It’s a big week for one of Denver’s most loved and most celebrated theatre companies. For Paragon Theatre Ensemble, this weekend’s opening of Strindberg’s classic Miss Julie not only marks the start of their 2012 season, their 11th season as a company, but it also stands as the inaugural production in their new home in the RiNo (River North) Arts District. After bouncing from space to space, spending years sharing venues with other companies, Paragon announced at the end of last year that they had signed a lease to their very own home and were looking forward to settling in. “In a word, producing and rehearsing Miss Julie in the new theatre has been ‘heaven”, says Founder Warren Sherrill. ” It is a pure pleasure and rare treat to be able to rehearse on the actual stage where you perform and we do not take this privilege for granted.”
It has been a long road, both for Miss Julie and the new space. Before either could open, they had to put in some work.
According to ensemble founders Warren Sherrill and Michael Stricker, Paragon has spent nearly $17,000 dollars renovating the former Larimer Hot House Restaurant into their very own black box theatre. While Paragon Ensemble members have been busy taking care of necessary items such as: bringing it up to code, adding accessibility ramps, and emergency features, they have also been adding features in the front of house and in the theater space to ensure that both the environment and the product meet “with the goal of presenting a performing space that is enjoyable and as comfortable as we can make it for our patrons.”
For those familiar with Paragon’s most recent home, the new theatre will be a marked improvement in terms of audience comfort. The concessions counter is no longer a rolling cart, but a bar that will not only serve the standard popcorn combos customary at Paragon but will also serve some adult beverages once the beer/wine license is finalized. There is comfy seating by the indoor fire place for the winter shows and a lovely patio for those summer intermissions – not to mention a proper heating and cooling system to help keep things comfy regardless of season.
But for a theatre company that prides itself on doing honest, intimate, and bold productions (as is their motto), the real benefits of having a space to call their own are located inside the theater. “One aspect of having our own home is the endless possibilities of artistic expression through permanent stage lighting fixtures, unlimited set design and building capabilities,” gushes Sherrill. ” Our stage manager now has a legitimate enclosed booth (no more tables off to the side of the stage!) our electric capacity for stage lighting has been updated, and we can now strategically place our speakers to achieve a richer surround sound and create an acoustically superior experience than in past venues.”
And if moving homes isn’t stressful enough (and we all know it is), Paragon has been busy producing and rehearsing their 11th season opener almost in tandem with their massive renovation efforts.
With a cast of three, Miss Julie stars Paragon Ensemble members Barbra Andrews as the titular character and Suzanne Favette as Christine while also featuring Matthew Blood-Smyth, in his first show at Paragon, playing Jean. Sherrill, who also serves as the company’s artistic director, explains, “We chose to open our 2012 season with what we believe is a strong choice from the classic library. Strindberg writes a dialogue that is sexy and intimate and we felt this show was pure Paragon.” In the piece, written by August Strindberg in 1888, Miss Julie dances with her servants at their midsummer party until things get intensified with her senior servant, Jean (Blood-Smyth). What ensues is a back-and-forth power struggle full of love or lust between an upperclass woman and an her lower-class uninhibited male counterpart. ” The moral lesson in Miss Julie is simple and timeless, be wary of the power you hold for its misuse creates chaos not only for the inflicted, but also the inflictor.”
But while some might see difficulty in trying to mount a truly classic piece amidst the pressures of moving, Paragon has actually taken the positive perspective and utilized their situation to hopefully maximize the quality of their offerings. Whereas, in the past, rehearsals have occasionally needed to take place in a separate area, controlling their own place has allowed the cast and crew to dive right in from the beginning. Calling it “full immersion,” Sherrill believes that beauty of rehearsing/blocking the piece on the stage itself and being able to add in technical elements throughout various points in the process, without having to wait until a week before opening night, has “allowed all the creative elements of the show to become fully established and solidly rooted.”
Whether or not the fully immersed rehearsal process will elevate Paragon’s productions above the already incredibly high, award-winning bar they have set for themselves in the past is still to be determined. But one thing is for sure – one of Denver’s few theatre ensembles is not slowing down in the face of everything they are taking on. In fact, they are ramping up the risk. They have expanded their season from four shows to five and have mixed their season, as usual, with not just bold classics and daring modern works, but new plays as well (a risky choice for any theatre company in a bad economy). And they even informed us that they will be introducing an educational outreach program this summer “teaching the values of ensemble theatre that will result in a summer presentation conceived and produced by the camp members.”
“We are no longer a nomadic group subject to the confines of someone else’s space or idea of comfort,” states Sherrill. “We love that we have a permanent stage in which to present the stories we feel ought to be told. After 10 years of being guests in other theatres, it’s a good feeling to finally sweep up our own dust, clean our own toilets, and turn on our own lights!”
For tickets and info on Paragon’s 2012 season opener, Miss Julie, click the poster below.