It seemed like it was all coming together for Corin Chavez, an actor, comedian, writer, producer, teacher and master improviser who passed away on Friday, October 9, at the age of 23. Over the past few months, his closest friends had noticed that Chavez was really settling into himself: He'd always been passionate about his craft, but lately, the jack of all theatrical trades was coming into his own.
"We felt a real transition this year with the company; it became more than just a bunch of friends doing stuff in the theater," says Quinn Marchman, co-founder of the Black Actors Guild, a multi-faceted theater company that he started with Chavez and fellow Denver School of the Arts alumni Ryan Foo and Nick Thorne. "We were really finding meaning behind it. In the last several months, we saw that shift for Corin; he was always the one who would say, 'Everything and nothing matters.' He meant, you don't have to do anything if you don't want to, but if you want to, you might as well be all in. I felt like his focus became more nuanced and he was finding some meaning to it. His focus had began to narrow and become more purpose-driven. I'll always kick myself for not knowing better or understanding clearly his vision."
Even at such a young age, Chavez leaves behind a rich legacy; he taught improv and acting to hundreds of young students across the metro area at local schools and summer camps. He was part of the powerful group of friends who started the Black Actors Guild five years ago, a theater company that defied categorization, putting on events, improv shows and full-on theatrical productions that were completely self-supported. Now more than fifty members strong, the young company — which has been running shows out of the Atlas Theater for the last year — has attracted a steady and devoted following across the city.
For the Black Actors Guild, the show will go on — because the three remaining founders know that's what Chavez would have wanted.
"I've known for years that he's a big deal — but I'm realizing that even in small interactions with people, whether Corin was trying or not, he articulated that energy to other people," says Marchman. "I'm hoping for us and for everyone grieving and feeling from this that we can all carry a bit of his shine with us. He would be the first one to get really upset to know that all of his friends came together at three in the morning to cry about him — but he would be really happy to know that after we finished crying, we started laughing."
Chavez was about the laughs; scanning dozens of photographs of the artist, you don't find a single one where he isn't smiling, or at least making a face to make others smile. But he wasn't the sort to do anything for a quick laugh; he could be thought out, complicated and deliberate in his craft. As much as Chavez was an outward comedian in any situation, he worked out things internally and with intention before sharing his thoughts with the world.
"He would always take a chance or take a risk or give anyone a chance to do anything," says Nick Thorne, a Black Actors Guild co-founder. "He and his opinion on art are so revolutionary — what he believed art should be and needs to be for a lot of people. That's the biggest thing for me: I want to be able to carry on his openness. He did what he loved, and that was probably the most amazing thing about him. "
"He was peaceful and calm and formidable: an immovable object. It was impossible to get by him. He was so loving — even to people who weren't nice to him," shares co-founder Ryan Foo.
It's hard to know what the future looks like for this group of friends-turned-business partners, but one thing is certain: They have the strength to keep the Black Actors Guild going. The seeds for the company were planted back in high school, when Chavez and his friends were just a bunch of theater- and vocal-focused kids at Denver School of the Arts. The four students talked a lot about the lack of roles for African-American actors in theater — especially within the canon of stage plays traditionally taught to high-schoolers.
One year for Black History Month, the friends decided to write, direct, cast and perform their own play and put it on at school. "If we made our own show, we could cast it however we wanted and do whatever we wanted — so that's what we did," says Foo. That event became the foundation for what the Black Actors Guild is today — a fully functioning theater company running shows, teaching classes and creating an ever-growing community of artists and theater-goers from all walks of life.
Asked what the trio would want the world to remember about their lost comrade, they say the message is embodied in what the Black Actors Guild does on a daily basis. "It's the company; it's the Black Actors Guild. But it's more than that. It's a vision for a better world," says Foo. "That's why we do education, that's why we do theater. Corin used to say this all the time: 'We don't do this for fun.' He would say it in the most fun moments. He was a warrior. He wanted this to live out to its fullest potential. And I know it will."
All three men acknowledge that it will be difficult to press on without their fourth member, especially since Chavez was often the one to connect the dots. He was great at meeting people and great at making anyone feel welcome, regardless of the place or situation. "One thing I can credit Corin with is not only reaching out to and working with people, but bringing them in," says Foo. "The company started as four people. We have over fifty artists now. Those are people I can call at any time if I need help with something, and they will be there. It's a lot because of him. He was the best networker any business could ever have — he was a genuine soul."
"The philosophy of the company we started was always from the idea that you don't know if you can do it or not, so you might as well try," says Marchman. "The philosophy has a lot of holes in it, but it has carried us a long way. Corin was the heart of the Guild, and the idea that it was never too soon or too late to start anything and to follow your passions. It comes with a lot of hard work and so much struggle in between, but he was probably the one who was most committed to seeing the dream realized. We would spend hours just talking about how excited we are for the future and our yacht parties with Diddy and everything between."
The bonds of friendship can emerge from many things — shared experiences, proximity, general life circumstances. But when collaborative creative work is a part of the bond, that friendship becomes even more vulnerable and more valuable. It's clear from the way his best friends and fellow artists speak of him that Corin Chavez will live forever through the work of the Black Actors Guild. The company's motto has always been "Doin' the most," and Marchman, Foo and Thorne will honor their friend by doing just that.
For friends and family, there will be a viewing this Thursday, October 15, from 4 to 9 p.m. at Pipkin-Braswell Funeral Home, 6601 East Colfax Avenue; services are Friday, October 16, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Pipkin-Braswell. Because so many in the community wanted to honor Chavez, a memorial show is in the works for this Sunday, October 18. Watch The Black Actors Guild Facebook page and website for more details; a PayPal has also been set up for anyone wishing to donate to aid the Chavez family as they work through this difficult time.
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