Marley's Ghost

Some of Marley's casting choices, however, have irritated local theater practitioners over the years. The issue came up again last spring during the American Theatre Critics Association's annual convention. Echoing the oft-expressed sentiments of several of his colleagues, Avenue Theatre producer John Ashton decried the DCTC's tendency to discount, underestimate and even disdain the talent of local performers.

Marley says the theater is unfairly singled out for such criticism. "It is not leveled at the symphony, though it is sometimes leveled at the art museum. It is leveled here because there are a whole bunch of people who think if you want to do it, you don't really have to have any skill to do it. You know, if you can't read a line of a Bach fugue and render it on a violin, you are eliminated technically, immediately and obviously. There are skills," Marley insists, "that are just as identifiable to the people who run theaters in this country." Although Marley admits that the DCTC might not be using "every actor of professional quality who lives in Denver," he maintains that "there are dozens of people in Denver who work a way that I don't want to work. It doesn't mean that they can't work other places; it means they can't work here...An actor who is not willing to walk in and surrender a performance ego can't work with us. And I will get in terrible trouble for saying this, but there is a difference with the professional who says, 'I am going to dedicate my entire life, six days a week, eight hours a day, to the exclusion of everything else.' I have to work with those kind of people."

One way to ensure that there are plenty of people to work with is to train them personally. A native of Portales, New Mexico, Marley attended Eastern New Mexico University as a music and drama major and performed graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, an institution more renowned in theatrical circles for its Ph.D. program than for producing professional actors. Now Marley professes a deep sense of responsibility to the 24 students enrolled in the National Theatre Conservatory, DCTC's all-expenses-paid program that pairs young actors (every year the center screens 300 to 400 applicants, "some of them from Denver," Marley says) with professional mentors for three years, the second and third spent in the company. "It's a very structured program for developing the next level of artists," he says.

Furthermore, he says, "Ninety-five percent of the casting in this country is done either in New York or in Los Angeles. If you seriously say, 'I want a life in the professional theater,' why are you in Denver if you are not on contract to somebody? What you are doing is rationalizing that that's what you want. Because if you want it, you'll go to where the jobs are. And I can't say that without coming off as arrogant or elitist, and I don't mean to do that. That's why I think [the conservatory system] is a more thoughtful, studied approach than saying 'We want to make a civic theater out of the Denver Center, so everybody come on down, and I'll make everybody feel good.'"

If Marley refuses to bear the burden of making local actors feel good, he also feels no obligation to see their work on a regular basis. "That is Randy Myler's responsibility as casting director," he says, but then qualifies his remarks. "I see local work, yes. If there is an actor that I want to see, if there is a director whose work I'm curious about, I go. If there's not, I do not go. And the reason I don't go is because if I do, I'm taking that period of time away from other work." Neither does the idea of a "second company" at the DCTC--a laboratory in which young artists are brought along and directors are encouraged to take bold, experimental risks--hold much appeal for Marley. "If your major company is committed to new work," he asks, "why do you need an alternate company to develop new work?"

What does excite him, he says, is the potential for more Equity companies to become established in Denver. "The time is now, the time is ripe," he says passionately. "I tell you what is missing: the professionalism to understand that the art has a business component. And if someone is going to start that company, it will take a manager who is just as gifted as the artistic leader." Marley seems certain more companies will arise within "the next three or four years" but also defends his choices with the warning that "what will be discovered is that if they are going to be successful, they're also not going to cast by ZIP code. Once they have been here, they will raise the expectation, they will go through a honeymoon period. And then they will develop a reservoir of resentment in the same way that the Denver Center has." The good news, Marley says, is that such a situation will produce "a group of artists who are working at the professional level [who] can live in Denver and move from company to company...It is not healthy for this to be the only Equity company in town."

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