New Denver Center for the Performing Arts exec pushes outreach to millennials

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Photo: DCPA CEO and president Scott Shiller
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts CEO and president Scott Shiller.

In theater, the "fourth wall" is an invisible line that separates actors from the audience. Many consider it sacred, but the new head of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts wants to break it down.

DCPA CEO and president Scott Shiller will use a $410,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation to target millennials, producing unconventional theater in unconventional places.

"We're looking to go into unique spaces -- warehouses, former banks, schools, apartment complexes -- and create experiences where the audience is actually walking into the story," Shiller says. "Coming up with new, immersive and off-site experiences is a way to make theater relevant for the 21st century."

Similar efforts include "Fuerza Bruta," which is staged in a former bank, "Then She Fell" by Third Rail Projects, and "Sleep No More." These New York City-based productions allow attendees to roam around and engage with the artists.

Shiller recently relocated from Miami, where he took over as the executive vice president of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in 2007. There, he made an immediate impact, helping to dramatically increase attendance and revenue in his first year.

Now in his new role at the DCPA, Shiller says he'd like to go beyond simply filling more seats.

"I really want to emphasize how we can broaden and deepen the participation of our audience," Shiller says. "That means the stories on our stages need to reflect the diverse Denver community."

Another priority is continuing the institution's commitment to developing new works, he says.

Next season, the DCPA Theatre Company will premiere two comedy productions commissioned for the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit: "The Nest" by Theresa Rebeckand and "FADE" by Tanya Saracho.

"One of our goals is not only bringing these new plays to life and testing them, but putting them on as full productions and then seeing them through to the next logical step, which is outside of Denver," Shiller says.

Shiller spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Shiller on the value of a traditional theater setting

"I think the magic of the theater is that it comes in so many forms. I love the interaction between the audience and the artists in a traditional theater. But storytelling can take so many other forms that what we're looking to do is not to say immersive storytelling is the only way to tell stories. But it's part of our tool kit."

On tearing down barriers to entry at the Denver Center

"I think there are entry points at all levels. Free and reduced-price tickets are of huge importance to the Denver Center. In fact, over the last few years, the [Scientific and Cultural Facilities District] has allowed us to provide more free and reduced-price tickets than ever before in the organization's history. And I'm really looking to expand and further, with the executive team here, access for reduced-price tickets."