#74: Lynne Collins
The way Lynne Collins, artistic director for the Arvada Center’s Black Box Theater, has transformed the venue’s second stage is genius: Flying in the face of theatrical cutbacks at a time when even the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company no longer supports an in-house repertory company, she’s done just that — brought back the idea of the old-school ensemble, using local talent and a collaborative ethic. So far, it’s been a critical hit under Collins’s direction, and this month she’s back with the company for a second season. Learn more about Collins and what keeps her standing, stage center, in the local theater scene, as she shares her point of view for the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Lynne Collins: The source of all my inspiration is collaboration. What I love about directing is working with artists who bring an array of talents to create something unique. I don’t write or design or act, but working with artists with these talents, I get to be a part of all of these fields. It starts with a playwright who has imagined a world, a story and characters. Then there is collaboration with designers who bring their own talents and points of view to creating the sets, costumes, lighting and sound. Once rehearsals begin, the collaboration shifts to the actors. When all goes well, everyone brings something new each day, and I get to shape and focus their wonderful work. My favorite moment is sitting with an audience and hearing a laugh or a gasp or a sniffle, and I can no longer remember how that moment came to be — if it was my idea or a designer’s or an actor’s. In theater, the whole is absolutely the sum of its parts.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Shakespeare is easy. Not only is he the playwright who has taught me most everything I know about telling stories, [but] he also worked with an ensemble of artists who helped bring his plays to life. Since I’m doing the same, I’d love to ask him how they did it.
Jane Austen. I’m currently working on a production of Sense and Sensibility, so I’m falling in love with Austen all over again. She has such compassion for people but can skewer them mercilessly when necessary. And she’s funny!
Barack Obama — I miss him so much! I think he’d get along great with Will and Jane since he appreciates language and humor. I have so much I’d love to ask him about how he feels about what’s been happening in this country since January.
What all three of these people share in common is empathy. I read somewhere that theater is the great empathy factory, which I love, and this party would be a great place to refresh my empathy battery. Now, what to serve for dinner!
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best is easy: the incredible pool of talent in the Denver theater community. I’m still getting to know all the players, and I keep being impressed by the great work I see in big and small theaters.
I suspect the worst is the same in every field: too much attention to competition and too little on cooperation. I don’t believe theaters are in competition. It’s like the cliché that the best place to build a gas station is next to another gas station. I think there’s lots of evidence that a theater doing good work benefits everybody. The more people who see live theater that delights or moves them, the better for all of us.
How about globally?
The challenges to free speech and its effects on art worry me a lot. It’s obvious that countries with authoritarian governments lack safe space for artists, but even artists in places with reasonably healthy democracies are struggling against all kinds of pushback in our divided cultures. This big divide that we see here is happening in a lot of the West: Brexit showed the deep division in the U.K.; the rise of the nativist far right in much of Europe has made that divide more visible. I fear that when our citizens grow more and more divided, artists are also pushed to take a side. Instead of trying to tell universal stories, we go to our corners and preach to the choir.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
Oscar Wilde wrote, “I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” I’m very excited by the trend toward including a much broader view of the human experience and more inclusion of stories that aren’t limited to a white, upper-class, urban experience.
I think a lot of “issue” plays are only being seen by folks who already share their point of view. While a trend toward more focus on issues of social justice in new plays is great, I’m not sure we're doing a great job of inviting people who don’t share our politics or values to share in those stories. When I see a great play about racism in a local theater but the entire audience is white, middle-class liberals, I wonder if we’re confusing “feeling good” with “doing good.”
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
In terms of my work, I’d like to develop new plays with local writers and actors. Having a company of actors for most of the year opens up all kinds of possibilities for creating new work or adaptations, and I want to focus more on this as we settle into our second season.
The truth is that living somewhere I love and doing theater full-time with great people has always been at the top of my bucket list, so I’m feeling pretty lucky. I’m so grateful to the Arvada Center and my boss, Philip Sneed, for giving me such a great place to play.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
I think it’s our first season in the Black Box. It was the culmination of many of my professional dreams. I’m very proud of all four productions and of the spirit and collaboration of everyone involved.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I’m still pretty new in town, and I’m loving everything about my new home. I’ve landed in a great work environment, I love my neighborhood, my easy access to downtown, the great food, the art, the mountains (I’m finally here for aspens this year!). I am definitely in the honeymoon phase of my life here.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I’m going to cheat on this one and say the actors, directors, designers and artisans in our company this season. They’ve committed to sharing their talents with us for a long stretch of time, which I’m very grateful for. I can’t wait to see what we make in the next nine months.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Season two launches with The Foreigner, directed by Geoffrey Kent, on October 13. I love this sweet, hilarious and subversive play; it’s a great way to look at some current issues through a prism of comedy. In the spring, we have a rep of three wonderful plays. First, a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — on wheels, with actors playing multiple characters. I’m directing this one and can’t wait. Then the regional premiere of Stefanie Zadravec’s The Electric Baby — a beautiful play about loss, healing and the need for human connection, directed by Rick Barbour. Finally, I’m directing Arthur Miller’s classic All My Sons, featuring the great Sam Gregory. I love this mix of plays that have big laughs and profound sadness.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local theater community in the coming year?
I’m very interested to see how Nataki Garrett, who was named associate artistic director by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company last November, will impact that organization. I’m always excited to see women taking leadership positions in theater, and I’ve heard great things about her.
The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities will open the 2017–2018 Black Box season with Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, directed by Geoffrey Kent, on Friday, October 13, 2017. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through November 18. Preview performances are October 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets, starting at $45 ($25 for previews), online or call 720-898-7200.
The Arvada Center Black Box Theater 2017-18 season then continues in repertory with Sense and Sensibility, by Kate Hamill, January 26 through May 6; The Electric Baby, by Stefanie Zadravec, February 9 through May 4; and All My Sons, by Arthur Miller, March 2 through May 2. Visit the Arvada Center website for information.
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