It’s not every day you have lunch with a living legend like Donald Seawell. It can only be compared to getting an audience with the Pope or the Dali Llama. Mr. Seawell is best known to us as the Founder, Chairman and CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which is the home of the Colorado Ballet, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Opera Colorado and The Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ theatrical divisions which includes the Denver Center Attractions, the Denver Center Theatre Company and the National Theatre Conservatory.
Early in Donald Seawell’s law career, he became increasingly involved with the theatre. His theatrical clientele included such famous notables as Ruth Draper, Noel Coward, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne and Tallulah Bankhead among others before he moved on to theatrical producing. On Broadway and in London he produced works by Sir Noel and James Thurber and was the first to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company to America.
Mr. Seawell produced many Broadway plays with famous Coloradoan, Helen Bonfils, and he became the Chairman and Publisher of “The Denver Post” newspaper in 1966. He then was the brainchild and mastermind of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts; and also sat on the boards of the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Symphony Orchestra, and Central City Opera, and was President of the Denver Opera Foundation. Mr. Seawell is a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company and was an early and out-spoken proponent for the National Endowment of the Arts.
He’s a warm, gentle giant of a man with a delightful wit and sense of humor that could possibly be his secret to enjoying such a charmed life for almost 95 years. And then there is his determination and ability to make miracles happen when others would say “Donald, it just can’t be done.”
Mr. Seawell has had a profound impact on Denver by helping transform it from somewhat of a “cow town” to a cultural world city.
In his sage-like manner, Mr. Seawell tells such indelible life stories about how he spontaneously said to his wife Eugenia “I’m going to marry you!” on the first day they ever met at the University of North Carolina - to how he sat on a curb near 14th & Curtis Street drawing out plans for the new DCPA on the back of an envelope. Over 30 years later, that “rough sketch” is one of the premier cultural destinations in the U.S.
We in this region should thank our lucky stars that we have the visionary Mr. Seawell in his DCPA office, showing up just about every day, to look out after his - and our - most cherished Denver structure.
Your life has been filled with major accomplishments, what in your eyes is your proudest? Marrying Eugenia Rawls.
Who is the most interesting person you have ever met? Far too many to mention. U.S. Presidents to the Royal Family to Winston Churchill.
If a movie was made about your life, who would you recommend play you? Alfred Lunt. He’s dead, so you couldn’t get him.
What words of wisdom can you give us about life? I am taking a class at D.U. taught by my nephew, Buie Seawell, which teaches the philosophies of Aristotle. Maybe I can answer that when I’m done with the class.
What is the secret to a happy marriage? Marry the right person.
How do we get our young people interested in the arts? Exposure! Have them see more than one art form, and let them make up their own minds.
Is there a play that stands out as your favorite of all times? Yes, actually three different plays:
1. “Hollow Crown” the play by John Barton about the Kings & Queens of England.
2. “King Lear” starring Paul Scofield.
3. and – “Tantalus” the landmark ten-part epic production presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Tantalus was performed at the DCPA and at London’s Barbican Centre in the years 2000 and 2001.
Does it take something more than talent to become a big theatre star? You have to know the definition of a “star.” It’s not the same now as it was years ago. Ethics and morals were different. You have to understand what effort it takes and how difficult it is to make a show a hit.
Is there something you have always wanted to do, but still haven’t done yet? See what happens – if anything – in the after life.
What experience would you like to have all over again? Every moment with Eugenia Rawls.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Several: Roosevelt & Truman. Also Churchill who I debated at Oxford.
Aside from Colorado, where is your favorite place to be in this world? Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I also love Scotland & England.
What will we find you doing on a Saturday afternoon? This is one question you will have to guess the answer to.
Is there anything you regret? I haven’t had time to think about it.
What do you think is the biggest problem we are facing in our country today? The lack of understanding and cooperation between races and countries.
Mr. Seawell, I’m sure all your adoring lady fans would like to know, how is it you get better looking each year? By believing the flattery you just enunciated about me.
What is your fondest childhood memory? I’m trying to remember her name….
Do you have a motto or saying you like? Keep an open mind.
Is there anything else I may have missed that you would like me to ask? I’m just thankful there were a lot of questions you didn’t ask. (laugh)
Mr. Seawell’s Awards & Recognitions: First American Heritage Award, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, 1973; Award of Excellence, American College Theatre Festival, 1973; Distinguished Eagle Award, Boy Scouts of America, 1976; Gold Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1980;.U.S. Institute for Theatre and Technology Award, 1982; TONY Award for co-producing On Your Toes, 1983; Voice Foundation, Research and Awareness Award, 1983; Arts & Entertainment Cable Network Award, 1987;Third Millennium Leadership Award, American Diabetes Assn, 1995;Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame Award, 1999;Thomas Degaetani Award 2000 from the USITT on 3/25/00;Benjamin F. Stapleton, Jr. Award, 9/28/00;Mayor’s Millennium Award, 12/6/00;Distinguished Service Award, University of Colorado,12/16/00;2001 AWARE Honoree, 11/2/01;Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) 2002; 8/31/05 Recipient of the Donald Seawell Award from the Colorado Festival of World Theatre for outstanding achievement in theatre; 2005 Theater Hall of Fame Founders Award; Denver City Council Proclamation; 2007: Award from Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.