All the World's Her Stage

Page 2 of 5

Walker acknowledges that requirement, but she doesn't like having to spend so much time on administrative matters, or to prove, again and again, that EDEN is worthy of support. She would rather work on theater. "They don't dislike me, they don't like me," she says of funders in general. "I just don't do anything for them: 'If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' Well, I don't scratch."

Nevertheless, the largely one-woman show that is EDEN carries on. The group celebrated its 37th anniversary recently at a well-attended banquet. And while money is in short supply, the theater has received financial support -- however limited -- from more than forty individuals and organizations, including many of Colorado's major corporations, foundations and banks.

Last year Walker received help with her grant applications from Regis University students. Directors of three arts organizations visited Mark Bruhn's literature and economics class to meet with students, who were then placed at these organizations' disposal. The first two directors gave formal presentations. Walker's was much more casual, and she won the kids over with her personality. "She's coy and clever," says Bruhn. "She's funny, humble, proud. She's this stunning mix. She's a real character." She was the oldest of the three, and the darkest of the three, in a class full of white students. Her differences attracted them to her.

The original city of Memphis was located on the west bank of the Nile River, just south of present-day Cairo. It was the capital of ancient Egypt more than 4,000 years ago. "It somehow seems my birth in Memphis, Tennessee, connects with my African descent," wrote Walker in a booklet commemorating EDEN's 25th anniversary, "although for artistic reasons, I identify with the tall, graceful Watusi."

Tall and graceful herself, Walker looks made for the theater, although the truth is, she doesn't particularly like being on stage and prefers the security of working behind the scenes. Her earliest performance consisted of reciting four-line poems at East Trigg Baptist Church in Memphis; she also saw plays there. And at home, she and her sister sang church songs. "There was a church across the street from our home," she wrote, "and we learned many of the songs we heard while sitting on the porch or playing in the yard on those nights when it was too hot to sleep."

Walker's father was a Pullman railway-car porter. After he heard he could get more work in Denver than in Memphis, the family moved, as did other Pullman families. Walker was eleven. At Zion Baptist Church in Denver, Lucy was "transported" by reenactments of the Bible performed by her Sunday school teachers.

Walker didn't try out for a play until she attended Wilberforce University in Ohio. The director shouted "Next" before she had even finished her lines, and she never tried out for another speaking role at school. Besides, theater was less important to her than her goals of getting married, having children and being an "excellent housewife." She graduated with a degree in secondary education and, because there were few opportunities for black teachers, went to work at the old U.S. Air Force Finance Center in north Denver. She married an IRS employee and began substitute teaching at black schools in Denver, then at white schools. She wanted to continue teaching black kids, who lived in the same part of town as she did, but, she notes ruefully, "Once you have been determined capable to teach their children, that's where you go."

Her husband didn't want her to work, so she left her job to concentrate on raising her two young children, Lynne and Floyd. But being an "excellent housewife," she soon discovered, was not for her. (Walker and her husband, whom she declines to name, divorced in the early '70s. Asked whether he's still alive, she shrugs: "I suspect I would know if he wasn't.")

Theater called, and she tentatively answered, starting EDEN in 1963 with a "willingness to work at it gradually." The name doesn't refer to Genesis: It's a contraction of East Denver, where EDEN got its start. "Workshop" was attached to the title to reflect the group's commitment to train anybody who wanted to learn about theater - and color, including white, was no obstacle.

EDEN was grassroots theater. It was theater for those without easy access to theater, for those who didn't know about theater. It was theater for actors and technicians looking for a break or a chance, a little experience, encouragement and support. The workshop was straightforward: Get the rights to a play, find a place to rehearse and perform, fix the place up, and put on the show. In the beginning, the group could only afford to stage its shows for a few days - and then Walker and her colleagues would sell dinners, cakes and pies to raise money for the next year's shows. Even collecting fifty cents in monthly dues from workshop members could be tough, so EDEN began holding workshops and classes and producing newsletters. The group worked out of a garage it had fixed up at 2856 Fairfax Street in Park Hill.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
T.R. Witcher