Colorado New Play Summit—Brash and Irreverent Sets the Tone

[This article ran in Variety the week of January 29th.]

When the Denver Center Theatre Company's endowment took a hit following the stock market plunge a few years back, one high-profile victim was their new play development program. Now, seven months into the energetic and ambitious leadership of new Artistic Director Kent Thompson, the company seeks to reestablish its mission in commissioning and developing new work with the upcoming first annual Colorado New Play Summit (February 10-11).

Photo of Bruce K. Sevey, Associate Artistic Director and Director of New Play Development, Denver Center Theatre Company
Bruce K. Sevey,
Associate Artistic Director
and Director of New Play
Development, Denver Center
Theatre Company
Co-helming the event will be Bruce K. Sevy, Thompson's first official appointment last summer. Sevy, who was the DCTC's Director of New Play Development when the program was discontinued, returns in that and the added capacity of Associate Artistic Director. The message couldn't be clearer.

"Developing and producing new plays is a central part of Kent's vision for the DCTC," Sevy said recently. "We felt it was important to include the festival in his first year as Artistic Director of the theatre, knowing that it will develop and grow in the coming years."

Modeled on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's Southern Writers' Project (designed by Thompson) and South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival, the 2006 Summit will include readings of three new plays, a panel of women playwrights and critics, a playwrights slam, and a world premiere.

"We think the panel will be a great way to increase awareness (the audience's and our own!)," Sevy continued, "of the current state of women playwrights in the American theatre and look into the future as well. We are committed to discovering, developing and producing women playwrights—not exclusively of course, but more than has been done in the past. The Summit will be a vehicle for us to accomplish that and the Women's Voices Fund is a key funding source for it."

Photo of Wayne Lemon
Wayne Lemon, playwright
Jesus Hates Me
At least a season out from showcasing the fruits of the company's new and nearly completely-subscribed Women's Voices Fund, Thompson and Sevy chose Wayne Lemon's Jesus Hates Me—which had its Thompson-sponsored first staged reading at the Southern Writers' Project—as their first DCTC world premiere and the centerpiece for the Summit.

Irreverent and seasoned with strong language, Jesus Hates Me sets a brash tone for a company that previously had gone out of its way to champion circumspect outsiders—The Laramie Project (co-produced with the Tectonic Theatre Project), Waiting to be Invited, and Black Elk Speaks—and classics—Tantalus (co-produced with The Royal Shakespeare Company).

"I try to subvert stereotyping at every turn," said playwright Lemon during a break in previews. "Yes, they do live an Airstream trailer, but no, they're not the pejorative white trash. They're intelligent, thoughtful people. …It's a very adult play. It's got a lot of adult content. It's pretty edgy. There are a couple of lines that could send the squeamish running up the aisle."

Though skewed toward Gen-Xers in both theme—a twenty-something ex-high school football star trying to break away from home—and language, Lemon says that older audiences have nevertheless been enthusiastic, even if they feel uneasy with some of what they hear. "We had an audience last night, I swear the medium age was 79, and they had to strain to hear, they didn't laugh, and not one person left. Afterwards, we were approached by numerous senior citizens saying how great they thought it was. So, it's interesting. You can't tell."

Given this year's Summit's three readings, DCTC's future new work promises to be both socially and imaginatively challenging. The selections include: Jason Grote's 1001, a Scheherazade meets post 9-11 Baghdad; Michele Lowe's Good on Paper, that looks below the façade of the model American family in the era of the corporate state; and Richard Dresser's Augusta, which explore the glass-ceiling in the 21st century American workplace.

Bob Bows


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