Carson School alum’s theatre company earns Regional Theatre Tony Award

Carson School alum’s theatre company earns Regional Theatre Tony Award

calendar icon23 May 2018    

Jake Denney
Jake Denney

Lincoln, Neb.--Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film alumnus Jake Denney (B.A. 2012) is the development associate for La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City, which will receive the 2018 Regional Theatre Tony Award.

“At first I thought it was a joke because I didn’t know they had a Regional Theatre Award, but I’m very happy,” Denney said. “I think La MaMa deserves it, and it’s telling that we are the second New York City-based theatre to receive this award. The amount of work that La MaMa has presented over the last 56 years since its founding is truly astounding.”

The special non-competitive award is bestowed based on a recommendation from the American Theatre Critics Association. The theatre receives a $25,000 grant with the award.

Denney has been with La MaMa for almost a year. Since graduating from Nebraska in 2012, he joined a puppet theatre in Vermont, worked at an arts education organization in San Diego, and spent four years as a freelance performer, carpenter and production manager in New York City before joining the theatre.

Founded in 1961 by Ellen Stewart on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, La MaMa is the last original Off-Off-Broadway theatre still in operation.

“Our full name is La MaMa Experimental Theatre, and that’s exactly what we do—experiment,” Denney said. “Each year we present 60-70 productions, most of which are world premieres. Almost all the work presented defies genre and pushes the boundaries of performance in some way. We also have many community programs that introduce children and adults to storytelling and provide opportunities for artists to create and share their work.”

Denney writes grants and searches for funding for the organization and its productions.

“The thing I enjoy most is working closely with our artists to help fund their projects,” he said.

Originally from San Diego, Denney said he has always been interested in the performing arts.

“Seeing something real happen right in front of you is powerful, whether it’s a rock concert, theatre, church or something more avant garde,” he said. “After seeing a particularly bad production in high school, I decided to give it a try because ‘how hard could it be?’ Also, I went to an all-boys Catholic school, and it was a nice excuse to visit our sister all-girls school.”

But his love of theatre deepened from there.

“What drew me in further is the realization that art is an exploration and investigation of our world and our consciousness,” he said. “There are no limits to what you can do. That freedom is something I love and cherish. Art has a unique power to transform our culture and society—to expose injustice and advocate for a more equitable world. It can be anything.”

Denney came to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film because he was intrigued by Theatrix, the student-run theatre.

“The idea that students had that space to make their own work spoke to me,” Denney said. “There is more than just the main stage productions and classes; there are dedicated resources for students to experiment with their own generative practice.”

He found what he learned in the Carson School to be useful in his career.

“The thing I learned the most from my time in Nebraska is the experience of constantly making theatre for four years,” Denney said. “I don’t think the rest of the university understands how busy those with art majors really are. In addition to class and homework, the students in the Carson School are constantly rehearsing for shows and scenes. I think that experience was really useful after graduating—I felt confident, even if I shouldn’t have, because I had been so busy for those four years.”

In the meantime, Denney and La Mama are preparing for their 57th season, which begins in September.

“We are also breaking ground on an ambitious gut-renovation of our first permanent home at 74 East 4th Street,” he said. “There’s a lot of exciting work to do.”

Denney plans to stay in New York City for the foreseeable future.

”I’ll stay in New York City for as long as it will have me,” he said.

The 72nd annual Tony Awards are June 10 and will be broadcast live on CBS.