A Daniels degree taught Kevin Douglas skills for running his own theater company
The Goosetown Tavern is quiet on a Wednesday evening. In a back room, a sound technician readies his equipment for the weekly open mic night. The bright lights on the stage draw the attention away from a lanky, silhouetted figure in the corner, hunched over a ukulele.
“This is dedicated to Mr. Squirrel,” Kevin Douglas (BA 2020, MS 2021) says after he takes the stage. “He was a beloved member of the woodland critter community. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating his life this summer at the Denver Fringe Festival.”
He fingers strum the nylon strings and create somewhat awkward renditions of Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” He hands out flyers with an almost uncomfortably prominent photo of a squirrel and walks out the door, into the night, in search of another stage, microphone and captive audience.
The marketing for his latest play is a bit unconventional, Douglas admitted in an interview. But it’s been one of the keys to his success as co-founder (with DU alumni Gracie Jacobson and Izzy Chern) and executive director of Two Cent Lion Theatre Company, a troupe dedicated to the production of plays by LGBTQ+ playwrights.
“In Loving Memory” is their newest production. The immersive play made its debut at the Denver Fringe Festival this month. It is, indeed, a story about a dead squirrel (inspired by a personal, unfortunate encounter between his car and an innocent rodent). But, like much of his work, it’s also about something much more human.
“You realize pretty quickly it’s not about a squirrel, it’s about [the main character’s] relationship with their father,” said Douglas, who holds a master’s degree in management from the Daniels College of Business. “It still has a human, relationship-centered point of it. Identity is core to everything I write.”
Landing the right role
Since middle school, Douglas’s identity has been writing and, specifically, playwriting. Hearing Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue in the movie “The Social Network” pushed him toward film. Landing the lead role in “Guys and Dolls Jr.” put him on stage.
“I never looked back after that,” Douglas said. “I found the community—fellow people that didn’t quite fit in in other spaces. We all loved being creative and goofing around. I carried that with me through high school and found it was something I was really good at. So when I was going into college and interested in picking my career, I realized I wanted it to be in the arts.”
The University of Denver’s theater department didn’t necessarily have national prominence, but Douglas saw the value of a small program. At DU, virtually every quarter, he could act; he could direct; and he could put his writing on display. Douglas graduated with degrees in theater and English, with a minor in leadership studies.
The business of theater
In February 2020, Douglas got an email from the Daniels College of Business, offering him a scholarship should he want to return for grad school. He took a screenshot on his phone and sent it to all his friends, laughing at the seemingly absurd idea. He wasn’t going to work a business job, so why would he need a business degree?
In March 2020, things changed.
“I realized the work in the industry that I wanted was not going to be happening for a long time,” Douglas said. “The positive of COVID happening and me re-evaluating what I wanted to do with my life was that, actually, Daniels does offer me something that could contribute to the career I want to have.”
Douglas always saw himself as a natural leader, and the management degree proved a perfect fit—and a natural complement to a career in the arts.
In particular, a negotiations class with Professor Cindi Fukami completely reframed the way he viewed disagreements. Where Douglas saw a fight, Fukami saw an opportunity to solve a problem collaboratively. The strategies he learned apply to all facets of life, Douglas said, from picking a spot for dinner to making decisions with his colleagues at Two Cent Lion.
“Working with your friends in a creative endeavor can be challenging, because you all care about it,” he said. “You don’t want to have a falling out, but they’re also your peers, in a professional sense. So I find myself, whenever we reach an impasse, revisiting that concept of problem solving, rather than compromising.”
Taking his show on the road
This summer, Douglas begins the next act of his artistic journey. For the next year, Douglas will attend Raindance Film School in London, earning a master’s degree in screenwriting.
Writing for the stage and the screen is fulfilling, he said, much more than writing a book or a short story. The director, the actors and the audience all enrich his experience with his prose.
“People going into theater aren’t doing it for the money, so I find people put a lot of care and effort [into the work],” he said. “You put trust in other people. When I see [a play of mine on stage], I learn it’s not what I thought it was.
“Especially with ‘Clink Clink’ (a production that debuted in December 2022): When I wrote it, I liked it. And then when I saw it all together because of how the actors did it all and how the director put it together, I realized I loved it—and not because of what I’d written, but inadvertently, the journey the characters went on was so beautiful. I felt disconnected from the words and more invested in the characters.”
While in London, Douglas will continue his work at Two Cent Lion (and with the Entrepreneurship@DU podcast, another endeavor he began during his graduate studies). The company has big plans on the horizon: a full season of productions, larger budgets and more spacious venues are all in the works.
He wants to maintain momentum on his mission of elevating the voices of Queer writers, actors and directors—even if an LGBTQ identity isn’t central to the plot. And, he is determined to make the arts more accessible to young people, who may not have the money to afford a ticket to a large theater production.
His generation’s love of podcasts, TV, movies and other media proves there is an appetite for stories, he said, for examining the human experience. He wants to feed it.