch character Hermann van Daan. We spoke with Abner Genece, who portrays Mr. van Daan, on his views of casting diversity and how it can illuminate a play’s universal themes:
- In this spring’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, you play Mr. van Daan, a character who in real life was a white Jewish Dutch man. As a man of Haitian descent, how did you approach inhabiting the character?
As a man of Haitian descent, I approach the character with a deep sense of respect, admiration and sincerity for Hermann van Daan’s cultural identity and historical significance. In The Diary of Anne Frank, I’m telling the story of a man who actually lived; a specific man: of a specific culture and time in history. My goal is to honor his story and culture as best I can, using all the tools that I have (including my own cultural perspective). In the end, I am telling his story within Anne’s story, in a way that aims to serve and enlighten.
- What universal themes of the play do you think are illuminated when race and ethnicity are not a factor while casting?
I recognize numerous themes that infuse my character’s journey in the play; such as honor, pride, resiliency, patience, humor, discrimination, passion, diligence, love, and loss. My goal was to bring such themes forth, through the character’s perspective.
- How do theatres respectfully create racially diverse companies and casts while recognizing the playwright’s original intentions?
I feel that it begins with an open, honest dialogue. How does one choose to define the position of the company? Is the theatre asking the right questions when it comes to racially diverse companies and casts? We, as theatre artists, have an opportunity to explore such questions with sensitivity, curiosity, and honesty. For me, it’s also important to remember that historically-marginalized groups, as a whole (such as those of African descent, for example) have never been on completely equal footing with regard to “mainstream” storytelling. To a large degree, choices in storytelling have been based on preconceived notions. To start these dialogues with such truths, with each story told, requires patience, commitment, and discipline.
- Diversity of casting is an important part of the Arvada Center’s IDEA initiative (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access). How does this affect the stories we can tell and how a philosophy of IDEA can play a part in telling those stories?
For me, the Arvada Center’s IDEA initiative represents an exciting opportunity to approach and tell stories with uniquely fresh perspectives. The truths of these stories can be explored through formerly hidden lenses. My very casting illustrates a commitment to the philosophy of IDEA, and seeks to uncover truths that can be revealed and celebrated for the benefit of our audiences.
The 2019 Black Box Repertory Company features a rotating cast of talented actors – both new and familiar faces. Meet the company, and learn more about the plays presented this season, on the Arvada Center website. The Diary of Anne Frank runs until May 17.