When Helen Murray got the call from the Aurora Fox Arts Center, offering her the executive producer job, she says her “head immediately went to programming.”
“Even before we had solidified the contract, I was like ‘what would I produce my first season out?’” she says, finishing the thought.
Now we have a chance to see what she picked.
For the Aurora Fox 2018-2019 season, Murray has compiled a wide-ranging lineup of shows, from Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies,” to the mostly improvised “Twist Your Dickens” from Chicago-based improv company Second City, and Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical “Caroline, Or Change.”
Murray knew Aurora has a diverse population and she wanted to make sure the theater’s season was also as diverse.
“Programming is not a check box for me,” Murray says. “It’s not about saying I hit every demographic. It’s seeing that the stories are varied and that the way we present them onstage reflects the community that [we live in].”
Murray comes to Aurora via Fairfax, Virginia, where she was artistic director and a co-founder of The Hub Theatre. She wore many hats there: administrative, director and playwright. Bidding adieu to an organization she helped build, “was the most bittersweet moment of my life,” she says.
Murray succeeds Charles Packard, who had worked with Aurora Fox for nearly two decades. In a blog post last May, Packard wrote he had “grown tired, then exhausted,” and wanted to spend more time with his children and aging parents.
Murray was “surprised” she got the job because she comes from a new play development background and when she interviewed, it was her impression they were looking for more of a traditionalist. For Murray, it spoke to her “that the city was so interested in bringing somebody with my perspective.”
In a news release about Murray’s appointment, Aurora’s Cultural Services Division manager, Gary Margolis, said he believed Murray would “thrive here, continuing the traditions of excellence at The Aurora Fox while taking this theater to new heights and expanding our ability to bring the magic of live theater to the ever-growing diversity of audiences throughout the metro area.”
Chip Walton, producing artistic director of Denver-based Curious Theatre, says he was initially “surprised that they hired someone from outside the community.”
“But after meeting with her, I definitely understood why they were drawn to her as a candidate for the position,” Walton says. “And I think that fresh eyes can be really impactful in a cultural community, particularly one as isolated and still evolving as ours is here in [metro] Denver.”
Walton was not familiar with Murray and her work prior to Aurora Fox announcing her as its new leader. But he was impressed that she reached out to him so quickly, and came to see their work at Curious. For him, that “demonstrates an earnest interest in getting to know her new community… I think that the potential impact of any artistic leader on a community can only be measured by their commitment to the community.”
Murray promises she does have the community in mind. She says deciding on the best way to serve the community is “an ongoing conversation [with] no one answer I can give that will be the right one.” It’s not just about what’s onstage.
“We can offer all the great programming in the world, but if the neighborhood doesn’t come to the shows then we’re not doing our job.”
The search is on for a new staff member to expand the theater organization’s outreach efforts and Murray wants to open the doors for community-driven events. She also hopes to launch an assistant director program to foster young, local talent interested in theater.
Amanda Berg Wilson, artistic director of The Catamounts theater company in Boulder, says she’s very excited that Muray comes from “a more grassroots organization and one that’s dedicated to doing world-premiere work.”
The Catamounts is a smaller theater company than Aurora Fox. However, with new incoming leadership at both Aurora Fox and Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ theater company, Berg Wilson sees an opportunity for “the bigger institutions to make some choices that communicate, both to the region and to the country that we’re a serious theater town. And we’re not only following national trends, but we’re perhaps leading some of our own.” Though, she thinks that will “require some risk taking.”
Murray starts full time at Aurora Fox in July. She’s excited to get her feet on the ground there as she’s been back and forth between the East Coast and Colorado for months. However, she’s wasted no time and says she’s converted some Lyft drivers into Aurora Fox fans during all of those drives to and from Denver International Airport.
Aurora Fox Arts Center 2018-2019 season:
“Songs for a New World”
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Helen Murray
Sept. 14 - Oct. 14, 2018
“Killer Wigs From Outer Space”
By David Nehls and Zac Miller
Oct. 31, 2018
“Twist Your Dickens”
By Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort
Directed by Matthew R. Wilson
Nov. 23 - Dec. 23, 2018
“Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies”
By Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm
Directed by Betty Hart
Jan. 18 - Feb. 10, 2019
By Aaron Posner
Directed by Helen Murray
Feb. 22 - March 17, 2019
“The Happiest Place on Earth”
By Philip Dawkins
Directed by Matt Bassett
March 8 - March 24, 2019
“Caroline, Or Change”
By Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
April 5 - May 12, 2019