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‘The Lion in Winter’ — a long trip and intense prep for a great show

There is nothing unique about the Thingamajig Theatre Company putting on a good quality show.

There’s nothing strange that every Friday, Saturday and Sunday “The Lion in Winter” will be performed at the Pagosa Center for the Arts.

What is unusual, though, is that three Denverites will be directing and acting in the play.

Pat Payne is a well-known Denver director and founder of the Spotlight Theatre Company and Silhouette Theatre Company.

Payne knows, has worked with and is friends with Tim and Laura Moore, owners of the Pagosa Center for the Arts. Payne and Moore is the essential relationship which all others got brought down.

Kurt Brighton, the last Denver local, not only has acted from Fort Collins to Denver, but contributes to the Denver Post as a freelance theatre critic.

“The Lion in Winter” opened Nov. 18. The first time the entire cast rehearsed together was Nov. 10, a mere eight days before the first performance day.

Now, you might you say the local actors rehearsed, and the Denver cast probably was familiar with the play from past times. If you say that you would be right, and wrong.

True, the Pagosa Springs cast did start rehearsing earlier. However, “The Lion in Winter” is not some overly familiar play, where taking a part is like putting on an old sweatshirt that is comfortable and fits just right.

Payne has once produced this play; however, he has never directed it.

And Brighton ... he plays the lead of “The Lion in Winter” of King Henry II, a role he has never played before.

“I’ve been going insane learning the lines,” Brighton says. He got the script just a day over two weeks before the first performance. The six- hour drive from Denver for Brighton was time well spent — with line memorization. Listening to the play, reciting the play, acting the part.

“I’m sure people thought I was crazy, screaming out in my car,” Brighton says.

And if you’ve seen a man running around Pagosa, earphones in, screaming, don’t mind him. That’s just Brighton becoming King Henry II.

So, if the play is familiar, the time to learn it is short, and the distance to perform it is long, then why did Brighton and Payne say yes to doing this play on such short notice, arriving one week before curtain time?

Three reasons:

1) Who can pass up the play?

“King Henry II is such a nice and juicy role,” Moore says. “It’s worth it to come here to play that role.”

“I’m lucky to get the chance to direct such a delicious play,” Payne says.

2) Pagosa Springs.

Prior to this trip, neither Payne nor Brighton had been to Pagosa Springs. “This place is beautiful,” Brighton says. “And everyone has been so warm and welcoming.”

Moore explains the Denver actors’ response to Pagosa Springs: “‘Where’s Pagosa?’ They’ll ask. Then they get here and say, ‘This is really cool,’ and then they see the facility like this that has a desire to create a quality product.”

Robin Herbert was one such Denver actor. After coming down in June, he did the next play, and then, according to Moore, decided to make Pagosa his home.

3) Quality.

“Walking in the doors (of Pagosa Center for the Arts), I was blown away,” Brighton says. “Everyone here has the same goal: putting on a good, high quality show.”

Payne feels much the same way. “Everyone here knew their stuff and was excited to create,” Payne says. “This is a great opportunity for Denver artists, and the local talent is as good as what I’ve seen in Denver.”

Moore and Payne met each other in the theatre world of Denver in the ’90s. Payne had left the months of November and December clear. Moore was aware.

Did Payne have any qualms about coming last minute to a small town he had never visited, to direct a play he had never directed? As he sipped his fountain drink, it didn’t seem he did. It would be hard to picture him any calmer.

“Tim and Laura have a commitment to a quality product, and the commitment to put up a show in eight days,” Payne says.

For the week prior to opening, the actors and the director ran lines, blocked, rehearsed. Costumes were fitted the week of the performance.

“We got in eight weeks of rehearsal in eight days,” Moore says.

Typically, the cast rehearses for six to eight weeks prior to a show. They rehearse a few hours each day. The cast and director of “The Lion in Winter,” though, have been rehearsing seven to 10 hours a day.

“We put a week of rehearsal in a day,” Moore says.

Now, there is a side note to add about Brighton. Another reason why he’d say “yes” to such a short notice venture in a town he had never seen.

Brighton is a fan of the adrenaline rush.

“I guess I need to be scared,” Brighton says.

The reason for his acting is in part due to this adrenaline pursuit. Brighton has always performed, but it was not always in theatre.

He describes himself as, “a person cursed with four or five very strong interests.” Since he was a child, he has been writing and performing, both musically and theatrically.

“At first I’d be like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, I’m gonna play!’ I would get nervous, then it stopped being scary,” Brighton says. And that’s when he went and auditioned for a play.

So, from this perspective, maybe nothing about this is unusual.

Maybe it all makes sense.

Brighton, a man enlivened by adrenaline, runs through the mountains screaming the lines of King Henry II. He is going to play one of the theatre’s best roles in a big time crunch.

Payne, a popular Denver director, on short notice, scratches his vacation months to come to Pagosa to direct a great play and help an old friend out. There is trust between the men, and Payne does not doubt Moore’s intentions.

And to be in such a beautiful place? Well, when looked at like this, who wouldn’t have said “yes?”

And, at least for Payne, so far it’s been such a pleasant experience and he’s not ruling out directing in Pagosa again.

“I’m excited for future opportunities to come down here,” Payne says.

The Thingamajig Theatre production of “The Lion in Winter” opened Nov. 18 at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. Performances are scheduled through Dec. 4, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

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