The last e-mail Nick Thorne sent to his cohorts in the Black Actors Guild was a series of notes and edits on the group's latest episode of its web series, Behind the Smile. The writer, director, actor and producer passed away on February 8 of this year. Thorne was 25.
A rare combination of actor and athlete, Thorne was known for his work ethic and competitive edge, both on the stage and on the field.
"I first met him in middle school, on the soccer field at City Park. His team just kicked our asses," says friend and Guild co-founder Kevin Quinn Marchman. "It became the norm for his team to put up, like, five points on everybody. There were a couple of Facebook posts [after his death] that expressed that same respect and ire for Nick. If he hadn't gone to Denver School of the Arts, he probably would have gone on to play varsity somewhere."
Thorne is the second member and co-founder of the Black Actors Guild theater company to die. In October of 2015, Corin Chavez passed away unexpectedly. Along with fellow Denver School of the Arts alumni Marchman and Ryan Foo, Thorne and Chavez were members of the Black Actors Guild, a versatile and always-engaging crew of artists that has been writing, producing, performing and teaching its unique brand of comedy, improv and theatrical production for the better half of a decade across the metro area.
Marchman says he and Thorne were part of a "large network of Park Hill ’90s kids — a great little enclave to grow up in," a place where Thorne's acting and athletic abilities flourished equally. At Denver School of the Arts, the two friends found kindred spirits in Chavez and Foo. As kids, the four of them wrote, directed, produced and starred in an original theatrical work that took on issues of race and class. These early youthful productions were the foundation for the Black Actors Guild, a theater company now boasting more than a dozen members that can be found performing in classrooms on stages and on the streets in Denver.
"First and foremost, [he was] a comedian, a creative and a content creator — someone who could write scripts, someone who could memorize monologues. He could do it all," says Foo. "He's always been a creative director in that fashion, shaping the vision of the Black Actors Guild."
Though he was only 25, Thorne had already begun mentoring other young creatives, finding an artistic partner in writer, actor and producer Christina Pittaluga, who met Thorne when she was seventeen. Now nineteen and a full-time member of the Black Actors Guild, Pittaluga says Thorne's multi-dimensional personality influenced her in the writer's room and in life.
"We were business partners first, but it really quickly turned into friendship. I valued Nick's drive in life, and I valued the way that every time I talked with him, it was always something that would make me laugh. But it was so much deeper than that," says Pittaluga. "We could definitely laugh and joke around, but when it came time to talk about life and the levels and layers that go into being a young person of color, I felt so comfortable."
"He made me think about things in ways that I had never thought about them; to be a junior in high school and to be able to talk with these older men of color on such a deep level, it was really inspiring to me," Pittaluga says of her friendships with both Thorne and Chavez. "You know, the media can portray black men in such a negative light, and to be surrounded by so many positive men of color, it was something that I really needed at the time."
Thorne's complexities drew many to work alongside him, even when his trademark stubbornness struck a nerve.
"He was very strong-willed and could be combative; he was so fearlessly passionate about the people around him," says Marchman. "He was just really good at winning, and it was frustrating as hell. I think the most maddening moment I ever had with Nick was shit-talking him on the basketball court and then him throwing the winning shot over my head. But he was like that with anyone he cared about. He would go to bat for you a hundred and ten percent. He really felt that what we were doing was bigger than just having fun on stage. That there was a grander purpose to it."
Foo echoes the sentiment, expressing that the intricacies of Thorne's personality made him the guy in the room everyone wanted to be near.
"I got to know Nick because he was an outgoing person; he was a shining light," says Foo. "It was one of his gifts, and I think, in a way, one of his curses, that people have always sort of gravitated toward him. In the beginning, I was just one of those people."
Foo says that the friendship that blossomed in high school grew into a relationship that mutually fostered creativity. Along with his creative sidekick Chavez, Thorne was the one who pushed the others in the Black Actors Guild to drop out of college and invest in the theater company in a legitimate way. Marchman says he left Denver several times to pursue life and work in places like New York and Chicago, but it was the Guild and Thorne's persistence that drew him back to the Mile High City.
"He knew we could get anything done regardless of lack of preparation or the odds against us, and it was that belief system that really put us where we are today," shares Marchman proudly. "Nick and Corin, especially, made it seem like a good idea to drop out of college and start a theater company. There's not much conventional wisdom that would point to that answer, but they just had that conviction and belief in themselves, myself, and us as a group. They complimented each other so much in life, it now behooves us to carry on their legacies in death."
The Black Actors Guild promises — just as it did after the loss of Chavez — to continue creating work for the public to enjoy and learn from. Foo says it's Thorne's relentless drive and unbridled optimism that is ingrained in everything the Guild does and is something that will never go away.
"Even if you're not sure, even if you're afraid, even if you're going to fuck it up, it's okay to have the attitude of trying anyway. I think that part of Nick will be sorely missed...but it will also be very fondly remembered and lived through all of us. That embracing of ignorance, the 'I don't know, I'm not sure, whatever. Let's give it a shot' — it's called courage. Nick had lot of it."
Marchman agrees, saying that he will never stop being emboldened by his friend's commitment to hard work. "A lot of my early motivations were to try to prove myself not to him, but prove myself to myself because of him," says the actor. "He could just walk in the room and command the attention that the rest of us worked to achieve. Great players are ones who can motivate greatness in their teammates, and Nick definitely was that."
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To honor Thorne's life, Pittaluga got a tattoo in honor of her friend and mentor.
"Recently I've been into finding out what people's first names mean. Nick's name means 'victory of the people,' and I got that tattooed on my arm," she says holding back tears. "It is to remind me that I am to be victorious. I didn't meet these wonderful gentlemen to not do something great, because they were so wonderful and so full of life. 'Victory of the people' makes so much sense for Nick Thorne. That's what he wanted: He wanted the people to be victorious all together."
Services for Nick Thorne will take place over the weekend at Pipkin Braswell Funeral Home, 6601 East Colfax Avenue. A viewing will be held Friday, February 24, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; funeral services take place at 12 p.m. on Saturday, February 25. For more information, see the Pipkin Braswell website. Donations can be made to help Thorne's family cover funeral costs via the "Love for Nick Thorne" GoFundMe page.