• 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.


    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

  • Summit stands in thanks to departing founder Kent Thompson

    by John Moore | Feb 24, 2017
    Kent Thompson. Photo by John Moore
    Kent Thompson drew a standing ovation tonight from attendees at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, his last as Producing Artistic Director. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Colorado New Play Summit pauses to thank
    departing founder Kent Thompson

    To understand the impact the Colorado New Play 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.

    Kent Thompson. Photo by John Moore"I just found out today that the Northlight Theatre will be doing two Colorado New Play Summit plays in its next season: The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez, and The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson," DCPA Director of New Play Development Douglas Langworthy said tonight during a tribute to departing DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson.

    Thompson is resigning after 12 years effective March 3, leaving a legacy that includes founding the Colorado New Play 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.

    Kent Thompson's legacy: Giving sound to unheard voices

    “I feel like for the past 12 years, I've had a great opportunity to present many different windows on the world, from many different peoples' viewpoints,” Thompson said from the pulpit of the Seawell Grand Ballroom.

    Kent Thompson. 1001The Colorado New Play Summit, which is presenting readings of five featured new works through Sunday, 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.

    A video honoring Thompson was shown at the tribute, followed by a prolonged standing ovation. "I don't think there are words that can possibly do justice to the countless contributions that Kent Thompson has made to this organization," said DCPA CEO Janice Sinden.

    Thompson first thanked his predecessor, Donovan Marley, who grew the Theatre Company’s national reputation as a home for new works with premieres ranging from Quilters to Black Elk Speaks to The Laramie Project. He then thanked his family. Thompson’s late father was a well-known Southern Baptist preacher, and his mother a writer, publisher and editor. His brother is a psychiatrist. 

    “My mom once said we're kind of all in the same profession,” Thompson said. “We either listen to stories to make sense of our world around us, and our place in it; or we tell stories to make sense of our world, and our place in it. My dad was really upset by this - not because he was being compared to a theatre director, but because he was being compared to a psychiatrist.”

    Thompson’s father, he said, was not an evangelical preacher. "He was a human storyteller. And he’s who I learned theatre from.”

    Thanks pour in from around the country for Kent Thompson

    Reflecting on his time in Denver, Thompson said, “I think the opportunity to tell stories that reveal the world to us in a new way is a great privilege. We have accomplished so much in a short period of time. I want to thank everybody for their support and generosity. But most of all I want to thank the writers, the artists, the actors, the craftspeople, the managers the administrators, and everyone who has made this such a wonderful place for new plays in the American theatre.”  

    (Photo below right: Douglas Langworthy and new Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Praise from playwrights for Kent Thompson:

    Douglas Langworthy. Photo by John MooreLauren Yee, Manford at the Line, Or The Great Leap: Kent Thompson is such a champion of new plays. He is such a champion of new and different voices. He always puts his money where his mouth is, and makes sure that the world we live in is reflected on the stage. I feel like he has done so much for new plays, for new playwrights and for young playwrights over the years he has been here at the Denver Center. I can't imagine what it is going to be like without him.

    Rogelio Martinez, Blind Date: I am extremely sad because I have seen this Summit grow to this incredible stage where hundreds of people come in just to see our plays. There's heartbreak because I know this is Kent's vision. I love the fact that whenever we start a Summit, Kent says, 'This is my favorite time of the year.' I think he’s done an incredible job, and he has offered a lot of people a home. He offered me a home.       

    Robert Schenkkan, Hanussen: Kent Thompson is that complete theatre individual. He is a true Renaissance man. A creator in his own right, a director, at one time a performer, and an artistic director. That's a lot of hats to wear, and he wears them all with a great deal of grace and dignity and compassion. He has a quiet sense of humor, which I particularly enjoy, and a real spirit of generosity, which I think is at the heart of his success here at the Denver Center. I think that sense of generosity, that sense of family, is real, and that’s very much a reflection of Kent Thompson 's personality and his aesthetic. I think Denver has been extraordinarily fortunate to have had Kent Thompson for this time period.

    José Cruz González, September Shoes: When Kent Thompson first came to Denver, he called me out of the blue and he said he wanted to do the second production of my play September Shoes. And that play grew in such amazing ways. I found the play here. And then he had me back, first for Sunsets and Margaritas and again last year for American Mariachi. When I came to Denver, American Mariachi was 150 pages long. Then Kent gave it a second workshop last July in Los Angeles, and now it is down to 101 pages. Now, I feel like the play is ready, and that is all thanks to him. Kent has given opportunity to new writers, and given writers a place to do really great work in a great theatre. When you come here, you feel the spirit.

    960x430-two-degreesTira Palmquist, Two Degrees: Kent Thompson's leadership and vision for the DCPA Theater Company has opened a space for a greater diversity of voices on the stage - stories from a richer cross-section of our American experience - and we are all the richer for it. Theater holds a mirror up to us and to our society, and if theater only shows a selective or exclusive image, only tells the stories of a selective or exclusive population, then it necessarily impoverishes us all. More personally, Kent Thompson recognized something in Two Degrees at a time when I was not the most recognizable name in the room. He recognized something in the story, in the writing - not because I was the safest choice. His long history of making these kinds of choices has made the Denver Center an exciting and exhilarating place to make great theater. He's the model for us all to follow.

    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.

    Kent Thompson in Denver: A photo retrospective

    Kent Thompson: A retrospective

    To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above.

    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

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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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