What can you build with $500 and a dream?
A theatre company -- that is, if you're Jeffrey Nickelson, you live in Denver, CO, and you want to start a company that reaches out to multi cultural performers in a way other local troupes don't often manage to.
A year ago, Nickelson and executive director Brenda Boyd (both African Americans) formed Shadow Theatre, a 90-seat house started with $500 and "cheap rent!" (The venue is a former elementary school.) Nickelson, artistic director of his theatre, spoke with Playbill On-Line recently at a Mayor's reception for the American Theatre Critics Association, visiting Denver as part of their annual conference and convention.
Shadow Theatre's first show was Innocent Thoughts, a drama by William Missouri Downs that attracted national interest, leading to a staging at Off-Broadway's Miranda Theatre Company. Douglas Turner Ward's one-acts, Day of Absence and Happy Ending followed Innocent Thoughts, with In Search of Eckstine finishing the season. The latter show was so popular, the company will bring it back for an open run, starting Aug. 16. Nickelsen himself stars in the Eckstine piece, which he co-wrote with Hugo Jon Sayles.
Three days earlier, Shadow Theatre will start its second season with the drama Slow Dance on the Killing Ground. With plays like those mentioned above, one would imagine Shadow Theatre relies heavily on grant money from the government and civic organizations. Not so. Nickelson told Playbill On-Line Shadow Theatre is a for-profit company, with the entire budget coming from ticket sales. "It's word-of-mouth. We want to be a strong, reliable source of theatrical entertainment that's non-exclusive. The art comes first, because we're a theatre company that happens to be run by African-Americans."
Asked about the audience make-up of Shadow shows, executive director Boyd told Playbill On-Line church congregations have been very helpful filling the seats, while Nickelson noted the Eckstine show attracts "a very diverse audience."
For information on shows at Shadow Theatre, 1420 Ogden St. in Denver call (303)837-9355.
-- By David Lefkowitz