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Innovative and Askew, Off-Center @ The Jones Launches Third Season

Off-Center @ The Jones brings a hip, young perspective to the Denver Center for Performing Arts.

"Drag Machine" covered the history of drag through performers depicting different decades.

"Cult Following" hits the stage most second Thursdays of the month through May.

"Cult Following" is a movie-inspired improv show.

Off-Center @ The Jones is the "test kitchen" at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Co-Curators Emily Tarquin and Charlie Miller discuss the third season, starting Oct. 10.
Entering its third season, Off-Center @ The Jones brings a hip, young perspective to the Denver Center for Performing Arts. There's not only experimental stagecraft and an outside-of-the-box approach to theatrical production, but also the time-tested lure of free beer.

Originally funded by a 2011 grant from the Doris Duke Foundation, Off-Center had its share of growing pains, but many more lessons learned, say Off-Center Co-Curators Emily Tarquin and Charlie Miller

"Off-Center is designed to be the Denver Center's test kitchen," says Miller. The prime lesson from seasons one and two has been "discovering what the role of a cultural curator is," he adds. "We're thinking about the whole experience and how to extend the experience, before and after the production."

The Denver Center has taken notice of Miller and Tarquin's approach, which begins online before the show and continues in the lobby after the curtain call, and has enlisted them to curate a main-stage production, The Legend of Georgia McBride, premiering in January 2014.

"It's about drag queens," says Miller. "Drag Machine" covered the history of drag through performers depicting different decades.

"We're pretty much experts at this point," interjects Tarquin.

She's referring to Off-Center's most successful production to date, last season's Drag Machine, covering the history of drag through performers depicting different decades. Three sellouts led to two additional shows.

Off-Center's recurring movie-inspired improv comedy, Cult Following, hits the stage most second Thursdays of the month through May. The $15 ticket includes two beers and popcorn and "a real 3-D experience" not to mention plenty of slow motion, montages and other Hollywood staples rarely attempted live on stage.

But audiences wavered in the previous season, leading to a few tweaks for 2013-14. "It needed a little bit of a makeover," says Tarquin. "Now it's fully improvised. In the past, it was based on an outline."

The past recipe included a cop-show frame and four movie lines chosen by the audience at the last Cult Following. Now the entire show is an improvised "movie" based on a genre chosen by a dart-to-balloon method at the previous production. The balloons contain everything from horror to film noir to kung fu.

The first 2013-14 show, from the hallowed dance competition genre, unspools Thurs. Oct. 10 at 8 p.m.

"The genre will very much drive the shows," says Miller. "Dance competition was one of the weirdest ones. We're glad it got picked."Off-Center @ The Jones brings a hip, young perspective to the Denver Center for Performing Arts.

Off-Center also has a pair of original productions and a benefit on the 2013-14 calendar, starting with Wheel of Misfortune in late October.

"We're scrambling to get it together," says Tarquin, describing the production as a game show with "everyday tasks made frighteningly difficult." For example, contestants might be setting a table for a romantic dinner for two -- while wearing oven mitts.

"The winner gets points and the loser spins the Wheel of Misfortune and will have to complete a horrible task to keep playing," says Miller.

Next will be The Gayest Oscar Party Ever, a fundraising benefit at Hamburger Mary's in Uptown on March 2. A collaboration with The Narrators, Lived/Re-Lived will cap the season later in March.

Miller and Tarquin split their time between full-time jobs at the Denver Center Theatre Company and curating Off-Center -- Miller is the Projection Designer and Tarquin is the Artistic Associate who coordinates the Colorado New Play Summit.

The balancing act between day jobs and Off-Center is no small feat, they say, but well worth the payoff.

"Every younger person in a large organization wants an opportunity to be creative," says Tarquin. "It's really our opportunity to test our ideas and have sort of a playground for experimentation. Even working 80 hours a week, we love it."

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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