Any­thing but frozen in time

Or­ga­ni­za­tion stay­ing on toes, pen­ning solid script

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Wen­zel

The num­bers are, by any stan­dard, red-hot. Over a seven-week pe­riod, Dis­ney’s “pre-Broad­way en­gage­ment” of the stage mu­si­cal “Frozen” drew 125,900 peo­ple to 47 per­for­mances at the Buell The­atre, gen­er­at­ing more than $30 mil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact, ac­cord­ing to its hosts at the Den­ver Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts.

“You just don’t know, when some­thing has never been done be­fore, how it’s go­ing to turn out,” said DCPA pres­i­dent and CEO Jan­ice Sin­den, who saw “Frozen” three times in Den­ver. “But it was ex­tra­or­di­nary, so we’re thrilled.”

Also un­known — yet promis­ing — is the le­gacy Sin­den will leave at the DCPA, the 38-yearold or­ga­ni­za­tion that is the na­tion’s largest, most suc­cess­ful non­profit the­ater com­pany.

Sin­den, the for­mer chief of staff for Den­ver Mayor Michael Hancock, grabbed the DCPA’s reins in Au­gust 2016 and be­came its third CEO in three years — has­tened by the res­ig­na­tion of Scott Shiller af­ter only a year on the job.

Since then, other top DCPA jobs have reshuf­fled, from the board chair­man to the still-va­cant spot where Kent Thomp­son — the DCPA The­atre Com­pany’s pro­duc­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor — sat be­fore re­sign­ing un­ex­pect­edly in Jan­uary.

Cur­rent and for­mer DCPA staffers, and em­ploy­ees at other top Den­ver the­ater com­pa­nies,

de­clined to com­ment about the rea­son­ing be­hind th­ese changes. But one thing is clear: Sin­den in­her­ited a pow­er­ful, well-loved or­ga­ni­za­tion that brings not only tour­ing Broad­way mu­si­cals to town, but ex­cit­ing orig­i­nal plays, lo­cal tal­ent and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams.

As she re­tools the DCPA for the 21st cen­tury, Sin­den is weigh­ing pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing a po­ten­tially bil­lion-dol­lar ren­o­va­tion of the Den­ver Per­form­ing Arts Com­plex, as well as in­tense pres­sure to serve more di­verse au­di­ences.

New pri­or­i­ties

Al­ready, a pic­ture of her lead­er­ship is emerg­ing in some of the fis­cal-minded moves she has made or an­nounced, in­clud­ing:

• Sell­ing nam­ing rights for the DCPA’s the­aters — which could net tens of mil­lions of dol­lars — and push­ing gen­eral fundrais­ing and phi­lan­thropy on a scale the or­ga­ni­za­tion has never seen

• Plans for a big­ger board of di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing a de­signee from the mayor’s of­fice

• Slow­ing down the com­pli­cated, likely bil­lion-dol­lar Next Stage ren­o­va­tion that will re­make the 12-acre DPAC as a whole

• In­ter­nal ren­o­va­tions for the DCPA’s own the­aters, in­clud­ing $19 mil­lion to ren­o­vate the Stage and Rick­et­son the­aters — to po­ten­tially come from the city’s $937 Gen­eral Obli­ga­tion Bond, which vot­ers will de­cide on next month

• Ex­pand­ing cul­tural pro­gram­ming, com­mu­nity part­ner­ships and ed­u­ca­tional outreach

And those are just the most vis­i­ble ones.

“Bal­ance is im­por­tant at the DCPA,” Sin­den said. “I bring deep re­la­tion­ships with the com­mu­nity, and es­pe­cially with the (city’s) ad­min­is­tra­tion. There’s a lot of in­flu­ence that the DCPA can have on the city, and that the city can have on the DCPA and the other res­i­dent com­pa­nies. I think I am uniquely sit­u­ated to help foster that re­la­tion­ship long into the fu­ture.”

When she joined the DCPA last year, Sin­den counted more ex­pe­ri­ence in pol­i­tics and busi­ness than the per­form­ing arts. That was fine with the DCPA board, since many trus­tees and other em­ploy­ees were quick to cite the wealth of artis­tic tal­ent al­ready on staff.

“The back­ground that Jan­ice brings in her role is cru­cial, es­pe­cially in our outreach,” said lawyer and long- time DCPA con­sul­tant Martin Sem­ple, who took over as board chair­man on July 1, af­ter phi­lan­thropist Daniel Ritchie stepped down. “My work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Jan­ice is like …”

“… two peas in a pod?” Sin­den fin­ished, seated next to Sem­ple in her down­town of­fice, which over­looks Speer Boule­vard and the Au­raria Cam­pus.

“Call it what­ever you want, but we’re very com­fort­able and com­pat­i­ble in terms of the tal­ent we’ve got,” Sem­ple said.

In­deed, in re­cent in­ter­views with The Den­ver Post, Sin­den has talked fre­quently of “align­ment” and “phas­ing” at the DCPA — and not just in its lead­er­ship. Next month’s G.O. Bond vote looms large in Sin­den’s vi­sion, but she has not lost sight of how ren­o­va­tions could af­fect cus­tomers and res­i­dents at the over­all arts com­plex.

In April, Sin­den helped con­vene the first-ever meet­ing of all the DPAC res­i­dent com­pa­nies’ boards — in­clud­ing the DCPA, Colorado Bal­let, Opera Colorado and Colorado Sym­phony Orches­tra — to hash out pri­or­i­ties.

Deft sales­woman

Sin­den is a deft sales­woman in con­ver­sa­tion, cast­ing, for ex­am­ple, the bond pack­age in terms that make it sound like a shooin with vot­ers. She also speaks glow­ingly of a push at the DCPA to­ward cul­tural phi­lan­thropy, and seem­ingly has the con­nec­tions to back it up. She has nu­mer­ous, pow­er­ful al­lies on boards, both pub­lic and pri­vate, gained from her ten­ure at the mayor’s of­fice, as well as the busi­ness-ad­vo­cacy group Colorado Con­cern, which she led from 2007-11.

“I’m re­ally com­ing in and look­ing at what our in­vest­ment in our com­mu­nity is,” Sin­den said. “We’re a 501(c)(3) non­profit with a com­mu­nity mis­sion, and how lucky are we that we re­ceive more than $6 mil­lion a year from the SCFD?”

The Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Fa­cil­i­ties District pro­vides hun­dreds of metroarea arts or­ga­ni­za­tions with fund­ing. But the DCPA, Den­ver Zoo, Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens, Den­ver Mu­seum of Na­ture & Sci­ence and Den­ver Art Mu­seum are at the top tier, re­ceiv­ing 65.5 per­cent of SCFD’s $56 mil­lion in an­nual funds.

Since she started at the DCPA, Sin­den has been look­ing at col­lab­o­rat­ing more deeply with other cul­tural stake­hold­ers, from hold­ing open-air the­ater events at Tier 1 or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Botanic Gar­dens and Den­ver Zoo to bring­ing “Shake­speare in The Park­ing Lot” to ad­di­tional Den­ver Pub­lic Schools as part of the DCPA’s ed­u­ca­tional outreach.

“It’s a re­la­tion­ship busi­ness,” Sin­den said. “Build­ing au­di­ence loy­alty and grow­ing a pipe­line of au­di­ences is re­ally im­por­tant to us, so I’m ex­cited to help with that.”

A strong start

The qual­ity of re­la­tion­ships Sin­den in­her­ited with DCPA pa­trons and sub­scribers were al­ready strong. A 2016 re­port from the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts named Colorado No. 2 in the U.S. for the per­cent of adults who at­tend a vis­ual or per­form­ing arts event, with 80.7 per­cent.

On top of that, the DCPA has en­joyed record in­creases in at­ten­dance and rev­enue in re­cent years. The or­ga­ni­za­tion sold 685,375 tick­ets to its Broad­way, The­atre Com­pany, Cabaret and Off-Cen­ter shows in its 2016-17 sea­son, which gen­er­ated $150 mil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact, ac­cord­ing to a DCPA re­port. (That doesn’t take into ac­count the im­pact of its on-site ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, or the ad­di­tional 300 pri­vate events in its ren­tal venues.)

The DCPA’s re­la­tion­ship with Dis­ney tour­ing shows alone has gen­er­ated $73 mil­lion in box of­fice re­ceipts, with an es­ti­mated eco­nomic im­pact of $267 mil­lion over the last 20 years. But as with any mar­quee out­side a the­ater, the flash­ing lights put a pro­mo­tional face on the blood and sweat that goes into to keep­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion as big and com­plex as the DCPA cam­era-ready.

Sin­den weath­ered the an­gry res­ig­na­tion of long­time DCPA board mem­ber and sup­porter Jim Stein­berg ear­lier this year, which was in protest of the “mis­han­dled” de­par­ture of artis­tic di­rec­tor Thomp­son. In an in­ter­view with The Den­ver Post, Stein­berg al­leged, based on a phone con­ver­sa­tion with Sin­den, that Thomp­son had been forced out by Sin­den.

For some in the lo­cal the­ater com­mu­nity, that stung es­pe­cially deep, since Stein­berg sat on the DCPA’s board for 17 years and gave the or­ga­ni­za­tion more than $2 mil­lion of his trust’s money. In a state­ment, the DCPA board called Stein­berg’s al­le­ga­tions in­ac­cu­rate and reaf­firmed that Thomp­son’s res­ig­na­tion was vol­un­tary and re­viewed with each board mem­ber.

“Once the de­ci­sion was made for (Stein­berg) to leave, we were very united and just re­set and con­tin­ued on,” Sin­den said. “I mean, it hap­pened. Jim made tremen­dous im­pact on this or­ga­ni­za­tion and he is ap­pre­ci­ated for his con­tri­bu­tions, but we’re mov­ing on and up.”

The search for a new artis­tic di­rec­tor con­tin­ues.

“That was some­thing that I don’t think any of us ever could have fore­cast, but there’s a lot of lead­er­ship change hap­pen­ing in the Amer­i­can the­ater land­scape in gen­eral,” she said. “You plan for change, and you never ex­pect it, but you have to em­brace it. We have tremen­dous good­will to build upon, and our com­mu­nity be­lieves in in­vest­ing in th­ese in­sti­tu­tions, so we want to make sure peo­ple are in­vest­ing in the right one.”

Gabriel Scar­lett, The Den­ver Post

Den­ver Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts pres­i­dent and CEO Jan­ice Sin­den and chair­man Martin Sem­ple stand in­side the fa­cil­ity this past sum­mer.

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