• Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

    by John Moore | Jul 02, 2017

    Lauren Yee. The Great Leap
    Lauren Yee’s 'The Great Leap,' which was introduced as a reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, will premiere at the Denver Center next February, then re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Companies are now jumping on new Denver Center works before they have even been fully staged here.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The Denver Center is taking a major step forward in its development of new work for the American theatre in 2017. And one major reason is a hip new term in the theatrical lexicon: “Co-Pro.”

    For the first time, the DCPA Theatre Company will stage two new plays next season that will immediately transfer to major theatres around the country as essentially continuing world premieres. They will quickly re-open in their second cities with their Denver Center directors and casts intact.

    American Mariachi. Summit The Theatre Company opens José Cruz González’s American Mariachi on Jan. 26, 2018. Less than a month after it closes in Denver, the production will re-open at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, which bows in Denver on Feb. 2, will re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here.

    By virtue of these unique partnerships, both stagings are considered “co-productions.” Or, as the kids say, “Co-Pros.” Coincidentally, the re-opening nights in San Diego and Seattle will both take place on March 23.

    (Pictured above right: 'American Mariachi' was introduced as a reading at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    For 12 years, artistic leaders from around the country have come to the Denver Center’s Colorado New Play Summit each February to see readings of developing new works, then come back the next year to see the subsequent fully staged world-premiere productions before scheduling some of the plays themselves. Among the popular titles that have expanded through this slow growth plan have been Jason Grote’s 1001 and Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale.

    But now companies are coming here to see readings and committing to scheduling them even before they are fully staged at the Denver Center for the first time.

    Matt McGrath in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. All this comes at a time when Denver Center-born works are proliferating on national stages like never before. In 2017, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride will become the most-produced new Denver Center work since Quilters in 1982. Ten companies this year are presenting the story of a straight man who explores the world of drag to feed his family in cities stretching from Los Angeles to Key West, Fla., with four more already slated for 2018. Lopez’s newest work, Zoey’s Perfect Wedding, will debut at the DCPA’s Space Theatre next Jan. 19.

    (Pictured above right: Matt McGrath in the Denver Center's 2014 world premiere of 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.) 

    How Georgia McBride has evolved since Denver

    Since former Artistic Director Kent Thompson launched the Colorado New Play Summit in 2006, the DCPA has given 27 new plays their world-premiere stagings. At least 32 productions of 13 DCPA-born works are being presented around the country this year and next, most notably a high-profile return of the reimagined The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which plays from July 21-27 at The Muny in St. Louis. The Muny is America’s largest outdoor musical theatre. After that, star Beth Malone said, the goal is Broadway.

    LEAD MOLLY"That is absolutely the intention of putting it up at The Muny,” Malone said. “There is no other reason than for it go to Broadway. Everyone involved with it feels very strongly that we are completely on track.”

    (Pictured at right: The cast of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown.' Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    Last week, two recent Colorado New Play Summit readings landed on The Kilroys, a curated list of the 31 most promising new plays by women: Yee's The Great Leap and Donnetta Lavinia Grays' Last Night and the Night Before.

    NATAKI GARRETT 3Even older new plays like Octavio Solis' Lydia (2008) are still making an impact. “Lydia is a blast-furnace drama now in its Seattle debut in a blistering, urgent staging from Strawberry Theatre Workshop," Misha Berson of the Seattle Times wrote last month of a "forcefully directed ensemble of visceral power." Last year, the Aurora Fox became the first company to stage the Denver Center’s Native American premiere of Black Elk Speaks since 1996.

    All of this proliferation is not only changing the way the nation looks at the Denver Center, said Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. It is changing how the Denver Center looks at itself.

    “The Colorado New Play Summit is a nationally renowned place where theatre companies from all over the United States come to see those playwrights who are moving up in the ranks and becoming the clarions for the future of playwriting,” she said.  “But I think this is where it was always heading. The most important part of the work we do as theatre artists is to foster and develop new work, and I think this is that idea coming to full fruition.”

    (Story continues after the video)

    Video spotlight: American Mariachi



    What makes for a successful Co-Pro, Garrett said, is the continuation of the Denver Center’s commitment to the playwright once the new play reaches its immediate second destination.

    “What I am really focused on with these companies is, 'Are you willing to make space for that writer to keep writing?’ ” Garrett said. “The whole point is to for them to be able to keep evolving their piece after they leave Denver, if that’s what the piece needs.”

    The Theatre Company’s commissioning program is one reason the pipeline stays stocked. At any given time, the company has a number of renowned and emerging playwrights under commissions. That essentially binds the playwright to write a new work of his or her choice, and the DCPA Theatre Company then has the right of first refusal to stage it. The playwrights with commissions in progress are:

    • Kemp Powers
    • Anne Garcia-Romero
    • Aleshea Harris
    • Mary Kathryn Nagle
    • Tony Meneses
    • David Jacobi
    • Regina Taylor

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    DCPA AROUND THE COUNTRY: 2017-18

    The Unsinkable Molly Brown, by Dick Scanlan and Meredith Willson: The 1960 musical that tells the rags-to-riches tale of Colorado's greatest heroine is infused with new songs and a new script.

    • The Muny, St. Louis, July 21-27, 2017

    The Book of Will, By Lauren Gunderson:  The untold story of the race to publish Shakespeare's First Folio before half his canon was lost to history.

    • Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, June 9-July 28, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Nov. 9-Dec. 17, 2017
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 2017
    • Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore., June-October, 2018

    The Great Leap, by Lauren Yee: An American college basketball team travels to Beijing in 1989.

    • American Conservatory Theatre New Strands Festival, San Francisco (reading), May 19, 2017
    • DCPA Theatre Company, Feb. 2-March 11, 2018
    • Seattle Rep, March 23-April 22, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    The Legend of Georgia McBride, by Matthew Lopez: A young Elvis impersonator turns to drag to feed his growing family.

    • Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, April 4-May 14, 2017
    • GableStage, Coral Gables, Fla., May 27-June 25, 2017
    • Marin Theatre Company, San Francisco, June 8-July 9, 2017
    • ACT Theatre, Seattle, June 9-July 2, 2017
    • Theatre Nova, Detroit, June 9- July 9, 2017
    • Dorset Theatre Festival, Vermont, Aug. 3-19, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Sept. 14-Oct. 22, 2017
    • Hippodrome State Theatre, Gainesville, Fla., Oct. 13-Nov. 5, 2017
    • B Street Theatre, Sacramento, Calif.,Nov. 6-Dec. 9, 2017
    • Uptown Players, Dallas, Dec. 1-17, 2017
    • Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, March 23-April 22, 2018
    • Key West Players, Key West, Fla., May 2-19, 2018
    • Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham Mass., May 3-20, 2018
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., June 8-July 1, 2018

    American Mariachi, by Jose Cruz Gonzalez: The musical tale of an all-female mariachi band in the 1970s.

    • DCPA Theatre Company, Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018
    • Old Globe (San Diego), March 23-April 29, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    Just Like Us, by Karen Zacarías: Documentary-style play follows four Latina teenage girls in Denver - two are documented, two are not.

    • Visión Latino Theatre Company, Feb. 24-March 12, 2017

    Dusty and the Big Bad World, by Cusi Cram: When a popular children’s TV  show spotlights a family with two daddies, it sparks a conservative outcry.

    • Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, July 6-19, 2017

    Appoggiatura, by James Still: A trip to Venice brings love, loss, pain and joy to three weary travelers in search of healing and happiness in a magical story filled with music and amore.
    • Indiana Repertory Theatre, March 7-31, 2018

    FADE, by Tanya Saracho: When Mexican-born Lucia is hired to write for a Latina TV character, she finds an unexpected muse in the Latino studio custodian.
    • Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, Feb. 8-March 5, 2017
    • TheatreWorks, Hartford, June 1-30, 2017

    Lydia, by Octavio Solis: A maid cares for a border family's near-vegetative teenage daughter who was left in a coma after a mysterious accident. 

    • Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Seattle, June 1-24, 2017

    Almost Heaven: The Songs and Stories of John Denver: The songwriter's life story is told through anecdotes and 21 songs.

    • Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre, Grand Lake, Sept. 1-30, 2017

    The Whale, by Samuel D. Hunter: An oversized, homebound and dying man struggles to reconcile with his estranged teenage daughter before it’s too late.
    • Verge Theatre Company, Nashville, June 2-14, 2017

    black odyssey, by Marcus Gardley: An imagination of Homer’s epic lens through the lens of the black American experience.
    • California Shakespeare Theatre, Orinda, Calif., Aug. 9-Sept. 3, 2017

    Quilters, by Molly Newman: A series of vignettes performed in song and spoken word that chart the joys and sorrows of the frontier journey West.

    • Ferndale (Calif.) Repertory Theatre, March 9-April 2, 2017

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Video spotlight: The Great Leap

  • 2017 Summit goes global while hitting close to home

    by John Moore | Feb 27, 2017

    Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Colorado New Play Summit goes global
    with stories that hit close to home

    The 2017 Colorado New Play Summit went global in its storytelling while also serving as an intimate and heartfelt celebration of departing founder Kent Thompson.

    Thompson resigned as Producing Artistic Director of the DCPA Theatre Company effective March 3, leaving a legacy that includes starting the Summit in 2006 and the Women's Voices Fund, a $1.4 million endowment that supports new plays by women and female creative team members.

    Summit. Kent Thompson. Photo by John Moore“Kent Thompson is such a champion of new plays. He is such a champion of new and different voices,” said Lauren Yee, author of the featured Summit play Manford at the Line, Or The Great Leap. “He always makes sure that the world we live in is reflected on the stage.”

    This year’s expanded Summit featured readings of five plays that spanned in time from 1931 to present day and traveled the world from Brooklyn to Berlin to Beijing to Geneva to Georgia to a suburban Ohio fertility clinic. 

    Every year, two or more readings from the previous Summit go on to become fully staged plays on the DCPA Theatre Company’s mainstage season. This year’s featured productions were Tira Palmquist’s Two Degrees and Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will, which both started as readings from the 2016 Summit. (Story continues below).


    Photo gallery: A look back at the Colorado New Play Summit

    2017 Colorado New Play Summit Photos from the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. To see more, click the forward arrow in the image above. All photos can be downloaded and shared. Just click. Photos by John Moore and Adams VisCom for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    The Colorado New Play Summit has grown into one of the nation’s premier showcases of new plays. Under Thompson, the Summit has workshopped 50 new plays, leading to 29 fully produced world premieres as part of the DCPA Theatre Company’s mainstage season. Thompson has commissioned 44 new plays, almost half written by women.

    “I feel like for the past 12 years, I've had a great opportunity tSummit. Last Night. Adams Viscomo present many different windows on the world, from many different peoples' viewpoints,” Thompson said.

    To understand the impact the Summit has had on the development of new works for the American theatre, one need look no further than Skokie Ill., home of the Northlight Theatre. Recently the DCPA learned that Northlight will be fully producing two Summit plays next season: Gunderson's The Book of Will and The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez.

    Kent Thompson's legacy: Giving sound to unheard voices

    The Summit allows for two weeks of development, each culminating in a round of public readings. Playwrights take what they learn from the first public weekend back into rehearsal before a second round of readings for industry professionals.

    Summit. Donnetta Lavinia Grays. John Moore"That second week of work is absolutely unique," said featured playwright Robert Schenkkan (Hanussen). "I don't know any other theatre festival in the United States that does anything like that. And it's a really critical for the writer because so often, you are just beginning to get your arms around it just as you near the end of that first week. You are just beginning to say, 'Now I see what I need to do.' … And then it's over. Well, that's not true here. You get to take the things that you learned at the first reading and really thrash it out and take all of that complexity and nuance and additional richness back into the text, culminating in a second public reading."

    This year’s Summit drew more local audiences and national industry leaders than ever before, with 44 playwrights and 36 theatre organizations attending from at least 16 states. Visitors represented companies ranging from the Public Theatre in New York to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to the Banff Centre in Ontario to the Dorset Theatre Festival in Vermont. Closer to home, guest included the Creede Repertory Theatre, Curious Theatre, The Catmounts, Athena Festival Project, Lake Dillon Theatre Company and others. More than 920 attended at least one reading, with an overall attendance of nearly 2,900.

    Summit stands in thanks to departing Kent Thompson

    The third annual Local Playwrights Slam was held a week earlier, curated by Josh Hartwell from the Colorado chapter of the Dramatists Guild, which exists to protect playwrights and their copywritten material. Readers this year included Curious Theatre founding member Dee Covington, National Theatre Conservatory alum Jeff Carey and Tami Canaday, whose new play Uncle Rooster will be performed in Brooklyn this summer.

    Summit. High School Playwrights. Photo by John Moore. For the fourth year, winners of DCPA Education’s Regional High School Playwriting Workshop and Competition had their plays presented at the Summit. This year a record four writers were showcased, two from Fort Collins.

    The annual late-night Playwrights Slam drew an eclectic group of writers sampling their developing works in a fun and supportive atmosphere. This year’s crowd was treated to Gunderson singing to a ukulele from her new play Storm Still, and Two Degrees actor Robert Montano performing an excerpt from his one-man play Small, which recounts his growing up as a jockey at the famed Belmont race track in New York.

    The five featured Summit readings:

    Click play to see short videos spotlighting all five 2017 Colorado New Play Summit plays.

    • Donnetta Lavinia Grays’ Last Night and the Night Before opens with a Georgia woman on her sister’s doorstep in Brooklyn, with her 10-year-old daughter in tow. The mystery for both the characters and the audience to solve is what trauma took place in Georgia that brought them here.
    • Rogelio Martinez’s Blind Date centers on Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev's first meeting at the Geneva Summit in 1985 to try to open up channels between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
    • In Eric Pfeffinger’s comedy Human Error, a couple goes to what they think is a routine appointment at their fertility clinic only to discover that their fertilized embryo has been mistakenly implanted into another couple. And it turns out they are polar opposites.
    • Robert Schenkkan’s Hanussen is set in 1931 Berlin and introduces us to the brilliant mentalist Erik Jan Hanussen, captivates German audiences with his ability to read minds and his uncanny predictions of the future. His reputation brings him to the attention of avid occultist Adolf Hitler, who does not realize he is a Jew.
    • Lauren Yee’s Manford at the Line, or The Great Leap follows an American college basketball team as it travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game during the politically charged Cultural Revolution in 1989.

    After Albee: America’s 10 leading, living playwriting voices

    Photos, from top: 'Two Degrees' Director Christy Montour-Larson with retiring DCPA Producing Director Kent Thompson; Jasmine Hughes and Veleka J. Holt in 'Last Night and the Night Before'; Playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays performs in the annual Playwrights Slam; Grace Anolin and Wyatt DeShong perform from 'Dear Boy on the Tree,' part of the Regional High-School Playwriting readings. Below: Student playwrights, from left, Jasmin A. Hernandez-Lozano, Jessica Wood, Parker Bennett and Ryan McCormick. (Photos by John Moore and Adams VisCom). 

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist.

    Selected previous coverage of the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit:
    After Albee: America’s 10 leading, living playwrights
    2017 Summit welcomes dozens for opening rehearsal
    Summit Spotlight: Robert Schenkkan on the dangers of denial
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Summit Spotlight: Rogelio Martinez on when world leaders collide
    Summit Spotlight: Donnetta Lavinia Grays on the aftermath of trauma
    Summit Spotlight: Eric Pfeffinger on the fertile comedy of a divided America
    Summit stands in thanks to departing founder Kent Thompson
    Record four student writers to have plays read at Summit
    DCPA completes field of five 2017 Summit playwrights

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Summit. High School Playwriting. John Moore
  • Summit Spotlight: Donnetta Lavinia Grays on navigating trauma

    by John Moore | Feb 21, 2017

    Video above by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.


    In this daily, five-part series for the DCPA NewsCenter, we will introduce you to the plays and playwrights featured at the Denver Center’s 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Over the past 12 years, 27 plays introduced to the Summit have gone to be premiered on the DCPA Theatre Company mainstage season. Next up: Donnetta Lavinia Grays, writer of the family drama Last Night and the Night Before.

    Playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays on finding
    your voice in the aftermath of trauma

    So, right off the bat: Tell us what you have in common with Taran Killam and Jim Belushi

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays (laughing): I just did a pilot with those two. Talk about typecasting: I played a lesbian goat farmer, and I will tell you: That was right up my alley. They did not have to go too deep into the costuming because I had all the gear already. I was like, “Seriously, how many flannel shirts do you need? Because I have plenty of them.”

    John Moore: And when do we get to see your network television debut as a lesbian goat farmer?

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: Sadly, the pilot was not picked up.

    John Moore: That is sad. Well, at least you have your writing to fall back on.

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: Yes, I do.

    John Moore: You're here in Denver as a playwright, but as we just alluded, you are an accomplished actor as well, having appeared on Broadway in plays by Lisa Kron (Well) and Sarah Ruhl (In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play). Has your playwriting been guided by working with such iconic women?

    Last Night and the Night Before. Donnetta Lavinia Grays. Photo by John Moore.

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: What was wonderful about working with Lisa Kron and Sarah Ruhl is that I was in on the process of watching them do the work of new-play development from the start. I saw them in communication with wonderful directors like Leigh Silverman and Les Waters. I watched how they took in information. I watched how their plays evolved. I had the opportunity to just observe and absorb all of that. So I had great teachers from the outset. And from the very beginning of my own writing, I tried to pattern what I saw in them. Over time, I developed my own way of listening and my own way of interpreting notes and feedback. But I got a good foundation from the two of them.

    John Moore: How do you think being an actor has informed you as a playwright?

    Last Night and the Night Before. Valerie Curtis-Newton. Photo by Adams VisCom. Donnetta Lavinia Grays: I’m an actor, so I write for actors. That’s the only way I know how to write. At our first rehearsal here in Denver, my director, Valerie Curtis-Newton, had me read the entire play to her by my lonesome. All of it. Which is interesting, because that's actually how I write. I am constantly talking to myself and trying to see things from each character's point of view. So as traumatic as that experience was, it was sort of familiar to try to see the play from each character's point of view.

    (Pictured above and right: Director Valerie Curtis-Newton with actors Brynn Tucker and Olivia Sullivent. Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    John Moore: You were born in Panama and raised in South Carolina. Growing up must have been interesting for you.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: I am an Army brat. I was born in the Canal Zone - just like John McCain. So we have that in common. My family moved to the Long Island area when my dad was stationed there. But my parents' game plan from the start was for us to have a consistent household, so we moved to South Carolina, where my maternal grandmother lived. We were there from the time I was 5 or 6 up until I graduated from college. So South Carolina is home.

     John Moore: I want to ask you about your name. First there is Lavinia, a character in Titus Andronicus. But also, I have known many people named Gray but never anyone named Grays. You even offset that part of your name on your website. The first thing that came to my mind is that the job of the playwright is to write life in shades of gray. How awesome is it that you live and work inside the world of your name?

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: I really dig my name. I don't know if my parents understood the poetry of it, or even that Lavinia is a Shakespearean character. I just really enjoy it, rhythmically. When I first signed with my manager, he was like, "The whole name, though? ... Really?" And I was like, "Yeah. The whole thing." Because I also want to celebrate my parents wherever I go. I want them to know that my name is their unique stamp on me – and I carry that with me. It's in honor to them that I don't deviate from any part of it.

    Last Night and the Night Before. Donnetta Lavinia Grays. John Moore: The official description of your play tells us that when a woman named Monique and her 10-year-old daughter, Sam, show up unexpectedly on her sister’s Brooklyn doorstep, it’s the beginning of the end for Rachel and her partner Nadima’s orderly New York lifestyle. It says the family’s deep Southern roots have a long reach. What do you want us to know about Last Night and the Night Before?

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: Sam has suffered a traumatic event in her life. She is in the unfortunate position of being at the mercy of the adults in her life who are trying to safeguard her from what she has suffered. And now she is having to suffer the consequences of their decisions. I think Last Night and the Night Before is a play about the tremendous, enduring component of love in our lives. It is a play about loss. It is a play about family. And it is a play about finding your singular voice as a woman coming into adulthood. 

    John Moore: Your original title was simply, Sam. Tell us about the change to Last Night and the Night Before.

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: Throughout the play, Sam plays these childhood hand games as a way of settling her spirit a little bit. One of the games is [singing]: "Last Night and the Night Before, I Met My Baby at the Candy Store." I think that particular phrase also supports the structure of the play as well.

    Last Night and the Night Before. Cajardo Lavinia Grays. Photo by John Moore. John Moore: When I visited your first rehearsal last week, I was taken by actor Cajardo Lindsey's observation that in two decades of performing on Colorado stages, he has never had the opportunity to play an open and vulnerable African-American male until now. This is a guy who has won many awards playing many different characters written by voices from August Wilson to Matthew Lopez. So that has me very intrigued about the character he plays - Sam's father. (Pictured above: Cajardo Lindsey as Reggie.)

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: The role of Reggie is based on the abundant love that I found in my household. I mean, I grew up just lousy with love. And my father is probably the most gentle creature I have ever met. He is full of humor and warmth - but he is also a tiger. He's not going to let anything happen to his family. He's a man, you know? So I tried to put that on paper. What honestly frustrates me is that we have become very comfortable with the negative depictions of black men we see onstage today. We don't see bigness or a breadth of emotion unless there is an aggression or a hardness attached to it; unless it's hurting someone else. So I wanted to create a full guy who is attached to his emotions. The kind of man I have seen and witnessed in my life but not seen onstage. But I also play into what you expect of a black man, too. I twist the story a little bit.

    Spotlight: Eric Pfeffinger on the comedy of a divided America

    John Moore: This is your first time at the Colorado New Play Summit. What are your first impressions?

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: This is the most massive facility I have ever been in. It's beautiful. I am super-duper impressed. But more than that, the people here are just lovely.

    John Moore: What does it mean to you to be one of the chosen five playwrights for the 2017 Summit?

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: I had never been to Colorado, and I had never worked at this theatre before, even as an actor, so it was exciting to be selected. And the other playwrights here are just so exceptional. For my little play to be a part of this is super-exciting to me.

    John Moore: You have said you seek to write strong roles for women of various ages, races, sexual identities and economic standings. So what does it mean to you that the Denver Center has a $1.2 million Women's Voices Fund, and it essentially puts its money where the women are?

    Last Night and the Night Before. Photo by Adams VisComDonnetta Lavinia Grays: It means a lot to me to now be a part of an organization that has such a great mission toward women's voices, because that is something I am passionate about. I grew up in a very loving, very female-centered household, and so strong women are just a part of my culture. So I put those women in my plays. I put working women in my plays. I put women of various incomes in my plays. I want to give them a strong voice wherever they are. It means a lot. 

    (Pictured above and right: Valeka Holt and Jasmine Hughes. Photo by Adams Viscom.)

    John Moore: One of the things that makes this festival unique is the second week of rehearsals and public readings. How do you think that will impact what you will take away from the Summit?

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: It's nice to have two weeks for development because you get to play. You get to set up these large, beautiful failures for the first week, see how it goes over, get feedback, and then go back and clean some stuff up for the second week. Instead of going home with all of these notes and not knowing how they might land the next time around, you get an actual next opportunity to find out right here.

    John Moore: So why is this the right time for your play?

    Donnetta Lavinia Grays: We are in a violent moment in time right now. And by “violent,” I am talking about an internal kind of disruption. How do we channel the justifiable rage of something that has hit us? How do we manage depression? How do we manage chaos? How do we manage our expectations of each other? How do we care for each other? I think that is a big part of this play, and a big part of where we are at right now. The world feels kind of like an unsafe place. We don't know what's going to happen next, and Sam mirrors that. So how do we get back to a safe place?

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist.


    Last Night and the Night Before

    Written by Donnetta Lavinia Grays
    Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton
    Dramaturgy by Lauren Whitehead
    Sam: Olivia Sullivent
    Monique: Brynn Tucker
    Reggie: Cajardo Lindsay
    Rachel: Jasmine Hughes
    Nadima: Valeka Holt
    Stage Directions: Tresha Farris

    Selected previous coverage of the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit:
    2017 Summit welcomes dozens for opening rehearsal
    Summit Spotlight: Robert Schenkkan on the dangers of denial
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Summit Spotlight: Rogelio Martinez on when world leaders collide
    Summit Spotlight: Donnetta Lavinia Grays on the aftermath of trauma
    Summit Spotlight: Eric Pfeffinger on the fertile comedy of a divided America
    Record four student writers to have plays read at Summit
    DCPA completes field of five 2017 Summit playwrights

    The 12th Annual Colorado New Play Summit
    Launch Weekend: Feb. 18-19
    Festival Weekend: Feb. 24-26
    More details: denvercenter.org/summit

  • Photos: 2017 Summit welcomes dozens for opening rehearsal

    by John Moore | Feb 14, 2017
    Colorado New Play Summit opening-day photo gallery:

    2017 Colorado New Play Summit
    To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. All photos may be downloaded simply free by clicking on them. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    The DCPA Theatre Company today welcomed dozens of actors, playwrights, directors and crew for the first day of rehearsal for the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. The 12th annual festival will feature readings of new works by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Rogelio Martinez, Eric Pfeffinger, Robert Schenkkan and Lauren Yee.

    The Colorado New Play Summit presents readings of new plays over two weeks as the playwrights continue to craft their developing works alongside a full, professional creative team. Audiences also are offered the opportunity to see two fully staged world premiere productions that emerged from the previous year's Summit: The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson and Two Degrees by Tira Palmquist. In addition, the DCPA Theatre Company is presenting the regional premiere of Lucas Hnath's The Christians. Most of the Summit actors are also appearing in one of those three mainstage plays.

    2017 Colorado New Play Summit "I always feel blessed at this time of year when we get to tell new stories that provide windows on the world," said DCPA Artistic Director Kent Thompson. "Our audiences can see how these playwrights and these artists are responding to the world around them today."

    (Pictured right: Olivia Sullivent in rehearsal for 'Last Night and the Night Before.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Tuesday's launch was bittersweet given that the 2017 Summit will be Thompson's last. Thompson, who founded the Summit upon his arrival in Denver in 2006, has announced his resignation effective March 3. 

    "We have workshopped 50 plays at the Summit," Thompson said. "We have had 44 playwrights, including 20 female playwrights. We have had 27 world premieres that began at the Summit, and we have launched two major musicals (The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Sense and Sensibility the Musical)."

    2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Kent ThompsonThree years ago, Thompson (pictured at right) expanded the Summit by a week so that once playwrights get their work in front of an audience, they can take feedback and come back for another round of rehearsals and readings.

    "These two weeks are really about the playwright," Thompson said. 

    The five 2017 Summit readings will take audiences from an American suburb to Brooklyn to China to Nazi Germany to the first meeting between Reagan and Gorbechev.

    New DCPA Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett said this is an important time in history for playwrights. "It's the playwright's responsibility to always have their ear not only to the present, but also to the future," she said. "What I am most most excited about the plays we are about to unpack at the Summit is that these playwrights have one foot in the present and one foot in the future. We will get to the other side."

    Here is a look at each featured Summit play, with an introduction from each of the playwrights:

    Last Night and the Night Before
    By Donnetta Lavinia Grays
    2017 Colorado New Play Summit Donetta GraysWhen Monique and her 10-year-old daughter Samantha show up unexpectedly on her sister’s Brooklyn doorstep, it’s the beginning of the end for Rachel and her partner Nadima’s orderly New York lifestyle. Monique is on the run from deep trouble, and her husband is nowhere to be seen. The family’s deep Southern roots have a long reach, and they grab hold of Rachel’s life stronger than she could have ever imagined.

    Says Grays: "It's fitting that today is Valentine's Day because I think this play is squarely about the power and dynamic of love. There are questions around motherhood, what defines motherhood, what defines being a woman, what makes a family, and what loss is as well."

    Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton
    Dramaturgy by Lauren Whitehead
    Sam: Olivia Sullivent
    Monique: Brynn Tucker
    Reggie: Cajardo Lindsay
    Rachel: Jasmine Hughes
    Nadima: Valeka Holt
    Stage Directions: Tresha Farris   

    Blind Date
    By Rogelio Martinez

    A DCPA Theatre Company commission
    2017 Colorado New Play Summit Rogelio MartinezThis play centers on odd-couple Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev's first meeting in Geneva in an attempt to  open up channels between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Though members of their cabinets try to keep them on track, the leaders steer the conversation to pop culture and films. While the men chip away at the mistrust between their countries, Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev play out a passive-aggressive tango that mirrors their husbands’ negotiations. This play is the conclusion to Martinez’s Cold War trilogy. Martinez previously wrote the DCPA Theatre Company's world premiere of When Tang Met Laika.

    Says Martinez: "At some point in their lives, both of these men took a huge pivot. They they were from completely different philosophies and had different ideas. But for a small moment in time they became idealists and they believed in something that no one else believed in. Ultimately the play is about trust: Can one person trust the other across the negotiating table?

    Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
    Dramaturgy by Douglas Langworthy
    George Shultz: Liam Craig                                                                                   
    Eduard Shevardnadze: Steve Brady
    Mikhail Gorbachev: Triney Sandavol
    Ronald Reagan: Victor Slezak
    Edmund Morris: Kurt Rhoads
    Raisa Gorbachev: Kathleen McCall
    Nancy Reagan: Nance Williamson
    Peter, Politburo Member, Dimitri Zarechnak: Rodney Lizcano
    Stage Directions: Mehry Eslaminia                            

    Human Error
    By Eric Pfeffinger

    2017 Colorado New Play Summit Eric PfeffingerMadelyn and Keenan are NPR-listening, latte-sipping, blue-state liberals, while Heather and Jim are NRA-cardholding, truck-driving, red-state conservatives. After an unfortunate mix-up by their blundering fertility doctor, Heather is mistakenly impregnated with the wrong child. Now the two couples face sharing a nine-month’s odyssey of culture shock, clashing values, changing attitudes and unlikely friendships.

    Says Pfeffinger: "One couple's fertilized embryo has been mistakenly implanted in a stranger so, obviously, it's a comedy: One of those classic 'switched embryo' farces. What ensues is the two couples trying to come to understand a kind of people they have never had any interest in knowing before."

    Directed by Jane Page
    Dramaturgy by Amy Jensen
    Madelyn: Caitlin Wise
    Keenan: Robert Manning Jr.
    Jim: John DiAntonio
    Heather: Jennifer Le Blanc
    Dr. Hoskins: Wesley Mann
    Stage Directions: Drew Horwitz               

    Hanussen

    By Robert Schenkkan

    A DCPA Theatre Company commission
    2017 Colorado New Play Summit Robert SchenkkanIn 1930s Berlin, the brilliant mentalist Erik Jan Hanussen captivates German audiences with his ability to read minds and his uncanny predictions of the future. His reputation brings him to the attention of avid occultist Adolph Hitler. While his star seems to be on the rise, the consequences of his next major prediction (and his own true identity) may break his spell. Based on true events. Schenkkan is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (All the Way, The 12).

    Says Schenkkan: "The Weimar Republic seems like a good place to be visiting right now. It is said that Hanussen helped coach Hitler to improve his public speaking. That he cast Hitler's horoscope. And that he may or may not have had some part in the Black Flag Operation known as The Reichstag fire. Hanussen was Jewish. This is a play about denial and avoidance and individual responsibility."

    Directed by Kent Thompson
    Dramaturgy by Liz Engelman
    Hanussen: Jamison Jones
    Hitler: Richard Thieriot
    Wolfe: Kevin Kilner
    Ernerst Juhn, Bruno Frei and Stage Manager: Andy Nagraj
    Fred Marion, Joseph Goebbles, Young Man and Manager: Robert Montano
    Fritzi, Katrina and Maria Paudler: Sarah Schenkkan
    Servant, Rudolf Steinle and Nobleman: Leigh Miller
    Businessman and Kurt Egger: Jason Delane
    Stage Directions: Luke Sorge

    Manford From Half Court, or The Great Leap
    By Lauren Yee

    DCPA Theatre Company Commission
    2017 Colorado New Play Summit Lauren YeeWhen an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game in the post-Cultural Revolution 1980s, both countries try to tease out the politics behind this newly popular sport. Cultures clash as the Chinese coach tries to pick up moves from the Americans and a Chinese-American player named Manford spies on his opponents.

    Says Yee: "What you need to know about The Great Leap is that my father is 6-foot-1. He grew up in San Francisco Chinatown, and before he had kids, the only thing he was good at was basketball. He was never going to the NBA, but he was good enough that even today in San Francisco, people stop us on the street and say, 'I used to play you in basketball.' And as they walk away, my dad is always like, 'Yeah ... and I kicked his ass.' In the 1980s, my father and his Chinese-American teammates went to China to play a series of exhibition games throughout the country. And he got completely demolished in almost every single game. Apparently in Beijing, they played against all these 7-foot-6, 300-pound gods - and remember, my dad was 6-foot-1. And he was the tallest guy on his team. 'We did not even know when they had the ball,' he said."

    Directed by Josh Brody
    Dramaturgy by Kristen Leahey
    Manford: Kevin Lin
    Saul: Brian Keane
    Wen Chang: Francis Jue
    Connie: Jo Mei
    Stage Directions: Samantha Long

    The 12th Annual Colorado New Play Summit
    Launch Weekend: Feb. 18-19
    Festival Weekend: Feb. 24-26
    More details: denvercenter.org/summit

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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