Mark Groth’s Amazing “Budy” Story

If you saw “Curtains” last month — or any other Staples Players production over the past 6 decades — you were awed by the acting, dancing, sets and lighting.

But back in the day, Staples Stage and Technical Staff was separate from Players’ actors. SSTS had their own director, officers, traditions — even their own t-shirts.

Mark Groth was a proud SSTS member. He was president in 1968, the culmination of a 3-year career in which he helped construct a set with moving turntables, another that jutted out into the audience, and multimedia projectors for the original show “War and Pieces,” which ended being part of a cultural exchange program with the USSR.

Staples Stage and Technical Staff member Al Frank working backstage, from the 1967 yearbook.

Groth had 2 wonderful mentors at Staples. Both were faculty directors of SSTS.

Steve Gilbert was “brilliant,” Groth says. “He led us places we’d never even thought of. He let us come up with ideas, and do lighting, sound and staging that was way beyond high school.”

When Gilbert was on sabbatical, Don Budy took over. He was a Staples art teacher — his first job after graduating from college in his native Colorado. He was quieter than Gilbert, but equally as talented and inspirational.

Groth learned well. He and fellow SSTS member Steve Katz did all the lighting for the legendary concerts — the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals — on the Staples stage.

Don Budy (1967 Staples High School yearbook photo)

Gilbert and Budy’s influences were profound. Groth headed to Rockford College in Illinois — attracted primarily by their state-of-their-art, $12 million theater.

He majored in technical theater (and in New York one Thanksgiving break, did the lights for a Hell’s Angels-sponsored Grateful Dead concert).

Groth spent 3 1/2 years with the Army’s 101st Airborne, and the next 40 at the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry. Groth videotaped residents’ sessions through a one-way mirror, as part of their training. It was a fascinating career.

Meanwhile, when his son was in high school Groth attended their production of “West Side Story.”

“It was terrible,” he says. He offered to help the director.

For the next 10 years, he volunteered for 20 shows. Then, after he protested the administration’s censorship of one play, he was told the school’s drama program was “going in another direction.”

A month later, Kella Manfredi — whom Groth had worked with 10 years earlier — called. With a master’s in theater education, she was now the theater director at Bear Creek High School in Englewood. Would he be interested in helping?

Sure! So, for the past 10 years, Groth has worked with a high school theater program that sounds like “the Staples Players of Colorado.” They’ve done “Cabaret,” “26 Pebbles” (about the Sandy Hook massacre), and just closed “Be More Chill” (they got the license when it was still off-Broadway).

The great set for Bear Creek High School’s production of “Grease.”

Which brings us back to SSTS.

Thirty years ago, Groth’s grade-school daughter performed in a concert at Cherry Creek High School. As he set up his tripod to videotape, a staff member came over.

They looked at each other.

“Mark Groth?!” the man said.

“Don Budy?!” Groth replied.

They rekindled their friendship. Budy — now a professional sculptor, in addition to working with Cherry Creek — comes to as many of Groth’s shows as he can.

He was there a few days ago, at “Be More Chill.” More than 50 years after they first met, Budy still supports his old student.

Don Budy (left) and Mark Groth, after Bear Creek High School’s “Be More Chill.”

Groth enjoyed his academic job, and loves working with high school students. He started with a professional-type troupe at Staples, and he’s with a similar one now in Colorado.

There’s only one difference. At Bear Creek, his tech crew remains separate from the actors.

“We’re like Ninjas,” Groth says proudly. “I tell them: ‘Be swift. Be silent. Be invisible.'”

And — as Steve Gilbert and Don Budy taught Mark Groth all those years ago: Be great.


13 responses to “Mark Groth’s Amazing “Budy” Story

  1. Gail Jenson Roach

    I was also a member of SSTS and remember working with Mark, although I did makeup except when all hands were needed to paint or repaint the sets. Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Budy were both fantastic in working with us, respecting and encouraging our ideas.

    This is a wonderful article and brings back lots of good memories.

  2. Charles Taylor

    I wonder if Steve Groth was Marks older brother. Steve and I were Downshifters together.

    • Bill Boyd...Staples 66

      I’m so glad to read about my art teacher Mr. Budy! Wonderful man!

  3. Peter Gambaccini

    A really terrific article about a wonderful career Mark has had, Dan. I wanted to mention that Staples graduates of a certain age might recognize the SSTS member in the top photograph as Albert Frank.

  4. Madeline Bayliss

    These stories are just more evidence of the special legacy of Staples theatre and the way that performing arts is a lifelong passion and pursuit. Thanks for capturing them, Dan.

  5. Such great fond memories. As a former SSTS with my focus on lighting, I enjoyed many supportive moments and insights from Don. Wish I’d been able to reconnect when I lived in Colorado before moving back East recently.

  6. Liz Doyle Boyd

    I live 2 miles down the road from Bear Creek HS, for the last 37 years! Old Westporters are everywhere!!

  7. Jean McLendon

    I was in “war and Pieces”, (’68 graduate). I also toured with the play and was wondering if the video is still around? Thanks, Jean

  8. I remember painting sets at Staples in the early 70’s. Painted and built sets and ran props in college…thank you Staples !

  9. Carol (pka Candy) Land

    I was returned to theater recently, stage managing a play in a high school venue in Raleigh, NC. Their lighting booth was papered with posters from this magnet school’s shows, all very professional, and all computer-generated. My thoughts swooshed back to lining the hallway floors in Building 1 at Staples with in-process silk-screened posters, placed there so one color could dry before they were regathered so the next color could be applied. SSTS was a second home for many of us in the 60s during Steve Gilbert’s amazing tenure there. And I wore my SSTS workshirt proudly long afterwards. Great times!

  10. Mark, what can I say ? You and the others who have commented on our incredible experience as “Players” and “SSTS” members back in,”the days” has brought a tear and a feeling of joy, appreciation and humility. The way all of you “HOT SHOT” techies accepted me into your ranks and made me feel significant was more than incredible, it was simply wonderful. All of you were so smart and accomplished, thanks to the genius of Steve Gilbert. He was indeed, one of a kind. It was my joy and challenge to try to fill in for him knowing that I could never fill his shoes. But you all made me feel that I had a place. My years at Staples will forever be at the top of my list of wonderful experiences and it all started with you and your Buddies. You were the best and I admire and respect and love you all for it.
    As for your tenure at Bear Creek, Steve would be so very proud of you, as am I, for the dedication and creative wonderment that you have brought to your students. You are to them, as Steve and I are for you and they will never forget you. I have been totally impressed by what I have been able to see and enjoy in your productions.
    I am sooooo very thrilled and great full that we are connected and so close. I treasure our friendship more than you can imagine.
    Thank you so much for making the time to put that article together. Isn’t it great that it has connected with, and inspired many, to reflect and enjoy, once again, those wonderful years at STAPLES HIGH SCHOOL.
    I look forward to your next production and once again being dazzled by your talent and, of course, seeing you.
    I also want to say “HELLO” to all of the rest of you Alums from Staples and to thank all of you for being part of my life and part of the tapestry that made “THE PLAYERS” great !!
    Don Budy