Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Denver Center for the Performing Arts Lost Two Men That Symbolized Its Past and Future

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts transformed this city's cultural scene. But the DCPA, and arts in general, sustained two major blows last week: Randy Weeks, DCPA president, who would have been responsible for much of the future direction of the organization, passed away in London at the age of 59. And 89-year-old Henry Lowenstein, the director who represented so much of Denver's theater past, also passed away. See also: Henry Lowenstein -- Like Mother, Like Son

The DCPA got its start when Helen Bonfils, daughter of Denver Post owner Frederick G. Bonfils, and Donald Seawell, the New York entertainment lawyer who'd become personal attorney to Bonfils and then succeeded her as publisher, talked about creating a resident professional theater in Denver to augment the Bonfils Memorial Theatre that Miss Helen had opened on Colfax in 1953.

After Helen Bonfils's death in 1972, the Bonfils Foundation -- and the subsequent sale of the Post to the Los Angeles Times -- provided the funds to start the DCPA and build the Denver Center Theatre building right on the edge of Speer Boulevard. The city chipped in with Boettcher Concert Hall, the Galleria, a parking structure and, later, the renovated Auditorium Theatre and the Auditorium Arena. Today the Denver Performing Arts Complex is the second-largest cultural complex in the country, and the 102-year-old Seawell is still going to work as a DCPA consultant every day.

Lowenstein, a German refugee, was working in the New York theater when he got a call from Helen Bonfils six decades ago; she offered him the job of managing the Bonfils Memorial Theater. (She offered Seawell the job as her personal attorney the same day.) Lowenstein ran the theater for three decades, until it closed in 1986. By then, it was the Lowenstein -- the Bonfils name had been moved over to the Denver Center Theater Company building, where it lives on. (Helen Bonfils wanted to be sure there was alwyas a Bonfils Theatre in Denver.)

Weeks, a graduate of the University of Colorado, started work at the DCPA in 1978 -- in the box office -- and a decade later returned from a job at the Kennedy Center to became head of Denver Center Attractions, the touring division of the DCPA; over the years Weeks presented more than 400 shows. The smart, savvy Weeks would have played a major role in the revisioning process the city plans to conduct on the complex; he'd already played a critical role in planning for the future of the DCPA.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts will host a celebration to honor the life of Randy Weeks at 4 p.m. Monday, November 3, in the Buell Theatre (find more information here). But his legacy will live on long after that.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun