John Moore Column sig

Sylvia Gregory has a pretty good life. As a casting director, she gets to spend much of it employing and celebrating local artists in television, film and live theater.

Matthew Kepler has a pretty good life. As the Town Hall Arts Center’s director of programming, he has the opportunity to expand audiences’ horizons beyond the usual mainstage fare.

Mica Garcia de Benavidez has a pretty good life. As the longtime managing director at Su Teatro, she has quietly and consistently fired the engine behind the scenes at the nation’s third-oldest Chicano theater company throughout her adult lifetime.

Jen Orf has a pretty good life. As the Aurora Fox’s production manager, she played a huge part in helping the city’s primary performing arts center stay afloat through two astonishingly long leadership vacuums.   

Chances are, you’ve never heard of them. But these four represent dozens, perhaps hundreds, of unseen artists whose contributions are integral to the overall quality of the productions audiences see.

Here’s a closer look at all four:

2. DREAMGIRLS at Lone Tree Arts Center True West Awards

Director Kenny Moten wanted to hire as many local actors as he could for “Dreamgirls,” performed in October 2023 at the Lone Tree Arts Center. Casting Director Sylvia Gregory was essential in helping him do that – and bring in five ringers from Atlanta to fill in the demands of the musical. From left:  Kong Vang, Randy Chalmers, Heidi Carann Snider, Fairin Moon Hightower, Cha’Rel Ji’Cole Wright and Jalen Gregory.

• Sylvia Gregory, owner since 2010 of Sylvia Gregory Casting: “Casting director” is a misunderstood term. It’s not that Gregory makes the final decisions on who plays every role in the shows that you see – that’s the director’s job. But she does make the director’s life a whole lot easier by recruiting top talent, organizing submissions from potential cast members and culling the list to a manageable number.

For example, guess how many actors submitted video auditions for a shot to perform in the Arvada Center’s recent “Beauty and the Beast”? Try 1,800. The director did not look at every one of those videos – Gregory did.

“We needed a casting person to lead the charge,” said Director Kenny Moten, who was so impressed with Gregory’s work that, when he was later hired to direct “Dreamgirls” at the Lone Tree Arts Center, “I told them, ‘You should hire Sylvia to do this,’” Moten said.

Gregory began 2023 by casting the high-profile immersive “Bridgerton Experience” that was touring the country – with a different cast of local actors in each city. That was an actual, interactive queen’s ball set in 1813, where the professional actors mingled and danced with audience members.

She also did the legwork for the Arvada Center’s “Damn Yankees,” “The Laramie Project” and “Cinderella;” Miners Alley Playhouse’s “The Oldest Boy” and “The Cherry Orchard”; the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s “Coal Country”; and the Lone Tree Arts Center’s upcoming “The Mousetrap.”

“I’ve really been on a charge to get more local people hired, and Sylvia has connected us to some really great ones,” Moten said. “And she really knows a lot of great out-of-town talent, too. She really makes our lives easier.”

3. In the Trenches Parenting Musical True West Awards

“In the Trenches: A Parenting Musical” was presented in January as a limited engagement at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center. Next it’s heading for (off) Broadway.

• Matthew Kepler, Town Hall Arts Center’s director of programing: Town Hall has presented a robust season of family-friendly musicals for 40 years. In 2023, Kepler was made responsible for expanding programming to include shorter-run, “limited edition” offerings that have vastly broadened the company’s scope and impact on the people of Littleton and beyond.

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This year, Kepler programmed short runs of “In the Trenches: A Parenting Musical,” written by a local married couple that used Town Hall as a launching pad for an upcoming off-Broadway run; “Master Class,” an acclaimed play set during a fictional class taught by the notoriously difficult opera star Maria Callas; and “The Last Session,” the story of a songwriter dying from AIDS who gathers friends at his studio for one final recording.

Town Hall audiences had never seen anything like it. But they came.   

“Matthew recognized that suburban audiences are more sophisticated than we sometimes give them credit for,” said Town Hall’s Steven J. Burge. “These titles explored challenging subject matter that was unprecedented for Town Hall. He’s proving there are stories to be told that are good for both business and the heart. Matthew is celebrating the artist, the organization and the audience by trusting all of us with this expanded programming.”

3. Su Teatro turns 50 at History Colorado Mica Garcia de Benavidez

Managing Director Mica Garcia de Benavidez and CEO Victor Vialpando Nunez emceed Su Teatro’s 50th anniversary party at History Colorado last summer. 

 Mica Garcia de Benavidez, Su Teatro’s managing director, is both her father’s right hand and, he would say with a laugh and a rimshot – the upper hand.

She has had a “hand” in every aspect of Su Teatro’s operation since she was old enough to walk. And in 2023, de Benavidez directed her first mainstage production, the critically acclaimed “Wolf at the Door.” That’s a tough-terrain mashup of Grimm Brothers and Aztec mythology that tackled both generational domestic violence and the power of women to band together and overcome.

“Mica has never needed the spotlight,” said Executive Artistic Director Tony Garcia. “She prefers that things are done – and done well – more than acknowledgement. When things go well, she shares the credit with everyone.”

Garcia has been running Su Teatro for 50 years. It has long been presumed that, when he is ready to step back, leadership duties will shift to de Benavidez.

“She is incredibly capable of leading from the front, gathering people around her, and moving forward from the middle en masse – and then pushing the stragglers from behind,” he said. 

• Jen Orf, Aurora Fox production manager: There was a big sigh of relief on Sept. 1 when the city-owned Aurora Fox finally named Rich Cowden its next executive producer, ending its second – yes, second – 14-month stretch without a leader in six years. Institutions have crumbled during far shorter periods of inertia.

4. JOHN HAUSER JENNA MOLL REYES AUG. 19 2023 Aurora Fox True West Awards

The Aurora Fox suspended (most) live theater productions in the second half of 2023 for a reorganization but continued to present a series of concerts including the band Weird House Sounds featuring John Hauser, above.

In both instances, the Fox held on because of the collective heroism of Orf, Technical Director Brandon Case and former Patron Services Director Beau Bisson, all of whom stepped up to take on essential responsibilities high above their pay grades. The Fox has spent much of 2023 in what it is calling a reorganizational interlude, mostly by presenting one-off concerts and a fall theatrical run of “Blues in the Night.”  

Orf has never been the public face of the Fox, but it’s by now a widely presumed belief, said local playwright Melissa Lucero McCarl, “that Jen Orf is the heart and soul of that place – and has been for years.”

Orf graduated from Mullen High School and Colorado School of Mines with a degree in engineering physics before taking a serious right turn: She went back to school at Metropolitan State University Denver to study technical theater, and she has been working at the Fox since 2011 as a lighting designer, stage manager and, now, associate producer. She’s the one who’s been tackling both the nuts-and-bolts daily chores, and the work of thinking ahead.

She is an unsung hero “because she is epic,” said her friend, Matt Thornton. “And she can do magic. Really.”

Note: The True West Awards, now in their 23rd year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. Denver Gazette Senior Arts Journalist John Moore celebrates the Colorado theater community by revisiting 30 good stories from the past year without categories or nominations.


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