Yes, but is it art? How one Denver theater company serves two masters

April 18, 2014
Photo: Barbara Thorngren, Kent Thompson, Rachel Miller
The Denver Center Theatre Company's artistic director Kent Thompson, center, with theater-goers Barbara Thorngren, left, and Rachel Miller.
Its main stages bustle with classic drama, musicals and contemporary plays that conform to the conventions of traditional theater – scripts, passive audience members, a robust fourth wall – and draw a traditional theater-going crowd.
But DCTC has an alter ego.
Off-Center offers something else entirely – giddy improvisation, back-and-forths with the audience, party favors, glitter, and an overall beer-and-jeans-friendly environment that appeals to those who prefer their theater rough and rowdy.  
Kent Thompson, DCTC’s artistic director, came up with the idea of Off-Center in 2010 in the wake of DCTC budget cuts. He wanted to find ways to reach out to new audience members engage them as co-creators, and innovate programming at DCTC.  
What can DCTC’s traditional productions learn from the company’s Off-Center experiments and vice-versa? Are the two strands growing apart or gradually converging? And what is the experience of attending DCTC’s wildly varied offerings like for those viewers who are expanding their horizons, in one direction or another?
This week, CPR brought two guests into the studio to discuss these questions.  
Photo: DCTC's 'Cult Following'
Chris Woolf, left, and Jessica Austgen in a recent Denver Center Theatre Company Off-Center production of "Cult Following."
Photo: DCTC's 'Shadowlands'
John Hutton (left), Sam Gregory and Michael Santo in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s mainstage production of "Shadowlands."
Barbara and Rachel sat down with Arts Editor Chloe Veltman to share their impressions. They were joined by Kent Thompson, who listened to the audience members and then weighed in on how their personal experiences relate to the future of DCTC.
“Cult Following” is a live movie reimagined on stage by six performers expert in long-form improvisation. The experience centers on a different movie genre each time (set by the audience) along with movie trailers, low-budget special effects and stunts performed by the actors themselves. The next show is on Thursday, May 8 at 8 p.m. at the Jones Theatre.
“Shadowlands” is a biographical look at the late-in-life blooming relationship between the author C.S. Lewis and wife Joy Davidman. The lynchpin of the story is Davidman’s cancer diagnosis, and how the reverberation of that moment shakes the foundations of Lewis’ strong faith. The play runs at the Space Theater through Sunday, April 27.  
This segment is part of the CPR Arts Bureau's ongoing discussion series, "Yes, but is it art?"
The series brings together people with different relationships to art – not just experts, but also those who simply love going to museums or magic shows, those who devote countless hours to making collages or singing carols, and those who would rather wait in line at the DMV than attend a dance performance.  
Each segment will use a particular Colorado cultural phenomenon to get at some of the deeper questions underlying our engagement with art. What is art, what is it for and what role does it play in our lives? Our goal is not to find a single answer to any of these questions, but to revel in the disagreement.

Becca Schonberg is a lawyer, translator and independent producer living in Denver, Colorado.