True West Awards Shockheaded Peter

Component GradientStart is not available in React's context. It is defined in agility, however. Please check React Dev tools for props.

'It almost makes me cry to tell, what foolish Harriet befell.'

– Author Heinrich Hoffmann, 'Shockheaded Peter'

By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist

So, right off the top: When we say, “Suffer the little children,” the tone we're going for is more the Stephen King horror story than the gentle words of Jesus.

True West Awards. Elias Christol in Shockheaded Peter. Photo by Michael Ensminger The Catamounts’ "Shockheaded Peter" was an immersive, multi-generational punk opera loosely based on a German children’s book of poems where … oh, how shall I say it? … bad things happen to children who misbehave. Like the adorable young lass who plays with matches and accidentally burns herself to death.

Some, I’m told, are put off by grim fairy tales that depict children in peril. I dunno. When I see rotten kids being starved, burned, de-thumbed and eaten by dogs, I say: “Pass the popcorn!”

(And if that makes you indignant to read that, consider the bloody, chopped-off feet of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters. Kids getting baked (and not in the fun way) in “Hansel and Gretel.” The delectable fate of all those brats in Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Or, heck: The Seven Deadly Sins. Talk about consequences!)

Love it or abhor it, the kids’ cautionary canon has been steeped in mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide and incest since at least the 1300s, when a great famine struck Europe and lore emerged saying that mothers abandoned their children – and in some cases, ate them.

Let's be honest: Tormenting animals, sucking your thumb or fidgeting at meals should come with gruesome consequences, don't you think? I learned that when I ungratefully refused to eat my mother's yucky corned beef and cabbage one Halloween night and wasn’t allowed to trick-or-treat. I’m lucky she didn't sew my mouth shut.

These classic stories survive and thrive (typically in far more sanitized fashion for these precious times) because there tend to be clear morals and lessons to be drawn from them. Deception and dishonesty will be punished. Promises must be honored. And do we even have to say it, kiddos? Beware of strangers – especially in the forest!

Dark, fatal tales are a great way to keep the wee ones in line. But as the writer Stephen Evans smartly noted of the Brothers Grimm: “Moralistic lectures never entertained anyone – but gory tales of suspense are a different thing.”

“Shockheaded Peter” (translation: "Slovenly Peter") is a delightfully macabre adaptation of Heinrich Hoffmann’s 1845 children’s book “Der Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories and Vile Pictures to Instruct Good Little Folks.” It opened to great acclaim in London in 1998 – set to music by the cult British musical trio The Tiger Lillies.

A married couple's Christmas in 'Wales'

As a parent herself, “Shockheaded Peter’s” sly cautionary tales appealed to Boulder tastemaker Amanda Berg Wilson’s sense of parental anxiety. She calls such yarns a parent’s first line of defense.

True West Awards. Eloise Wilson in Shockheaded Peter. Photo by Michael Ensminger “I fell in love with this story from the point of view of a parent,” Berg Wilson said. “Parenting is terrifying all by itself – especially when we try to let children be their own strange, independent selves.

“When you become a parent, it’s like, ‘I am in charge of keeping this person alive for the next 18 years?’ I thought it would be cathartic for us parents to see a show that examines how terrifying parenting can be. I wanted it to hit viscerally.”

While the original production relied solely on puppets to depict the doomed tykes, Berg Wilson expanded on that conceit by by putting five actual, lovely precious young humans in harm’s way (including one of her own!). That choice made the musical more deliciously fun. And not just for the audience.

'The Family Tree' offers live holiday comedy from safety of home

The fully engaged and invested youth ensemble of Lily Gruber (14), Luca Fowler (13), Eloise Wilson (she turned 12 on opening night), Elias Christol (9) and Macaelle Vasquez (8) were clearly having the time of their lives portraying children who often lose theirs. As Erica Reid wrote for “Go West Young Woman”: 

“Every actor, regardless of age, has a great deal of fun with their gruesome material. But possibly the most dedicated of all the performers are the young children. For example, Luca Fowler busts out breakdancing moves as Fidgety Phil; Lily Gruber as a downright devious, pint-sized pyro; and 9-year-old Elias Christol flat-out stares you down as he kicks boxes at you as Cruel Frederick.”

Berg Wilson saw the use of real flesh and blood as a way of expanding the emotional reach and impact of the original puppet musical. Staging it in the Dairy Arts Center’s smallest theatre put about 40 mobile audience members inside and around the elaborate and evocative attic set, right in the middle of the dusty gore.

“I thought, 'This is a show about kids, so what if we use real kids?’ ” Berg Wilson said. “How would it change the experience for the audience to have all these children die – theatrically speaking – right in front of us?”

From Day 1, the kids were treated the same as an appetizing adult ensemble led by lithe and lethal emcee Lance Rasmussen. They were paid professional stipends for their work. They fully participated with the adults in Viewpoints exercises – that’s an advanced technique that encourages actors to focus less on their characters’ psychology and more on observation and movement. (And if you fully understand what that means, you’re one step ahead of me.) There was no “child wrangler” (a theatrical term essentially meaning babysitter for young cast members.) Parents were not allowed in the rehearsals.

They had no issues dealing with the graphic content, Berg Wilson said. "They knew it was pretend. But they're kids, after all. One of them was a total pro, but she was scared of the dark, which is so understandable. She wasn't bothered by anything on stage, but we always had one of the kids wait with her holding her hand in the dark for all of her entrances.It was adorable.

Otherwise? Killer kids.

“We treated them like professionals, and they delivered,” Berg Wilson said. “I have a really strong philosophy that if you have expectations of children that are robust, they will rise to it.”

And fall. Six feet under.

True West Awards. Shockheaded Peter. Photo by Michael Ensminger

The Catamounts' 'Shockheaded Peter.' Puppetry by D. Tristan Cupp and Aaron Vega. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

'Shockheaded Peter' cast:

  • Todd Bilsbourough
  • Joan Bruemmer-Holden
  • James Brunt
  • Elias Christol
  • Tresha Farris
  • Luca Fowler
  • Paul Fowler
  • Kellie Fox
  • Lily Gruber
  • Matt Powelson
  • Lance Rasmussen
  • Maggie Tisdale
  • Macaelle Vasquez
  • Ronan Viard
  • Eloise Wilson


  • Created for the stage by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott
  • Original music and lyrics by The Tiger Lillies
  • Originally conceived and produced by Michael Morris for Cultural Industry, London
  • Direction by Amanda Berg Wilson
  • Music Direction by Paul Fowler
  • Choreography by Amanda Berg Wilson and Joan Bruemmer-Holden
  • Costume Design by Nicole Watts
  • Production by McPherson Horle
  • Production Support by Peter Henderson
  • Production Design by Matthew Schlief
  • Puppet Design and Fabrication by Tristan Cupp and Aaron Vega
  • Stage Management by Wayner Breyer
      Home,Reignite the Arts,Art at Home,Support Arvada Center Artists,Virtual Auction,Donate Now,Corporate Giving,Subscribe,AC Flex Package,YP Access,Four Play Package,Visit Us,COVID-19 Entry Policies,View All Events,Gift Certificates,Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express,528.0 Regional Juried Printmaking Exhibition,Imprint: Print Educators of Colorado,Pink Progression: Collaborations,Stories and Songs to Celebrate the Season,Black in Denver,Carley Warren: Three Pieces,Wood.Works,Small Mouth Sounds,Race and the Myth of Rock'n'Roll,Million Dollar Quartet,Amplify with Cleo Parker Robinson,Viral Influence Art in the Time of Coronavirus,Brady Smith: (Don’t be embarrassed by) your trouble with living,Melody Epperson: 100 + 1: Women and the Vote,Simply Swingin’: Great American Crooners,Brazil Calling: Featuring the Music of Antônio Carlos Jobim,Big Band Royalty: Dukes, Counts and Barons of Jazz ,Colin Hay Testing,Kinky Boots,Rockley Piano Sale,Coffee Concerts: Moonlight Sonata,Keyboard Conversations: The Glorious Music of Chopin,Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema,Word Play,I Do! I Do!,Roland Bernier: In Other Words,Jazz Classics: The Music You've Been Missing,Elf - The Musical,Amplify: A Breakbeat Testimony,Sylvia,The Liar,Stick Fly,Animal Farm,Dining Partners,Amplify,Amplify Performers,Theatre,main stage musicals,Black Box Plays,Theatre for Children,Auditions,Million Dollar Quartet Auditions,Holiday Plays,Galleries,Current Exhibitions,Wood.Works Know Before You Go,Gallery Events,Upcoming Exhibitions,Art Sales,Art Market,Art Submissions,Viral Influence Call for Entry,Sculpture Field,History Museum,Education,Dance Class FAQ,View All Classes,Summer Camps,FAQ,Full Day,Summer Camp Performances,Classes for Kids,Classes for Adults,Ceramics,Front Range Youth Symphony,Dance Academy,For Educators and Community Groups,Arts Day,Arts Day Outreach,Ageless Adults,Scholarships,Teen Intensive 2021,Yesterado,Music and Dance,Jeffrey Siegel,Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra,AEDA Summer Concerts,Humanities,On Their Shoulders We Stand,Private Event Rentals,Humans of the Arvada Center,Straight Talk Series ,Straight Talk with Philip Sneed,COVID’s toll on Colorado theatre: 224 productions and counting ,Straight Talk with Lynne Collins,Straight Talk with Rod Lansberry,Straight Talk with Phamaly, Buntport, Colorado Shakes and Rocky Mountain Rep,Straight Talk with Creede Rep, Town Hall, Candlelight and Theatre Company of Lafayette,Straight Talk with Aurora Fox, BDT Stage, Cherry Creek Theatre and Misfits,Straight Talk with Su Teatro, Vintage, Backstage and Counterweight,Straight Talk with Local Theater Company, Theater 29, The Source and Equinox,Straight Talk with the Denver Center, Jesters Dinner Theatre, Glenwood Vaudeville Revue and Germinal Stage-Denver,Actors' union issues safety guidelines for re-opening,Straight Talk with square product, Forge Light, Springs Ensemble Theatre and Coal Creek Theatre of Louisville,Straight Talk with the Fine Arts Center, Miners Alley Playhouse, Dangerous Theatre and Lone Tree Arts Center ,Straight Talk with Lake Dillon Theatre Company, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Northglenn Arts,Straight Talk with The Catamounts, Bas Bleu and Thingamajig,Straight Talk with Curious Theatre Company,Straight Talk with OpenStage, Firehouse and Adams Mystery Playhouse,Straight Talk with Platte Valley Players and Theatreworks,Straight Talk with Parker Arts, Stories on Stage and Thunder River ,Staight Talk 2 with Philip Sneed: This much is uncertain,Pivoting With,Pivoting with The Black Actors Guild,Pivoting with ... Emily Van Fleet and Nathan Jones,Pivoting With ... Tammy Franklin and the Curtain Playhouse,Pivoting With Nick Sugar and the Town Hall Arts Center,Pivoting With Helen Murray and the Aurora Fox,Pivoting with Edith Weiss and Christy Montour Larson,Pivoting With Scott RC Levy and the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company,Pivoting with Todd Debrecini for Halloween,Pivoting with Ashley Campbell,Pivoting with Meghan Anderson Doyle,Pivoting with Jenna Moll Reyes,Pivoting with Erik Fellenstein,Pivoting with Ray Bailey ,Pivoting with Tara Falk,Community News,Inside the Arvada Center,Barbra Streisand,Governor's mask mandate does not apply to Candlelight actors,Pink Progression: Collaborations: Grow Love and Moe Gram,Director's Notes: A Midsummer Night's Dream,All About Printmaking Techniques,Watercolor Class,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Collin Parson ,Arvada Center Makes Masks,Earth Day Craft,Christina Noel-Adcock,"Bright Star" cast unveils video as message of hope,Podcast: B+ with Geoffrey Kent and Jessica Austgen ,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Christine Moore,Humans of the Arvada Center: Steven Cogswell,Humans of the Arvada Center: Ashi K. Smythe,City of Arvada to install new sculpture in Hoskinson Park,Humans of the Arvada Center Jessie Page,Here are the 2019-20 Henry Award nominations,Arvada Center to Offer Students World’s First Zoom Musical,Humans of the Arvada Center Cal Meakins,Humans of the Arvada Center: Adam Stolte,Supreme Court workplace ruling hits home for Lisa Leafgreen,'Time for talk is over': Arvada Center launch 'Amplify' series to raise black male voices,Humans of the Arvada Center Jon Olson ,The 5 Most Screwed Job Titles in COVID-era theatre,June in Colorado Theatre: 'The Reckoning' has begun,New Arvada Center, Aurora Fox seasons reflect current complexities,It's virtually impossible not to have fun in our summer camps,News roundup: Who The Denver Actor's Fund DEAR Fund has helped,Humans of the Arvada Center: Abygail Rosales,Pink Progression Collaborations: Jina Brenneman and Margaret Kasahara,Pink Progression: Julia Rymer and Drew Austin,Revealing The Dialogue,Amplify Epiode 3 launches, series expanding to include black women,Colorado Springs reaches the Mountaintop at 2020 Henry Awards,Photo Blog: Sweeney Todd Rehearsals,Humans of the Arvada Center: Gabriel Morales,Deeper Dive: A closer look at Million Dollar Quartet,Deeper Dive: A closer look at Small Mouth Sounds,Pink Progression: Sangeeta Reddy and Jodie Roth Cooper,Deeper Dive: A closer look at Private Lives,Front Porch Series Kickoff,Cleo Parker Robinson dances back in the box with Arvada Center,Amplify turns the mic over to local Black women ,Beth Malone bringing 'joy bomb' to Arvada Center oon September 4,Theatre news: Live streaming panel Monday on a big new 'Idea',Deeper Dive: A closer look at They're Playing Our Song,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Emily King,Amplify Women Episode 2,Special Book Honors Special Dance Teacher,Arvada Center pivots to radio-play series for fall ,amplify-series-comes-to-powerful-conclusion,Denver Film moving forward with longer, smaller, virtual 2020 festival ,How COVID is impacting individual artists,Take a stroll through 'Sculpture in the Field',Arts In Education Week,Colorado Theatre News: Miscast pivots to CAST ,Essay: Was the Aurora Fox a safe house on Opening Night? ,Lessons from a summer of outdoor theatre in the time of COVID ,Humans of the Arvada Center: John Hamilton,Theatre news of the week: DCPA launches Recovery Fund,Zachary Andrews take a one-man bite out of 'Dracula',Trick Art Treat coming to Arvada Center parking lot ,What to do? Theatre happenings for October 16,Spotlight Manos Soap,Doreen Montalvo in Denver: Compassion and grit,What to do: Theatre happenings for October 23,Betty Hart's presidential promise: Build a bigger tent,Theatre happenings October 30,Virtual theatre sprouts a new branch with Arvada Center's 'The Family Tree',Humans of the Arvada Center: Brenna Clendaniel and Sophia Koop,Theatre happenings November 12,the barnstormers are back,On being Black in Denver and all the colors that it brings,Getting to Know: Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales,Theatre happenings November 19: Companies entering cancellation mode,A Married Couple's Christmas in Wales,2021 in live theatre: A look into the Crystal Ball,Senior Art Kits,2020 True West Awards: Buntpivot ,2020 True West Awards: Lily Bradford,2020 True West Awards: The Scenesters,2020 True West Awards: Podcastic,2020 True West Awards: Phamaly takes 'Honk' to Japan,2020 True West Awards: Christine Moore,2020 True West Awards: Alive Inside,2020 True West Awards: Michael Ensminger,True West Awards: They Wrote the Book,True West Awards: Rent-A-Pals,True West Awards: Of Spacious Skies,True West Awards: Christopher Page-Sanders,2020 True West Awards: Suffer the little children,2020 True West Awards: Spirit of Giving,2020 True West Awards: Secret Gardeners,2020 True West Awards: Denis Berkfeldt,2020 True West Awards: Amplify,2020 True West Awards: Reclaiming One Star,2020 True West Awards: William Hahn and Jessica Robblee,2020 True West Awards: Lisa Wagner Erickson,'The Family Tree affords actors rare chance to work during pandemic,SCFD: New picture of COVID carnage on metro nonprofits,New Arvada Center video offers diverse slate of holiday stories,20 for 20,Meet the Frasers,Bev Newcomb-Madden: Colorado's feisty, ferocious fairy godmother passes away ,Lucy Roucis' final act is a gutpunch,Reunite the Arts Collin Parson,Jodie Steeves and Nancy Terry,International Women's Day,Reunite the Arts Lisa Leafgreen,The Con Must Go On,Clear Fork Cider Spotlight,Remembering John Gratkins,Reunite the Arts: From our CEO,Adapting the Great Gatsby,Small Mouth Sounds returns,Danielle Johnson Q&A,Reunite the Arts Lynne Collins,The Show Must Go On,Diana and Mike Kinsey,Get to Know Kazu Oba,Reunite the Arts Rod Lansberry,Meet Suzanna Champion,Getting to know Eric Many Winds Herrera and Red Feather Woman,The Gear of Million Dollar Quartet,Music for the Young and Young at Heart,FRYS and the Symphony,Get to Know Carlou D,Stories From the Studio,Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Lares Feliciano,Arts Advocacy,Volunteer,About Us,Ticketing Policies,Contact Us,Ticket discounts,Accessiblity,Health and Safety,Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access,Digital Magazine,Careers,Entry,Tours,Art of the State Submissions,Adopt an Actor 2022,Dinner and a Show,Temp,Virtual Theatre FAQ,New Website ,Pink Progression Events,On Demand Troubleshooting,Blog,Lorem ipsum,Lorem ipsum 2,Newk’s,Steuben’s Arvada,The Family Tree FAQ,Home for the Holidays,Land Acknowledgement,Gala,Errors,404,The Family Tree Dining Offers,Privacy Policy