Some theater companies preach, some educate, some exist simply to provide entertainment, whether big, brassy musicals or dated comedies with gentle jokes that go down easy. But the Edge Theater in Lakewood has a vibe all its own, presenting a roster of plays that surprise and often excite, from thrillers like Misery, a dramatization of Stephen King’s novel, to risky shows like The Nance or the musical Murder Ballad, skillfully pulled off with a live orchestra in a tiny acting space.
Artistic director Rick Yaconis chooses his repertoire by finding terrific directors like Warren Sherrill, of the acclaimed and now-defunct Paragon Theatre, and asking what they’ve always wanted to direct, or locating some of the area’s best actors — and that list includes his talented wife, co-director Patty Yaconis — and building a show around one of them. Or several, as when Emily Davies, Emma Messenger and Patty Yaconis had the place exploding with laughter as airline attendants in Mud Blue Sky. Audiences experience the same openness. When you arrive in the bright lobby flanked by small art galleries, Rick or Patty are there to welcome you, and you recognize several devoted season-ticket holders as you take your seat. There’s an array of good food after every first night, and the Edgy awards, voted on by audience members, are given out in a lively mock Oscar party at the end of each year.
The Edge is so special that it was shocking to learn that the Yaconises are handing over control of the space to a new company, Benchmark, helmed by actors Haley Johnson and Rachel Bouchard. After mounting three more plays this year and two in the spring, they will take off the rest of 2018 to reflect and recharge. They’ve been producing eight plays annually for the past seven years, and while they’ve managed to pay artists, they’ve never made enough to pay themselves, despite capacity attendance and some grant support.
Emily Paton Davies (left) and Patty Ionoff in Mud Blue Sky.
What happens next — whether the two companies will share the space in 2019 or whether the Edge will strike out into new theater ventures — is undecided. But even if something wonderful takes its place, the web of relationships and collaboration that the Yaconises have spun will be gone.
“I’ve got mixed feelings,” says Patty. “It’s hard, because we’ve spent the last seven years with these artists. I don’t think it’s really set with me yet. The older you get, you complain that there are no good roles for women. At Edge, I’ve had an opportunity for some really exciting roles. Everything I’ve done was pure joy.”
Still, she’s optimistic about the future. “I think whatever changes we make will be very positive,” she says. “It’s a matter of reinventing and working at things a little differently. We’ve put a lot of effort and love into this, and I don’t want to see that disappear.”
Sherrill became assistant artistic director last year. He’d always wanted to direct Jez Butterworth’s rich, difficult-to-stage Jerusalem. Hearing this, Rick immediately told him, “Let’s do it,” Sherrill recalls.
“There’s a point in Denver theater — you’re a certain size, you put out really good shows and keep your mission strong, but growth might not happen the way you want it to,” says Sherrill. “It’s kind of nice to be able to hand some responsibility to Benchmark. It breathes new life into the project and gives Rick and Patty breathing room.”
Breathing room doesn’t mean inactivity for Rick; he’s very aware that the problems faced by the Edge are common among smaller theater companies. In fact, he and Len Matheo, executive director of Miners Alley Playhouse, just announced the creation of the Denver Metro Theatre League, a coalition of companies with annual budgets of less than a million dollars, which can share resources and, according to the announcement, “identify advertising and cross-promotional opportunities, create streamlined recognition programs that focus on members and open communication about season announcements and strategic events.”
Both directors say the league is intended to supplement, not replace, the work of the Colorado Theatre Guild, which represents companies of all sizes statewide. They're looking at a launch date for the league in January, and are currently soliciting feedback. A meeting to discuss the league will be held at 7 p.m. August 29 at the Edge, 1560 Teller Street in Lakewood; call 303-232-0363 for more information.
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As for his own company’s work, “I was never out to change the world,” says Rick. “I just want great shows that are entertaining and have depth, and to keep upping the game every year. The productions you really love are the ones that scare you the most, where you’re thinking, ‘How in the heck am I gonna pull this off?’ — but you just get to work and find a way. Those are such fulfilling moments. The intent is not to quit, but to come back and reinvent ourselves.”
“I saw something in Rick,” says Sherrill. “He has a passion for quality. The other thing about the two of them is that they want to make it a home for people, a home people want to return to, and for good artists, too, and that’s a big part of having a theater.
“They’ll take a little breather and come back strong. That’s what my hope is.”