CA alum and theater whiz lends design expertise

Dispensing with formalities, Colorado Academy alumnus Davy Davis ‘65, quickly got down to heart of the matter. “I have some severe questions,” he said to Dan Craig, Senior Associate at Shears Adkins Rockmore (SA+R), the architecture and planning firm designing CA’s new Leach Center for the Performing Arts.

William Temple (Davy) Davis is Professor Emeritus at the University of Denver’s Department of Theatre. At DU, he taught scene design, lighting design, theater creativity, scene painting, stage makeup, advanced design courses, and oh, Tai Chi, for more than 35 years.

He had heard about CA’s work on a new theater and volunteered his expertise. It was not an offer to be taken casually. Architects Craig and firm principal, Andy Rockmore, invited Davis to their downtown Denver studio to get a look first hand look at how the new theater design was taking shape.

A Seasoned Theater Professional

In addition to his impressive teaching vitae, Davis has worked professionally on the east and west coasts and has won both local and national awards for his designs. He has designed scenery for more than 100 shows and lighting for even more.

And he has designed two theaters, including the Byron Theatre at the University of Denver. There isn’t much Davis doesn’t know about the intricacies of a working theater.  While he and the architects talked about things from the direction of load-in docks and the size of the stage wings, he also posed questions about how a design speaks to assumptions about the social construct between actors and their audience.

“I noticed you’ve designed this to be a proscenium theater.” And in a professor’s style, Davis asked if anyone knew the origins of such a space. (A proscenium stage is one that frames the action of the play and separates the audience from the actors, as opposed to a thrust or arena stage.) Davis noted that proscenium theaters, in their modern applications, became popular with the emergence of the Italian Opera in the 1600s.

His passion and knowledge for all things theater are evident. Davis has a BA from Lawrence University, an MFA in Scene Design from Northwestern University, and a PhD from the University of Denver. He also is a founding member of Denver’s Curious Theatre Company.

Davis attended CA in the 1960s when Chuck Froelicher was the school’s headmaster, but long before the current Froelicher Theatre was constructed and named in his honor. That structure dates to the 1970s and was built as a shell that was to be retrofitted at a later date to meet the school’s needs. That “later” work was never done, and CA has been utilizing the same building as a performing arts space for more than 40 years.

There is plenty about CA’s old theater that Davis takes issue with. But, he admitted, “No matter what you do, [in terms of designing a theater,] it’s never going to be perfect for everyone.” Rockmore emphasized SA+R’s role in designing the structure, not only a building that would last, but as one that could be modified as the school’s needs evolve.

Davis attended CA in high school, but went on to graduate from an east coast boarding school. Nevertheless, he says, his heart remains with CA. Now retired, Davis travels, sees lots of theater performances, and has offered to continue the dialogue with SA+R as CA’s Center for the Performing Arts evolves.