Community’s got talent!

Denver’s Stage C produces a not-your-garden-variety variety show. Could your neighborhood do it too?

Think talent show, and you may flashback to a grade school auditorium watching pianists dutifully pecking out show tunes or breakdancers performing amazing pops and locks. A show can do more than showcase individuals, however; it can be a place to connect and share laughs with neighbors and to discover some unexpected abilities next door or down the street.

“A healthy community is a community that uses the creativity of its members to their fullest” is part of the concept behind Stage C, LLC, which puts on a community variety show in Denver at least once a month. The shows feature local musicians, poets, and other performers. “It’s not an open mic night,” clarifies Marcella Skogen, who founded Stage C with Wayne Massi in 2005. Instead, it’s designed for  “creatives with some experience but who may not be ready to promote their own show.”

Many of the shows are staged at Denver’s Mercury Cafe. Adults pay $5. Kids get in free. A host guides the program, including interviewing someone from a community group or business working for some positive local change. “It gives them a chance to connect with a bigger audience,” Marcella says. Another popular element is the “sage on stage,” a chance for a local light to deliver an inspiring, and typically humorous, monologue.

A sage on stage at Stage C

The inspiration for Stage C  — the C stands for “celebrating connecting community and creativity” — came in part from radio programs. Marcella names as influences both A Prairie Home Companion, with its “goofy Midwestern culture and community feel,” and Boulder’s eTown, which combines musical performances with discussions on the environment and education. Locally, the Stage C shows grew out of a very supportive church that connected Wayne and Marcella with a group of talented musicians. Wanting to bring this community to a wider audience, they imagined a standing gig to showcase that talent and to nurture other talents.

One of the performers they encouraged is poet Nashon Cook, who did his first public reading at Stage C. As they kept inviting him back, he improved his confidence and stage presence and after a few months went on to wow an audience of more than ten thousand at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Denver.

Poet Nashon Cook at Stage C

Your neighborhood undoubtedly has its own stable of talent. And it’s not necessary for someone to be a virtuoso to believe their talent’s worth sharing. Whether or not the acts in your community are ready for the big time, they might find an appreciative audience on their own block. A stage can be someone’s front porch or backyard, a local bar or cafe or park, a school or church auditorium. House shows are time-honored venues for independent music — but make sure to invite your neighbors so they won’t complain about the noise. Whatever the venue, it’s a great opportunity to bring neighbors together and have fun.

Whether it’s an incorporated production like Stage C or a more informal affair, Marcella offers 11 C-emphatic tips for would-be neighborhood impresarios.

Marcella Skogen’s 11 tips for creating a community-based variety show

  1. Community:  Envision the community you want to live in and let that guide your efforts.
  2. Collaborate: Find other people who share your interest and are willing to share the work (which is really play, because it’s fun!).
  3. Common:  Focus on shared values and stay away from derisive politics.
  4. Celebrate:  Keep the show upbeat and positive.
  5. Creative:  Encourage original works, encourage performers to include the audience in some way such as with sing-alongs or volunteering for improv.
  6. Care and calm: Demonstrate an atmosphere of support — progress not perfection — for all participants.
  7. Connect community members with each other:  Have a segment of the show dedicated for the audience to connect with each other and show sponsors or features.  Include “interactivities,” fun games that get people talking and contributing to the show.
  8. Contribute: Encourage audience members to contribute their own ideas and talents.
  9. Commodes and cellphones:  We all need those reminders, and a little bit of info goes a long way.  Remember the logistics!
  10. Coffee and concessions: Not for everyone, but some appreciate refreshments, and they can be an income stream to pay for expenses.
  11. Coaching:  Give and receive coaching to assist those on stage to hone their craft and help the show run smoothly.

All photos courtesy Stage C, LLC

For more information on Stage C, visit

And please share your ideas or experiences in the comments!

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