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RidgeGate Up Close

  • November 23, 2015
  • Lauren Varner

Lisa Rigsby Peterson, Executive Director of the Lone Tree Arts Center

 “RidgeGate Up Close” is our series of interviews with people who make RidgeGate a more vibrant place. Read the unexpected stories of residents, workers and local leaders who live and work here. Know someone who has a unique perspective or life in RidgeGate? Contact us at info@ridgegate.com.

A big thank you to Sarah Neumann Photography for conducting and photographing our RidgeGate Up Close interviews! This month: Lisa Rigsby Peterson, executive director of the Lone Tree Arts Center.

A native New Yorker, Peterson moved to Colorado in 1975 and continues to make waves in the cultural arts world. Most recently, she joined forces with several other SCFD organizations to create the first Sensory Friendly Summit in Colorado — an effort which was awarded the 2015 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Arts & Culture. Her passion for her work is infectious, and 30 minutes spent with Rigsby Peterson will have you clearing your schedule so you can catch another show at the Lone Tree Arts Center.

Q: Tell us about your background…what brought you to the Lone Tree Arts Center?

Lisa: “I’ve spent the past many years working in the arts in Denver, including stints at most of the major cultural institutions like Opera Colorado, Curious Theatre Company and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA).  After ten years at the DCPA, I decided to spend some time off with my kids and was enjoying myself thoroughly when I spotted the Arts Center Executive Director description one October day. I read it, looked up the location of the theatre on the map (I was a little puzzled to find the address was right next to a Super Target), read the job description again, and realized that it was my dream job.  I  started a month before the groundbreaking ceremony on March 18, 2010, and have been here ever since!”

Q: Describe one of your favorite days on the job…

 Lisa: “It’s a toss-up between the day I kicked off my shoes to wade out into the newly-installed landscaping to find the controls for the sprinkler heads that had been going off for 24 straight hours and the day that a bat flew straight through the building just as people were arriving for our first ever Open House. Come to think of it, those might have been the very same day. Things got a little fuzzy as we hurtled towards our August 2011 opening. 

Then again, I have to say that my very favorite day on the job is any day we have people in our building, for a meeting, a conference, or a performance.  I get to see how our wonderful team of professionals and volunteers make everyone that walks through our doors feel so welcome, they can’t wait to come back again.”

Q: What do you listen to in the car?

Lisa: “A cassette tape that I made from the original 1985 London cast album of Les Miserables.  

That, or jazz on KUVO.. 

Or, if my son’s in the car, too, Kip Moore, Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney.”

 Q: Do you have any favorite hobbies you want to share with us?

Lisa: “I play a mean game of Trivial Pursuit, which I chalk up to a love of reading anything and everything I can get my hands on.  I’ve also begun walking up the steepest paths to the Bluffs I can find, listening to music on my iPod all the while, of course.”

Q: Which three performances in 2016 would you say should not be missed and why? 

Lisa: “First–and in no particular order–I would say Reunion 1985!, because who doesn’t want to go back to your 30th high school reunion and hear a great band play the best hits of the mid-80s?  It’s a brand-new concept for us, where small audiences of just 120 people will fill the Event Hall, enjoy cocktails during the show, and relive their glory days while listening to some of the best singers and musicians from Denver, New York and LA. It’s unlike anything you’ve experienced at the Arts Center before, and will be an evening of pure FUN. 

Next, I would say Christine Ebersole, Big Noise from Winnetka.  Christine is a two-time Tony Award winner, star of TV and the silver screen, and one of the most admired Broadway performers today. Her intimate concert, telling the story of her growing up and finding fame on the Great White Way, features big, Broadway songs right alongside heartbreakingly beautiful ballads. Most of us only see Broadway performers like this from the mezzanine of a 1500 seat New York Broadway house. In Lone Tree, you’ll be less than 60 feet from the stage, in our acoustically dynamite and intimate 484-seat theatre.

And finally, GuGu Drum Group. I saw this phenomenal drum group from Shanghai, China, when I attended a conference in New York earlier this year. The spectacle of the drums and the costumes, and the athleticism of the musicians, were mesmerizing. This is a show that the entire family will enjoy, with exciting stories told in music with percussion instruments as tiny as finger cymbals and as large as traditional stately drums.”

Finish this sentence: “Happiness is …..”

Lisa: “A full house, on their feet!”

Q: The Sensory Friendly Family Tree is a series of sensory-friendly performances at the Lone Tree Arts Center that present the performing arts in a relaxed way for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, autism, sensory processing disorder or other conditions. How is the Lone Tree Arts Center working with other organizations to encourage this kind of programming?

Lisa: “In June of 2015, LTAC partnered with Phamaly Theatre Company and used a grant from Art Tank to host the first “Sensory Friendly Summit” in Colorado. We gathered SCFD organizations from all over the state of Colorado and brought in guest speakers from organizations like Autism Society of Colorado and the STAR Center to discuss sensory-friendly strategies for arts and culture institutions. So, for example, we can make simple changes to productions and performances to make these encounters accessible and enjoyable for patrons, and we can provide a judgment-free environment where all are welcome without the fear of disturbing others. After the summit, we established the “Sensory Friendly Network” — 100 people representing 50 organizations all over Colorado who are committed to this cause. We all believe that you can’t truly serve an entire community unless you find a need and meet it.”

Q: What do you think the Arts can do for people with special needs? 

Lisa: “Live performance and the arts are all about the experiences we have as artists or audience members: breathing the same air, watching or hearing each other as a story is being told through acting, through music, through dance, goes back as far as our recorded human history. By inviting people with special needs, especially intellectual or developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and other conditions, into the Lone Tree Arts Center and allowing them access to this world of discovery, and emotion, and movement, and wonder, we open new doors not just for those living with special needs, but also for the artists who have stories to tell.  Our ‘sensory friendly programming,’ designed specifically to invite those who have traditionally been excluded to experience the power of live performing arts through our doors, is among the most fulfilling work we do, not just for our audiences, but for our artists and staff as well.  It eliminates the gulfs that separate us, even if it’s for just half an hour in a darkened room. That can make a big impact.”

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