Story time with Milk and Cookies….for Grown Ups
A preview by Marc Shulgold
As a child, Anthony Powell looked forward to a story at bedtime. And maybe some milk and a cookie to finish things off. “If you were read to as a kid,” Powell observes fondly, “you never outgrow that.” So it was natural for the actor/director to keep that lovely childhood memory alive back in 2010 when he succeeded Norma Moore as artistic director of her popular series, Stories on Stage, which she founded in 2001. “The original model was so good,” he says. “I mean, Norma was class. Stories was like ‘The Belle of Amherst.’ I was so nervous when I took over.”
Not to worry. The program, which is enjoying its 22nd season with performances at Su Teatro, has scarcely missed a beat thanks to Powell’s leadership and the consistently first-rate readings from some of Denver’s finest actors. Among them is Betty Hart, who will team with Rodney Lizcano and Anne Penner for a program of local nostalgia titled “Denver Noir” on April 2. Hart will read Francelia Belton’s look back at the teeming ’50s jazz scene in Five Points, “Dreaming of Ella,” and Mathangi Subramanian’s compact view of Washington Park, “Something Like Free.”
Preparing her stories is always a labor of love, Hart says. “Not everyone can do Stories on Stage. You have to love words. You have to love stories, and you have to love reading. And yes, it all begins with reading to your kids.”
Hart says she spent plenty of time in preparation, reading her two stories to herself, finding the right voice and the right rhythm, using her “authentic” voice as narrator for the Five Points piece, adding that there are a total of six characters in Bolton’s tale – half of them men. “Every person is coming to life in my head.” Juggling so many voices is hardly a problem for the veteran actor. “I once did a story with 20 different characters,” she notes. After getting comfortable with the text and its people, she’ll work with Powell, where “the fun comes in rehearsal.”
According to Powell, the casting of each story is also part of the fun. “Sometimes I’ll choose against type. Sometimes stories cry out for two actors. In fact, sometimes I choose the actor first. The whole thing is closer to intuition. Often the stories pick me, or they’ll pick the actor.”
The April 2 program, he explained, consists of four stories drawn from a collection titled “Denver Noir,” edited by Cynthia Swanson, who contributed “Pieces of Everyone, Everywhere,” a glimpse at Cheesman Park in the late 1800s that may give some audience members the shivers.
But then, as Powell observes, in every Stories on Stage program, attendees become part of the show. “If you’re in the audience, you’re another character. We may think a story is one thing, but the people may tell us something different.” He recalled one reading that described the opening of a restaurant that turned tragic as one kitchen disaster sadly followed another. Trouble was, audience members thought it was all hilarious, and couldn’t control their laughter. “There were belly laughs,” Powell recalls. “The actor just turned on a dime and made the whole thing into a comedy.”
Stories on Stage will present “Denver Noir” at 2 p.m. April 2 at Su Teatro, 721 Santa Fe Dr. Yes, Milk and Cookies will be served afterward. Information: https://www.storiesonstage.org/store/p130/Denver_Noir.html
A Virtual performance will be available beginning April 6 at 7 p.m.