Storytelling is as old as time itself. Entertaining with elaborate, rich stories is a worldwide tradition. Storytellers spin yarns peppered with intriguing characters, personal dilemmas and a few humorous quips thrown in for good measure. Throughout history, countless unique voices have told their stories on the stage, on the screen and through print. Writing in response to personal, political and cultural forces, playwrights weave universal stories of comedy and tragedy. These stage stories push into the fabric of society, building upon classic and contemporary work.
In its 13th year, the Colorado New Play Summit will add four new stories to the mix. Theater professionals from all over the country will descend on the Denver Center for the Performing Arts to watch the drama unfold on stage. For the very first time, playwrights will see their words jumping off the page and onto the stage. Actors and actresses move through scripts, passionately reading lines as characters begin to develop, grow and evolve. Industry leaders keep a keen eye out for the next big thing. Fully produced world premieres will debut on Festival weekend, champagne will be popped and the Denver stage will come alive with artistry.
A premiere showcase and celebration of new plays, this two-week festival is a perfect Denver date night awash with endless possibilities. Launch Weekend is for the barebones first readings in a laid-back, casual setting. Bringing playwrights and audiences together for the first time, Launch Weekend gives everyone a first look at staged readings.
“The playwrights are writing plays on paper but they aren’t real to them until they can hear them in the air and see an audience reacting to them,” explained Doug Langworthy, resident dramaturge and director of new play development. “With the first week, they get five days of rehearsal then it goes up in front of an audience and it’s midway through the process. They get to see and gauge the audiences’ reaction. Very often at the end of that first week, they come up with some real insight into what they need to work on for the following week.”
The Summit’s platform allows playwrights to work out kinks, revise storylines and rehearse for another week before presenting a polished version of their play on Festival Weekend. With a focus on language and storytelling, the Colorado New Play Summit is a true artistic immersion that creates connections from the stage to theatergoers. It is a forgiving, embracing space in which playwrights are coached, mentored and guided along as they work out their voice. These modern playwrights bring a novel perspective to seasoned and curious patrons alike. By fostering the writing process, the Summit launches many contemporary playwrights into the spotlight.
Their artistic journey culminates on Festival Weekend as an explosion of visionary players present their fully workshopped plays. The Colorado New Play Summit Festival Weekend is chock-full of opportunities to connect and experience the latest version of the plays for industry professionals, students, as well as serious and casual lovers of theater. After their staged readings in Denver, many Summit artists often make the leap to full production at other major national theaters.
As artistic overseer of the Summit, Langworthy has his finger on the pulse of new play development. “Most plays are connected to what’s going on in the culture right now whether it’s politically or socially. I would say almost every playwright is writing in a way that is really going to connect to where we are living right now.” Attending Festival weekend, theatergoers are bound to hear thought-provoking dialogue and stage stories that drive further conversations long after the curtain has fallen.
“Because we are so tied up in our devices, I think there is something really special about going into a theater and seeing some production of a play that you don’t know anything about. It really is going to try to talk about something that is important to you,” Langworthy explained. After attending daytime readings, patrons can come that evening to see two fully staged world premiere productions that emerged from the previous year’s summit. All in all, audiences will experience at least six new plays, either in full production or in a reading format. The 2018 Festival Weekend will feature evening showings of The Great Leap by Lauren Yee and American Mariachi from Jose Cruz Gonzalez.
Lauren Yee’s play explores the intricacies of culture and international diplomacy through the conduit of basketball. The Great Leap follows an American college basketball team that travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989. The drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. Cultures clash and tensions rise right up to the final buzzer. “My plays tend to be comedies, until they are not. This is a basketball play but it’s also a play about diplomacy and relating to different people in different countries,” Yee said. Most, if not all, plays presented at the New Play Summit reflect the world we live in. “I think this play is very relevant now because it explores the idea of the power of a body in space. What one person can do and how one person can make a difference.”
Jose Cruz Gonzalez, playwright of American Mariachi said he is delighted to workshop with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. “This is the best opportunity to hear your play with great artists, in a great location and a great environment. This is a place where audiences really come to experience something new.” Gonzalez’s play is a story of women in the 1970’s who come to discover mariachi and adopt it in a time when that’s not allowed. It is a humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect that includes gorgeous live mariachi music.
Amplifying diverse cultures, perspectives and voices is a highlight of the New Play Summit. “I was just reflecting on this. To see two Latino directors that are directing non-Latino plays. Wow! That’s huge,” Gonzalez explained. “And nothing is being said. It’s not a big deal.” The New Play Summit is a place where all are welcome and their stories are honored. “There are so many different voices you hear when you come to the Summit: African-American, Latino, LGBT. There are so many people writing for the theater,” Langworthy said.
The New Play Summit also features aspiring Colorado playwrights who have submitted their plays to the High School Playwriting Competition. Out of ten semi-finalists from all over the state, three plays are picked to go through the same workshop experience as the professionals. Three high school students are assigned a playwright mentor and go into rehearsals with a professional cast. Two different readings are presented on Festival weekend. In its fifth year, the program not only inspires the next generation of writers but also theater professionals who thoroughly enjoy seeing the passion and excitement of these teenagers.
“It celebrates playwriting in general but this program really celebrates authentic voice,” said Allison Watrous, director of education at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. “What story do you want to tell? The students are asking really universal questions about art, about the challenges they are facing and challenges that we are facing as a culture. There is just incredible work out of this program.” The students’ plays are published and sent out to their schools and families so their work lives on in print. In addition, one play is chosen to be part of the summer program and is paired with a team company of actors to put up a full production in the Conservatory Theatre. On the cusp of possible playwright greatness, this journey is a wonderful experience for a Colorado teen.
As one of the largest not-for-profit theater organizations in the nation, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts sees itself as essential to theater’s future. Just as music and film festivals across our state present original storytellers, the New Play Summit Festival is an incredible incubator. The DCPA has nurtured and cultivated numerous plays that continue to be produced in theaters across the country. The theater industry now looks to the Denver Center as a nationally renowned place where remarkable new work emerges as playwrights ascend to the top of the Summit.
Colorado New Play Summit
Launch Weekend: Feb. 17-18, 2018
Festival Weekend: Feb. 23-25, 2018
Denver Center for the Performing Arts
1400 Curtis St., Denver
Jamie McAfee is a frequent contributor to the New West family of magazines and other local publications. She learned a lot about theater lingo and dramaturges during her research on the New Play Summit. Jamie lives in Englewood with her husband and infant daughter.
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