2020 TRUE WEST AWARD: SPIRIT OF GIVING AT CANDLELIGHT DINNER PLAYHOUSE
By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse drew both cheers and some concern in June when it became the first theatre company in Colorado to return to live indoor theatre productions since the COVID shutdown began in March. But as it was coaxing smaller and socially distanced audiences back to state’s largest dinner theatre, it also was bringing employment back to dozens of sidelined cast and crew.
And when it came time to present a smaller-cast production of “Camelot” in September, the creative team used the opportunity to raise money for their fellow artists. And not a little bit of money, either.
The actors asked audiences that never exceeded 150 in the 350-seat theatre in Johnstown to offer whatever they could spare to help The Denver Actors Fund continue its mission of providing a variety of financial and practical services to Colorado theatre artists in medical need – more than a dozen of whom have appeared on stage at the theatre located about 50 miles north of Denver.
(Pictured at right: Bob Hoppe in 'Camelot.' RDG Photography.)
Candlelight was able to do what so many other theatres in Colorado still can’t – produce live indoor theatre – in large part because it’s a spacious, 22,000-square-foot gem that covers 3 1/2 acres of land. And because it received a variance from the state’s “Safer at Home” orders based on being located just inside the Larimer County border. (That exception was revoked and Candlelight joined the state's other temporarily closed theatres late last month because of rising COVID positivity rates statewide.)
But while “Camelot” was running in repertory with “Always … Patsy Cline” from September 3 through October 20, Candlelight’s mighty mini-audiences responded to the call, donating a jaw-dropping $16,677 to The Denver Actors Fund, which in 2020 alone has provided more than $250,000 to Colorado theatre artists either in medical need or thrown out of work (on stage and in real life) by the pandemic. It was all the more welcome during a year when other opportunities to raise funds have been scant with so few plays and musicals taking place.
Three of the eight ‘Camelot’ cast members know first-hand the importance of the safety net the DAF stretches across Colorado. In the past year, Sarah Forman (Reveler/Tom) has had $6,500 in medical expenses paid by the DAF, Cole Emarine (Mordred) $3,000, and Scott Hurst Jr. (Lancelot) $1,000.
“It was the cast of ‘Camelot’s’ idea to raise money for their fellow artists,” said Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Production Manager (and ‘Camelot’ Director) Pat Payne (pictured at right). “It’s important to do what we can to take care of the artists who were hit so hard by this pandemic. We all knew how blessed and lucky we were to be able to be open during this time, and we wanted to do what we could to help out.”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse now has raised nearly $35,000 for The DAF since March 2019. That’s when the repertory casts of “Motones vs. Jerseys” and “Nunsense” waged a friendly fundraising competition that exceeded $17,000.
“I am so proud of our staff and co-workers, and the amazing generosity of our patrons,” Payne said. “It is so weird to be making theatre right now. But this is a great piece of goodness coming out of that big dinner theatre up north!”
The Denver Actors Fund exists primarily because of efforts like those at Candlelight and other theatres across the state, including the Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden, BDT Stage in Boulder, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks, Firehouse Theatre and, well … dozens more. Even during the pandemic, artist-driven concerts and other creative events have kept funds coming in.
The spirit of giving at Candlelight extended beyond ‘Camelot’ when cast member Stephen Charles Turner followed up that production by hosting a virtual fundraising reunion of the Country Dinner Playhouse’s Barnstormers, raising another $1,500.
With today being Colorado Gives Day, a lifeline to thousands of nonprofits across the country, it seemed appropriate that today’s True West Award acknowledge all of those who give back.
A look at the 'socially distanced' seating at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Photo courtesy Pat Payne.
"Always, Patsy Cline" cast: