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The “magical unicorn” behind Camp Christmas and other immersive fare in Denver

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The “magical unicorn” behind Camp Christmas and other immersive fare in Denver

On a recent autumn afternoon, Charlie Miller was walking around the Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park pointing out the various buildings that will soon host Camp Christmas.

The dilapidated Peerless Gas Station will hold pounds of gingerbread creations. Down the pathway, in a red barn, a flock of fabric sheep will graze metaphorically and blaze with lights. A “glampsite” is where the kids will be able to visit with Santa, yes, from a healthy but engaged remove.

The fourth installment of installation wizard Lonnie Hanzon’s immersive extravaganza of lights, holiday memorabilia and more opens Nov. 18 at this outdoor site just west of Wadsworth Boulevard and a few blocks south of Alameda. The city of Lakewood has been relocating little landmark buildings from Colfax Avenue as well as other structures to this gently sloping expanse of acreage that was once legendary philanthropist May Bonfils Stanton’s hobby farm. It’s a perfectly zany location for a rather mad installation, one that came out of a collaboration between Hanzon and Miller, who heads the Denver Center’s wild-child, Off-Center.

A gift with creatives

“Impresario” is a little too imperious a description of Miller, who has grown in his role as the curator of Off-Center. Catalyst, to be sure. Nurturer, absolutely. It’s not so much his sensibility that is shaping Denver’s immersive scene as it is his gift with creatives — and a growing reputation, local and national, as a champion of immersive work.

When a friend saw David Byrne and Mala Gaonkar’s installation “Neurosociety” at an art gallery in the San Francisco Bay Area, he gave Miller a call, knowing it was just the kind of work that would excite him. It did.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

LAKEWOOD, CO – OCTOBER 08: Charlie Miller, curator of Off-Center’s Camp Christmas and associate artistic director at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts at the Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park, site of this year’s Camp Christmas October 08, 2021. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Thanks to patience, timing and the relationships that Miller and Off-Center have been cultivating since 2016’s blockbuster production “Sweet & Lucky” — created by Third Rail Projects and former Denverite Zach Morris — Miller made contact. DCPA Off-Center and Byrne had plans to premiere what has become the show “Theater of the Mind” in 2020. Then, COVID-19 hit and it was postponed.

The production is back on track for a 2022 world premiere, with an announcement of a ticket on-sale date and venue in the offing.

Miller has a measured delivery, even as he talks about the things that thrill him. He’s no huckster. He’s a thoughtful enthusiast. So, when he recalls meeting the former Talking Heads frontman, his voice doesn’t give away the pleasure of that evening when Byrne visited a potential location for the piece before heading to Red Rocks — his smile does. “And that night I got to see ‘American Utopia’ at Red Rocks … at like the fifth-row center,” he recalled. “Shortly after that, we were able to figure out how to make it work.”

For his part, Byrne told Rolling Stone magazine “The Denver Center for the Performing Arts have done immersive things like this before — not quite like this — but they’ve cultivated an audience in Denver.”

Figuring out how to make the artistically wild, logistically tricky experiences that draw audiences in has been an aim of Miller’s even before Off-Center got its clever brand name in 2010. At the time, Miller and assistant company manager Emily Tarquin were a couple of millennials eyeing the Denver Center’s under-utilized Jones Theatre for less traditional theater, more experimental work. Having sharpened his multimedia storytelling skills as an undergraduate in Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies department, Miller wanted to create a lab. And Tarquin was keen to present edgier theater.

“Often in ‘traditional theater,’ the exchange with the audience is passive and transactional,” Tarquin wrote in an email. “The production team creates a beautiful production, the audience buys a ticket, doesn’t unwrap any candy, and watches.”

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David Byrne (center) and the creative team for “Theater of the Mind.” Not pictured, co-writer Mala Gaonkar.

Tarquin left the Denver Center in 2016 to become artistic producer of Actors Theatre of Louisville.

“We knew that to break this barrier, we had to build narratives that centered the audience and welcomed their full participation. Off-Center was immersive from the beginning, and I still reference the recipe we created over a decade ago!”

That “recipe” had five ingredients that each of Off-Center’s projects had to contain. “Ingredients that I still feel are very relevant,” said Miller, sitting on an aged glider on the porch of one of the buildings at the Heritage Lakewood. “Immersive for us was about the audience having a more active role in the inference, not just being passive viewers. Convergent, which was about bringing together different art forms and technologies. Connective, which was about being in conversation with the community, bringing people together. Inventive, which was about innovation and experimentation. And ‘now’ was about being relevant to the moment.”

The pair had the support of the Denver Center Theatre Company’s producing artistic director at the time, Kent Thompson. And Miller enjoys a similarly encouraging relationship to the Theater Company’s current honcho, Chris Coleman. A good thing, since, said Miller, “I think we’re still in the rise of immersive and experiential in town and nationally, and it will be interesting to see what happens as we reemerge from the pandemic and whatever form that is going to take.”

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A scene from the immersive blockbuster Third Rail Projects’ “Sweet & Lucky,” with Meredith Grundei.

Kind of a “magical unicorn”

“Thought partnerships” is a Miller phrase that gets at the heart (and mind) of the type of collaborations he continues to champion. While he has reached beyond the Denver area to find new works, he is dedicated to raising the profile of local talent.

“He’s kind of a magical unicorn because he is an artist himself,” says Amanda Berg Wilson, who is co-founder of the Boulder-based, experimental theater company the Catamounts.  “He comes from an artist’s background. So he has this unique perspective of understanding what artists need and how they tick, but really wanting to be a facilitator of artists’ visions. I always get excited when his name comes up on my caller ID because I know that it’s going to be some kind of new idea or opportunity.”

In 2017, Wilson directed Off-Center’s “The Wild Party,” a 360-degree production of the musical by Andrew Lippa, which invited audiences into the bathtub gin-soaked, quite naughty soiree of the title. In 2019, Miller tapped Wilson and local director Betty Hart to be assistant directors on “Theater of the Mind.”

Hart produced the Arvada Center’s Amplify, a series of video performances that put Black artists front and center in the wake of the George Floyd protests. She’s directed a number of area shows, including Vintage Theatre’s searing production of “The Scottsboro Boys,” one of the last shows in town before the pandemic shuttered in-person theater.

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Erin Miller and Emily Van Fleet in 2017’s 360 production “The Wild Party” at Stanley Marketplace.

“Charlie introduced me to Andrew Scoville (“Theater of the Mind” director), and then he left, and it was just Sco and me in a room,” recalls Hart. “(Charlie) took the time to bring a diverse group of people before (Scoville). That was intentional. I think he has a fundamental belief that if you have a quality product with quality people and you create a setting and an atmosphere of belonging and creativity, you’re going to get something wonderful. And I think that’s what (Miller) does. He does his part to ensure that a culture of belonging and genuine curiosity can be fostered.”

Long before they embarked on Camp Christmas together, Miller and Hanzon had been having lunch routinely. “At first, I would take lunch with a lot of different artists to get to know them. And we really hit it off,” Miller said. “Lonnie’s very meticulous and was a real student of immersive. He was feeding me information that wasn’t on my radar. And I was encouraging him to just start trying some things.”

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Opinion: Colorado’s dismal recycling record needs a response and we have a plan

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Opinion: Colorado’s dismal recycling record needs a response and we have a plan

The news isn’t good when it comes to recycling and composting in Colorado.

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) released their yearly State of Recycling and Composting report a few weeks ago and it turns out we are not the green state we like to think we are, and we are moving in the wrong direction.

Colorado’s statewide recycling and composting rate is a dismal 15%, less than half the national rate of 32%, and behind our state goal to reach 28% diversion by 2021.

Our recycling rate for plastics was even worse than our overall rate — only 9% of plastic containers and plastic packaging is recycled statewide. On average, Colorado residents recycle and compost only 1 pound per person per day, while residents in leading states like Oregon and Washington recycle 3.1 pounds per person per day —over three times more than Colorado residents.

There is widespread support for recycling as seen through municipal surveys in Colorado and a recent national poll that shows 84% of American adults agree that “investing in expanding and improving our nation’s recycling infrastructure should be a higher priority.” Despite this, Colorado continues to lack the recycling services needed to recycle and compost more and our patchwork system has left people confused about what — or how — to recycle.  Statewide recycling can be an important economic driver for Colorado, creating jobs and improving trade imbalances with foreign nations by relying less on materials shipped from around the world.

Colorado is failing to meet its goals to reduce waste, reduce carbon emissions, and curb plastic pollution. If we don’t want to continue on this trajectory, now is the time for a system-wide solution to modernize and transform Colorado’s recycling and composting systems. A “producer responsibility” policy for containers, packaging and printed paper is the most impactful, game-changing policy that can be adopted in 2022.

This legislative session we will introduce a bipartisan producer responsibility policy as the highest priority action to fundamentally revamp and expand recycling in Colorado, eliminate unnecessary and wasteful packaging, and reduce plastic pollution and carbon emissions. This policy will continue to allow municipalities to choose how they engage in recycling. It will ensure that every Coloradan — urban and rural, living in a single-family home or apartment complex — has access to recycling that is as convenient as their trash service and includes the most readily recyclable materials, such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, newspaper and other printed paper.

A producer responsibility policy will have producers pay for the end-of-life management of containers and packaging materials they put on Colorado markets based on the type of material and its environmental impact. The sustainable funding generated from such a program will:  provide convenient access to recycling to every Coloradan; greatly increase our recycling rate and reduce carbon emissions; create a single statewide list of what is recyclable to reduce confusion and increase participation; directly reduce costs for local governments by covering the costs to operate recycling drop-off centers and curbside recycling programs.

And it will boost local economies. Recycling creates nine times more jobs than landfills and this policy will help attract more businesses to Colorado to use our recycled materials to make new products.

In general, this policy will reduce the amount of non-recyclable single-use plastics and encourage companies to use less packaging overall and to choose more recyclable, less toxic packaging formats.

Across the country, environmental groups, recycling operators, consumer goods companies, and the business community are coming together to support producer responsibility policies for containers and packaging. Over 40 countries have mandatory producer responsibility policies for containers and packaging materials, and Maine and Oregon adopted the first U.S. policies in 2021. Colorado’s producer responsibility program for paint, PaintCare Colorado, has been in place since 2015. The program has resulted in over 4 million gallons of recycled paint and tens of thousands of dollars of savings to local governments from paint collection services.

Companies around the world are making bold commitments to use more recycled content in their products and to support recycling, such as the Every Bottle Back initiative by US beverage companies. This is just good business. According to the 2021 Global Green Buying Report, 67% of consumers consider themselves environmentally aware and concerned with sustainability, and 83% of consumers among younger generations showed a willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging. Consumer opinion continues to trend towards sustainability and is impacting purchase decisions.

Recycling and using less are two simple steps we can all take every day to reduce climate pollution, protect our clean air and water, and support healthy ecosystems. This policy will help make it easier for Coloradans to be good stewards of our environment and our climate while creating green jobs and building more resilient local economies.

We have the power to align our image of a green Colorado with reality. Let’s make it happen.

Lisa Cutter of Littleton represents House District 25, including the mountains of Jefferson County. Kevin Priola is State Senator from Henderson who represents Senate District 25 in Adams County.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by email or mail.

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Appeals court weighs Trump arguments to withhold records

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Appeals court weighs Trump arguments to withhold records

By NOMAAN MERCHANT

WASHINGTON (AP) — A panel of judges on Tuesday questioned whether they had the authority to grant Donald Trump’s demands and overrule President Joe Biden’s decision to grant Congress documents related to the Jan. 6 insurrection led by Trump’s supporters.

But the judges also noted that there may be times when a former president would be justified in trying to stop the incumbent from releasing records.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments from lawyers for former President Trump and the House committee seeking the records as part of its investigation into the Capitol riot. Trump’s attorneys want the court to reverse a federal judge’s ruling allowing the National Archives and Records Administration to turn over the records after Biden waived executive privilege.

Hundreds of Trump supporters marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6 from a rally near the White House where the president had challenged them to go and “fight like hell” to stop Congress’ certification of Biden’s election victory. Some broke into the Capitol, fighting past police, and dozens now face federal charges.

Two Trump allies, former adviser Steve Bannon and former chief of staff Mark Meadows, have resisted efforts by the House panel to obtain documents and question them about possible meetings with Trump before the riot. The Justice Department has indicted Bannon on a contempt of Congress charge. Meadows, seeking to avoid the same, is now cooperating, the committee’s chairman said Tuesday.

The National Archives has said that the documents in question in the current Trump case include presidential diaries, visitor logs, speech drafts, handwritten notes “concerning the events of January 6” from the files of former chief of staff Meadows, and “a draft Executive Order on the topic of election integrity.”

Compared to Chutkan, the three judges on the appeals court have spent relatively little time weighing the importance of the documents themselves. They instead focused most of the hearing Tuesday on what role federal courts should have when an incumbent president and former president are at odds over records from the former’s administration.

The judges sharply questioned both sides and challenged them with hypothetical scenarios.

To Trump’s lawyers, Judge Patricia Millett suggested a situation where a current president negotiating with a foreign leader needed to know what promises a former president had made to that leader. The incumbent might seek to release a transcript of a phone call or other records from the previous administration “to protect our interests,” the judge said.

“To be clear, your position is a former president could come in and file a lawsuit?” Millett said. Trump lawyer Justin Clark responded, “That is our position.”

To a lawyer for the House committee, Millett raised a scenario where a newly elected president might seek retribution against a disliked predecessor. The new president and a Congress led by the same party might declare that there was a national security interest in releasing all of the former president’s records, even at the risk of endangering people’s lives, she said.

“Needless to say, the former president comes to court, (says), ‘Hang on,’” Millett said. “What happens?”

She did not say she was referring to any president and rejected committee lawyer Douglas Letter’s response referencing a president who “fomented an insurrection.”

“We’re not going to make it that easy,” she said.

Letter argued the determination of a current president should outweigh predecessors in almost all circumstances and noted that both Biden and Congress were in agreement that the Jan. 6 records should be turned over.

“It would be astonishing for this court to override the current president and Congress,” Letter said.

Democratic presidents nominated all three judges who heard arguments Tuesday. Millett and Robert Wilkins were nominated by former Barack Obama, and Ketanji Brown Jackson is a Biden appointee.

Given the stakes of the case, either side is likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Despite Trump’s false claims about a stolen election — the primary motivation for the violent mob that broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory — the results were confirmed by state officials and upheld by courts. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, has said the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the results

In explaining why Biden has not shielded Trump’s records, White House counsel Dana Remus has written that they could “shed light on events within the White House on and about January 6 and bear on the Select Committee’s need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal Government since the Civil War.”

Trump has called the document requests a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition” that was “untethered from any legitimate legislative purpose,” in his lawsuit to block the National Archives from turning over the documents.

In their appeal to the circuit court, Trump’s lawyers said they agreed with Chutkan that presidents were not kings. “True, but in that same vein, Congress is not Parliament — a legislative body with supreme and unchecked constitutional power over the operations of government,” they wrote.

Trump has argued that records of his deliberations on Jan. 6 must be withheld to protect executive privilege for future presidents and that the Democrat-led House is primarily driven by politics. The House committee’s lawyers rejected those arguments and called Trump’s attempts to assert executive privilege “unprecedented and deeply flawed.”

“It is difficult to imagine a more critical subject for Congressional investigation, and Mr. Trump’s arguments cannot overcome Congress’s pressing need,” the committee’s lawyers said.

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Jeffrey Epstein pilot says he never saw sex acts on flights

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Jeffrey Epstein pilot says he never saw sex acts on flights

By LARRY NEUMEISTER and TOM HAYS

NEW YORK (AP) — A longtime pilot for Jeffrey Epstein told a jury Tuesday at Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial that he never saw evidence of sexual activity on planes as he flew his boss and others — including a prince and ex-presidents — for nearly three decades.

Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr., the trial’s first witness, was responding to questions by a defense lawyer when he acknowledged that he never encountered sexual activity aboard two jets he piloted for roughly 1,000 trips between 1991 and 2019.

He said he stayed in the cockpit for the majority of flights, but would sometimes emerge to go to the bathroom or get coffee.

Although he was called as a witness by the government, Visoski’s testimony seemed to aid the defense of Maxwell as he answered questions posed by Maxwell attorney Christian Everdell about what he saw when he straightened up the aircraft after a flight.

Visoski didn’t hesitate when Everdell asked him if he ever saw sexual activity when he went for coffee or found sex toys when he cleaned up.

“Never,” the pilot answered to both questions. He said he never saw used condoms either.

And when he was asked if he ever saw sex acts with underage females, he answered: “Absolutely not.”

The pilot said Epstein never warned him to stay in the cockpit during flights and also encouraged him to use a bathroom near the rear of the plane that would require him to walk past the plane’s couches.

He said he never saw any children on his planes who were not accompanied by their parents.

When Everdell asked him about a teenager who prosecutors say was sexually abused by Epstein before she became an adult, Visoski said he believed she was “mature” when he was introduced to her.

He also acknowledged that Clinton was a passenger on a few flights in the 2000s and he had piloted planes with Britain’s Prince Andrew, the late U.S. Sen. John Glenn of Ohio — the first American to orbit Earth — and former presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, “more than once.”

Visoski said Epstein gave him 40 acres of land to build a house on the financier’s New Mexico property and paid for his daughters’ college education.

Epstein’s plane was derisively nicknamed “The Lolita Express” by some in the media after allegations emerged that he had used it to fly teenage girls to his private island, his New Mexico ranch and his New York City townhouse.

Flight records, made public as part of civil litigation, also showed that Epstein had used the plane to fly celebrities, influential academics and politicians around the globe.

Luminaries who flew with Epstein have had to beat back speculation that their presence on the flights meant they must have been aware of the millionaire’s crimes. Clinton, like others who took rides from Epstein, has said he was unaware of any misconduct.

Maxwell, 59, traveled for decades in circles that put her in contact with accomplished and wealthy people before her July 2020 arrest.

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey where Maxwell stood in the hierarchy of Epstein’s world, Visoski said Maxwell “was the Number 2.” He added that “Epstein was the big Number 1.”

The testimony supports what Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz told jurors in her opening statement Monday when she said Epstein and Maxwell were “partners in crime.”

Pomerantz said Maxwell recruited and groomed girls for Epstein to sexually abuse from 1994 to at least 2004.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and one of her lawyers said in an opening statement Monday that she’s being made a scapegoat for Epstein, who killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell at age 66 in August 2019 as he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

Visoski testified briefly on Monday before beginning Tuesday on the witness stand.

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