‘Cheyanne,’ a play by Cipriano Ortega, Opens April 26

By Jill Carstens and Amy Norton 

“Cheyanne,” by North Denver’s Cipriano Ortega, opens April 26 in Aurora. Photo by Elle Hong

The universal themes of gender, class, race and aging are touched on in North Denver native Cipriano Ortega’s first full-length play. “Cheyanne,” is a romance focusing on an artist couple pulled between their creative vision and the pressures of the art market while also considering family, relationships and their future. 

“The play showcases how artists of color struggle to navigate the complex and nuanced art world,” Ortega said. “I wanted to craft a story that is relatable to the wider community but encourages artists, gallerists and others in the art world to attend and join the conversation.”

Set in a small apartment, artist Cheyanne and her boyfriend, Rodrigo, care for her aging father while they work to create a painting their art dealer is expecting. Their seemingly straightforward interactions are charged with subtext while the couple disagrees during the creative process and the elder Frank struggles with memory but not with expressing his feelings.

Ortega grew up immersed in the arts through his artist and educator parents, Sylvia Montero and Tony Ortega, who showed him the power of creativity. In 1998, at 8 years old, Ortega exhibited in his first art show alongside his mother at the since-shuttered Zip Gallery on Navajo Street. 

Ortega said he built the fictional narrative of “Cheyanne” around his observations and experiences of his formative years. The play was initially born from a college theater class assignment to write a 10-minute, one-act play. Ortega said he was inspired to expand the story and bring it to the stage after seeing Colorado’s former poet-laureate and North Denver native Bobby LeFebre’s 2019 play “Northside,” which addressed gentrification.

“After seeing his play, I had the courage and motivation to speak to these issues as they relate to the art world,” Ortega explained. “I also wanted to bring the introverted, introspective side of the creative process to the stage as I do not often see that perspective portrayed.”

Acting since he was young with Phamaly Theater Company and Su Teatro, Ortega went on to study stagecraft at Denver School of the Arts and then sociology at Regis University. He described himself as a sociological artist, using visual art, poetry, music and theater, or a blend of these disciplines, to deconstruct stereotypes and observe them from what he described as a nihilistic perspective. 

As an Indigenous Person of Color, Ortega said he feels he has no choice but to deal with colonialism head-on by making a daily practice of recognizing the divisions society creates and normalizes, striving to create work that challenges others to do the same. He shares his pride in his Chicano culture and his queer identity but said he chooses not to wear these labels on his sleeve. 

“I hope that people can learn to transcend assumptions about others through art experiences such as this play,” Ortega said.

Ortega teamed up for this production with longtime friend and director Phil Luna, whose extended family of creatives is also connected to North Denver. Ortega and Luna first worked together as actors with Ortega later serving as Luna’s assistant director on Diego Florez-Arroyo’s “Cuauhtémoczin,” which ran in 2023 at the MCA Holiday Theatre. Ortega said that he and Luna initially connected through heady discussions about art and theater.

“As an actor, musician and now a playwright, Cipriano is a true renaissance man,” Luna said. “I want to help him as much as possible by sharing my knowledge.” 

Regarding the current production, Luna added, “Cipriano not only wrote the play but is doing the set design and assistant directing. He is a very talented young man. I am honored and happy to help him get his ideas out there.” 

According to Luna, “Cheyanne” mirrors the struggle of all creatives: “It is allegorical of an economic system that seems to make us choose between a life of art and a life of artifice—being true to yourself results in living an authentic existence.”

Ortega will perform in the play alongside actors Iliana Lucero Barron, Angel Mendez (also a Northsider) and Magally Luna. 

Control Group Productions, a Denver-based performance company and artist services organization, is producing the event.

“Cheyanne” runs April 26 through May 5 at The People’s Building (9995 E. Colfax Ave.). Tickets, tiered at $18, $28 and $38, are on sale at www.controlgroupproductions.org. Pricing tiers are self-selected and intended to make the play more accessible to all. Audience members who do not have a financial barrier to attending live events are encouraged to purchase tickets at the higher tiers.

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