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Play ActorsRadio, film, and theatre practitioner, donnie l. betts, is a black man who has been making a personal statement about the marginalization of black Americans for decades with the intentional lower-casing of his name. But in 2016, as protests over ongoing racial inequities in America spilled into stadiums, streets, and reservations across the country, the lower-cased betts was having a decidedly upper-case artistic year.

As America’s simmering racial divide was being ripped open from the Dakotas to Dallas, betts was directing two culturally significant and achingly relevant productions for the Aurora Fox: The first local production of the seminal Native American tragedy Black Elk Speaks since it was premiered by the DCPA Theatre Company in 1994; and the first staging of the classic opera Porgy and Bess by any local theatre company in at least 20 years -- and certainly the first since it was reimagined as a more accessible Broadway musical by Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks in 2012.

Black Elk Speaks recounts with wrenching rawness the systematic genocide that wiped out an estimated 80 percent of the Native American population over a century. The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess tells the story of a reckless, drug-sniffing woman who turns to a disabled street-beggar for rescue from the clutches a violent and possessive lover in the oppressively racist slums of Charleston, SC.

No one but betts gets either of those productions to a Denver stage. No one but betts gets the level of cultural authenticity he achieved in Black Elk Speaks with a cast made up largely of indigenous actors. And no one but betts collects the deep cross-section of talent he has on display at the Aurora Fox in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess through Jan. 1.

Our report from the set of the Aurora Fox’s Black Elk Speaks

We’re talking well-known local veterans like Leonard Barrett Jr. as the cripple Porgy, Dwayne Carrington as Crab Man and Michael Peters as the odious Crown, alongside the sensational second generation of Anna Maria High, Faith Goins-Simmons and Tyrell Rae, who all three continue to be lightning on any stage. All of this matters not without a Bess who can off the equal challenges of properly singing – and playing the wounded Bess. Enter the heart-breaking and ear-seducing Tracy Camp from the San Francisco Opera.

Porgy and Bess, newly opened in these final breaths of 2016, will certainly go down as one of the most significant achievements of the Colorado theatre season. This production has it all – a rollicking onstage band led by Jodel Charles; an evocative and fluid slum set from Jen Orf; masterful (as always) work from designers Linda Morken (costumes), Shannon McKinney (lighting), and El Armstrong (sound). And perhaps most seductively: It has living, pulsating, innovative choreography from Laurence Curry. It’s a dream team.

“This is a production that must be seen -- for the sheer scope of its ambition, among other things,” wrote Westword’s Juliet Wittman. “Consider what it took for director donnie l. betts to assemble his terrific small orchestra along with a large cast of tuneful and talented African-American actors, and to meld voices that range from operatic to musical theater into a harmonious, soul-swelling whole.”

No one but betts, whose roots in the Denver theatre community go back to the very beginnings of the Denver Center. When the DCPA Theatre Company was created in 1979, betts was the first local actor hired, working alongside the likes of Tyne Daly, Delroy Lindo and Tandy Cronyn. That ensemble would later be joined by Mercedes Ruehl, Annette Bening and many other future stars.

betts was a DCPA regular for nine intermittent seasons. But of all the shows he performed in, it perhaps was one he did not appear in -- Black Elk Speaks -- that would most impact his future life. Betts was performing in another play on a nearby Denver Center stage nearby, but he would watch Black Elk Speaks from the wings every chance he got. Twenty-two years later, he brought it back to life at the Aurora Fox.

It’s been a long road for betts preserving the culture and voice of the disenfranchised, underrepresented and underserved. But as the protagonist of Black Elk Speaks says: “The longest journey is to the heart.”

donnie l. betts at a Glance

  • Born in Dekalb, Texas, the 12th Child of 12
  • Attended Angelo State in San Angelo, Texas, on a Football Scholarship and Later Metropolitan State College in Denver and the Yale School of Drama
  • Founding Member of the DCPA Theatre Company, City State Ensemble, and the Denver Black Arts Company
  • Performed on Broadway in The Gospel at Colonus, 1988
  • Founded No Credits Production, LLC, a Film and Video Production Company That Launched His Monthly Destination Freedom Radio Series for KUVO in May 1998,
  • Moving to KGNU in 2001
  • Occasionally Appeared in the Perry Mason Movies That Were Filmed in Denver in the Mid-1990s
  • Directed More Than 30 Theatrical Productions in the Denver Area

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ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore -- along with additional voices from around the state -- celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.org

Paws
By Sonya Green

If you’re a dog owner, scooping up poop comes with the territory. Unfortunately, not all owners are created equal. There are those that shriek away from their responsibilities giving poop picking parents a bad name!

What if your dog’s poop was worth money? What if every time a pet owner did the right thing the life of another furry friend was spared? Would pet owners be more inclined to remember to dispose of the smelly stuff properly? donnie betts the creator sure hope so. It’s why one half of the duo, donnie created Paws Here, an aesthetically pleasing piece of art that serves as a functional, eco-friendly trash dispenser that gives back to the communities that choose to adopt and display it. A percentage of all sales proceeds are contributed to local athletic, arts programs and to Humane Societies. Made in the USA.

donnie isn’t a pet owner. So why would he create something for pets? “It was very simple,” donnie said. “I am a big time walker who got tired of always stepping over dog poop on trails. I also didn’t like passing by the smelly trash cans with no lids that were overflowing with dog poop bags.”

donnie decided that there had to be a way to take care of people, animals and nature. It was then that Paws Here came to life as art serving nature. On the outside it’s a beautiful, sleek, clean piece of art that looks like it should be prominently displayed in a museum. Upon further inspection you can see that the custom made trash dispenser is made of high quality, brushed stainless steel. It stands 48 inches tall. Some of the materials used to create the functional art are recyclable. Made in the USA.Happy Child With White Samoyed Dog On The Grass In Sunny Summer Day

Pull on the tongue and you’ll get a biodegradable bag. Lift up the tail, you’ll find a trash can with a sealed top and a latch. The best part, after you dispose of the poop you can wet your hands and lather up to clean up immediately. City Dog Designs is constantly looking for ways to improve their product. The two men are currently looking for partners and investors to add items such as a doggie water bowl and instant hand sanitizer.

Reaction from dog owners, pets and the general public to Paws Here has been favorable. donnie is now working on creating a design for playgrounds using a hard recyclable plastic instead of the steel. He is also working on design requests for other animals. A percentage of all sales proceeds are contributed to local athletic, arts programs and to Humane Societies. Made in the USA.Group of Happy Dogs

To learn more about Paws Here Doggie Waste Station products and pricing, call (720) 318-9895.

Paws Here Is Trademark and Copyright Protected.

Reviews

Dallas, The direction of donnie l. betts works well in the intimate/comfortable space of the Muse. betts has an extensive theater film background and great visual eye.
Slut Energy Theory is a story of sexual freedom found the hard way.

Philadelphia Weekly
betts tracks Brown’s many faces, from the performer who wowed Today show hosts, to the social activist who persuaded Chicago gang members to join one of his routines to get them off the street.

Denver Post
K2 is a daring evening of theater for the Aurora Fox, not because it's a new play (it premiered in 1982) or because the approach is experimental, but because it asks a lot of both actors and audience. We have to be willing to give ourselves over to a bleak and terrifying place and the actors, working in a cramped space, have to give their emotional all. Fortunately, they're up to it. Jude Moran is a passionate, sometimes blubbery, sometimes amazingly brave Taylor, while William Hahn gives Harold dignity, strength and nuance. Director betts keeps the rhythms between them right and true.
In 2008, eleven climbers were killed on K2. One of them, 61-year-old Hugues d'Aubarède, wrote this the night before he died: "I would like everyone to be able to contemplate this ocean of mountains and glaciers. I am suffering for it, but it's too beautiful. The night will be long but beautiful."

The Gazette

The mission of Martin Luther King Jr. comes to life in Colorado Springs.

De'Von Bailey's death adds intensity to Colorado Springs theater's new show.

Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about donnie l. betts’ films, videos, plays, and radio shows. We proudly serve the entire Front Range of Colorado and beyond.