2020 TRUE WEST AWARD: 'OF SPACIOUS SKIES'

True West Awards: Of Spacious Skies

Clockwise from top left: Lynne Hastings, John Ashton, Lina Ramirez, Jennifer Dedominici, A.B. Lugo, Anna Faye Hunter, Elise Santora and Scott RC Levy.

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'I have always had a love for the Golden Age of Radio, and a love for the community of artists who are struggling now. So to be able to create something entirely new and provide both creative and financial opportunities for artists throughout Colorado is a dream come true.'

– Scott RC Levy

By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist

We hate to break this to you, but Zebulon Pike never made it to the 14,115-foot summit that bears his name 30 miles outside of Colorado Springs. Yes, that same peak you can get to in about 10 minutes today if you happen to be driving a Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye Widebody in the world-famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Pike lost his “Race to the Clouds” in 1806. Maybe because he was no Lewis and/or Clark. The first time he saw Pikes Peak, he dispatched his men thinking they should be able to get up and back before dinner. Pike later pronounced the peak impossible to scale.

Wrong on both counts. Yet they named it after him anyway.

The history of El Paso County is filled with under-explored stories and characters, and you can learn about some of them in a new anthology of fun, old-time radio plays called “Of Spacious Skies.” And that's only because the pandemic afforded Scott RC Levy, the man with the longest title in Colorado theatre, both the time and the opportunity to explore Colorado Springs history in a fun and original way.

(For the record: Levy is the Producing Artistic Director Slash Director of Performing Arts at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, and there's no way around it: That’s a title that demands its own sentence.)

Like every other artistic leader in Colorado, Levy was forced to pivot when it became evident that he would not be able to present live theatre as we knew it B.C. (Before COVID) for a very long time to come. Many local companies have since scrambled in magnificent ways to bring original programming to their culturally starved audiences. The Arvada Center, for example, has released a well-received three-play audio-play series. Miners Alley Playhouse launched a “Quarantine Cabaret” series featuring some of the area’s top musical performers in live concerts using three-camera format.

But it’s a fair bet that no one has envisioned, planned and pulled off a creative endeavor as expansive as “Of Spacious Skies.”

A married couple's Christmas in 'Wales'

Jessica Kahkoska quote

Levy convened a panel of seven area writers to work individually or in tandem to create 12 varied, 20-minute weekly episodes that are mostly fictionalized accounts of real events past or present. The series kicked off in September with Mêlisa Annis’ story of Katherine Lee Bates, who in the summer of 1893 traveled (rather scandalously) to Colorado Springs with lifelong companion Katharine Coman and became inspired to write the poem that would become the lyric to “America, the Beautiful.”

Fast-forward 127 years to Colorado Springs legend Mickey Burdick’s story that imagines a family dinner conversation taking place on November 5 – two days after the 2020 presidential election.

Jessica Kahkoska, a Colorado Springs native who was one of the featured playwrights at the Denver Center’s 2019 Colorado New Play Summit, went meta by writing a play based on the process of writing her play. (Listen here)

“It has meant so much to have a paid opportunity to create new work and collaborate with the FAC production team, actors and these incredible other writers,” Kahkoska said, “especially on a Colorado Springs-centric project built for audiences in this pandemic moment.”

Beyond fulfilling its mission to engage audiences with meaningful stories in any way possible during the worst possible year, tapping into Colorado Springs history provided a badly needed and greatly appreciated employment opportunity for nearly 100 Colorado theatre artists.

“That means everything to me,” Levy said. “Being in this moment of not being able to produce art in the way we are used to continues to be really terrible. But being able to find an innovative way of creating an entirely new line of programming has been really exciting.”

'The Family Tree' offers live holiday comedy from safety of home

Miriam RothThe roster of more than 50 actors includes some of the most familiar theatre names in Colorado Springs (Steve Emily, Lynne Hastings, Marisa D. Hebert, Matt Radcliffe, Miriam Roth (pictured), to name a few); Denver (John Ashton, Abby Apple Boes, Seth Dhonau, Damon Guerrasio, Abner Genece, Rakeem Lawrence, Chloe McLeod, Susannah McLeod, Leslie O’Carroll); and, in some cases, both (Jennifer Dedominici, Carmen Vreeman Shedd, Kyle Dean Steffen).

Levy also has rallied actors from Las Vegas to New York who have Colorado Springs bloodlines but no longer live in the area (Henry Award winner Elise Santora). That opportunity became pandemic-possible because everyone involved contributed their talents remotely.

Levy has further expanded both the reach and the breadth of the project by producing each episode in both audio and video formats. That effort has been headed by Resident Scenic Designer Chris Sheley and Resident Lighting Designer Holly Rawls, who didn't simply record the actors reading their lines, but rather took on each episode as an opportunity to create an artistic visual companion experience.

“They are taking the final audio and using that as a soundtrack to the visual component,” Levy said. “Each video has a very different artistic style. In one, you see a series of historical photos as the story plays. In another, you see stop-motion animation. In the election episode at the family dinner table, all you can see are a table and plates and everybody’s hands doing gestures that connect to the dialogue.”

The audio versions are available for free on all podcasting platforms. The videos are available for a $25 subscription through Broadway on Demand.

To date, ‘Of Spacious Skies’ has drawn about 5,000 hits, making it likely the most successful virtual pivot by any Colorado theatre company to date. And the effort is helping the FAC to expand its reach in unprecedented ways. “That figure represents audiences in 38 states and eight countries,” Levy said. “In fact, only 68 percent our listeners have been in Colorado.”

"Of Spacious Skies," Levy said, is further evidence of just how fortunate it was for the FAC to enter into a historic partnership with Colorado College back in 2016.

Read more: Pivoting with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

“One of the great things about the alliance has been the college’s commitment to keeping the full Fine Arts Center staff engaged during this entire time,” Levy said. “We, in turn, are committed to using this opportunity to reach out to as many people as we can, and in ways that are very different from the ways we usually engage with people.”

Of all the many creative collaborators to ’Of Spacious Skies,’ Levy says the person who has contributed the most work has been Jacob Keough-Mishler, the FAC’s Senior Designer of Sound and Video. “He has been so integral at turning our ideas into reality through mixing and editing and sound sourcing,” Levy said.

The FAC is further involving the community by collaborating with the beloved Colorado Springs toy and book store Poor Richard’s, where “I Spy”-style scavenger hunters are challenged to roam the store to find items that correspond to each weekly episode.

The final episode, dropping December 17, will be a creative departure from the rest of the anthology. Coming so close to the holidays, it will be an hour-long holiday cabaret featuring familiar FAC faces performing songs and sketches from their homes.

The whole experience, Kahkoska said, has engendered a sense of community in a time of isolation. No small feat when, for the most part, no one has been in the same room with anyone else throughout the making of it.

“The Fine Arts Center was the first place I ever did theatre, and I always feel a deep sense of happiness when I get to work in the building,” Kahkoska said. “‘Of Spacious Skies’ has lost none of that joy over Zoom. If anything, it’s been the opposite.”

Actor Anna Faye HunterActor Anna Faye Hunter records the first episode from her home in front of the official 'Of Spacious Skies' artwork by Alyssa Washburn.

'Of Spacious Skies': Available in three formats

  • Audio: Listen to any of the first 11 episodes on all streaming platforms including Spotify
  • Audio with visual companion experience: Purchase a $25 subscription for video access at Broadway On Demand
  • CDs: Donate $25 or more to the FAC Theatre Company and you’ll receive a CD compilation of all episodes

Click here to go to the 'Of Spacious Skies' web page

Click here to go to the FAC donation page

 

Video bonus: Watch the first 'Of Spacious Skies' episode

OF SPACIOUS SKIES

Writers:

  • Mêlisa Annis
  • Jonathan Andujar
  • Mickey Burdick
  • Marisa D. Hebert
  • Jessica Kahkoska
  • Xochitl Portillo
  • Jess Weaver

Creatives:

  • Directors: Nathan Halvorson and Scott RC Levy
  • Sound Mixing, Editing and Post-Production: Jacob Keough-Mishler, with assistance from Bob Morsch
  • Theme music: Composed and performed by Stephanie and Jay McGuffin
  • Production management: Kate L. Ferdinandi, Morgan Gatson, Terri Harrison and Christina Shoemaker
  • Visual Versions developed and created by Mickey Burdick, Leo Haselhorst, SB Parks, Holly Rawls, Christopher L. Sheley and Alyssa Washburn
  • 'Of Spacious Skies' artwork (pictured below) painted by Alyssa Washburn

Actors:

  • Karen Anderson
  • John Ashton
  • Abby Apple Boes
  • David Burke
  • Sol Chavez
  • Sami Chester
  • Nicholas Cline
  • David Corder
  • Jennifer Dedominici
  • Seth Dhonau
  • Kelli Dodd
  • Steve Emily
  • Warren Epstein
  • Cheerish Evans
  • Max Ferguson
  • Parker Fowler
  • Abner Genece
  • Manny B. Gomez
  • Damon Guerrasio
  • Zachary Seliquini Guzman
  • Lynne Hastings
  • Maya Hastings
  • Holly Haverkorn
  • Ben Hilzer
  • Caitlin Hilzer
  • Anna Faye Hunter
  • Nels Jacobson
  • Jessica Kahkoska
  • Haley King
  • Rakeem Lawrence
  • Ellie Levy
  • Gabe Levy
  • Scott RC Levy
  • A.B. Lugo
  • Kody Maynard
  • Chloe McLeod
  • Susannah McLeod
  • Michael Miller
  • Bob Morsch
  • Leslie O’Carroll
  • Christina Pittaluga
  • Kate Poling
  • Sam Pribyl
  • Lina Ramirez
  • Matt Radcliffe
  • Miriam Roth
  • Elise Santora
  • Carmen Vreeman Shedd
  • Lisa Siebert
  • Micah Speirs
  • Kyle Dean Steffen
  • Stephen Charles Turner

Of Spacious Skies artwork painted by Alyssa Washburn

'Of Spacious Skies' artwork painted by Alyssa Washburn.

Episode 12: Holiday Cabaret performers:

  • The Guzman Family
  • The McCauley Family
  • The McGuffin Family
  • The Vaughn Family
  • Sally and Mallory Highboy
  • Jen and Evan Lennon
  • Jennifer DeDominici
  • Marisa Hebert and her dogs
  • Susan Dawn Carson and Kelly Walters
  • Kelli Dodd and Kyle Steffen
  • Miriam Roth and Ryder Ballard
  • The Squad: Carmen Shedd, Tracy Taylor, Mark Autry and Ryan Miller

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