AURORA, Colo. — In the post-pandemic slump that saw theatres around the country cancel performances and audiences ditch enclosed spaces, the future of live performance seemed uncertain and friends Kevin Douglas, Izzy Chern and Gracie Jacobson felt their career hopes begin to dwindle.
But every hero’s journey needs an obstacle to overcome. Sitting in Chern’s furniture-less apartment over a sushi dinner in 2022, the three recent graduates hit upon their way forward–Two Cent Lion, a theatre company to put on their original work.
Aurora Cheer local theatre with "Clink, Clink"
The original queer romcom from Two Cent Lion Theatre Company runs in the People's Building
When launching a new troupe, “It's a lot of trying to convince everyone that what we're doing is good, and what we're doing has passion and love behind it,” said Chern, who serves as the company’s artistic director and acting lead.
“It seems something that we’ve learned is the theatre-makers in Denver want to support each other. They want to see each other succeed, especially when it comes to a new, young, queer little theatre company doing stuff that no one else is doing,” they said.
The name — Two Cent Lion — references Chern, Douglas, and Jacobson’s astrological sun signs: two sagittariuses (represented by the Centaur, Cent) and one Leo (represented by a Lion).
“It kind of hearkens back to, like, a classic,” said Douglas, the theatre’s resident playwright. “It’s like the two-penny show, or the three-penny-opera.”
“Clink Clink,” the company’s second full-length play and first romcom, was a “brain spark” from Chern for which Douglas wrote the script. The play features both Chern and Jacobson in the lead roles.
Gracie Jacbobson and Izzy Chern co-founded Two Cent Lion along with playwright Kevin Douglas in 2022. “Clink, Clink” is the company’s second full-length play. Photo: Peter Vo, Rocky Mountain PBS
“Clink, Clink” opens in 1994 when best friends Elliot (a Taurus, played by Chern) and Olivia (a dreamy Pisces, played by Jacobson) are seven -years -old. It revisits the pair every seven years until they reach the age of 35 and follows as they fall in love, in lust and back again.
“I think it’s incredible to see a show that is about queerness but you don’t have to think about queerness as inherently painful,” said Chern.
“We’re trying to tell stories that are gentle, that are kind, that are about love, growth and pain,” they said. “But not because you’re queer, just because you’re human, which is something that we don’t see in a lot of queer stories.”
Although the young company staged their productions and used the facilities from the founders’ alma mater, the University of Denver, in its early years, it’s now found a home for its 2024 season at The People’s Building on Colfax.
The former furniture store on the corner of Colfax and Florence Street was outfitted as a community art space in 2018 by a $2 million investment from the City of Aurora’s Office of Urban Renewal and Redevelopment as a way to address the blight in the area.
Aurora covers the overhead of running the building and allows local artists to put on shows and exhibits for a small use fee, said Aaron Vega, The People’s Building’s creative director.
“It’s not about funding as much as providing affordable space,” Vega said.
The performance space is currently booked through the end of 2024 and into the beginning of 2025, according to Vega.
The multimedia play “Clink, Clink” begins in 1994 and follows protagonists Olivia and Elliot from the ages of seven to 35. Photo: Peter Vo, Rocky Mountain PBS
Officials with the city plan to lease to an on-site restaurant soon and have The People’s Building sustain itself by providing accessible space to artists and vendors.
The northeast corner of Aurora is a growing arts district that city officials hope will bring foot traffic and businesses to the area. East of The People’s Building on Colfax is the Vintage Theatre, and across the street are The Aurora Fox Theatre and The Afterthought Theatre.
It’s that fostering of community that has also sustained the troupe.
“I’m most excited about and have been most happily surprised about all the wonderful queer businesses that we’ve discovered through this that already exist,” said Jacobson, Two Cent Lion’s managing director and star of “Clink, Clink.”
Jacobson pointed to Lady Jusice, a recently opened brewery on Colfax, that sells its beer on tap in the theatre lobby as one of their supporters.
Finding a home for their season at the People’s Building happened quickly at the last minute, she said.
“So we got lucky, really,” she said. “But it was also nice because it really would not have come together if he [Vega] was not so excited about, as he calls it, like, ‘incubating’ us as a theatre.”
Upcoming shows for the company include another original, “Gracie’s Diner,” an in-place immersive piece, and the classic to finish the year, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“Clink, Clink” runs through February 11 at The People’s Building. Tickets are pay-as-you-can between $10 and $30.