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Denver arts groups see high demand, behind-the-scenes challenges for holiday shows

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Denver arts groups see high demand, behind-the-scenes challenges for holiday shows

Lonnie Hanzon is a creative guy, having helped pioneer digital animation during his time at Lucasfilm, and in the early days of immersive-art installations, which he’s still proudly creating.

But with masked “Nutcrackers” and proof-of-vaccination the new standard for holiday shows, Hanzon was forced to get even more creative with his six-acre “Camp Christmas” project in Lakewood this year.

“We could not find lumber, so we ended up contracting with a crew that was doing work for the state of Wyoming to buy the tops of their raw lodgepole pines,” Hanzon said last week of the cheeky, maximalist installation, which runs through Jan. 2 at Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park. “And we actually went up and got them — 350 tops, or the top 14 feet of what they were culling.”

That was his only option to finish the show on time, he said, and he’d already been working on it for the better part of a year, having abandoned the idea that Camp Christmas could return indoors.

While holiday shows are back in force for 2021, they’re landing with heavy baggage and lots of tags. Labor shortages, skyrocketing material costs, supply-chain breaks, and reluctant performers and audiences have pushed the shows onto shaky ground, even as they are desperately needed to firm up their company’s finances.

In some cases, the millions of dollars in loans, donations and government lifelines that have sustained these nonprofits are drying up — and at the worst time possible. A survey by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts found 99% of national nonprofit arts groups canceled events during the pandemic, amounting to 557 million lost ticketed admissions as of July, Kaiser Health News reported.

Denver’s Wonderbound has already sold out all of its holiday shows, despite new mask mandates and shorter run-times. Pictured: “Winterland: A Discotheque Cabaret.” (Amanda Tipton Photography, provided by Wonderbound)

“In the arts it’s already hard enough because you’re trying to scrimp and save wherever you can,” said Dawn Fay, president of Denver contemporary ballet company Wonderbound. “Things you took for granted are really expensive or not available, and you’re paying attention to all these details you otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Wonderbound is one of only five U.S. dance companies that continued performing during 2020, Fay said, despite having its building burglarized and being forced to move to a new home. The company has set small, socially distanced shows that kept their dancers and choreographer Garrett Ammon busy.

Encouragingly, all two-dozen performances of its new holiday show, “Winterland: A Discotheque Cabaret,” are sold out, having premiered Dec. 2 and running through Dec. 19.

“We typically do five performances of a production,” Fay said. “But you’re talking about 500-seat houses. To make our numbers, we’re doing 90 performance overall this season, but for only 25 to 45 people at a time.”

With a high membership base of 757 subscribers, Wonderbound is seeing waves of pent-up demand after its quiet months.

For leaders of the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season as one of the state’s oldest LGBTQ organizations, adjusting expectations is key.

They’ve so far sold about 1,000 tickets to performances of their new show, “Holiday Follies! Classics, Caroles and Camp,” but that’s down nearly 40% from 2019. They’re OK with that.

1638792091 880 Denver arts groups see high demand behind the scenes challenges for holiday
Denver Gay Men’s Chorus members Michael R. Jordan, left, and Darin Stewart perform during a dress rehearsal of “Holiday Follies” at Central Presbyterian Church on Dec. 1, 2021, in Denver. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

“If somebody doesn’t have their children vaccinated, they’re not coming to the show,” said Michael Sattler, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Arts Association, which covers the Gay Men’s and Denver Women’s Choir. “But we did offer a livestreaming option on Saturday (Dec. 4), so we’re trying to provide alternatives to people who aren’t comfortable yet or haven’t been vaccinated.”

Singers have been wearing special masks — sort of like duck bills, managing and artistic director James Knapp said — and leaders have been stringent about the testing and vaccination of members. That shaved down the performing group, but only a little.

“We were hoping to have 70 to 80 singers for these shows, but we’ll actually have 95 in concert,” Knapp said last week. “We normally sing with about 105 to 110, so it’s really not down that much. We’ve been making recordings each week to make the adjustments because of the masks. Usually you just trust your ears.”

The singers have gathered with windows open and air purifiers running in their rehearsal spaces. As with other stage shows locally and nationally, performances have been shortened to remove intermissions and lobby meet-and-greets.

1638792091 384 Denver arts groups see high demand behind the scenes challenges for holiday
Drag queens BenDeLaCreme (left) and Jinkx Monsoon bring their irreverent holiday show to Denver’s Paramount Theatre on Dec. 14 after a year-plus drought. (Jiji Lee, provided by Heart Spade PR)

Researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Maryland recently advised that “while masks reduce the flow of droplets for both singers and instrumentalists, the quality of the filtering material and fit are key components of effectiveness,” according to Kaiser Health News. They recommend taking breaks every half-hour if rehearsing or performing indoors.

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Magic position themselves for better look at prospects at NBA draft combine

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Magic position themselves for better look at prospects at NBA draft combine

For the Orlando Magic, the next few days will be a significant step in a month-long process that’ll culminate with the June 23 NBA draft.

The NBA draft combine, which takes place Wednesday through Friday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, offers the Magic their most comprehensive look, up to this point, at the prospects they’re considering selecting in the June 23 draft.

The combine is more than simply physical measurements, medicals, on-court drills and scrimmages — although that information is helpful.

During the season, teams are allowed to scout prospects but aren’t allowed to contact them.

Like most teams that didn’t already start hosting pre-draft workouts, the combine will be the Magic’s first opportunity to interview and have one-on-one interactions with prospects.

It offers them a chance to get to know the prospect as more than just a basketball player.

This can go a long way in determining who gets invited for a workout at the team’s facility or who ends up higher on a team’s draft board.

Teams are allowed to interview a maximum of 20 players at the combine, while each player is allowed to interview with a maximum of 13 teams. Just because the Magic didn’t interview someone at the combine doesn’t mean they’re not interested or won’t pick them in the draft.

Every top prospect — from Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga) and Jabari Smith (Auburn) to Paolo Banchero (Duke) and Jaden Ivey (Purdue) — will be present.

This matters for the Magic, who’ll once again have a top pick in this year’s draft.

While most players who are expected to be taken high in the draft typically don’t participate in all of the drills and will rarely scrimmage, those off-court interactions are part of the intel the Magic will consider leading into the draft.

The Magic also have second-round picks (Nos. 32 and 35).

While Orlando has a tendency of trading its second-round picks under president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, the combine will help the Magic gather the necessary information to see whether one of — or both — of those picks are worth keeping if they find a prospect they like outside of the first round.

There’s also the chance they could try to trade those picks with another team to get into the back end of the first round, among other possibilities.

Tuesday night’s draft lottery helped provide clarity into each team’s situation.

Teams also use this period to gather information on other organizations, such as intel about players they’re interested in acquiring, their own players who they’d trade, how they’re feeling about their lottery position and if they want to move their pick.

These conversations matter for the Magic as they continue to build a foundation with their young core.

The combine, however, isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Predraft workouts and the ensuing interviews allow teams to get a better look at players under their own roofs.

Weltman recalled meeting Wendell Carter Jr. for the first time during the predraft process and left with a strong and favorable first impression. Almost three years after passing on him in the 2018 draft, the Magic traded for him three years later.

Intel continues to be gathered after the initial contact, making the combine a springboard for what’s to come during the next month leading into the draft and beyond.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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St. Paul woman sentenced to more than 10 years for fatally stabbing boyfriend last year

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Kayla Janea Pope

A St. Paul woman was sentenced Tuesday to more than 10 years in prison for fatally stabbing her boyfriend in the back with a kitchen knife during an argument last year.

Kayla J. Pope (Courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

Kayla J. Pope, 22, was sentenced in Ramsey County District Court to 128 months after pleading guilty to second-degree unintentional murder in the Sept. 10 slaying of Eric T. Brown, 23, of Minneapolis, on St. Paul’s East Side.

Pope was represented by Katie Allen and Luis Rangel Morals, who are attorneys for Neighborhood Justice Center, a criminal defense nonprofit based in St. Paul. The attorneys argued to Judge P. Paul Yang that Pope should receive no prison time and be put on supervised probation.

Allen and Morals cited prior to sentencing and again Tuesday the documented incidents of alleged physical abuse that Pope faced at the hands of Brown, who was the father of her 2-year-old son.

They also noted how Pope did not have a criminal record previously and how she has undergone therapy and mental health services through Ramsey County Child Protection.

Morals called the stabbing a “freak accident,” noting how the knife wound was less than two centimeters in length.

“Ms. Pope has scars on her body documenting the abuse,” he said.

Brown’s father, Sandy Brown, addressed the judge, saying that he told his son and Pope to “leave each other alone.” Brown “did not deserve to die,” his father said. “I hate that she took my son from me.”

BROWN FOUND WITH STAB WOUND

According to the criminal complaint, St. Paul police were called to the area of East Seventh Street and White Bear Avenue about 9 p.m. on a report of a man being shot during an assault.

When they arrived, they found Brown with a stab wound near his left shoulder. He was unconscious, not breathing and had no pulse, police said. Officers began lifesaving measures on the man. He was transported to Regions Hospital and died a short time later.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that the stab wound to Brown’s back had cut an artery, causing him to bleed to death.

Police interviewed Pope at the scene and later at the police station where she changed her story multiple times, the complaint states.

At first she said Brown was stabbed by a man wearing all black who had met him to sell him marijuana, the complaint said. Video from traffic cameras, combined with an earlier police call to the apartment for a domestic dispute, cast doubt on Pope’s story of a shadowy assailant.

Video showed Brown running from Pope and he appeared to be wounded in the altercation, the complaint states.

Pope later changed her story, saying Brown was abusive and had threatened to take their child and leave. She said she meant to stab his backpack, but that it shifted in the struggle and the knife went into his back instead, the complaint states.

She led police to where she had pushed the steak knife into the ground after fleeing the scene, the complaint said.

ALLEGED PATTERN OF ABUSE

The alleged pattern abuse was central to her attorneys’ argument for probation. They described her as a “battered woman.”

In April 2019, when Pope was 15 months pregnant, Brown punched her in the belly during an argument, according to a criminal complaint charging him with domestic abuse. That same day, after she was released from the hospital, Brown punched her in the chest, pulled her hair and choked her.

Brown was convicted of gross misdemeanor domestic assault for the incident. In July 2019, Judge Yang sentenced Brown to one year in jail, which was stayed, and two years of probation.

The next time Pope reported abuse to police was in January 2021, according to her attorneys. In the five months before the stabbing, she reported five more instances of either abuse or other violent behavior, her attorneys wrote to Judge Yang.

“I cannot help but be appalled at the many times she reached out for help and did not get the help she needed,” Allen told the judge on Tuesday.

Ramsey County prosecutor Cory Tennison acknowledged the past domestic abuse, but added “two wrongs don’t make a right.” He argued for a 150-month prison sentence.

“The criminal justice system did not take a knife and stab this man,” he said. “The defendant did.”

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Dylan Cease and the Chicago White Sox navigate traffic on the basepaths in a 3-0 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader

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Dylan Cease and the Chicago White Sox navigate traffic on the basepaths in a 3-0 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader

Dylan Cease had to deal with traffic in every inning of Tuesday’s start against the Kansas City Royals.

The Chicago White Sox right-hander made the big pitches each time.

Cease allowed seven hits and struck out nine in 5⅔ innings, leading the Sox to a 3-0 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium.

“(The Royals) did a really good job of getting on,” Cease said. “There was a lot of traffic today, but fortunately I executed pitches with guys in scoring position pretty well and got some big strikeouts.”

Cease surrendered a season-high six runs in four innings in his last start Thursday against the New York Yankees. He bounced back, combining with four relievers for the shutout.

“He gave us all that he had,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “He got into the sixth with two outs and that’s outstanding.”

Cease faced challenges from the start, as Royals leadoff batter Whit Merrifield doubled in the first. He moved to third with one out, but Cease struck out Salvador Perez and Ryan O’Hearn to end the inning.

The Royals had runners on second and third with one out in the third. Cease again struck out Perez and O’Hearn.

“I have enough experience now to where I know when I’m doing too much and not enough,” Cease said. “It’s just staying the course and trusting it.”

The Royals came up empty again in the fourth when Hunter Dozier was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on a single. The play at the plate wasn’t close.

All three runs came in the fifth. Reese McGuire doubled and scored on AJ Pollock’s sacrifice fly to left. José Abreu made it 3-0 with a two-out, two-run double.

Abreu went 2-for-3 with a walk.

“Looking more like himself, isn’t he?” La Russa said.

Abreu fielded a grounder and beat O’Hearn to first for the third out of the fifth as the Royals stranded two more runners.

Cease exited after striking out MJ Melendez for the second out of the sixth on his 94th pitch.

“He worked hard,” La Russa said. “I didn’t want to push him there in the sixth. He gave us what he had. He worked out of some jams.”

Bennett Sousa struck out pinch hitter Michael A. Taylor with a runner on second to end the sixth.

Joe Kelly allowed a double and two walks to begin the seventh. Kelly bounced back, striking out pinch hitter Carlos Santana (Perez left with a left thumb sprain) and O’Hearn and getting Dozier to pop out to second.

“His command you can tell, he hasn’t been here,” La Russa said of Kelly, who was on the injured list April 4 to May 9 as he recovered from a right biceps nerve injury. “He’s got outstanding stuff. He’s a great competitor. He’s got great guts.

“You see that pitch he made on Santana and O’Hearn. … He’s tough as nails. When he had to, he made pitches. It’s the sign of a champion.”

The Royals went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and struck out 14 times.

“The way that I was taught to look at it is what did they have to hit,” La Russa said. “We pitched Perez (1-for-3 with two strikeouts) like the Hall of Famer he is. There were very few mistakes in RBI situations.”

Before the first game, the Sox selected the contract of pitcher Davis Martin from Triple-A Charlotte, added reliever Kyle Crick from Charlotte as the 27th player for the doubleheader, placed starting pitcher Michael Kopech on the paternity list and transferred reliever Garrett Crochet (season-ending Tommy John surgery) to the 60-day IL.

Martin, 25, made his major-league debut as the Game 2 starter. He is 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA and 41 strikeouts in seven starts between Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham this year.

He allowed two runs or fewer in four of his five starts at Birmingham before being promoted to the Knights on May 5. He is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and eight strikeouts in two outings with Charlotte.

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