Thomsen Talk: October 2016
When giving tours to school groups of the QCT facility, we make a stop outside the board room. I explain that our shows begin in that room. Members of the production team sit around the big table, talking and dreaming. I then introduce to the students the term “collaboration,” defining it as a “group of people working together, sharing their single ideas and turning them into one greater idea.” What makes the theatre so different from other art forms is it relies on collaboration to succeed.
On Sunday morning, our community lost an incredible collaborator, our resident designer and technical director, Paul Denckla. Paul had been battling cancer for two years.
Paul joined the QCT family in 1992, coming to us from Denver, Colorado. He stayed with QCT until 2004 and returned in 2007. Little Women – the Broadway musical was our first show together in the partnership of director-designer. Paul and I were at a Christmas party together, and I knew that he was going to be returning to QCT and would be designing Little Women as his first show. I walked over to him and said, “What about a turntable?” and he said, “I was thinking the same thing.” That was one of the few times we agreed on a set!
We rarely had the same vision for the set. He’d bring a sketch and have a door on stage right, and I’d say, “Oh, I saw it being on stage left.” He’d want to go literal, I’d want to go abstract. He’d want to go abstract; I’d want to go literal. Sometimes it became a game between us. Through countless discussions we would eventually find a unified prism through which we told our stories. No matter the struggles of the collaboration, I knew what the outcome would be: everyone would walk out of the theater praising the scenery.
Paul’s sets and lighting have to be up there as some of the most impressive in all community theatre. In Lenny’s production of Enchanted April, the curtain went up on the second act and the stage had gone from minimal set pieces to a giant Italianate villa. The transformation was so effective that the audience applauded the set! Only one other time have I experienced applause for a set—and that was on Broadway! My personal favorite design of Paul’s was Camelot. It was the ruins of a castle, and the stage was covered with grass. I think Paul’s lighting of that show was also my favorite. And Paul also acted in the show—and stole it! He had that boundless energy onstage and off that made him a favorite with so many people.
The final lines of Camelot are “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot… for one brief shining moment….” I worked with Paul on more shows than I have with any other individual. His designs, his work ethic, his undying love for theatre and for this community created a shining moment in my career. The next time I give a tour and make a stop at the board room and teach the next generation about the term “collaboration,” I’ll be thinking of Paul.