Review: Lessons from a summer of outdoor theatre in the time of COVID – John Moore

Almost Heaven - John Moore Review

by John Moore (Senior Arts Journalist – Arvada Center)

Those companies that got out of the box deepened relationships with grateful audiences. Those that grow stagnant do so to their own peril.

…Not every live offering was so limited by crowd size. The Littleton Town Hall Arts Center had big plans to present a late-winter indoor production of the John Denver biography “Almost Heaven” on an indoor set accompanied by a provocative, original video underscore. When the shutdown ended those grand plans, Town Hall moved the production outdoors to the picturesque environs of nearby Hudson Gardens, which can accommodate about 70 on its expansive grounds.

By the time the run ends on October 11, Town Hall will have managed to sate about 1,500 of its audiences’ theatre fixes. Yes, that only represents about half the crowd size for a single performance of any big Broadway musical downtown. But then again, there aren’t all that many theatergoers who have so far shown much willingness to venture out to any production right now (inside or out). But those who have are being richly rewarded. At such a lousy time, you have to appreciate the opportunity to take in an early fall sunset in a garden while birds fly overhead and you’re listening to lyrics like: “I guess he’d rather be in Colorado; he’d rather spend his time out where the sky looks like a pearl after a rain.”

In every case, the thing that made those efforts special is the very thing that only came about through active problem-solving. Each of those environments enhanced the storytelling experience, and our understanding of the language or the lyrics. I would not have wanted to watch any of them indoors…

Review: Pivoting with Nick Sugar and the Town Hall Arts Center – John Moore

by John Moore (Senior Arts Journalist, Arvada Center)

How a lovely outdoor musical experience grew out of necessity and innovation

‘Almost Heaven’ was scheduled to open inside the Town Hall Arts Center on April 3 when rehearsals were shut down by the pandemic on March 13. What a strange set of circumstances that allowed for the musical to be reimagined as an outdoor, botanic experience at sunset that perfectly matches the tenor of John Denver’s music. Director Nick Sugar talks about it.

What are you doing to pivot?
We were shuttered during our third week of rehearsal. When I realized this was going to be much worse than expected, my first conversation with Town Hall was that “Almost Heaven” was the show that needed to open our theatre back up when the time came. The music is inspirational. It is the spirit of our community at Town Hall. “Almost Heaven” is Colorado. This version at Hudson Gardens is not the theatrical production that we had envisioned. It is not being performed on the set that was designed and completed on our stage. However, being able to see and hear these amazing singers without their masks on is joyous. “Almost Heaven” gives us all hope.

Why are you doing it?
All of us at Town Hall were invested in the show physically and emotionally. The cast was committed to the show as well. If I had to re-cast several performers, or if the Town Hall team felt it weren’t appropriate material to be doing for our first venture back, “Almost Heaven” would not be happening. Putting up a production takes a lot of work. Getting “Almost Heaven” up at Hudson Gardens has taken even more hard work, dedication and determination, and that work will continue throughout the run. After every performance, the band, lights, tent and sound have to be set-up and taken down each night.

Is there a timeline for programming to return to the indoor theatre?
It’s pointless to even speculate right now. Town Hall was lucky enough to be able to pivot with “Almost Heaven.” Hopefully, we can continue to pivot successfully with our next production.

Words of encouragement for others who are now pivoting their way through 2020?
We as a theater community are hurting. We have lost wages and jobs. We are re-learning, growing and trying to survive. Be brave and stay strong. We are a creative group of people. Create. We will pivot.

“Pivoting With …” is a new, ongoing series talking with members of the Colorado theatre community about how they are adapting to changes in their creative and personal lives as the COVID pandemic continues.

Have you met Town Hall’s friends?

It’s good to have friends, and it’s especially good to have friends who like theater in Colorado. We regularly follow some folks that we thought you might want to check out too (we stole lots of this verbiage from their sites!):

John Moore, www.culturewest.org, was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the United States by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. We love to read John’s take on everything theater and the arts in Colorado, and see some of the great projects he is working on, check out his 2013 theater photo series: It’s Opening Night in Colorado.

He Said/She Said Critiques (http://milehighcritics.wordpress.com/) is another great source for theater information in Denver. They mostly provide reviews, like the in depth review they did on Town Hall’s production of RENT, but also have theatre news (local and otherwise), local audition notices, information regarding openings, music, videos, etc.

Colorado Theatre Guild  works to assist theatre companies, small and large, in cultivating and sustaining audience membership, while at the same time promoting new and emerging artists and providing comprehensive services to the theatre community and the public. If you love theater in Colorado consider becoming a member!

Eden Lane (http://www.cpt12.org/tv_schedule/program_details.cfm?series_id=28196673) is the host and producer of In Focus with Eden Lane broadcast on Colorado Public Television, we are not sure how much longer she will be able to continue to produce In Focus, as she is still seeking funding, but we find her to take on theater in Denver to be fresh and intelligent. Check her out!

We have many more friends and consider all of you blog readers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers our best resource for spreading the word about the great things we are doing at Town Hall Arts Center. Thank you!