• 2018 Colorado New Play Summit selections announced

    by John Moore | Nov 29, 2017
    A video look back at the 2017 Colorado New Play Festival in February. Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

     

    DCPA's signature celebration has introduced 53 new plays, over half of which have returned as full productions.

    The DCPA Theatre Company's 13th annual Colorado New Play Summit will feature readings of new works by Sigrid Gilmer, David Jacobi, Kemp Powers, and Barbara Seyda alongside world-premiere productions by José Cruz González, Matthew Lopez and Lauren Yee, it was announced this morning. 

    A Summit 800 5The Colorado New Play Summit, which return Feb. 17-25, 2018, is the DCPA’s signature festival dedicated to supporting playwrights and developing new work. Participating playwrights, including many commissioned by the Theatre Company, are given two weeks with professional directors, actors and dramaturgs to workshop new plays. Industry professionals and the public are invited to experience them as non-staged readings.

    (Pictured above and right: 2017 Colorado New Play Summit reading of Donnetta Lavinia Grays' 'Last Night and the Night Before.')

    Since its founding, the Summit has introduced 53 new plays, over half of which returned to the stage as full Theatre Company productions. Recent Summit world premieres include Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will, Tanya Saracho’s FADE, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale, Theresa Rebeck’s The Nest, Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey, Karen Zacarias’s Just Like Us, Jeffrey Haddow and Neal Hampton’s Sense and Sensibility The Musical, and Dick Scanlan’s reimagined version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

    2018 FEATURED NEW-PLAY READINGS:

    Mama Metallica
    By Sigrid Gilmer
    Sigrid GilmerBudding playwright Sterling Milburn has always been overshadowed by her fabulous mother Louise. Even when she’s holed up in a care facility with Parkinson’s, Louise finds a way to steal the spotlight. But with the overly critical eyes of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams to fuel her rebellion and the frenetic energy of Metallica to help find her voice, Sterling sets out to write a story that is finally her own. As unfortunate histories mesh with hilarious interludes, Sterling must face the truth: her pain, her joys and her life will forever be shaped by and linked to the woman who raised her. Sigrid Gilmer’s “wonderfully impudent sense of humor” (USA Today) shines in this joyfully irreverent black comedy that entwines issues of identity with pop culture icons for a truly unique (and head-banging) experience.

    About Sigrid Gilmer: makes black comedies that are historically bent, totally perverse, joyfully irreverent and concerned with issues of identity, pop culture and contemporary American society. Sigrid burst onto the national theatre scene with her play Harry and the Thief, an action film/historical/time travel play about a thief who is blackmailed into traveling back in time to deliver a cache of arms to Harriet Tubman. It has since been produced across the country, including runs at the Pavement Group (Chicago), the Know Theatre (Cincinnati), and the Skylight Theatre (LA). Additional select works include Slavey (Clubbed Thumb), Seed: A Weird Act of Faith, It’s All Bueno (Cornerstone Theater Company), Frilly, and White 3: Manifestdestinyland. Sigrid is also on the writing team of the acclaimed Black Women: State of the Union. Sigrid is a winner of the Map Fund Creative Exploration Grant, the James Irving Foundation Fellowship and is a USA Ford Fellow in Theatre. Sigrid has an MFA in Writing for Performance from Cal Arts, where she was mentored by Suzan-Lori Parks. She resides in Los Angeles.

     


    The Couches
    By David Jacobi

    DCPA Theatre Company Commission
    David JacobiEthan Couch has lived in a bubble of pampered privilege for his entire life, so when he’s convicted of killing four people while driving drunk, he and his mother Tonya flee to a resort in Mexico rather than face the consequences. In this self-imposed state of limbo, Ethan pays hotel clerk Daniel $1000 to be his friend and help maintain the facade of his prior life. But as the unlikely pair drink, sing, and stumble through the night, delusions of how the world works melt away as quickly as their cash flow. David Jacobi draws from the infamous 2013 “affluenza” court case to weave a surreal story of recklessness and reflection.

    About David Jacobi
    : His plays have been performed throughout the U.S. and in China, including the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, FringeNYC and Penghao Theatre. His work has been developed at Ojai Playwrights Conference, Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival, RISK IS THIS, Great Plains Theatre Conference, Kennedy Center MFA Playwright’s Workshop, SLC Playwrights Lab and PlayPenn. He is a winner of the Holland New Voices Award, Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences Award, a Relentless Award semifinalist, and has been nominated for the Weissburger. David was the 2015 Shank Fellow at Pig Iron Theatre Company, and is currently under commission from the Denver Center and South Coast Rep. He received a BFA in Dramatic Writing from Purchase College and an MFA from UC San Diego.



    Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue
    By Kemp Powers DCPA Theatre Company Commission
    Kemp PowersEven though they share the same DNA, twins Steven and Bernard have lived drastically different lives. The big reason? One is plagued by racism because of his dark skin while the other passes as white. Steven spent his childhood fitting in with fellow classmates and is now a successful attorney. Though he was an extraordinarily bright student who had his eyes on outer space, Bernard’s future is as dismal as the Challenger Space Shuttle that once inspired him. As he prepares for trial and potential jail time, Bernard must face his childhood bully behind the judge’s bench and confront his brother’s advantages. Following his DCPA audience favorite One Night in Miami…, Kemp Powers’ piercing meditation on race and privilege targets the circumstances that can change a child’s destiny.

    About Kemp Powers:
    His plays include One Night in Miami… (Donmar Warehouse, Denver Center, Baltimore Center Stage, Rogue Machine; 2017 Olivier nominee for Best New Play, three Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards, four NAACP Theatre awards, LA Weekly Theater award), Little Black Shadows (South Coast Repertory) and The Two Reds (The Ground Floor at Berkeley Repertory). His work has been developed at Denver Center Theatre Company, South Coast Repertory, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Classical Theatre of Harlem. In television and film, he was most recently a writer for “Star Trek: Discovery”(CBS All Access) and is currently adapting his play One Night in Miami… into a feature film. He has toured nationally as a storyteller for the Peabody Award-winning series, "The Moth," and was one of the 50 storytellers selected for publication in their New York Times-bestselling book, The Moth: 50 True Stories (Hyperion Press). Powers is a founding member of The Temblors, a producing playwrights collective based in Los Angeles, where he resides.



    Celia, A Slave
    By Barbara Seyda

    Barbara SeydaIn 1855, 19-year-old African-American slave Celia was convicted of killing her master and hanged. Her story became known as a notorious failure of justice in American history, but to truly understand its significance, look to the people of Calloway County who experienced it all. Using oral histories and official records as her guide, playwright Barbara Seyda investigates the event with a tapestry of interviews with the dead. This stunningly evocative play illuminates the brutal realities of female slave life in the pre-Civil War South as it resurrects a panorama of real people on stage. The piece won the Yale Drama Series playwriting competition in its current form.

    About Barbara Seyda: She is a playwright, editor, designer and theatre artist. She has a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA from Mason Gross School of Art, Rutgers University. She has been a freelance editor for the Southwest Center, Rio Nuevo Press and the University of Arizona Press with a focus on native art, culture, history, ethnography and oral traditions of the American Southwest. She taught at Pratt Institute, The New School for Social Research, Rutgers University and University of Arizona's Continuing Education Program. Her publications include Nomads of a Desert City (University of Arizona Press) and Women in Love (Bulfinch, imprint of Little, Brown & Company). Her debut play Celia, A Slave was selected by Nicholas Wright, former Associate Director of London's Royal Court and won the Yale Drama Prize in 2015. The first public staged reading was at Lincoln Center under the direction of Niegel Smith and the script was published by Yale University Press in 2016. Celia opened The Rogue Theatre's 2017 season to rave reviews by PBS and NPR. She will reexamine the structure of Celia at the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. Her new plays include An Unnatural History and Life in a Jar.


    2018 WORLD PREMIERE PLAYS:

    American Mariachi
    By José Cruz González

    Directed by James Vásquez
    Produced in association with The Old Globe

    A Jose Cruz Gonzalez 160DCPA Theatre Company Commission developed at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
    Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music.

    Zoey’s Perfect Wedding
    By Matthew Lopez
    Directed by Mike Donahue

    Matthew LopezDisaster after disaster follow one unfortunate bride down the aisle, from brutally honest boozy speeches to a totally incompetent wedding planner. Watch in awe as this wildly funny fiasco destroys her expectations with the realities of commitment, fidelity and growing up.

    The Great Leap
    By Lauren Yee
    Directed by Eric Ting
    Produced in association with Seattle Repertory Theatre

    Yee, LaurenDCPA Theatre Company Commission developed at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit
    When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action in the stadium.

    The 13th Annual Colorado New Play Summit
    Launch Weekend: Feb. 17-18
    Festival Weekend: Feb. 23-25
    More details: denvercenter.org/summit

    All-inclusive Festival Weekend packages including all four readings, three world premieres, plus meals and special events are on sale now. Launch weekend events will go on sale in January 2018. 

    2017 Colorado New Play Summit

    Full photo gallery from the 2017 Colorado New Play Festival in February. To see more, click on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Bonus video coverage: Meet the 2017 featured playwrights:
    Summit Spotlight video: Lauren Gunderson, The Book of Will
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    Summit Spotlight Video: Tira Palmquist, Two Degrees
    Summit Spotlight Video: Mat Smart, Midwinter
  • Chris Coleman promises a DCPA Theatre Company that's robust and resonant

    by John Moore | Nov 14, 2017
    Chris Coleman named A.D.
    Photos from today's announcement of Chris Coleman as just the fourth Artistic Director in the nearly 40-year history of the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    The longtime Portland leader champions a range of voices from George Bernard Shaw to Lauren Gunderson, who says: 'Denver is so lucky to get him.'

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Chris ColemanWhen the Managing Director at Portland Center Stage learned that longtime Artistic Director Chris Coleman was being hired away by the DCPA Theatre Company, she shook her head and said, “Denver, I hope you know you just won the lottery.”

    “Chris Coleman is not only a gifted theater artist, he's one of the best community connectors I've ever worked with,” a resigned Cynthia Fuhrman added from Portland. “That is a rare combination.”

    Coleman was introduced this morning as only the fourth Artistic Director in the nearly 40-year history of the DCPA Theatre Company. For the past 17 years, the Atlanta native has led a company with many of the same sensibilities as his new one. Portland Center Stage offers up to 12 offerings each season ranging from classics to contemporary works to homegrown musicals on two stages while also hosting an annual new-play festival, education programs and an array of community events. All of which sounds a lot like the mission of the DCPA Theatre Company. With one big difference: Twice as many performance spaces, and more financial resources. 

    “There is not another theatre in the country with the same administrative and physical infrastructure inside one organization,” said Coleman, who also will oversee the company’s burgeoning line of Off-Center programming — the kind that takes place in non-traditional performance spaces ranging fro the Stanley Marketplace to the streets of Denver.

    Asked to name one dream offering that might help elucidate his artistic sensibilities, Coleman mulled the possibilities before offering this tantalizing prospect: “One of my fantasies would be to go back to the beginnings of the company and remount The Caucasian Chalk Circle and engage DeVotchKa to write a score for it,” he said. “I just think that would be so cool.”

    Coleman clearly has studied up on his Denver Center history. The Theatre Company launched on New Year’s Eve 1979 with Bertolt Brecht’s modernist masterpiece, starring Tyne Daly. And just last year, Colorado’s own Grammy-nominated gypsy-punk band DeVotchKa not only experimented with Stephen Sondheim’s beloved Sweeney Todd score, but the band members got their necks at every performance.

    Shawn King Devotchke Sweeney Todd. Photo by John MooreColeman lists Brecht as among his favorite playwrights — and it is a wildly eclectic list that includes William Shakespeare, Luis Alfaro, Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel and the playwright Coleman has directed more than any other: George Bernard Shaw. Under Coleman, 52 of the new plays Center Stage helped in their gestation have been performed at 115 theatres around the country. One he is most proud of is Dan O’Brien’s Body of an American, about how a photograph of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu haunted the photographer who took it. (It is currently being presented by Denver’s Curious Theatre).

    Among the many rising playwrights Coleman has nurtured along their paths are Matthew Lopez and Lauren Yee, whose latest plays Zoey’s Perfect Wedding and The Great Leap, respectively, are coming up soon on the Theatre Company’s current season.

    (Pictured above and right: Shawn King of DeVotchka in 'Sweeney Todd' in 2016. Photo by John Moore.)

    In announcing the appointment, DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden cited Coleman’s “commitment to artistic excellence, community engagement, new-play development, crowd-pleasing musicals and discovery of new voices” — all of which she said will resonate throughout the region, and will further the DCPA’s efforts to diversify its audience. Coleman said his priorities also include local storytelling, giving voice to underserved communities and building a robust collaboration with the DCPA’s Education division.

    Chris Coleman and husband Rodney Hicks. Photo by John Moore.  “I am super-interested in figuring out how we put the most resonant work on stage we can,” Coleman said. “And by that I don’t necessarily think every play has to be topical to be resonant. I mean work that really lands emotionally for people. So much so that audiences feel compelled to reach out and let us know that we affected them, and that the work has stayed with them.”

    (Pictured at right: New Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman with his husband, Rodney Hicks, at today's announcement. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Coleman says he is not only a fan of the Theatre Company's annual Colorado New Play Summit, one of the signature programs launched by his predecessor, Kent Thompson, he sees it as the company’s greatest drawing card, along with the $1.4 million Women’s Voices Fund, which supports plays written and directed by women. “I am eager to connect great artists with the larger conversation Denver is having about its future right now,” he said. “I am interested in telling big stories — both from cultures that haven’t found their way onto our stages yet, and those that are waiting to burst out of the mind of the young playwright down the street.

    “I don't think there is any reason we shouldn't be one of the top institutions for producing new work in the country.”

    ‘He sure can pick em’

    At Portland Center Stage’s 2002 equivalent of the Colorado New Play Summit, Coleman had a hunch about a submission from a budding 18-year-old playwright. So he took the extraordinary step of giving the young woman a featured slot in the festival alongside, among others, a comparatively grizzled 25-year-old named Itamar Moses. His latest play, The Band’s Visit, opened on Broadway just this past Thursday.

    Chris Coleman quote 8 LAUREN GUNDERSONThe teenager’s play was called Parts They Call Deep, about three Southern women in a Winnebago. Now for the kicker: The playwright was Lauren Gunderson, who, fast-forward 14 years, wrote the Denver Center’s red-hot world-premiere The Book of Will and is now the most-produced playwright in America for the second year running. “It has been amazing to watch her rise,” Coleman said. 

    “Yeah, he sure can pick ’em,” Gunderson said with a laugh.

    Gunderson calls Coleman a mentor who helped her to visualize a possible life in the theatre for herself – when she was 12. Her hometown is also Atlanta, where in 1988 Coleman founded Actor’s Express, dubbed Atlanta's "gutsiest and most vital theatre."

    In those tender years, Gunderson fancied herself an actor, and she was cast as the kid in two mainstage productions there — The Philadelphia Story and Approaching Zanzibar — and she absorbed everything. “That’s the first time I realized that people actually sit down and write plays,” Gunderson said. “By just watching Chris, I started to see all of these other avenues for a life in the theatre for me.”

    Coleman, whose family's Atlanta roots go back to 1804 ("But we were poor dirt farmers," he says), was a bit of a star of the stage himself in those days. How big of a fan was Gunderson of his work? “My 14th birthday party was taking my girlfriends to see Chris Coleman play Hamlet,” she said. “I loved it, and I will never forget it.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    While at Portland, Coleman also produced or directed plays by Sophocles, Molière, Anton Chekhov, Edward Albee, August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Ntozake Shange, Dael Orlandersmith, David Henry Hwang, John Patrick Shanley, Naomi Wallace, Sam Shepard, Douglas Carter Beane, Martin McDonaugh and Amy Freed — among others.

    “He just has such a knack for championing a remarkably wide variety of voices in the new-play world,” Gunderson said. “I think that’s because he has such a variety of experiences himself as a director, playwright, actor and artistic leader. What makes him a genius is that he knows every aspect of the creation of art first-hand. He has nonstop incredible ideas.” 

    Chris Coleman Introduction PhotoColeman is something of a renaissance man. Before he leaves Portland, he will direct a two-part epic he adapted himself called Astoria, featuring a cast of 16. Based on the best-selling book by Peter Stark, it tells of the harrowing but little-known journeys west undertaken by President Thomas Jefferson and millionaire John Jacob Astor that served as turning points in the conquest of the North American continent. It’s a story Coleman imagines might be of interest to Denver Center audiences because it taps directly into the spirit of the west.

    (Pictured at above and right: Chris Coleman with husband Rodney Hickst o his right and, to his left: DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden, and Chairman Martin Semple. Photo by Brittany Gutierrez for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    But his acting days are likely behind him, he says. These days, he is far more interested in ballot measures and fundraising and other administrative duties (he swears). He led the design and construction of Portland Center Stage’s new home in the 122-year-old Historic Portland Armory. That experience will be critical as the DCPA prepares to renovate both its Stage and Ricketson theatres within the next four years.

    Under Coleman, who earned his BFA from Baylor University and his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University, annual attendance at Portland Center Stage increased from 77,000 to 139,000. The average age of the audience dropped from 64 to 48. The company brings in about 7,600 students a year to see its plays.

    Coleman will direct his two-part adaptation of Astoria, followed by Major Barbara at Portland Center Stage before moving to Denver with his husband, Rodney Hicks, in May. In the meantime, he will work with DCPA Managing Director Charles Varin and Associate Artistic Directors Nataki Garrett and Charlie Miller to finalize the 2018-19 season selection.

    “I just think he is a great voice for the American theatre as a whole, and I can’t wait to see what he does to continue Kent’s legacy," Gunderson, said. “Oh my God, Denver is so lucky to get him.”  

    Video above: A 2015 interview with Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman.

    7 QUICK QUESTIONS WITH CHRIS COLEMAN:

    NUMBER 1Rodney Hicks King Lear Terry ShapiroHey, we already know your husband here in Denver: Rodney Hicks played bad-boy Edmund here in Kent Thompson’s 2007 production of King Lear. He was in the original Broadway cast of Rent and Come from Away. Is it safe to say he will be an active member of our acting community? It is not safe to say that. Rodney is totally excited about coming to Denver, and he wants to figure out what engaging with the artistic community here might look like for him. But his focus right now is primarily on film and television and his budding writing career. Rodney had a big career before we met, and there’s every reason to believe he will have a big career for the rest of his life. So while I think you will see him around Denver a lot, I am not sure you are ever going to see him onstage at the Denver Center.

    Pictured above right: Rodney Hicks as Edmund and Markus Potter as Edgar in the DCPA Theatre Company's 2007 production of 'King Lear.' Photo by Terry Shapiro.)


    NUMBER 2What was your introduction to theatre as a kid? It was my mom, who was trained as an actor. She started a drama ministry at our Southern Baptist church in the 1970s. So literally from the time I can remember, I was dragging angel wings around or operating a dimmer board or giving the actors their lines. So it's always been a part of my life. During my senior year in high school, it became clear that's what I wanted to pursue. And when I got to Baylor University I very quickly realized, 'This is what I want to do. This is the room I want to be in. This is my tribe of people.' 

    NUMBER 3How do you plan to move the dial when it comes to the national problem of equity, diversity and inclusion in the American theatre? As a gay man, I am on the bandwagon. I absolutely agree with the movement, and I believe it is high time for there to be opportunities for lots of different kinds of people in leadership roles. And I think there is a lot that any artistic leader can do to make positive changes, no matter that leader's gender and skin color. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more passionate and committed to move us forward on that front. That certainly was the case in Portland, and I expect that only to increase in Denver.

    NUMBER 4You may have heard that Denver Center audiences are passionate about their Shakespeare. Will there be a continuing commitment to Shakespeare? And if so — what kind of Shakespeare? There absolutely will be a continuing commitment to Shakespeare. Now, over the years, I have done every kind of radical Shakespeare reinvention you can possibly imagine. But then about four years ago, I thought: 'You know what would be really radical? To do a Shakespeare play in the period when it was actually written. That would be radical.’ I expect that I am probably more of a centrist when it comes to Shakespeare at this point in my life. What I value most is truthfulness, authenticity and the ability for an audience to engage emotionally. I just want audiences to take the whole ride and not sit back.

    NUMBER 5Should the DCPA Theatre Company be actively responding to the political polarization of the country right now? I think if you are doing interesting new plays, then that happens, whether you want it to or not. Politics tends to show up whenever you are talking about the things that are happening in our world. For example, when we programmed a new play we are staging right now called Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, we already knew of course that immigration is a big issue in this country. But we had no idea how searingly hot it was going to be by the time we opened the play. It is delightful that Luis Alfaro’s play engages with the issues of the current moment, but that’s not why we did it. We did it because we liked the play. But the issue allowed us to build community partnerships around the play that are absolutely conscious of engaging with the conversation of the moment. For example, we have two symposiums in partnership with Catholic Charities that will include our attorney general, a leading immigration attorney, the deputy director of I.C.E. and two Dreamers. That kind of thing is totally in our zone. It’s not just pushing one point of view. It’s bringing together many sides and deepening the conversation you just experienced on the stage.

    NUMBER 6george-bernard-shaw-9480925-1-402So what’s with your love for George Bernard Shaw? I will tell you: The play we are doing this season that most directly engages the executive leadership of this country is Major Barbara — which of course never refers to America or our current president because it was written in 1907. But the themes are uncannily resonant.

    NUMBER 7Is there a place for current DCPA Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett on your team? I have actually known Nataki Garrett for 20 years because she stage-managed a show I acted in back in Atlanta. I have enormous respect and fondness for her, and I was delighted when she was hired to be the Associate Artistic Director here. I anticipate that she will continue in that role until she decides she doesn’t want it anymore. I also know there are a lot of people around the country who have noted Nataki's leadership capabilities, so I suspect there are people knocking at her door.

    NUMBER 8DCPA Education just launched its Theatre for Young Audiences program with a production of The Snowy Day that is directed at pre-kindergarten through third graders, and it was made in full collaboration with the Theatre Company's design staff. How important is it for the Theatre Company to have a strong relationship with the Education division? It's critical to me. One, because we have to prepare future audiences. It is so easy today to walk through life without any real cultural participation of some kind. So I think it's critical that we create, invent and provide as many on-ramps as we can. So education, outreach, and using every opportunity we can to build community relationships with people is just huge.

    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.

  • 'American Mariachi': Community conversation begins

    by John Moore | Oct 09, 2017
    Making of 'American Mariachi'Photos from the Sept. 21 roundtable conversation on 'American Mariachi,' opening Jan. 26. To see more photos, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Playwright, director introduce coming world premiere that will tell a pioneering story from Denver to San Diego.


    By John Moore
    Senior Ats Journalist

    The DCPA invited members of various local Latino communities to join them on Sept. 21 for a roundtable conversation on American Mariachi, the Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere musical play by José Cruz González.

    American Mariachi Students from three local colleges, teachers, mariachi players and members of the Mi Casa Resource Center were among the two dozen who joined the playwright, director James Vásquez and members of the DCPA staff for a free-form introduction to the play, followed by an open discussion on how the Denver Center might best engage the community around this high-profile staging.

    American Mariachi is a first for the DCPA Theatre Company: It is being created as a co-production with the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. That means the story is being brought to life here in Denver from Jan. 26-Feb. 25 as a featured attraction of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. And once it closes here, the entire production will be transported to San Diego for a second run opening March 23 – sets, actors and all.

    González and Vásquez gave the roundtable audience their enthusiastic accounts of the play’s history, inspirations, logistical challenges and potential audience impact. “I think this play is ultimately going to have a beautiful, brilliant life all around the country,” Vásquez said.

    But first González, who previously debuted September Shoes (2005) and Sunsets and Margaritas (2009) at the Denver Center, wants to make sure as many people from all economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds see the play when they have the opportunity in Denver. Here’s some of what they told those gathered:

    What’s the story? American Mariachi is set in the 1970s American southwest. It follows the journey of a young woman, Lucha, who has become the caretaker for a mother suffering from dementia. As a girl, Lucha’s father and his best friend were part of a mariachi band, and their home was filled with life and music. But something happened that tore the band apart, after which the mother began to lose herself. Now years later, Lucha and her cousin find a record of a mariachi song that briefly brings the mother back to life. Lucha is then determined to learn how to play this magical song for her mother before it is too late. But as the young women set out to start their own mariachi band (something unheard of in that day), everyone around them discourages them because they are women – including Lucha’s father. But they do it anyway.

    American Mariachi. Summit Are they any good? In a word, no. “They're The Bad News Bears of mariachi bands,” González said. “They're not great. But they find their path, and they learn the song. And along the way they find their voices - and their places in the world.”

    (Pictured right: Elia Saldana and Sal Lopez in the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit reading of 'American Mariachi.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.) 

    Will the play include live music? The cast of nine not only must act and sing, they will play live musical instruments. In addition, five mariachi musicians will make up the orchestra.

    The music: About 14 songs will be performed in American Mariachi. González wrote three, including the poignant ballad song at center of the plot. The rest are traditional songs.    

    American Mariachi The development: American Mariachi was commissioned by the DCPA Theatre Company in 2014 and was presented as a featured reading at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. It has been honed through two workshops since, most recently in Los Angeles this past summer. At the Colorado New Play Summit in 2016, "it was 150-page play,” González said. "We're now down to 95 pages. So it's now very lean, and it moves like gangbusters.”

    (Pictured right: The cast of the DCPA's 'American Mariachi' at a workshop in Los Angeles in July. Photo provided by Douglas Langworthy.)

    Is there a language barrier? “The script is 95 percent English, with a smattering of Spanish here or there,” Vásquez said. And pains will be taken to convey the meaning of any Spanish word, through physical gestures or outright translation. “Now, the traditional songs are in Spanish,” Vásquez said. “But I think their meaning is something our audience will understand through the sheer theatricality of the musicians."

    That goes both ways: One roundtable attendee said the language barrier works both ways: “I think there would be an appetite for an all-Spanish version of this show for the communities that can only speak Spanish and would otherwise not be able to engage in the story fully,” she said. González took that to heart and said he will consider producing an all-Spanish version of the script.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Who is the play for? After an earlier public reading, Vásquez was greeted by a young woman who told him, “I have never seen myself represented on stage. I see movies or TV shows or plays, and it's never about me. This was about me." "She walked out feeling like she had a place in the world," Vásquez said, "which I think is a testament to the play Jose has written.” But González was quick to add that American Mariachi is not only about these young women finding their voices. “It's also about families dealing with Alzheimer’s and other issues we are all dealing with in our own communities,” he said.

    The aftermath:
    After the creators’ presentation, DCPA staff asked their guests for their questions and concerns. One intrigued attendee said American Mariachi may well be seen as an effective counter in communities that still have a stigma about the relevance of the arts. Among the other concerns: A possible price barrier, getting the word out to the people who might most be interested in this story, and the cost of downtown parking. DCPA representatives told them they are committed to ensuring that everyone who wants to see the play has an opportunity.

    “You can open doors,” the DCPA's Nataki Garrett said, “or you can remind people that the doors are open.”


    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.

     

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 26 through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
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    Video: José Cruz González at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit

     

     

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

  • 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

  • Authentic voices: 2017 student playwriting winners announced

    by John Moore | Apr 11, 2017
    Video: We talked with the four 2017 student playwriting finalists whose plays were read by DCPA actors at the Colorado New Play Summit in February. Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 


    Two student writers will have their one-act plays
    fully staged in public performances in June.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The mission of DCPA Education’s annual year-long student playwriting competition is to help high-school writers find and cultivate their authentic voices. And this year, for the first time, it has ultimately chosen to celebrate two.

    The winning plays of the fourth annual Regional High School Playwriting Workshop and Competition are Dear Boy on the Tree, written by Jasmin Hernandez Lozano of Vista Peak Preparatory Academy in Aurora, and Spilt Lava, written by Ryan McCormick of Fort Collins High School. Both plays will be given full productions in June, performed by DCPA Education’s summer teen company.

    Teen Playwriting QuoteBoth plays feature young couples exploring connection in unusual places. In Spilt Lava, a boy and girl float across each other on doors in a world where the floor is made of burning lava. Dear Boy on the Tree is a gender-reversed take on Rapunzel, featuring a boy hiding in a tree who is trapped by his fear until a girl named Willow happens along.

    “At the DCPA, we know it is so important to cultivate young playwrights,” said Director of Education Allison Watrous. “That's what this program is all about.”

    Each fall, DCPA Teaching Artists go out into schools statewide, deliver playwriting workshops and encourage students to write and submit one-act plays for the competition. This year, those Teaching Artists went to 46 high schools and delivered 138 workshops for more than 2,800 students. “We really want to encourage teenagers to tell amazing stories and put their plays out in the world,” Watrous said.  

    This year, 132 one-act plays were received and judged blindly. In January, 10 were named as finalists. Of those, four were chosen to have a workshop and staged reading by DCPA actors at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit in February. The process mirrors exactly what happens to the four new plays featured by the DCPA Theatre Company at each Summit. “It's really the first time these students have an opportunity to hear the play on its feet with a cast of actors,” Watrous said. “That gives the playwright the opportunity to really fine-tune the play as it moves to its next stage of development.”  

    IStudent Playwriting Ryan McCormickn previous years, one play has been ultimately chosen for a full summer production. This year, competition officials chose to advance both Lozano and McCormick’s scripts to full stagings.

    Lozano, a first-generation American whose parents do not speak English, asked her brothers if she was hallucinating when she read the email telling her she had been named a finalist.

    “I started crying right then and there because it was so emotional,” said Lozano. “Then my mom heard me crying and she said, 'What's happening? What's happening?' I explained everything to her in Spanish and then we all started crying, because we're a family of criers.

    Teen Playwriting Jasmin Hernandez LozanoLozano, who wrote her play in English, was born in a neighborhood “where I had a lot of limits,” she said, “so I would never assume I could win something like this. I don't have a family that has won a lot of awards. So winning this is one step toward getting out of that stereotype that Hispanic people can’t achieve as much as other people.”

    McCormick, now a senior, also was a top-10 finalist his sophomore year. He wrote Spilt Lava in part “because there was a girl I was trying to convince to date me, and she was reluctant,” he said. He credits the DCPA and his teachers for giving him the creative confidence to set his unlikely play on a floor of lava.

    “I've been working on it for a while, so it went through different phases,” he said. “As I got to higher English classes in high school, we started learning about postmodernism and the idea that if everyone believes something, then that is its own reality - and the lava floor is a perfect example of that. I wrote a love story where the floor happens to be lava.”

    Student Playwriting Allison WatrousThe winning plays will be performed back-to-back twice at 1:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, June 16, in the DCPA’s Conservatory Theatre. Admission is free, and the public is welcome. Both will be directed by actor and published playwright Steven Cole Hughes.

    The other finalists were Parker Bennett of Fossil Ridge High School (Counting in Clay and Jessica Wood of Denver Christian School (Chill Winds). Wood is the first student in the competition's history to advance to the Colorado New Play Summit twice.

    “It was such an amazing experience last year to be able to see my play go through the workshop process and then have a staged reading,” said Wood. “I was so excited to come back and to experience that again. Programs like this just don't exist in very many places.”

    The four finalists each received personal mentoring from a professional playwright at the Summit, culminating in public readings that were attended by their families and friends alongside theatre professionals from all around the country. Last year, Wood was mentored by Lauren Yee, whose play Manford at the Line was developed at the 2017 Summit and will be fully staged as part of the DCPA Theatre Company’s next mainstage season.

    “It was so amazing to be able to meet with someone who actually makes a living from playwriting,” Wood said of Yee. “Just to hear her say, 'Your play was really good' was an incredible feeling for me.”

    Student Playwriting Allison WatrousMcCormick said advancing as far as the Summit was all he could have hoped for. “To come here and just be able to rub shoulders with professionals and just be a part of this whole Summit has been crazy,” he said.

    In addition, each teacher of the four finalists will receive a $250 gift certificate for books, supplies or other teaching tools for their classrooms. And as an added bonus, the DCPA will publish all four of the finalists’ plays.

    “We do that so we can continue to create a volume of the plays each year and to really commemorate this work,” Watrous said. “Now these writers are now all published playwrights, which is very exciting.”

    Some of the 132 participating students may become professional playwrights someday. But the greater goal, Watrous said, is to advance literacy, creativity, writing and communication, which are skills that can help them in all aspects of their adult lives.


    Photo gallery: 2016-17 Student Playwriting

    2017 Student Playwriting

    To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. All photos are downloadable for free and may be used for personal and social purposes with credit. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
     

    2017 Regional High-School Playwriting Workshop and Competition Sponsors:
    Robert and Judi Newman/Newman Family Foundation with matching gifts from The Ross Foundation, June Travis and Transamerica.

    Our profiles of all 10 of the 2017 semifinalists:
    Parker Bennett, Fossil Ridge High School
    Corinna Donovan and Walker Carroll, Crested Butte Community School
    Jasmin A. Hernandez Lozano, Vista Peak High School
    Ryan Patrick McCormick, Fort Collins High School
    Abby Meyer and Nic Rhodes, Fossil Ridge High School
    Amelia Middlebrooks, Valor Christian High School
    Samantha Shapard, Overland High School
    Sarah Shapard, Overland High School
    Daniela Villalobo, York International
    Jessica Wood, Denver Christian School
  • 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 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

  • Summit Spotlight: Robert Schenkkan on the danger of denial

    by John Moore | Feb 24, 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: Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle), author of the new history play Hanussen.

    Pulitzer-winning playwright speaks bluntly
    on the danger of denial in a time of authoritarianism

    In 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 Adolf Hitler.

    John Moore: Let’s first review your recent history here at the Denver Center.

    Robert Schenkkan: Well here in Denver, you would know The 12, the musical that Neil Berg and I created a year and a half ago, which won the (Colorado Theatre Guild) Henry Award for best new work. Great production. It was very successful.

    John Moore: Well, there have been quite a few more awards since the Henrys. Emmys, most recently I believe a $10,000 Humanitas Prize for writing Hacksaw Ridge. (Note: Shenkkan donated his share of the prize to Doctors Without Borders). You are not exactly a late bloomer, but the last few years have been extraordinary for you, really starting with the 2014 Tony Award for All the Way.

    Robert Schenkkan: I have had a great run. On stage with All the Way and The Great Society, and then the HBO film version of All the Way starring Bryan Cranston that Steven Spielberg and I co-executive produced. Also here in Denver with The 12, and now Hanussen. And then with the movie Hacksaw Ridge, which I co-wrote with Andrew Knight that Mel Gibson directed and Andrew Garfield starred in, which is currently nominated for six Academy Awards. … Stay tuned!

    John Moore: We have gotten happily accustomed to seeing you on the awards circuit: The Emmys. Writers Guild of America. Screen Actors Guild. And coming Sunday:

    Robert Schenkkan: I have eaten a lot of rubber chicken lately, yes.

    Robert Schenkkan. Photo by John Moore

    John Moore: The Academy Awards are Sunday night, so let's talk briefly about Hacksaw Ridge, which manages to be a remarkable story of warfare and pacifism at once.

    Robert Schenkkan: It's an extraordinary story, and it has taken 10 years to get it on screen. It is the true story of the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor, Desmond Doss. A country boy from Virginia whose faith and principles insisted that he go to war, and that same faith and principles also insisted that he not take a life. He became a medic, and in one extraordinary engagement in the battle of Okinawa, he saved upward of 75 or more American and Japanese lives.  It's a mind-boggling story, really.

    John Moore: That's an fascinating transition into the war story you are writing here for the DCPA Theatre Company. Can you introduce us to the story of Hanussen?

    Robert Schenkkan: Hanussen is based on the true story of Erik Jan Hanussen, who was the leading headliner in 1931 in the last days of the Weimar Republic in Berlin. Hanussen was a mentalist. He had a mental act. He could red your mind. He had psychic powers. He could hypnotize and he claimed he could predict the future. He's fascinating character. Very contradictory in many ways. Kind of Shakespearean in his size. It is always hard to parse the truth here, but it is said that Hanussen coached Hitler on how to be a more effective public speaker, and that he cast Hitler's horoscope, that he was his astrologer, and that he had something to do with the Reichstag fire. Hanussen was also Jewish.

    Hanussen. Jamison Jones. Photo by John Moore


    John Moore: How does his religion play into the story?

    Robert Schenkkan: Well, it's something that he keeps on the down-low while he plays this extremely dangerous game with the Nazis. The play is very much about the human condition, in particular our tendency to avoid that which is unpleasant, or that which we don't want to see. It's about denial, and the dangers of denial.

    You have said very forebodingly that this is not the worst time for us to be revisiting the Weimar Republic. Why is this play that goes so far back into history the right play at the right time for what is going on in the world right now?

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Robert Schenkkan: Well, it's pretty fascinating. The playbook for authoritarianism is an old one. It's pretty well understood. I think one could make a very good claim that we are seeing that play out right now in American politics in this last election. JuRobert Schenkkan Quotest as in the Weimar Republic in Berlin, in the United States in 2017, I think it will be increasingly important for individuals to look to their own conscience and be careful in their decisions. This is not a time to stay silent. This is not a time for denial or avoidance. This is a time for action. 

    John Moore: Who are some of the other historical figures we meet in your play?

    Robert Schenkkan: Well, part of the pleasure of Hanussen is that it is a so-called history play; that it is set with events that actually happened and people we know, and in this case there are some very prominent people that we know. Count Wolfe Von Heldorf, Joseph Goebbles and, of course, Adolf Hitler. It's not often that you see these characters on stage, and of course there is so much baggage that they carry; it presents a unique challenge to the writer I think. What can you do with this that we haven't seen before? Or how can you play with our expectations - what we expect that we will see with this? I have had a lot of fun with this. I think I've gotten it right. I think it will be extremely entertaining and very thought-provoking.

    Robert Schenkkan. Richard Thieriot.John Moore: I don't know how much you have to do with casting, but we here at the Denver Center find it enjoyable that the actor who is playing Hitler (Richard Thieriot) we remember as a masters student who played the Jimmy Stewart role in Harvey (pictured at right by John Moore).

    Robert Schenkkan: That is kind of perfect. He's a wonderful actor, by the way.

    John Moore: This is your first Colorado New Play Summit as a featured playwright.

    Robert Schenkkan: Yes, I have been an observer at two Summits, and I am really very grateful to be here. The way Kent Thompson has structured this is really kind of brilliant. You have the first week of work, ending with a public reading, And then you get another week of work culminating in a second and final reading. That second week of work is absolutely unique. 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 tings 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.

    Sarah Schenkkan. Photo by Adams VisCom. John Moore: This is the first time you have ever gotten to work with your daughter, who is playing three roles in Hanussen (pictured at right by Adams Viscom).

    Robert Schenkkan: Yes, I am very proud to say that I will be working with my daughter, Sarah Schenkkan, who is a professional actress living in New York City. Obviously I have followed her career very closely, but this is the first opportunity we have had to work together. As proud as I am of my professional achievements, my greatest achievement is my children. So it's a real thrill to be here working side-by-side as a professional colleague with Sarah.

    John Moore: Total right turn here: Going back for a second to LBJ and All the Way, what did you think of the guy who played LBJ in the new Natalie Portman movie Jackie?

    Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line

    Robert Schenkkan: I thought he did a very credible job. I thought that he brought a certain gravitas to it. I thought he avoided cliché. And he did not give us any of the more sensationalized - and to my way of thinking less interesting - aspects of LBJ.  

    John Moore: I ask that because the actor is John Carroll Lynch, and he is from Denver.

    Robert Schenkkan: Well, I thought it was a very dignified performance. It was very accurate.

    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.

    Hanussen
    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

    Leigh Miller and the cast of Hanussen. Photo by Adams VisComLeigh Miller and the cast of 'Hanussen' in rehearsal. Photo by Adams VisCom.

    Building the Wall: A new Schenkkan play coming to Curious Theatre
    Note: Immediately after the presidential election, Robert Schenkkan wrote the play Building the Wall, which imagines the first six months of the Donald Trump presidency while invoking George Orwell’s 1984 and the Nazi regime. The play focuses on the frontman of the new administration, who loses his humanity amid chaos and martial law. It is, Schenkkan says, “a terrifying and gripping exploration of what happens if we let fear win.” The play, starring John Jurcheck and Brynn Tucker (who is appearing at the Colorado New Play Summit in Last Night and the Night Before) from April 4-19 at Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., Call 303-623-0524.

    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


    Hacksaw Ridge
    : The official trailer

  • Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line

    by John Moore | Feb 23, 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: Lauren Yee, author of the basketball play Manford at the Line, or The Great Leap.

    Chinese-American playwright Lauren Yee
    lays it all on the free-throw line

    When 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 opponent.

    John Moore: What do we need to know about your play?

    Lauren Yee: My father grew up in San Francisco Chinatown. And until he had kids,
    the only thing he was good at was basketball. I know this because even today, walking around San Francisco, people stop us on the street and say, “I used to play you in basketball!” And as we're walking away, my dad will smile and say, “Yeah … and I kicked your (bleep).” In the 1980s, he and his American teammates traveled to China to play a series of exhibition games against various teams throughout the country. I asked him, “Did you win?” And he told me, “They demolished us in almost every single game.” I think the first game they played was against Beijing. It was either a high-school or a college team. And my dad was like, “No, joke, Lauren, their players were, like, 7-foot-6. My father is 6-foot-1, and he was the tallest guy on his team. He said, “We would have to tell our teammates when their guy had the ball, because if you were guarding your man, you couldn't see what he was doing.” I think they only won one game, which was in Hong Kong when the players happened to be closer to 6-feet tall than 7-feet tall. And I think they only won that game by two points.

    John Moore: But I bet they could describe the waistbands of their opponents in great detail.

    Lauren Yee: Oh yeah. Have you ever seen one of those Mickey Mouse cartoons where Mickey is being chased by a train? That's how my dad felt: Like Mickey Mouse in China.

    Lauren Yee. Photo by  John Moore

    John Moore: So how does that turn into a play?

    Lauren Yee: I always thought that idea was so interesting of a Chinese-American young man like my father going to the country of his parents for the first time, playing an opponent who looks like him - but not quite.

    John Moore: What do we need to know about the title?

    Lauren Yee: Manford at the Line begs the question of whose play this is. And it foreshadows what is going to be important further down the line. It's almost the final play of the game.

    John Moore: Your play was originally called Manford from Half Court.

    Lauren Yee: Yeah. The final play longer happens at half-court. It happens at the free-throw line, so that necessitated changing the title.

    John Moore: The game of basketball has become very global in the past decade, especially in the NBA. But your play takes place in 1989. When did basketball become such a national priority in China?

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Lauren Yee: The interesting thing about that is basketball is the only Western sport that has never been banned in China. I think we Americans think of basketball as a sport that is completely ours. And that whenever go abroad, we are bringing basketball to a different part of the world. But the truth of it is, China has had basketball since the 19th century. American missionaries first brought the game there in the late 1900s. And ever since then, the Chinese have viewed basketball as a symbol of their country. If you think of all the sports out there, basketball is the one in which you can really lay the ideals of communism on top of it. Everyone gets to touch the ball. Everyone is equal in their position. Mao (Tse-tung) was a big, big fan of basketball. Prior to him coming to power in the 1930s, he used to play basketball with his colleagues. I think the shift in the game has just been the professionalization of it. In the 1990s, right after my play takes place, you begin to see the national league in China start up, the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association). That’s been really fascinating because you have players like Yao Ming coming out of the CBA and going to America, but you are also have NBA players like Stephon Marbury coming to China and playing in the CBA. Stephon Marbury is beloved in China.

    (Note: Stephon Marbury, now 40, is a two-time NBA All-Star who has played for three Chinese teams since 2010, winning three CBA championships.)

    Lauren Yee QuoteJohn Moore: How does the culture clash play out in your story? Because from a very young age, American kids are taught to shoot the ball. And your lead character at one point explains very comically how a Chinese player almost needs permission to shoot.

    Lauren Yee: My father told me that Chinese players, as opposed to his team of Americans, did not like to go inside. They didn't like to get aggressive. They loved to stand back and sink the ball from the 3-point line. I find that sport is always such a great analogy for how a country works and how two countries interact and that space where they rub up against each other and conflict in terms of strategy and styles and priorities. 

    John Moore: You have said you main character is not, specifically, your father.

    Lauren Yee: No.

    John Moore: What does he think about you writing a basketball play inspired by his experiences?

    Spotlight: Rogelio Martinez on when world leaders collide

    Lauren Yee: I feel like my father is always simultaneously a little mortified and a little delighted by the idea of there being a play about his experiences. I am sure there is a lot about the play that he will say I got wrong. I feel like the biggest difference between my main character and my father is that my father was always celebrated for the great basketball player he was.   

    John Moore: What is the tone of your play?

    Lauren Yee: My plays tend to be comedies ... until they are not. They also tend to be comedies that hopefully show you something in a way you have never seen before. This is a basketball play, but hopefully I am showing you something about the game in a delightful way that you have never seen before.

    Lauren Yee 2016 Colorado New Play SummitJohn Moore: Last year, you were a guest here at the Colorado New Play Summit as a commissioned writer for the DCPA Theatre Company. Now you are here as one of the five featured Summit playwrights. What are your thoughts on the Summit?

    Lauren Yee: I think the Colorado New Play Summit is such a wonderful playground. The Denver Center supports pieces starting from the inception of a commission and continues after the Summit. I feel like the Denver Center is really invested in telling lots of different types of stories from lots of different perspectives. I also think there is incredible freedom for playwrights to tackle the story any way they want to.

    John Moore: Let’s get perfectly real here: If you are anything other than a white male, you are probably underrepresented in the American theatre right now. And as a Chinese-American woman, you are about as under-represented as it gets. But you have broken through and really have gotten the attention of the American theatre. Do you see that as a burden or an obligation or a wide-open opportunity?

    Lauren Yee: For me, in order to spend the two or three years needed to follow a story and really see it through to its end, I think it has to be a story that feels personal and urgent and specific enough to me that I think I really am the best person to tell that story. And that I would really love to spend all those years of my life in the room with this idea. Sometimes it boils down to, "This is a story that shares something in my DNA culturally.” And other times, it has nothing to do with that. It can be a burden,  but there is also this joy in being able to tell an audience a story in a way that no one else can tell it.

    Lauren Yee QuoteJohn Moore: Obviously gender disparity has been a major topic of conversation in the American theatre for several years. What does it mean to you as a female playwright that the Denver Center is a place with the $1.2 million Women's Voices Fund?

    Lauren Yee: I think the Women's Voices Fund is such an exciting and vital venture. It makes sure that you are representing the groups that you want to be representing - and then letting them run with it. I may be sponsored by the Women's Voices Fund, but I am not being told to write a play that stars all women, or has to have some female-specific topic. My play is about a Chinese-American man playing basketball in China. I think the Women’s Voices Fund embraces the multiplicity of views that come with what your gender is, and what your ethnicity is. I am Chinese-American, but part of the joy of my work is that I get to inhabit all of these different worlds.

    John Moore: Why is your play the right play at the right time?
    Lauren Yee: I think this play is relevant now because it explores the idea that one person can make a difference in the world they live in. It's also a play about diplomacy. It's a play about relating to different people from different countries. It is a play about protest. And it is a play about realizing when it is your turn to step up.

    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.

    Manford at the Line, or The Great Leap
    Written by Lauren Yee
    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

    Manford. Photo by John MooreFrancis Jue, left, and Brian Keane in Lauren Yee's 'Manford at the Line, Or The Great Leap.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    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

  • Summit Spotlight: Rogelio Martinez on when world leaders collide

    by John Moore | Feb 22, 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: Rogelio Martinez, author of the political thriller Blind Date.

    Playwright Rogelio Martinez on watching
    Ronald Reagan transform on a global stage

    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. And while the odd couple chip away at the mistrust between their countries, Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev play out a passive-aggressive tango that mirrors their husbands’ negotiations.

    John Moore: You have been to the Colorado New Play Summit many times as a commissioned playwright, mainstage playwright and audience member. What has the Denver Center come to mean to you?

    Rogelio Martinez: It's one of the few theatres I can call home. It's a special place for me, and I am always happy to be here. Great energy. Great writers.

    John Moore: How did your history with the Colorado New Play Summit begin?

    Rogelio Martinez: It started in 2008 when they asked me to bring in 10 pages of something I was working on, and I brought in the first 10 pages of When Tang Met Laika. There was a very positive response. We then workshopped it at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs. That is a beautiful place to get away from the world, and get inside the world of your play. It was then read at the 2009 Colorado New Play Summit, and then it had its world premiere on the DCPA Theatre Company's mainstage season in 2010. It was an amazing production.   

    Rogelio Martinez. Photo by John Moore.

    John Moore: Tell people who weren't here in 2010 about When Tang Met Laika.

    Rogelio Martinez: It is a play set on the International Space Station during the Cold War. It’s about former adversaries working together. The Russians got to space first, and they created the first space station, Zarya. So we had a lot to learn from them. I was just fascinated by the idea of people who were enemies on this planet suddenly being friends up there in the universe.

    Rogelio Martinez. Blind DateJohn Moore: That’s perfect segue into the play you are writing now as a commission for the DCPA Theatre Company, Blind Date. Tell us about it.  

    Rogelio Martinez: Blind Date is about the Geneva in 1985 where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev first met. Reagan was 74 at the time and Gorbachev was much younger, 54. But at that Summit, they both did a pivot. They changed. Yes, you can still change at (that age). Up to that point, Reagan was anti-Communist. He did terrible damage as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was not a great governor of California. But suddenly he had this naiveté. He said, "You know what? Let's abolish nuclear weapons. Let's just get rid of them.” And he saw across the room from him this man he thought could do this with him. It's fascinating to see somebody change before your very eyes.  

    (Photo above: Victor Slezak as Ronald Reagan and Triney Sandavol as Mikhail Gorbachev in 'Blind Date.')

    John Moore: So what did you learn about Reagan in your research?

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Rogelio Martinez: One thing is that Reagan worked in narratives. You couldn't talk statistics to Reagan. You had to tell him a story. He saw the ending of the Cold War as a story, and he was one of the main actors in it.

    John Moore: Blind Date is the conclusion to your Cold War Trilogy. And when you look at it alongside some of your other works, such as Ping Pong, about Nixon and Mao, it's clear you have a continuing fascination with opposites attracting on a global scale.

    Rogelio Martinez: I love the idea of worlds colliding. I was born in Cuba and I came here when I was 9.

    John Moore: You didn’t just come here when you were 9. You came here during the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

    Rogelio Martinez. Photo by Adams VisCom Rogelio Martinez: Yes. And until then, I had been taught one way of life, because there was no expectation that I was ever going to leave the country. And then suddenly, here I am. I remember going to Sears for the first time. My aunt said, “vamos a cia,” or, "Let's go." But she dropped the r and the s so it literally sounded like she was saying, "Let’s go to the C.I.A." There was this sudden culture shock. But I am able to see the world from two points of view, because I have lived from two points of view. So I love it when leaders crash into one another. But it’s not so much personalities colliding that excites me as it is people behaving unlike how we know them to be. Take Nixon: Warmonger. Nasty man. But he is able to reach out and start this friendship with China. I love contradiction. That is the most exciting thing to me: People who contradict themselves.

    John Moore: You obviously wrote this before the recent presidential election, but you are here now at the Colorado New Play Summit doing major rewrites. Does your play in any way acknowledge the new Reagan?

    Rogelio Martinez. Blind Date
    The cast of Rogelio Martinez's' 'Blind Date." Photo by Adams VisCom.


    Rogelio Martinez: Absolutely. As I was writing the play, I was aware of the coming election. And as I was rewriting it, the election was happening. So I was aware that the play would have to somehow echo what is going on in the world right now. We're Tweeting now. Things get lost in the translation. In the time I am writing about, people were extremely articulate. Gorbachev is an extremely articulate man, so there was a chance for a conversation then that is not happening today. But I hope it does at some point.

    John Moore: This might seem like an obvious question when we are talking about leaders from Russia and the United States meeting for the first time at a tense time in history, as they do in your play. But your story is set in 1985. So why is this the right play at the right time?

    Spotlight: Donnetta Lavinia Grays the aftermath of trauma

    Rogelio Martinez: The world was a scary place in the 1980s, and you never thought it was going to get scarier. But then there were about 20 years there where the younger generation never lived under the fear of nuclear annihilation. They don't understand it. So when they watch this play, they will begin to understand that there is this longer narrative that has been going on for a long while now. But it can be solved. It just needs the kind of leadership where people go beyond the character they have shown so far. So Blind Date is actually a hopeful piece. And hope is not a bad thing to have.

    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.


    Blind Date

    Written by Rogelio Martinez
    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

    Blind Date. Adams VisCom

    Liam Craig, left, as George Shultz, and Steve Brady as Eduard Shevardnadze in Rogelio Martinez's 'Blind Date.' Photo by Adams VisCom.

    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

  • 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

  • Summit Spotlight: Eric Pfeffinger on the fertile comedy of a divided America

    by John Moore | Feb 20, 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. First up: Eric Pfeffinger, writer of the comedy Human Error.

    Playwright Eric Pfeffinger on the fertile comedy
    of an unfunnily divided America

    John Moore: Tell us about your play.

    Eric Pfeffinger: In Human Error, a couple goes to what they think is a routine appointment at their fertility clinic and are devastated to discover that their fertilized embryo has been mistakenly implanted into somebody else. So obviously, it's a comedy. You know: Another one of your standard-issue switched-fertilized-embryo farces.

    John Moore: Not another one of those!

    Eric Pfeffinger: Exactly.

    John Moore: So tell us about this couple.

    Eric Pfeffinger: They are a couple of blue-state, latte-sipping, NPR-listening liberals. And they go to meet this other couple and discover that they are NRA-cardholding, pickup-truck-driving, red-state conservatives. So you have two families who, under normal circumstances, would never choose to be in the same room with each other, now having to spend nine months working their way toward building this family - and hopefully not killing each other along the way. It’s a comedy about the state of the nation currently and the political polarization we are all grappling with.

    John Moore: So help me understand your style of comedy. Are we talking mean, David Mamet funny? Or punchline kind of funny?

    Eric Pfeffinger: It's BIG funny. When I heard about this actually happening at fertility clinics, my first response was, 'Oh that sounds like an episode of Three's Company: 'Wait, that's not your embryo - that's my embryo!' And … cut to commercial. This is my approach to a lot of my plays: Let's take this thing that does not seem particularly funny to the people it is happening to and find the humor in it. It's people being very funny in a very stressful situation.

    Human Error. Eric Pfeffinger. Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore

    John Moore: We just went through a brutal two-year election cycle where the divisions in this country were just laid bare, deeply and profoundly. Is that reflected in your play?

    Eric Pfeffinger: I started working on the play quite a while ago but this is a phenomenon that has been percolating for a long time, and has only gotten more pronounced in the past year or so. None of the people in my play know anybody else like the other couple. They all live in a world, as most of us do, where geography and social strata and technology have made it possible for them to isolate themselves from anybody who doesn't already think the same way they do. All their friends on Facebook, in their neighborhood and at their workplace are all pretty much like them. They don't have to confront the reality of someone who thinks differently until they are thrown together by this clerical mix-up at the fertility clinic. The play is really less about fertility technology - as dramatic as that can be - and more about the silos and the echo chambers that Americans in particular often find themselves in, and the defense mechanisms we adopt when we are forced to step outside our comfort zones and acknowledge that there are other people in the world who are not just like us.

    Human Error. John DiAntonio. Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John MooreJohn Moore: Why is now a really good time in the American theatre for us to laugh?

    Eric Pfeffinger: Everything I write is a comedy. That's how I function. A lot of people embrace comedy as an escapist opportunity; as a way to get away from what is stressful about the world. I happen to believe that comedy is also one of the best ways to confront difficult ideas, and to examine and articulate those ideas. I would much rather explore a difficult idea through comedy than through some other genre. Comedy lowers your defenses by making you laugh. Comedy is a welcoming way to entice you into spending some time with ideas that you might find challenging.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: You're from Ohio, so would you say this is a Midwestern comedy?

    Eric Pfeffinger: This is definitely a Midwestern comedy. It takes place in the same northwestern part of Ohio where I live, right on the Michigan-Ohio border. The characters clash over the Michigan-Ohio athletic rivalry, in fact. So it's definitely about people in flyover country, and how they live their lives.

    John Moore: That is also Ground Zero for the American Divide.

    Eric Pfeffinger: Absolutely. Some people feel like it's possible these days to move to a city and feel fairly confident that you are going to be comfortable with the political orientation of most of your neighbors. Where I live, everybody is all over the political map. During the election, there was every kind of sign imaginable in my neighborhood, in yards right next to each other. We also have a lot of different religious communities, cultural communities and racial makeups and I think those things express themselves in a very particular way in a Midwestern city like the one I live in, and these characters live in.

    Human Error. Caitlin Wise. Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John MooreJohn Moore: You used to be a newspaper cartoonist.

    Eric Pfeffinger: Yes, among other productive roles in society.

    John Moore: Has that experience guided you as a playwright in any way?

    Eric Pfeffinger: To me, playwriting and cartooning are two very similar media, only you express your ideas with different tools. I used to draw a daily comic strip with recurring characters. So in both cases, you have multiple characters living out stories that you are telling primarily through dialogue. You also had a punchline every four panels. There was a rhythm to it, but it also had some very specific restrictions. You didn't have the opportunity for stream-of-consciousness or delving into people's thoughts the way you can if you are writing a novel. It was really like writing a four-panel play every day and moving the characters around on this very small, two-dimensional stage. So to me, cartooning was just a variation on what I am doing now.

    John Moore: So would you say your play is more sit-com in style or a series of panels? 

    Eric Pfeffinger: Human Error does draw explicit connections to various kinds of classic comedy, particularly the TV sit-com. One of my characters is an academic who studies the theory of humor, and in doing so squeezes all of the enjoyment out of it. The points of reference in Human Error are probably more like TV comedy, which is what I grew up mainlining. But I have definitely appropriated the rhythms of the daily comic strip in some of my plays as well. 

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

    Eric Pfeffinger: It’s been fantastic. This community is just amazing. Being in that room with everyone on that first morning and seeing this huge population of people who all have different specialties but who are all committed to this one common artistic goal is really inspiring. The team that I have - the actors and the director and the dramaturg and stage management - is amazing. We just have a blast every time we close that door and spend a few hours working on the play together. The community here is really supportive and really, really fun.

    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?

    Human Error. Eric Pfeffinger. Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John MooreEric Pfeffinger: That's going to be huge, especially with a comedy. The response of an audience is invaluable. Even with an early version of a play, where we haven't figured everything out yet, seeing how that plays in a room with an audience, and feeling the energy is going to be completely integral to what I work on during the second week. I am going to be constantly referring back to what was going on in that space in terms of how specific lines and moments landed. It's so much more valuable than trying to draw only on the discoveries that we make in the hermetically sealed rehearsal room together.

    John Moore: One of my favorite Pfeffinger lines isn't even from your play. It was from an interview where you described the outcome of an earlier workshop of Human Error. You said the play “no longer displays a first-draft's need for radical de-suckification."

    Eric Pfeffinger: That's probably me at my best right there. I can only hope to strive for the pithy expression that is de-suckification. I think we could all use a little radical de-suckification right now. 

    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.

    Human Error
    Written by Eric Pfeffinger
    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      

    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

  • Meet the cast: Cajardo Lindsey of 'The Christians'

    by John Moore | Feb 16, 2017
    Cajardo Lindsey

    Cajardo Lindsey of 'The Christians.' He is pictured below right on the first day of rehearsal for the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit on Tuesday.


    MEET CAJARDO LINDSEY

    Understudy to Associate Pastor Joshua in The Christians, Reggie in Last Night and the Night Before (2017 Colorado New Play Summit)

    Cajardo Lindsey. 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. At the Theatre Company: All the Way, A Raisin in the Sun, Just Like Us. Other Theatres: A Raisin in the Sun, Wait Until Dark, To Kill a Mockingbird (Arvada Center) The Whipping Man, The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, Marcus: or The Secret of Sweet, Fences (Curious Theatre). TV/Film: "Medium," "Crash," "In Plain Sight," "Easy Money," Silver City, MacGruber, Force of Execution, Assassins' Code, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), Shot Caller (2016), Somnio (2016)."

    • Hometown: Cincinnati.
    • Training: BA from Miami University and a JD (law degree) from Indiana University. (I was home-schooled in the arts.)
    • What was the role that changed your life? Playing Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun at the Arvada Center. My life was changed in the arts because of the look and embrace I received from my mentor after the show.
    • Why are you an actor? Acting called ... and I answered.
    • What would you be doing if you weren't an actor: I presently enjoy two careers,  one as an actor and the other as an attorney. I am unaware of what I would be doing for a career if I were not an actor and an attorney. Maybe a poet, a writer or a coach … I do all of these things in some capacity.
    • Cajardo Lindsey Jeffrey NickelsonIdeal scene partner: My mentor, Jeffrey Nickelson. He was the founder of Denver's Shadow Theatre Company. If he were still alive, it would be great to show him that I was listening.
    • Why does The Christians matter? Because if we, as an audience, can see ourselves in a play and begin to do self-inquiry, I believe the byproduct will be growth and evolution.
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of this play? Love and compassion.
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ..."
      "... for the people in this world to love one another."

    Cajardo Lindsey in Curious Theatre's 'The Brothers Size.' Photo by Michael EnsmingerCajardo Lindsey in Curious Theatre's 2013 production of 'The Brothers Size.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.


    The Christians
    : Ticket information
    270x270-the-christians-art-ttA new play about the mystery of faith and what happens when a doctrinal controversy shakes the foundation of a large community church.

    Plays through Feb. 26
    Stage Theatre
    ASL and Audio-Described matinee at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12
    303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Christians:
    Playwright: The Christians is 'a pathway to empathy
    The Christians: How do you know Kevin Kilner?
    Behind the scenes video: Making stained glass for The Christians
    Video, photos: Your first look at The Christians
    Video: What audiences are saying about The Christians
    Composer Gary Grundei on music to move the masses
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal 
     
    Meet the cast: Krystel Lucas
    Meet the cast: Robert Manning Jr.
    Meet the cast: Caitlin Wise
    2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics

    More 2016-17 'Meet the Cast' profiles:
    Steven J. Burge, An Act of God
    Liam Craig, The Book of Will
    Aubrey Deeker, The Glass Menagerie
    Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, Frankenstein
    Meridith C. Grundei, Frankenstein
    Steven Cole Hughes, An Act of God
    Sullivan Jones, Frankenstein
    Mark Junek, Frankenstein
    Charlie Korman, Frankenstein
    Jennifer Le Blanc, The Book of Will
    Rodney Lizcano, The Book of Will
    Wesley Mann, The Book of Will
    Amelia Pedlow, The Glass Menagerie
    Jessica Robblee, Frankenstein
    Erik Sandvold, An Act of God
    John Skelley, The Glass Menagerie
    Kim Staunton, Two Degrees

     

  • 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

  • Record four student writers to have plays read at Summit

    by John Moore | Jan 17, 2017
    A Playwriting Scenester finalists 800Meet your 2017 Scenesters: Teen playwriting finalists (from left) Parker Bennett, Jasmin A. Hernandez Lozano, Ryan Patrick McCormick and Jessica Wood.



    The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has announced a record four finalists for its fourth annual Regional High School Playwriting Workshop and Competition for Colorado high-school students:

    • Parker Bennett, Fossil Ridge High School, Counting in Clay MEET PARKER
    • Jessica Wood, Denver Christian School, Chill Winds MEET JESSICA
    • Ryan Patrick McCormick, Fort Collins High School, Spilt Lava MEET RYAN
    • Jasmin Hernandez Lozano, Vista Peak Preparatory Academy, The Boy on the Tree
      MEET JASMIN

    Because of a tie, an unprecedented fourth finalist was named. The four will receive mentoring from a professional playwright and have their plays read by professional actors at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, in The Conservatory Theatre. Finalists also receive a $250 cash scholarship and complimentary pass to all Summit activities.

    A Playwriting Scenester finalists QuoteWood is the first student in the competition's history to place as a finalist two years in a row. Two of the finalists come from different high schools in Fort Collins. The finalists' plays represent a wide swath of storytelling ranging from a gender-bending variation on Rapunzel, to a modern take on Frankenstein, to a historical drama about sisters on the eve of World War II, to the love story of a boy and girl “who float across each other in a world where the floor is lava.”

    DCPA artistic, literary and education professionals first determined 10 semifinalists from  132 submissions received from high-school students across the state. The blind judging produced a first - twins sisters Sarah and Samantha Shapard of Overland High School both made the top 10.

    From that field, a record  four finalists were chosen, up from three in previous years. After the Colorado New Play Summit, one of the four scripts will be selected for full production during DCPA Education’s 2017 summer program.

    “These young playwrights are the next generation of theatre. It is our responsibility and our privilege to encourage them and give them the tools to succeed,” said DCPA Director of Education Allison Watrous. “We launched the one-act play playwriting competition in 2013 to nurture Colorado’s promising young playwrights, create new plays and inspire creativity. In just four short years, we’ve been overwhelmed with the response: 577 submissions and nearly 12,000 students served through the program, giving voice to the next generation of American theatre.”

    About the 2017 Regional High-School Playwriting Workshop and Competition:

    What: A one-act playwriting competition designed for area high schools. Local playwrights and DCPA Education faculty taught 138 playwriting workshops in 46 Colorado high schools. More than 2,823 high-school students participated in those workshops, which were held in every school district in the Denver-metro area and in 15 counties around the state, including Gunnison, Garfield, El Paso, Chaffee and Ouray.

    Why: To nurture Colorado’s young playwrights; develop theatre artists and audiences; develop new plays; and advance literacy, creativity, writing and communication through playwriting.

    How: A total of 132 submissions were judged blindly by DCPA artistic, literary and education professionals. Ten semifinalists are being identified through this rolling daily countdown. At the end of the countdown, three winners will be named. They will receive a cash scholarship of $250 each AND a staged reading in the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit next month. In addition, each teacher of the three finalists will receive a $250 gift certificate for books, supplies or other teaching tools for their classrooms. One play also will be presented as a fully staged performance exercise for DCPA Education students in the summer of 2017.

    Sponsors: Robert and Judi Newman/Newman Family Foundation with matching gifts from The Ross Foundation, June Travis and Transamerica.

    Our profiles of the 2017 Semifinalists:
    Parker Bennett, Fossil Ridge High School
    Corinna Donovan and Walker Carroll, Crested Butte Community School
    Jasmin A. Hernandez Lozano, Vista Peak High School
    Ryan Patrick McCormick, Fort Collins High School
    Abby Meyer and Nic Rhodes, Fossil Ridge High School
    Amelia Middlebrooks, Valor Christian High School
    Samantha Shapard, Overland High School
    Sarah Shapard, Overland High School
    Daniela Villalobo, York International
    Jessica Wood, Denver Christian School


    Video: We talked with the three 2016 student playwriting finalists and looked in as their plays were read by professional actors at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit in February. Video by John Moore and David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter. </p?>
  • Kent Thompson's legacy: Giving sound to unheard voices

    by John Moore | Jan 05, 2017

    Photo gallery: A retrospective of Kent Thompson's years in Denver

    Kent Thompson: A retrospectiveTo see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above.


    Thompson will leave as acclaimed playwright Theresa Rebeck once described him in everyday action: Walking the walk.

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter  

    When Kent Thompson was hired as Producing Artistic Director of the DCPA Theatre Company in 2005, he announced two essential goals: To increase the presence of women and minorities on Denver Center stages, and to rebuild the company’s dormant new-play program into one of the most vital in the country. He has achieved both and more.

    Thompson, only the third Producing Artistic Director in the nearly 40-year history of the Theatre Company, announced his resignation this morning, effective March 3.

    Kent Thompson. Then and Now“Serving as Producing Artistic Director for the past 12 seasons has been a fulfilling and rewarding period of growth and achievement,” Thompson said before going back to work on rehearsals for The Christians, opening January 27 in The Stage Theatre – his 21st production as a director at the Denver Center.

    Upon his arrival in June of 2005, Thompson identified a problem: 54 of the most recent 55 Theatre Company productions had been written by men. In addition, the company had not produced a play by a Latino playwright in six years.

    “We have worked to diversify our programming, company and staff to create a theatre that better reflects the communities we serve,” said Thompson. Twelve years later, the proof of his promise is forever sealed into Denver Center’s well-trod boards:

    • Thompson co-founded the $1.2 million Women's Voices Fund, which has enabled the company to commission new plays by 20 female playwrights and hire 23 female directors. In total, Thompson has produced 31 plays written by women as part of the mainstage season.
    • He also has produced 23 plays by writers of color and hired 17 directors of color.
    • One of Thompson’s most significant achievements has been the creation of the Colorado New Play Summit, which after 12 years has established itself as one of the top new play festivals in the country. The Summit has workshopped 50 new plays, leading to 27 fully produced world premieres as part of the mainstage season. He has commissioned 44 new plays, supporting playwrights to create new work for the Theatre Company.

    "Kent Thompson absolutely walks the walk," said Rebeck, whose plays Our House and The Nest came into being through the Colorado New Play Summit. “But to me, the thing that is electrifying about Kent is that he went out in front of everybody 10 years ago and said, 'We are not doing enough plays by women.’ I wish more people knew about what is happening in Denver.”

    Kent QuoteThompson also kept a promise by completing the 10-play August Wilson “decade cycle” started by his predecessor. Under Donovan Marley, the late director Israel Hicks directed eight of the 10 Wilson plays at the Denver Center. Having worked with him several times elsewhere, Thompson asked Hicks to direct the final two plays, making Hicks the first and still only director to helm all 10 of Wilson’s plays for the same theatre company. That is an achievement Denzel Washington (Fences) is now undertaking on film.

    DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden called Thompson “an exceptional artistic leader,” citing many of his other accomplishments including “his creation of Off-Center to develop innovative and immersive programming, and a robust commissioning program.” Another achievement was commissioning and staging the adaptation of three plays from the works of quintessential Colorado novelist Kent Haruf that came to be known as The Plainsong Trilogy.

    “With the support of so many at the DCPA and in the Denver community, the Theatre Company’s efforts have brought national acclaim and foundation support to the DCPA, Denver and Colorado,” Thompson said. (Story continues below.)


    Photo gallery: Productions directed by Kent Thompson

    Kent Thompson: Plays directed in Denver
    To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above.

    Through it all, Thompson’s mantra has been relevance – “making our theatre engaging, thrilling and thought-provoking to audiences and artists,” he said. “We seek to create theatre that evokes discussion, serves as a town hall of ideas and relevant issues while producing new plays that will advance the American Theatre.”

    He often said his legacy would one day be judged on the success of the new-play program, and specifically whether the plays he nurtured went on to additional stagings by companies around the country. More than a dozen plays that were nurtured in the Summit have gone on to have 70 subsequent productions at some of the country’s leading theatres, including Playwrights Horizons, Victory Gardens, Theatre Works, South Coast Repertory, The Women’s Project, Trinity Repertory, The Magic Theatre, INTAR and Primary Stages. Some of these successful plays include The Whale, 1001, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Lydia, Our House, The Most Deserving, Sunsets and Margaritas, and FADE.

    Prior to Denver

    After a decade-long career directing across the U.S. and Canada, Thompson was hired in 1989 as Artistic Director at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He inherited two theatres in an idyllic cultural park in Montgomery but also a modest endowment. And 16 years later, he left it with $18.5 million. He also launched the Southern Writers’ Project, a new-play festival that produced 16 world premieres, including Romulus Linney’s adaptation of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines. Thompson directed the premiere and the first follow-on production at the Signature Theatre in New York as the opening show of its 10th season. His tenure culminated with a production of Macbeth he toured to 13 military bases around the country.

    Thompson diversified casting, programming and staff, and built strong relationships with the African-American community, as well as African-American playwrights, directors, designers and actors. He took that same approach with him to Denver, where the population is about 31 percent Latino.

    “It’s very important for me to allow the Latino community to have an artistic voice,” he said when he was hired. Some of his landmark productions here have included Octavio Solis’ Lydia, and more recently Just Like Us, a close-to-the-bone adaptation of journalist Helen Thorpe’s true accounting of four straight-A Denver high-school seniors whose college opportunities become divided by their immigration status. The play was controversial, it was local — and it drew the largest Latino audiences of his tenure.

    One of Thompson’s favorite quotes comes, appropriately enough, from Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well: “The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” And his life has not been without its challenges, on or off the stage.

    When Thompson was interviewed and hired by the DCPA, there would be challenges and opportunities that have faced many theatres, notably the reductions in funding following the Great Recession. The DCPA closed its National Theatre Conservatory masters program in 2012. And as Thompson increased the commitment to new plays, he faced a difficult decision.

    The resident theatre company concept had been dwindling nationally long before Thompson arrived. In Denver, the core company was down from a high of about 28 in the 1980s to about 12 in 2005.

    One of the most difficult challenges for Thompson was publicly acknowledging in 2011 that, for all practical purposes, the days of audiences seeing many of the same actors in up to four plays in a single season were over. “And that was agonizing,” he said. “But we actually stuck it out longer than the vast majority of our (regional theatre) compatriots across the country.”

    Moving forward, Thompson announced something he called a “frequent-flier company”— familiar actors from Denver and around the country appearing in one or more shows here every season or two.

    A recovery of late

    In recent years, as the economy has rebounded, Thompson continued to take bold, innovative steps to create the “next generation of theatre, artists and audiences,” by creating Off-Center in 2010. Last year Off-Center, which is responsible for creating fresh, environmental and mobile theatre experiences aimed at millennials, presented Sweet & Lucky in a 16,000-square foot warehouse, which made it the largest physical undertaking in DCPA history.

    Always trying to find new ways to produce a new, engaging version of a classic, Thompson jumped at Artistic Producer Emily Tarquin’s suggestion that he direct Sweeney Todd, engaging Denver’s own gypsy punk band, the internationally beloved DeVotchKa, to re-orchestrate Stephen Sondheim’s score. They performed in every show – and had their necks sliced nightly onstage.

    For all of his accomplishments, there is little question that Thompson’s tenure in Denver will be most remembered for his unyielding commitment to underrepresented voices.

    “What that means for people who have been marginalized in the theatre is that Kent is affecting the reality of the world we live in,” said playwright Amy Gonzalez (September Shoes). “The world out there is made up of all sorts of people, and it is really exciting that Kent is respecting that in his choice of plays.”

    For Rebeck, Thompson has been a champion of women, of audiences, and of common sense: “Women are more than half our audience and more than half the human race,” she said. “But for some reason, the rest of the American theatre is still catching up with Kent’s vision.”

    In his statement this morning, Thompson wished the DCPA, the Theatre Company and the entire theatre community of Colorado “much success in the future.” Sinden said, “We will miss his commitment to artistic excellence and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

    Thompson has been contracted to write a book on professional directing for a major publisher of drama and theatre books in the U.S. and the U.K. He plans to take the next few months to write his book, and then pursue other opportunities in the American theatre.

    In the coming weeks, DCPA executive staff and Theatre Company leaders will create a transition team that will develop an interim plan, including a national recruitment effort.


    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/At a glance

    • Served for eight years on the Board of Directors for Theatre Communications Group (TCG, is the national organization of not-for-profit theatre) and as its president for three years.
    • Artistic Director of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival, 1979-1981
    • Producing Artistic Director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival 1989-2005
    • Producing Artistic Director of the DCPA Theatre Company from 2005-17
    • Served on peer review panels for the National Endowment for the Arts (also chair), TCG, Pew Charitable Trusts, The Fulbright Scholars Program, The Wallace Funds, The Doris Duke Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among others.
    • Graduate of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., Theatre and Speech, 1976. Phi Beta Kappa.
    • Graduate of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, U.K., 1979. The Draper’s Guild of London Scholarship.

    DCPA Theatre Company productions directed by Kent Thompson

    • The Christians
    • Sweeney Todd
    • As You Like It
    • Benediction
    • Hamlet
    • Just Like Us
    • Other Desert Cities
    • Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (twice)
    • The Taming of the Shrew
    • The Liar
    • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    • Othello
    • Eventide
    • Noises Off
    • Dusty and the Big Bad World
    • Plainsong
    • Amadeus
    • Measure for Measure
    • A Flea in her Ear

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage:
    The Christians: Five things we learned at first rehearsal
    Where the blade meets the band: Kent Thompson on Sweeney Todd
    Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
    2016-17 season: Two world premieres and a return to classics
    Westminster High School tackles immigration with DCPA's Just Like Us
    How Thompson turned questions into exclamation points


    Video retrospective: Kent Thompson on his commitment to new-play development:

  • Kent Thompson resigns as Producing Artistic Director of DCPA Theatre Company

    by John Moore | Jan 05, 2017
    Kent Thompson



    Denver Center for the Performing Arts President and CEO Janice Sinden and DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson jointly announced his resignation to Trustees, staff and subscribers earlier today. Kent will remain head of the Theatre Company through March 3, 2017 and will direct the upcoming production of The Christians (Jan, 27  through Feb. 26).

    “Kent has been an exceptional artistic leader of the Theatre Company for the past 12 years,” said Sinden. “His accomplishments as Producing Artistic Director include the creation of the nationally acclaimed Colorado New Play Summit, the establishment of the Women’s Voices Fund to support the work of women in theatre, the development of innovative and immersive programming through Off-Center, and a robust commissioning program. As a director, Kent has led more than 20 productions at the Theatre Company, most notably Kent Haruf’s Plainsong trilogy, Sweeney Todd, and numerous world premieres and Shakespearean productions during his tenure. We will miss his commitment to artistic excellence and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

    Kent Thompson’s legacy: Giving sound to unheard voices

    “With the support of so many at the DCPA and in the Denver community,” said Thompson, “serving as Producing Artistic Director for the last 12 season has been a fulfilling and rewarding period of growth and achievement. The Theatre Company’s efforts have brought national acclaim and foundation support to the DCPA, Denver and Colorado. We also have worked to diversify our programming, company and staff to create a theatre that better reflects the communities we serve.

    Photo gallery: A retrospective of Kent Thompson's years in Denver


    Kent Thompson: A retrospectiveTo see more, click the forward arrow on the image above

    “After 12 seasons, I believe it’s now time to move onto other opportunities in professional theatre. In the immediate future, I am writing a book on professional directing for a major publisher of drama and theatre books in the US and the UK. After that is done, I look forward to pursuing opportunities elsewhere in the American theatre. I wish the DCPA, the Theatre Company and the entire theatre community of Colorado much success in the future.”

    In the coming weeks, DCPA Executive Staff and Theatre Company leaders will create a transition team, which will develop an interim plan as we embark on a national search for a new Artistic Director. Thompson will remain in an advisory capacity through the end of the current 2016/17 season.


    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage:
    The Christians: Five things we learned at first rehearsal
    Where the blade meets the band: Kent Thompson on Sweeney Todd
    Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
    2016-17 season: Two world premieres and a return to classics
    Westminster High School tackles immigration with DCPA's Just Like Us
    How Thompson turned questions into exclamation points

  • DCPA completes field of five New Play Summit playwrights

    by John Moore | Nov 03, 2016



    The DCPA Theatre Company has announced the five playwrights whose works will be featured at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit next Feb. 18-26. The 12th annual festival will feature readings of new works by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Rogelio Martinez, Eric Pfeffinger, Robert Schenkkan, and Lauren Yee.

    Summit PlaywrightsThe Colorado New Play Summit presents readings of new plays over two weeks as the playwrights continue to craft their developing works alongside a full creative team of actors and crew. Audiences also are offered the opportunity to see two fully staged world premiere productions that have emerged from the previous year's Summit. The featured full stagings in February will be The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson and Two Degrees by Tira Palmquist.

    (Pictured above, from left: Rogelio Martinez, Lauren Yee and Robert Schenkkan at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    The Colorado New Play Summit has introduced 48 new plays  in its history, more than half of which returned to the stage as full Theatre Company productions. Recent Summit world premieres have included Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride (which made its Off-Broadway debut at New York's MCC Theater), Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale, Theresa Rebeck’s The Nest, Tanya Saracho’s FADE, Eric Schmiedl’s adaptation of Kent Haruf’s Benediction, Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey, Karen Zacarias’s Just Like Us, Jeffrey Haddow and Neal Hampton’s Sense and Sensibility The Musical, and Dick Scanlan’s reimagined version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

    2017 NEW-PLAY READINGS 

    Donnetta Lavinia GraysLast Night and the Night Before
    By Donnetta Lavinia Grays
    When 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 Reggie 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. The play was featured in the 2015 National New Play Network's National Showcase of New Plays and won the Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest the same year.

    Martinez, RogelioBlind Date
    By Rogelio Martinez

    A DCPA Theatre Company commission
    Before the advent of Match.com and eHarmony, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev try to build a relationship old school when they sit down to open up channels between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Though members of their cabinets try their hardest 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 in this conclusion to Martinez’s Cold War trilogy where “edgy comedy and sudden sorrow intertwine” (American Theatre).Martinez previously wrote the DCPA Theatre Company's world premiere of When Tang Met Laika.

    Human Error
    By Eric Pfeffinger

    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 an uproarious nine-month’s odyssey of culture shock, clashing values, changing attitudes and unlikely – but heartfelt – friendships. American Theatre has said, “Pfeffinger’s social conscience is matched by his amazing comic sensibilities” and his new play is no different.

    Schenkkan, RobertHanussen

    By Robert Schenkkan

    A DCPA Theatre Company commission
    In 1930s Berlin, the brilliant mentalist Eric 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. A new drama from Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (All the Way, The 12). Based on true events.

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

    DCPA Theatre Company Commission
    When 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 Chinese American player Manford spies on his opponents. Inspired by events in her own father’s life, Yee “applies a devilishly keen satiric eye to…her generation (and its parents)” (San Francisco Chronicle).

    Check out our Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    2017 FULLY STAGED WORLD PREMIERES


    Lauren GundersonThe Book of Will
    B
    y Lauren Gunderson

    Developed at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit

    Without William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have literary masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet. But without Henry Condell and John Heminges, we would have lost half of Shakespeare’s plays forever! After the death of their friend and mentor, the two actors are determined to compile the first Folio and preserve the words that shaped their lives. They’ll just have to borrow, beg and band together to get it done. Lauren Gunderson weaves a hilarious and heartfelt story inspired by the true story of Shakespeare’s First Folio.


     

     
    Tira PalmquistTwo Degrees
    By Tira Palmquist

    Developed at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit

    The smallest changes can lead to the biggest impact, and no one knows that better than Emma, a scientist studying climate change in Greenland. Still grappling with the unexpected death of her husband, she is invited to the nation’s capital to share her findings at a Senate hearing that could define her career and her cause. But if she can’t overcome her tumultuous inner struggle, her dedication and sacrifices may not be enough to make the difference in the world that she’s always wanted.

    The 12th Annual Colorado New Play Summit

    Launch Weekend: Feb. 18-10, 2017
    Festival Weekend: Feb. 24-26, 2017
    More details: denvercenter.org/summit

  • Meet the cast: Thaddeus Fitzpatrick of 'Frankenstein'

    by John Moore | Oct 19, 2016
    Thaddeus Fitzpatrick

    MEET THADDEUS FITZPATRICK
    Rab in Frankenstein


    At the Theatre Company: The Book of Will (2016 Colorado New Play Summit reading, pictured below and right.) New York credits include Autumn's Harvest (Lincoln Center) and Alcestis Ascending (Clurman Theatre). Other regional credits: I and You (Olney Theatre Center and Geva Theatre Center) and The Jungle Book (Arden Theatre Company). Currently involved in several developing plays. Commercial credits include Yes Television with Alec Baldwin, Lady Gaga MTV VMA promotion and voiceover work for Sierra Mist commercial. Special Awards: National Award Winner in Prose and Poetry Performance.

    • Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
    • Training: I have a B.A. in Theatre from the University of Alabama
    • What was the role that changed your life? I played a wise man in some iteration of The Nativity Story for my day-care when my family lived in Miami. I believe I was 2 or 3 at the time. I had an old cane that we took from my grandfather, and my mom painted a grey beard on my chin. This is the earliest memory I have of dressing up and performing, and of how happy it made me.
    • Why are you an actor? I had to take therapy for a speech impediment during my early elementary-school years. I would sit in my room when I was 4 or 5 and memorize movie scenes. I would learn to say the lines the way the actors said them, accents and all. Memorizing lines helped to control my stutter. I switched my major from the Pre-Med to Theatre during my sophomore year in college. I did this after realizing how actors can connect people, how much they can transform, and how they are a part of a family of artists who come together to bring stories to life. It’s magical. 
    • What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t an actor? I would be a linguistics professor. I would love to explore the languages of other places and help communicate those difference and similarities to students.
    • Ideal scene partner: There is no way I can just pick one. I would do a scene with Mark Rylance, Samuel L. Jackson, Andrew Garfield or Jeffrey Wright. The list could go on all day. They all have elements to their performance that are unexpected, yet believable and honest.

      More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    • Why does this production of Frankenstein matter? This play begs some challenging questions, just as the source novel did when it was first published 200 years ago, about the balance of science and nature, and the danger we encounter when we neglect the very things that make us human.
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of seeing Frankenstein? I hope they have a profound theatrical experience that not only excites them, but pushes them toward making a connection that they wouldn’t have made otherwise.
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ..."
      "... to tell important, beautiful and challenging stories that reveal the tie that binds us all."

    Photo above: 'Frankenstein' cast members, from left, Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, Erin Willis and Brynn Tucker at the Opening Night party. Photo above right: Thaddeus Fitzpatrick appeared in the reading of Lauren Gunderson's 'The Book of Will' at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. The world premiere of that play opens Jan. 13 at the Ricketson Theatre. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Follow Thaddeus Fitzpatrick on Twitter @Actor_TsFitz

     

    Frankenstein: Ticket information
    Frankenstein• Through Oct. 30
    • Stage Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 23
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Frankenstein:
    Photos: Opening Night of Frankenstein
    Video series: Inside look at the making of Frankenstein
    Five things we learned about Frankenstein at Perspectives
    Photos, video: Your first look at the making of Frankenstein
    Frankenstein
    : On the making of a two-headed monster
    Frankenstein and race: It IS a matter of black and white
    Breathing life into the Frankenstein set: 'It's alive!'
    A Frankenstein 'that will make The Bible look subtle'
    How Danny Boyle infused new life into Frankenstein
    Casting set for Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie
    Introducing DCPA Theatre Company's 2016-17 season artwork
    Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
    2016-17 season announcement

    More 2016-17 DCPA Theatre Company 'Meet the Cast' profiles:

    Aubrey Deeker, The Glass Menagerie
    Charlie Korman, Frankenstein
    Sullivan Jones, Frankenstein
    Mark Junek, Frankenstein
    Amelia Pedlow, The Glass Menagerie
    Jessica Robblee, Frankenstein
    John Skelley, The Glass Menagerie

    Follow the DCPA on social media @DenverCenter and through the DCPA News Center.

  • Video, story: Stirring the passions of student writers ... and future engineers

    by John Moore | Jun 07, 2016

    In the video above, we interview the three 2016 student playwriting finalists and look at performance excerpts as their plays were read by professional actors at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit in February. Video by John Moore and David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    The DCPA's third annual year-long Regional High School Playwriting Workshop and Competition will culminate Friday, June 17, with two free, fully staged performances of student playwright Kendra Knapp’s Sonder in the Denver Center's Conservatory Theatre.

    Last fall, DCPA Education staff conducted 145 classroom workshops for 3,100 Colorado students. That resulted in 212 one-act play submissions from young writers all over the state - up from 158 the year before. A team of professional adjudicators determined 10 semifinalists. Of those, three were selected to have their plays workshopped by the DCPA Education staff and read by professional actors at the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit in February. They were:

    Knapp, a recent graduate of Valor Christian High School, was a top-10 finalist last year. This year, her newest play was singled out for full production. Sonder follows a community of young people who are seeking real connection, but from the safety and distance of the internet.


    Our complete Student Playwriting photo gallery:

    2016 Student Playwriting Competition
    Photos from rehearsal through performances of the three finalist readings at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. To see more, click the 'forward' arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 


    Knapp said it was “super exciting” to get into the top 10 last year, and decided it was worth doing again. “When I got in the top three, I figured there’s really no worst-case scenario for me," she said.

    DCPA Director of Education Allison Watrous said the purpose of the teen writing initiative is to advance literacy, creativity, writing and communication through playwriting.

    Teen playwriting quote“This program is all about inspiring the passion of playwriting in the next generation of writers,” she said. But playwriting promotes a variety of life skills, no matter what profession they one day choose. Knapp, for example, is headed to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., where she will study aerospace engineering. “But I will probably still be writing, too,” Knapp said.

    Submissions were judged blindly by DCPA artistic, literary and educational professionals. The three finalists each receive a cash scholarship of $250. In addition, each teacher of the three finalists receives a $250 gift certificate for books, supplies or other teaching tools for their classrooms.

    Knapp’s play was then further selected for a full production this summer. The staging will be directed by DCPA Education Head of Acting Tim McCracken and performed by actors from the DCPA's summer education classes.

    At a time when much of the national theatre dialogue is focused on the lack of fair female representation among American playwrights, it was telling that all three of the student finalists are young women.

    I think that‘s great, especially because it was picked blind," said Wood, a rising senior at Denver Christian School. "We know we were not being picked just because we are women - we were picked because we have talent, and we have abilities, and it’s great that the DCPA is helping us realize this."

    Added Moore: "I really appreciate the DCPA for not feeling the need to fill a quota, and that we’re being appreciated for our talent, no matter what age or gender or background we come from."

    Another commonality the three finalists share is faith. Two of the writers attend faith-based schools - Valor Christian and Denver Christian - and the third writer (Moore) wrote her play about a young woman who goes on a meaningful search to understand how God’s fallen angel came to be known as the Devil.
    Student Playwrights Sonder

    From left: Student playwriting finalists Kendra Knapp, Jessica Wood and Gabrielle Moore. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    The finalists found it refreshing that the adjudicators were clearly open to stories with a religious theme, which is not always the case in the theatre.

    “I think there are certain stigmas about both the theatre and the church,” said Wood. “On the surface, they seem opposed to each other, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think it’s really cool that you can be a member of the church and still be a writer in the theatre, which isn’t something a whole lot of people think you can do.”

    Moore was worried that making the Devil a central character in her play might be taken the wrong way. "Offending people was not the goal at all,” she said. “I wanted to tell a side of the story we typically don’t hear in church. I’ve heard pastors tell us that we need to avoid the Devil - but I’ve never really understood why."

    Reserve your free seat to see Sonder

    Knapp’s play has no religious overtones but she says she’s used to facing prejudice as a woman, a Hispanic, a person of faith and a theatre kid. “I’m used to people meeting me and then having this taste in their mouth where they go, “You’re from a Christian school? And you're into theatre?” I’m used to that attitude. But then I come here to the Denver Center and they just say, “OK, let’s get to work.” And I’m like, “Wait, you’re not going to ask me about my political views? Where’s the interrogation?”

    Each finalist was mentored during the Colorado New Play Summit in February by a commissioned playwright with the Denver Center Theatre Company: Rogelio Martinez (Knapp), Anne García-Romero (Moore) and Lauren Yee (Wood), all of whom are developing new plays for the DCPA’s right of first refusal.

    “Rogelio had some ideas and insights for the play that hadn’t been presented to me by any other voice,” said Knapp. "It’s just a really good feeling to get feedback from someone you know is established who says to you genuinely, 'This is good.' ”

    Student Playwrights Sonder
    The cast and creative teams from the three student playwriting readings at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    The three finalists and their plays are featured in the video report at the top of this page. Here are additional excerpts from their conversation with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore:

    John Moore: What did you think when you found out you were in the top three?

    Gabrielle Moore: My mom told me I had to look at this email because it was really important. And I was like, “Mom you’re probably misinterpreting it. They’re probably just saying, ‘Thank you for your submission’ - not that I actually won. When I read it, I was genuinely amazed.

    Jessica Wood: When I found out I was in the top three, I was really excited, because I put quite a lot of work into it. To see my work realized and accepted meant a whole lot. It was really great.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Kendra Knapp: I showed the email to my dad and he was like, “Wow, that’s super exciting!” And then I had this sudden moment of dread where I was like, “Oh gosh, I’m going to have to actually talk to people. No! I have to put on a dress! I can’t just sit in my pajamas all day!"

    John Moore: How did it help your writing to work with a director from the DCPA Education team?

    Jessica Wood: Shortly after I was selected, Mr. (Steven Cole) Hughes sent me some notes that said he liked my play, but there definitely were places where we can improve it. So I made some changes before I even went into rehearsal. Then I met my wonderful director (Allison Watrous), all of my actors, and they’re all great. We sat down and read the whole play through, and I said, “OK, I can definitely see some structural weaknesses.” So I changed my play - and then the next day, I changed it again. I think I had a rewrite every single day. And by the time we were done, I got to understand the whole feeling of the play. I got to learn how to best impact the ears of the audience, what sounds pleasing and what doesn’t, and really what makes for a good script.

    John Moore: What was it like to see a professional reading of your work?

    Gabrielle Moore: Starting out with an idea a year ago and getting to watch it develop into being on the stage was incredible. Even though there were some rewrites, my director Patrick (Elkins-Zeglarski) ensured me that I know what’s best for this play, that this is my authentic voice, and I could put in whatever I want, to an extent. It was nice to know that this is still my play, even though the DCPA has been nice enough to take care of it for me.

    John Moore: What was it like to hear audience responses for the first time?

    Jessica Wood: When the the lights went down for my play, I just felt this moment of sudden, sick dread because I was convinced that everyone would hate it. It’s really terrifying when you have a live audience because you don’t know how they’re going to react. You don’t know if they’re going to connect. You don’t know if they are going to be bored out of their minds. And if that happens, you’re to blame for that. But they were great. They were kind, they were polite, they laughed, and hopefully they cried a little bit.

    John Moore: How is this whole experience emboldening you?

    Gabrielle Moore: I learned a lot about myself through the writing process, especially through my character, Teresa. Because I’ve had trouble understanding everything I need to know about being a Catholic. And writing this play really helped because I did a lot of research on Mother Teresa. She said a lot of times when she prayed, she wasn’t sure if God was always there. But that didn’t stop her from doing good things and being a good person. I think she’s such an amazing woman to do that. I just want to keep being a good person and being a good writer and impact other people to do good through plays like this.

    Jessica Wood: I definitely think there’s a bit of a look that you get from adults when you tell them you write. They say, “Do you, really?” And then here comes this opportunity at the Denver Center where they say, “Yes, you are a writer. Now why don’t you give us some of your writing and let us help you make it better?”

    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.

    Sonder: Performance information
    1:30 and 7 p.m., Friday, June 17
    Conservatory Theatre in the Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education 1101 13th St.
    This performance is free, but an RSVP is requested by clicking here 

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of the Student Playwriting Competition:
    2016 finalists named for Regional High School Playwriting Competition
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Denver Center launches statewide high-school playwriting initiative
    Direct link to our Flickr photo gallery


    Our complete countdown of 2016 semifinalists:
    No. 1: Jafei Pollitt, Denver School of the Arts
    No. 2: Jessica Wood, Denver Christian High School
    No. 3: Kristine Guo, Peak to Peak Charter School
    No. 4: Gabrielle Moore, D'Evelyn High School
    No. 5: Ashley Wright and Amelia Middlebrooks, Valor Christian High School
    No. 6: Kalina Gallardo, Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy
    No. 7: Kiera Eriksen-McAuliffe, Denver School of the Arts
    No. 8: Stephanie Kiel and Mady McGraw, Chatfield Senior High School
    No. 9: Kendra R. Knapp, Valor Christian High School
    No. 10: Jacob Kendrick, Peak to Peak Charter School

     

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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.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.