In the fall of 1992, I was asked if I would coordinate classes for a new initiative at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) to be called the Denver Center Theatre Academy. The goal: to create a training ground for Denver’s local actors. The instructors: professional actors and directors of the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC). The plan: to offer weekly classes to local actors much like the acting studios in New York: Circle in the Square, HB Studios, Neighborhood Playhouse and others.
This was a major gamble. Did the Denver community even want theatre classes? Would it support them? We crossed our fingers, swallowed hard and offered four classes for adults and two classes for teenagers, serving 83 students.
Immediately, requests for additional programming began to emerge. Can you offer drama classes for children? How about support for drama teachers? Can your artists visit the schools? What about family programming? The Academy listened and carefully formulated programs that served the specific needs of our Rocky Mountain community, because it was clear that this community was every bit as passionate about theatre as New York.
Fast forward to the late 1990s. Demand by then had not only grown, it had outgrown our space. In 2002, with the generous help of many donors, the DCPA renovated the third floor of the historic Tramway Building to create the superb Newman Center for Theatre Education. It has 14 classrooms, office space and a 200-seat theatre. Each classroom is designed with a specific type of student in mind. There are dance studios, music rooms, a media studio and classrooms for all age groups, starting with our preschoolers. These facilities are the envy of performing arts organizations across the country.
This year we will have more than 2,500 students in our building. This summer, more than 900 of them filled our acting camps, performances, evening classes and private coaching sessions. The Academy’s visiting artists have taught more than 25,000 students in metro-area classrooms and have served 750 teachers and business leaders in our professional development programs.
So what’s up for the next 20 years?
Well, we don’t plan to slow down. We’re developing new in-school programming, creating more classes on site, and developing courses that merge theatre practice with today’s newest technologies.
In 20 years, I have witnessed students and faculty leave for Broadway, television and the movies. I have seen others remain here to become prominent politicians, business leaders, teachers and professional artists. I have seen students take classes as teenagers and return with their own children for summer camps.
The Academy has been blessed with dedicated artists, faculty, administration and students throughout the years. Above all, it has been blessed with wonderful benefactors who understand that what we do here greatly enhances the potential of the next generation.
Happy Birthday, Denver Center Theatre Academy. Here’s to that next generation.
Learn more about the classes and programs offered by the Denver Center Theatre Academy at denvercenter.org/education.
As our Denver Center Theatre Academy turns 20, we asked a few of our 30,000 former acting students to reflect on what the Academy meant to them. Enjoy!
Brendan Doyle (right)
In the summer of 1993, age 11, I had just completed my first year at Denver School of the Arts, and my plan was to spend as much time as possible with my best friend Emily Frembgen over the summer, walking dogs and selling lemonade. Emily and I spent a good deal of time playing in rehearsal studios at the Denver Center Theatre Company where her mom Mary worked. Emily and I would create these fabulous performances, mostly lip-syncing to Annie, Cats or Les Misérables. After rehearsing for a few minutes we would invite various people working in the offices on the main floor to watch. Among the audience members in attendance were people like Tam [Dalrymple Frye, Academy Director], Luanne [Nunes de Char, Teacher], Brigita DuPree and Danny Tamez. This was introduction to the Denver Center Theatre Academy.
The following summer I began taking classes as a teen with Emily. Soon Emily moved, but I continued to take performance classes every summer from the age of 13 to 16. Along the way I met many of the people I still get to work with every day. Stuart Gibbs and I were lucky enough to be in a summer teen production of The Frogs together when I was 13, and the following summer I was lucky enough to act with Brandon Kruhm in La Dispute. Later that summer Brandon and I worked with Stuart again in My Friend the Painter, where we met Erin Ramsay. I remember Allison [Watrous, Associate Academy Director] from that summer as well, because she taught us that African folk song that we still sometimes sing at camp. I just remember those summers as being so exciting and fun, and I couldn’t wait to start working on another show.
At the age of 17 I started assistant teaching with Academy. It was the first summer that we worked on the third floor, prior to the remodel. I remember fondly getting to teach with January LaVoy, and at the time she became such an amazing role model for me. I really respected her and what she was doing with her life, and I knew that whatever I ended up doing as an adult I needed to be passionate about it.
After pursuing a photography degree, I realized one summer while teaching theatre camp that education was the field I truly felt passionate about. I was 23, and I wasn’t sure where I was going. I turned to my skills that I had acquired from teaching theatre and became a paraprofessional at a school in Denver. During the summer I would still teach theatre, which was always the highlight of the year. I had created so many tight friendships with my coworkers, and I loved working at Academy because I could always be myself.
I recently completed my degree in elementary education and I am now ready to become a first year educator. To say that this would be possible without everything the Denver Center has done for me would be untrue. I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me become the educator I am today. I’m also happy to call the Academy a second family. Over the last 18 years I have been honored to work with so many amazing actors, artists and educators. I’m also pretty lucky to still be making up musicals in the rehearsal studios in the Newman Center all these years later. Here’s to going Platinum. I hope to write another letter like this 20 years from today.
Sam (Samantha) Reiter
When I first came to the Denver Center, I was 15years old. I had just completed my freshman year of high school, and it had been a year of disappointments. I had auditioned for every show, only to find my name absent again and again from every cast list. When I asked my high school theatre program’s director what I could do to get cast the next time, I was told, “Well, Sam, you’re just too short to play against anybody.”
Between this explanation and the exclusion I felt from the drama club as a whole, I was on the verge of giving up theatre entirely. But then my mother enrolled me for a teen acting class at the Denver Center, where I met the woman who turned everything around: Rita Broderick, a local Denver actress who would become my mentor.
She encouraged me to continue to pursue theatre; she went beyond the regular expectations of a teacher by giving me the opportunity to volunteer as an usher at the Denver Victorian Playhouse, where I worked for three years afterward. She also wrote my recommendation for the summer Intensive program at the Academy.
It was during the Intensive that I met Allison Watrous [Associate Academy Director], another significant influence on my story, without whom I would likely not be pursuing theatre professionally. After observing my scene work in class, Allison told me to enroll in the Romeo and Juliet performance camp. The Academy pushed my financial worries about taking this class aside by providing me with a full scholarship, and the following two weeks were some of the best I have ever experienced. Allison provided for me the chance to grow and perform, while simultaneously assuring me that I could, in fact, act professionally if I wanted to, and I shouldn’t let my high school experience hold me back from trying. “Certain questions were asked for certain reasons,” I remember her saying in response to me recounting my lack of experience.
She was one of the first teachers to make me feel like I had potential.
Because of my work on Romeo and Juliet and the opportunity for summer work that the Academy gave me, I was able to audition for and perform in the National Theatre Conservatory’s rep performance of Ah, Wilderness! in April 2011. For me, this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I was and am incredibly grateful to have been a part of it.
Due to the Academy and its staff, I have continued to pursue acting and directing, which compose my major at Illinois Wesleyan University. I plan to do theatre professionally upon graduating and pursue theatre for development, acting, directing, theatre education as a teaching artist, and community-based theatre during my career path. The Academy taught me that theatre makes a difference in people’s lives. The gift they have given me is one that I can and will pass on to others throughout my life.
I remember that Allison Watrous [Associate Academy Director] was the first theatre teacher I had ever learned from outside of high school, and how my introduction to the Denver Center Theatre Academy through the Two-Week Teen Intensive acting course also served as my introduction to a lifelong pursuit of theatre.
At this Intensive, my camp group was introduced to Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth, and many other plays that captured our attention and moved me to seek out Theatre Education when I went to college. If theatre has taught me how to critically examine the world around me, then the Academy’s Teen Intensive provided me with my first glance.
Since then, the staff of the Academy has given me the chance to grow as an Theatre Educator by welcoming me to work in the Children’s Summer Series, where the two-week “Musical Madness” camps have allowed me to work with and learn from some of Denver’s best Theatre Artists and Educators. I remember helping our young students to devise a musical involving “Cell Block Tango,” twin Elvis’, and a Burrito. I remember when a 5-year-old approached me on my first day teaching a musical camp and asked me if our group could do Macbeth in Space, and if she could be a bunny rabbit Lady Macbeth.
As a teacher, I have not met a single student in the Academy’s programs that has gained anything less than a memorable and exceptional glance into the beauty of the world around them. As a lifelong student of theatre, I am thankful that I continue to gain so much from this incredible place.
The 2011 summer production of Robin Hood at the Academy is one that I’ll never forget. I remember the hilarious times during rehearsals with Alison Watrous and Andrew Schwartz. Hannah Speights and I would sit at our news anchor desk and introduce ourselves as Jane Rather and Barbara Fitzsimmons time and time again, unable to keep ourselves from cracking up. It was such a challenge to get through that scene without breaking character, but the element of play with the cast was so high, it didn’t seem like work at all. That production taught me what it means to be an actor. It means some discipline and hard work at times, but total outrageous fun for the rest of it.
One of my favorite memories was my first day at the Academy and it was conservative basic class with David Saphier and that was my first acting class ever and we were doing character objectives and scene analysis. I realize I had never before enjoyed myself doing anything as much as I did in that class. It was fun and awesome feeling that I fit in here. I can’t really describe it but I would look forward to that one hour class every weekend. Throughout the years with the Academy, my critical thinking improved and sense of speech and I have enjoyed learning to explore and think outside the box. I believe theatre helps develop a sense of responsibility and opens our brains to think bigger and dig deeper, makes you aware of your surroundings and how we act differently at certain places. I’m glad I came across this great organization.