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AMERICAN THEATRE | In Colorado, Seeing New Plays Before They’re Born

Actor and musician Sarah Siplak, dramaturg Claire Drobot, director Lisa Peterson, and composer/creator Jill Sobule work on City Theatre’s “#F*ck7thGrade” within the Eagle’s Nest at Colorado New Play Pageant. (Photograph by PixAlchemy Free Range Studios)

In a classroom-turned-flophouse rehearsal area, a wolf rests near a music stand, his posture suggesting a lean vigilance. It was Day Two of rehearsals for Refuge, being workshopped on the Colorado New Play Pageant in Steamboat Springs. The wolf had a cloth-covered head, a chicken-wire torso, slender PVC cylinder legs. A similarly skeletal dog laid in repose on the opposite aspect of the room, hooked up to crossbar slats by strings.

Who knows what the puppets populating Refuge will seem like when Andrew Rosendorf’s play lands onstage in a full manufacturing? And even when Curious Theatre Firm, which commissioned the work, places Refuge by means of two more workshop iterations? However in their debut in room SB210 of Colorado Mountain School, they have been endearing and evocative. Right here have been the bones of two magic-realist characters in a drama a few Texas rancher, a Latina border patrol agent, and a Honduran migrant.

The Colorado New Play Pageant, which ran June Three-8, is intent on helping theatres and their chosen playwrights add flesh to the bones of latest work. If that sounds a bit stark, it was fitting for this yr’s 5 choices, which have been unafraid to rattle, to trace at violence, to take on loss, to imagine redemption or depart heartache unhealed.

The week-long gathering, as soon as generally known as the Perry-Mansfield New Works Pageant, was renamed by government producers Jim and Lori Steinberg and inventive director Andrew Leynse when the fest separated in 2018 from the distinguished performing arts camp situated in Colorado’s Yampa Valley. Although this was technically the pageant’s 22nd installment, it was in some ways solely its second. This was the first yr the new board met, and the CNPF’s 501(c) (3) standing is pending.

“We joked last year that we were a 21-year-old startup,” Jim Steinberg stated one afternoon between the weekend’s public readings. A reasonably profitable one, it seems: the pageant’s price range on the end of its Perry-Mansfield years was $85,000, and this yr it was $200,000. “Hopefully we’ll continue to grow and do more things,” stated Steinberg, a trustee of the culture-beneficent Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Belief.

This yr additionally brought into clearer focus the pageant’s area of interest mission: to invite theatre corporations to deliver a playwright to the mountain town of Steamboat Springs for an intensive week of craft, regardless where the work is in its improvement course of. “Our model is, we reach out to institutions that we think are a good fit for the fest and ask them if there are any plays they’re developing for which this would be a significant step in the development of that project,” stated Leynse, taking a break from tech at the historic Chief Theater in town’s foremost road. “For many institutions, you don’t always have the resources to do a lot of workshops. This really provides an important opportunity to attend the festival, be in this beautiful setting, but also be able to work with the people you want to work with.”

In addition to Curious and Rosendorf, this yr’s theatres and playwrights have been Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; South Coast Repertory and Caroline V. McGraw; the Public Theater and creators-composers Martha Redbone and Aaron Whitby, with guide writer Naomi lizuka; and City Theatre Company and composer-creator Jill Sobule, and writer Liza Birkenmeier.

Although plays should not have to be complete to win a spot right here, the pageant’s spectacular monitor document indicates a certain eye for promising work. Final yr Curious workshopped Bruce Graham’s school football expose Sanctions, which is ending its Denver run this Sunday. Different 2018 alums embrace Lucas Hnath’s The Skinny Place, which bowed earlier this spring at Actors Theatre of Louisville and is headed for New York’s Playwrights Horizons subsequent season, and Kate Hamill’s Little Ladies, presently at New York’s Main Levels (the place Leynse is inventive director).

Martha Redbone, Soni Moreno, Carla Duren, Cassondra James, Nathalie Standingcloud, and stage supervisor Rick Mireles work on the Public Theater’s “Black Mountain Woman” at the Colorado New Play Pageant. (Photograph by PixAlchemy Free Vary Studios)

If the Colorado New Play Pageant moniker sounds familiar, it might be because annually, the Denver Middle for the Performing Arts hosts the Colorado New Play Summit. That gathering brings playwrights to city each winter for a two-week workshop culimating in both a public and an business weekend. The Denver Middle typically provides two of the summit plays world premiere productions in its next season.

Steinberg, who had an extended relationship with the Denver Middle, resigned the board when the theatre company parted ways in 2016, when inventive producing director Kent Thompson was let go from DCPA. Thompson had created the new-play summit and was also a longtime participant within the Perry-Mansfield Pageant, so Steinberg acknowledges it’s truthful to wonder whether the pageant’s new identify is a shot across the bow at the regional behemoth. Not so, he stated. “Believe it or not, it had nothing to do with the Denver Center. We were trying to come up with a new name after Perry-Mansfield. I’m very simple-minded and wanted a name that said who we are.”

Leaving apart theories concerning the overlapping names, the 2 events prove extra complementary than aggressive. And the one-two punch of the liberated pageant and the summit ought to solely further elevate Colorado’s profile as a artistic hub for nonprofit theatres and compelling playwrights.

The week’s rehearsals are open to the general public. So festgoers may need witnessed McGraw and director Kate Sullivan teasing out the intent and prospects in a couple of scenes between Hazel (Clea Alsip) and Mitch (Cesar Rosado). One has Hazel being prickly with the husband she will’t keep in mind since an accident on their honeymoon. Another is a flashback to once they met cute. It’s targeted work, a young grasping for the connections. At one point, McGraw tilted her head again, taking a look at but unlikely seeing the ceiling,  just a little stumped. “I don’t know,” she stated of the scene. “But it has to do a lot of things.”

On Day Three, the halls have been alive with the sound of…properly, you understand. The all-female forged of Black Mountain Ladies was hitting notes that flowed from African American religious to Native American song-chant and shaking rattles. Actor Soni Moreno made use of a packet of peanut M&Ms. And Refuge composer/performer Satya Jnani Chavez and actor/translator Marialuisa Burgo have been understanding a strumming arrangement on guitars.

“It’s about the work being done in the room,” Leynse emphasized. So the mantra turned “follow that guitar riff.”  The clangorous notes bleeding into the linoleum-tiled hallway virtually definitely belonged to Jill Sobule’s rock-confessional musical F*** seventh Grade. However the place have been they coming from? Up a broad staircase, a three-piece band fronted by the singer/songwriter/star was dealing with a panoramic view and jamming in a big convention room. On the nearby mountains, ribbons of snow have been thinning within the June sun.

The author of the 1990s pop hits “I Kissed a Girl” and “Supermodel” was rocking her guitar, belting lyrics (“Gonna get me some … gonna get me some…gonna … ”) and intermittently monologuing. Director Lisa Peterson sometimes interrupted the singer, her bassist and drummer with strategies. It was rock, chat, repeat. Rock, chat, repeat.

Pittsburgh’s City Theatre Firm has slotted the musical memoir, about Sobule’s tender time as an understandably clueless queer woman as well as the tribulations of popping out within the music biz, for Might 2020. The musical’s setup is that of an intimate rock show, casting the actual audience as a fictional one, or vice versa. Breaking character in the course of the subsequent night time’s staged reading, Sobule confided to the pageant audience. “There’s so much to think about with this acting shit.”

A welcome dinner for the Colorado New Play Pageant at the house of the Steinbergs. (Photograph by PixAlchemy Free Range Studios)

On the playwright’s salon, held at a warm, art-laden ranch outdoors of city early in the workshop, the evening’s discussion among the many playwrights offered a far-ranging introduction to the numerous works and their equally assorted writing processes. Redbone talked concerning the query that had nagged her mixed-race family for many years: Why had a Native American ancestor, rounded up and sent from Appalachian Kentucky to Oklahoma in the mass relocation generally known as the Trail of Tears, returned to coal nation? “Why did he come back?” requested the composer with the long braids and commanding voice, as mild as it is direct. Rosendorf described the U.S. border technique of “death by deterrence” (utilizing unforgiving terrain to thwart migrants) that had compelled him to set Refuge on a ranch 70 miles north of the Texas-Mexico border.

Jacobs-Jenkins was sitting next to moderator Chip Walton, in front of massive windows offerings views of mountains and acres of greening hay. Requested concerning the totally different types his performs have taken, he advised Walton (whose Curious Theatre Firm has singlehandedly launched Denver audiences to the MacArthur Fellow’s work, mounting regional premieres of Applicable and Gloria), “I allow the play to tell me the form it wants to take.”

Actor Sydney Charles, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and stage supervisor Emry Rockenfield work on a brand new Steppenwolf play on the Colorado New Play Pageant. (Photograph by PixAlchemy Free Range Studios)

His new play, although, was being a bit tight-lipped about what it needs to be. The method, he stated, was proving “slower than I thought it would be.” He had 30 or so pages when he sat down for Tuesday’s salon; the studying on Friday lasted round 45 minutes.

The studying for Black Mountain Ladies wasn’t much longer, as author Naomi lizuka was simply starting to dig in. However endurance with the process is strictly what the pageant each preaches and practices. “Lucas Hnath only had 28 pages when he left the festival last year,” famous Leynse, underscoring the fest’s dedication to the development process at whatever stage. “If we don’t get to a full-length play by the end of the week, it’s not seen as a loss.”