By Richard Schultz, October 2015 Issue.
The Valley is a home to a wide array of talented artists who are making a name for themselves both onstage and behind the scenes.
While an entire roster would be too numerous to count, we’d like to introduce you a small sampling of the diverse talents that are part of the upcoming season.
Meet Damon J. Bolling, Cole Brackney, Daniel Davisson, Robert Kolby Harper and Toby Yatso, Echo’s LGBT artists to watch for the 2015-2016 season.
Damon J. Bolling
Damon J. Bolling is one of those theatre artists who is equally comfortable on stage or in the director’s chair.
As a performer, with over 30 productions to his credit, Bolling he has performed in the Valley for more than 20 years, has sung on Broadway, and toured the country.
Bolling made his musical directorial debut with Desert Foothills Theater’s production of Dreamgirls earlier this year. He will return to DFT in April to direct Smokey Joe’s Cafe with T.A. Burrows and Daniel Kurek.
“Damon first started working with us as an actor when we presented Stephen Sondheim’s Company in 2013,” said Meribeth Reeves, Desert Foothills Theater’s managing director. “He was incredible in that role and a true joy to work with.”
Bolling kicked off the 2015-2016 season by directing season opener of The Wiz for Mesa Encore Theatre.
“When we decided to do Dreamgirls, we knew we had to find a director who not only had a passion for the work, but also a strong connection with local African American actors,” she added.
Bolling was in the Arizona premiere cast of the Black Theatre Troupe’s Dreamgirls at the Herberger Theater Center in 2006. Bolling previously directed for the Hormel New Works Festival at Phoenix Theatre.
According to Ron May, Stray Cat Theatre’s artistic director, Cole Brackney is one of the most talented and up-and-coming young actors in the Valley.
“Cole has killer comedic chops, can sing, and is able to hold an audience in the palm of his hand with little more than a mischievous grin,” May said.
Brackney is widely recognized for his ability to play a broad range of characters and ages, one example of which was his performance in Stray Cat’s production of Pluto.
“It’s hard to find the heart in the character of a killer, but he found it,” May said of Brackney’s strong performance as Bailey in Pluto. “I’m excited to see what the future holds for him.”
Brackney has also appeared as James Avery in Nearly Naked Theatre’s Valhalla and as the Wolf in Ethington Theatre’s Into the Woods.
There is little doubt that lighting director Daniel Davisson is one of the busiest working theater artists in the Valley.
Davisson designed for One Man, Two Guvnors at Phoenix Theatre, where he is the resident lighting designer, master electrician and director of production for rentals and special events.
In addition to serving as a classic textbook example of a theater artist wearing many hats, Davisson is also the owner and operator for Davisson Entertainment, LLC, a local event and production company with the mission of cultivating and exposing local art and artists.
His lighting designs have gained him numerous awards and accolades, including six AriZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence, which were a result of more than 65 AriZoni Award nominations.
Watch for his work in upcoming productions of Company at ASU Lyric Opera, Black Theatre Troupe’s The Taste Test at and The Toxic Avenger at Phoenix Theatre.
Robert Kolby Harper
Robert Kolby Harper, Phoenix Theatre’s associate artistic director, is an invaluable part of the Valley arts scene.
His accomplishments are many and his legacy includes his unsurpassed popularity among audiences and rave reviews from critics.
Originally from Georgia, Harper has lived in Phoenix for more than 25 years. In 2002, he became the first Artist-in-Residence, a development program for young theater professionals.
Additionally, Harper has directed numerous Phoenix Theatre presentations, including Shear Madness, Anything Goes, Rent, Avenue Q, Altar Boys. His choreography credits include Spamalot, Hairspray, Guys and Dolls, Cabaret, Chicago, Will Rogers Follies, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Beauty and the Beast. As a performer, he delighted audiences as Albin/Zaza in La Cage Aux Folles, as Lloyd Dallas in Noises Off, and as Roger Debris in The Producers.
For the past five years, Harper has been the director of the Hormel Festival of New Plays and Musicals at Phoenix Theatre, where he has been instrumental in deepening the organization’s commitment to the development of new voices. He has garnered 40 ariZoni Nominations, resulting in 28 ariZoni Awards for directing, choreographing and acting.
Toby Yatso is a multi-talented performer who could be referred to as the Valley’s own Tommy Tune. Tall and lanky, he is as equally charming and dynamic on stage.
Yatso is Artist-in-Residence at Phoenix Theatre.
Last season, he wowed audiences as Alex in Buyer and Cellar. This one-man show – in which he played a number of characters, including an unforgettable impression of Barbra Streisand – put his amazing versatility and variety of talents in the spotlight.
Additionally, his portrayal as Bert in Mary Poppins, one of last season’s highlights, included an incomparable dance on and around the stage proscenium.
As a director, his innate sense of timing and inspired staging led to the successes of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Forbidden Broadway, Bat Boy: The Musical, Smile, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.