Northside, Bobby LeFebre's play that became the smash of the summer at Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center, is moving to the actual Northside for two performances this weekend at North High School.
That's LeFebre's alma mater.
"North High is such a staple of north Denver culture," LeFebre says. "It is also a very special place to me. I met amazing friends, fell in love, and my experience there helped shape my identity. I spent many years on or behind that stage."
After graduating from North, LeFebre went on to become an activist, cultural worker and performer who was named Colorado Poet Laureate this summer, just as Northside began its run at Su Teatro. He'd started working on a script about the changes in north Denver four years ago, as a personal challenge to write a play. First presented at Su Teatro as a staged reading in 2015, Northside then "faded away," LeFebre told us earlier this summer. "For a while I got tired of the topic and felt hit over the head by it. It got so cliché — everyone was talking about it, but there were no tangible ideas about how to fix it. I lost interest in the story.”
Last year, though, Su Teatro founder and executive artistic director Tony Garcia approached LeFebre about reviving the project, telling him that it was a story that still needed to be told. And judging from audience response when a fully staged Northside opened in June, it was. "It’s about the power of privilege over relationships," LeFebre told us. "It’s about greed, celebration, mourning. All these things marry at the intersection of the characters.
“It’s more of a conversation about who are the characters in the neighborhood, and how they navigate problems," he continued. "Who are the winners or losers, the different and the indifferent? What’s important to them? Is this a historical memory of nostalgia, or some sort of heirloom we’re entitled to?”
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That's a question that should resonate at North High School, which is in the heart of rapidly changing Denver. Like LeFebre, Garcia is a Denver native, but he didn't go to North. "After attending a number of high schools for short periods of time, I dropped out," he recalls. "After hanging out for a year playing guitar, drinking beer and smoking pot, I took a GED test and then went to Community College of Denver." He became a member of Su Teatro in 1972, and its executive artistic director thirty years ago.
While he didn't attend North, Garcia recognizes the school's role as a landmark on Denver's cultural landscape. "I think North High School has been a tremendous staple of stability and strength in the Latino community," Garcia explains. "It has a powerful history and has produced numerous artists and scholars who have made significant contributions to the community at large. For this production, it makes complete sense that it should be done at North High School. That was the only thing missing from the production at Su Teatro.
"The show has to play in the Northside; how else could it be Northside?" Garcia asks. "It's a great way to honor the school and for the school to recognize one of their own in Bobby LeFebre."
Northside opens at 7 p.m. Friday, September 13, and repeats at 7 p.m. Saturday, September 14, at North High School, 2690 Speer Boulevard. Tickets are $20; get them here.