There was another major shakeup in the local arts community last week when Pelham “Pat” Pearce announced his abrupt and immediate resignation from Central City Opera after 26 years as the artistic leader of the oldest performing arts organization in Colorado – and just days before the venerable company’s milestone 90th anniversary season begins.
“Pat is one of those humans who actually loves this art form with a fiery passion,” said actor and opera singer Jennifer DeDominici, who stars in “The Light in the Piazza,” opening Saturday at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
Pearce, who is in the process of moving back to his home state of Alabama, told The Denver Gazette today that he is not yet ready to talk about the decision “other than to say it was mine.” But, he added: “Central City Opera will always have a special place in my heart, and I am proud of our impact on the field locally, nationally and internationally during my 26 years here.”
Unlike theater organizations that typically have separate leaders in charge of the artistic and business operations, opera largely still adheres to a one-leader model – and for decades at Central City, that one leader has been Pearce.
But last October, the company announced a “five-year senior leadership transition,” starting with Pelham shifting his full focus to the artistic side of the company with the new title Artistic Director and Senior Vice President. His General Director duties were then moved to a newly created Chief Executive Officer position filled by Pamela A. Pantos in March.
“Pat’s 26 years have been essential to who Central City Opera is and the fact we are celebrating our 90th anniversary this year. He has been a visionary and will be missed,” co-Board Chairs Anne McGonagle and Roopesh Aggarwal said in a joint statement.
But Pearce’s sudden departure now caught many off-guard, namely because he just programmed the upcoming summer season of “The Light in the Piazza,” “Die Fledermaus” and the Auschwitz opera “Two Remain,” and now, he will not have a summer victory lap to celebrate his legacy.
One subscriber described the board’s statement on the matter as “cryptic” and “sketchy.”
Others were quick to mark the important legacy Pearce has left on Central City Opera and the national opera community as a whole. Central City Opera performs both at the historic opera House 30 miles west of Denver and at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Its Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Training Program is a national model for the professional development of young singers. That’s a rigorous 10-week program for 30 participants each year chosen from about 1,000 applicants. Past students have included future opera stars Denyce Graves, Alan Held, Cynthia Lawrence and more.
“I have been extremely impressed with Pat’s artistic leadership of Central City Opera, and I have seen some really powerful work there,” said Bonfils-Stanton Foundation President and CEO Gary Steuer, specifically singling out contemporary work like “Dead Man Walking.”
Pearce was named Managing Director of Central City in 1996 and as General/Artistic Director in 1998. His resignation comes quickly on the heels of several other abrupt local leadership shifts, including Idris Goodwin at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Chip Walton from Curious Theatre Company and Rod Lansberry from the Arvada Center.
In a 2018 interview posted to the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation website, Pearce said: In a time when much of life is measured in megabytes per second, we tell stories about love, passion, pride and danger. We tell these stories with glorious music. It is something that should be savored as opposed to being consumed. Taking the time to give that kind of experience to ourselves in today’s world is rewarded tenfold with unforgettable memories.”
Commenting on that same article, Colorado Center for the Vocal Arts Executive Director Beverly Fernald wrote: “Thank you for all you have done to make Central City Opera an organization to be reckoned with: The historical value of the Opera House, the beauty of Central City itself in its Mountain environment, the excellence of the production, the wonderful training for young artist and the planning of each season. You deserve much of the credit.”
Goodwin’s next move: Seattle
Speaking of Idris Goodwin, today it was announced that the former head of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College is the new Artistic Director at Seattle Children’s Theatre. Goodwin, whose play “Blackademics” closed June 19 at Vintage Theatre in Aurora, will start his tenure as co-executive of one of the leading youth theaters in the country next month. Goodwin said today that the stars have aligned.
“Seattle Children’s Theater will be a transformative venue for this next chapter of my career,” he said, citing the opportunity for multi-generational storytelling and an organization committed to new work, arts education, and civic engagement and activism. “Oh the possibilities!”
Ortega advances to general election
True West Award-winning actor and educator Yolanda Ortega, the Earth Mother of the Chicano theater company Su Teatro for nearly 50 years, has won the Democratic nomination for CU Regent representing Colorado’s newly formed eighth Congressional District. Ortega won 55 percent of the vote against Rosanna Reyes and will now face Republican and Greeley native Mark VanDriel. “This is a win for higher-ed,” said Ortega, who has worked in higher education for 50 years as the Vice President of Student Affairs at Metro State University Denver and a member of the Auraria Board of Trustees.
Director Anthony J. Garcia called Ortega’s work in Su Teatro’s 2016 play “Bless Me Ultima” “the performance of a generation.”
Museum IMAX theater getting renovated
The Phipps IMAX Theater at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science will be closed from July 19 into December for extensive renovations including a new lobby entrance; a new laser projector and sound system; as well as new audio and visual accessibility features including an updated closed captioning system. Naming rights for the new theater are up for sale.
But first: The museum, in partnership with Denver Film, will launch the new Sci-Fi Film Series, starting at 7 p.m. July 6 with Stanley Kubrick’s epic “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the Phipps Theater. The series, curated by Vincent Piturro, English and Film professor at Metropolitan State University Denver, shifts to the Sie Film Center for “The Birds” on July 27. Discussions after every screening.
Quick reversal at DCPA
Playwright Reginald Edmund has resigned as Literary Manager of the DCPA Theatre Company after only two months. “Unfortunately, the move to Denver proved difficult for him and his family,” Artistic Director Chris Coleman told the company in an email.
Edmund, also co-founder and Managing Curating Producer for the “Black Lives, Black Words International Project,” joined the DCPA team on April 20 following a stint as the Resident Playwright at Tamasha Theatre in London. He was hired to review submissions of new work; to curate the company’s annual Colorado New Play Summit; and to represent the DCPA in the local and national theater industries by cultivating relationships with playwrights.
Edmund declined the opportunity to comment, but on the day of his resignation, he wrote on his Facebook page: “Just getting tired of feeling like everything is a climb,” and, later, “God will always send you a sign that you’ve made the right decision.” DCPA officials said that because his departure is a personnel matter, “we cannot share any additional information.”
Jazz and Gender Justice award
Shamie Royston, an acclaimed pianist from Denver, has won the inaugural Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Ucross Award. The fellowship will be awarded once a year to a female jazz musician or composer who will be given a two-week residency at Ucross – a majestic 20,000-acre ranch in northern Wyoming, including uninterrupted time, studio space, living accommodations, meals by a professional chef and a $2,000 stipend.
“Her dedication to her craft and exemplary work deserve the opportunity to experience the unparalleled creative freedom this fellowship will provide,” said Berklee founder Terri Lyne Carrington. Royston, a graduate of the University of Denver, is the daughter of two Denver public-school teachers and was mentored by late trumpeter Ron Miles.
After a brief lull, positive COVID testing is again responsible for canceled performances all over the state. OpenStage in Fort Collins has delayed the opening night of “Cyrano de Bergerac” by two weeks, to July 8. It runs through July 30. Vintage Theatre delayed its opening of “Gypsy,” starring Mary Louise Lee, by a week, to this Friday (July 1). Performance Now had to cancel its closing performance of “Nice Work if You Can Get It” on Sunday. And Insight CoLab Theatre, the newly rebranded Theatre Esprit Asia, has moved its premiere production “Say My Name” to Aug. 22-24 at The People’s Building in Aurora. That’s a new, family friendly musical about a Korean immigrant who is haunted by the ghosts of historical Asian woman while studying for her naturalization test.
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Where in the World is the Colorado Children’s Chorale? The famed choir, which takes the power of song to communities across Colorado and around the globe, is presently touring throughout Australia. So far, they have also gotten to play tourist at the Australian Mint, the British Parliament House and the American Embassy in Canberra, among others …
The emerging Denver indie rock trio Wildermiss returns to Colorado tonight (Thursday) with a 7 p.m. concert at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, and at 7 p.m. Friday at the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs. Wildermiss drops its first single since before the pandemic, ”W.I.F.I.,” on July 6 …
Thomas Beeker of Frederick High School advanced to the top 8 among all Outstanding Actor nominees at the Jimmy Awards, a national, Tony Awards-style competition for high-school theater on a Broadway stage in New York. Beeker played Harold Hill in his high-school production of “The Music Man.” …
Broadway star Elizabeth Ward Land, a graduate of Manual High School, will release an album of Linda Ronstadt songs called “Still Within the Sound of My Voice” on July 15. Last week, it was announced that Denver actor GerRee Hinshaw will star as Ronstadt in a one-woman musical called “Raised on Ronstadt” for Local Theater this fall …
The Cherry Creek Arts Festival returns to Cherry Creek North from Friday through Monday (July 1-3). Look for a full preview in Friday’s Denver Gazette.