Look back: 2018 Colorado New Play Summit got real

by John Moore | Feb 26, 2018
2018 Colorado New Play Summit

Our gallery of photos above includes nearly 300 images from the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of photos Photos by Senior Arts Journalist John Moore and Adams Viscom.

Readings explored contemporary social issues through the lens of real stories taken from the recent and distant past

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Perhaps more so than ever, the Denver Center’s 13th annual Colorado New Play Summit explored complex contemporary social issues through the lens of real stories taken from both the recent and distant past.

Summit 2018 The Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, a forgotten pre-Civil War slave trial and a horrible, headline-grabbing drunk-driving tragedy were among the real-life inspirations for the Summit’s four featured readings, all of which become instant candidates for consideration to be fully staged in the future.  

The Colorado New Play Summit has grown into one of the nation’s premier showcases of new plays. Since 2006, the Summit has workshopped 54 new plays, leading to 31 fully produced world premieres as part of the DCPA Theatre Company’s mainstage season. At this year’s Summit, more than 800 attendees also were treated to a record three fully staged world premieres: American Mariachi, The Great Leap and Zoey’s Perfect Wedding.

But history of another kind was made on Saturday when the topic of gender identity was addressed on a Denver Center stage for the first time in its nearly 40-year history, and it came from a most unexpected source. A teenage boy uttered the words, “Dad, I’m non-binary” in high-schooler Noah Jackson’s play Wine Colored Lip Gloss during public readings of DCPA Education’s three statewide student playwriting competition winners.

“It means so much to me that the Denver Center allowed my story to be heard,” said Jackson, who attends Girls Athletic Leadership School. “I had someone come up to me in tears saying that my play touched her so much. I am just over the moon that people are actually feeling the words that I have worked so hard on.”  

2018 Summit: A look at all four featured plays

The 2018 Summit came as DCPA Theatre Company leadership continues to transition from Summit founder Kent Thompson to incoming Artistic Director Chris Coleman, who told the Friday night crowd the Summit was “a great calling card” for the job he is about to embrace. “A festival like this is impossible at a lot of theatres around the country,” he said. “But new-play development is creativity at its most pure. There is enormous joy and heartache in watching something come out of nothing. And I want to be a part of the future of this organization's voice around the country.”

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Video: Our interviews with all four featured playwrights

Press play to watch all four of our short spotlight videos.

The four featured Summit readings at a glance

  • A Summit Playwrights Social Barbara Seyda’s Celia, A Slave recalls a 19-year-old African-American slave in Missouri who was convicted of killing her master in 1855 and hanged.
  • Kemp Powers’ Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue is the story of mixed-race twins who are genetically the same but to the entire outside world, one is perceived as black, and one is perceived as white.
  • David Jacobi’s The Couches takes its cue from the real-life story of a 16-year-old Texas boy who drove drunk and killed four people. His lawyer successfully argued the boy had “affluenza" — meaning he was too rich to know right from wrong.
  • Sigrid Gilmer's Mama Metallica is the story of a woman who copes with her mother's dementia through her muse: The heavy-metal band Metallica. "What makes you laugh will make you cry," she said.

“This is a precious and fragile time in the life of these plays and that's because they are reflecting life which is also so fragile, as we have learned in these past couple of weeks,” said Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett,” referring to the Florida school shooting. “And that's why it’s so important to support new work and nurture it and fund it and produce it and give it to the world. That's our responsibility: To keep life moving forward. And I like to think of the Summit as the beginning of that.”

(Pictured at right: From 'Celia, A Slave', from left: Jada Dixon, Owen Zitek, Director Nataki Garrett, Celeste M. Cooper.)

Celia A Slave. Summit. Photo by John MooreThe Colorado New Play Summit allows for two weeks of development of each new play, culminating in a first round of public readings. Playwrights then take what they learn from their first readings back into rehearsal before more rehearsal and a second round of readings for industry professionals.

This year’s Summit drew industry leaders from 33 local and national theatre organizations, with more than 150 directors, actors, artistic leaders, educators and others from 12 states attending or taking part. Visitors represented companies ranging from the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D.C. to the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. Closer to home, guests included the Arvada Center, Creede Repertory Theatre, Curious Theatre, The Catamounts, Athena Festival Project and others.

There was another added twist at this year’s festival in that both American Mariachi and The Great Leap are the Theatre Company’s first co-productions in nearly 20 years — upon closing, both will set off for stagings at other theatres with their Denver creative teams intact.

Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap is a Denver Center commission, meaning she was hired to write a play for the Theatre Company’s right of first refusal. She used her Asian-American father’s real-life goodwill basketball tour to China in the 1980s as the basis for exploring, among many other things, the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Her play was read at the 2017 Summit, premiered in January at the Denver Center and will re-open at the Seattle Repertory Theatre later in March.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

“This play would not exist without the Denver Center,” Yee said. “Not just because it's a commission, but also because of the way that the Colorado New Play Summit launches you into national consciousness. This is an event that the whole new-play development world looks at every year for leadership and inspiration.”

The Couches. Adams VisComJosé Cruz González’s American Mariachi was given a second full year to germinate before being fully staged. It was introduced at the 2016 Summit, then developed for two years before opening in January. The story of a pioneering young woman who forms an all-female mariachi band in a desperate attempt to use music to communicate with a mother falling into dementia struck a universal chord with Theatre Company audiences. It now moves to the Old Globe Theatre, which is Director James Vásquez’s artistic home, for a run in San Diego.  

(Pictured: Tasha Lawrence and Cesar J. Rosado in 'The Couches.' Photo by Adams Viscom.)

“The Denver Center has been so unbelievably supportive since the moment we got here,” Vásquez said. “It's been a dream. And I feel like the luckiest guy in the world that now I get to take the show home and share it with my family and friends in San Diego.”  

Vásquez is particularly grateful the Summit coincided with the Denver run of American Mariachi, where it was seen by dozens of artistic leaders from around the country.

“It's overwhelming and exciting to think of how many industry professionals saw our play here at the Summit,” said Vásquez. “We do this work so we can share it, and I want Jose's play to get out into the world. So if the other professionals want to take it, I say … ‘Go.’ ”

One of those professionals is former longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor David Ivers, now the Artistic Director at the Arizona Theatre Company. He already has added American Mariachi to his season lineup for performance in March 2019.

American Mariachi resonates in myriad ways with the kaleidoscope of our community,” Ivers said. “The writing, the gift of mariachi music, the celebration and empowerment of women, and the struggle of loss in the face of hope are powerful and meaningful messages to explore in the communities we have the honor of serving.”

2018 Colorado New Play Summit Slam. Photo by John MooreThe Summit again included two late-night "Playwrights Slams," where writers sampled their developing works in a fun and supportive atmosphere. One focused on local playwrights and was curated this year by the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

(Pictured at right: Playwrights Slam reader Mfoniso Udofia. Others included José Cruz González, Ricardo A. Bracho, Denver native Max Posner and Luis Quintero. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

The Summit also included a gathering of the Women's Voices Fund, the Denver Center’s $1.5 million endowment that supports new plays by women and female creative team members. Since 2006, the Denver Center has produced 33 plays by women, including 14 world premieres, commissioned 19 female playwrights and hired 28 female directors Supporters of the fund were treated to a private gathering with 2018 featured playwright Sigrid Gilmer (Mama Metallica.)   

The Summit ended on the same day the Denver run of American Mariachi closed. But unlike most other shows, closing day in Denver was just the start for the San Diego-bound cast and crew.

“We’re leaving Denver,” said actor Amanda Robles. “But it doesn't feel like the end.”

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.

Christa McAuliffe's Eyes Were Blue
From left: Cast members Tihun Hann, Celeste M. Cooper and Owen Zitek. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

Selected NewsCenter coverage of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit

Summit Spotlight: Barbara Seyda's collision with voices of the dead
Summit Spotlight: Kemp Powers on a matter that's black and white
Summit Spotlight: David Jacobi on affluenza, the rich man's plague
Summit Spotlight, Sigrid Gilmer: 'What makes you laugh will make you cry'
Summit prep begins at the intersection of Eugene O'Neill and Metallica
2018 Colorado New Play Summit selections announced
Authentic voices: DCPA Education names 2018 student playwriting finalists

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

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