John Moore is no stranger to the theater. For more than a decade, the longtime journalist and critic for the Denver Post covered Colorado's theater scene with an integrity and intensity that earned him a spot as one of the country's twelve most influential critics in American Theatre Magazine in 2011 — the year he took a Post buyout and left the paper. Still, he's never stopped working within the local creative realm, and now, for the first time, Moore is switching it up, moving from play critic to playwright.
This August, Moore's first official work as a playwright, Waiting for Obama, will be staged at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. The play looks at how a Colorado Springs family deals with loss while examining the larger issue of gun violence in America — a timely story with Colorado as the consummate backdrop.
Friend and fellow Denverite Brian Freeland, founder of experimental theater group the LIDA Project, has been going back and forth between the Denver and New York City theater scenes for the past few years; he knew Moore was sitting on the unfinished script and encouraged him to finish it and send it to the Fringe festival.
When the script was accepted, Moore assumed he'd just hand off the play to Freeland, who would cast and stage it in New York, with New York actors. But Freeland had a different plan.
"He said, 'John, I think there's an opportunity here to really turn this into a Colorado production," says Moore. "Waiting for Obama is set in Colorado, you're from Colorado — just imagine this opportunity to present a Colorado production and show off what we have to offer.' That was kind of irresistible to me, even though that's a much more difficult road."
Moore ultimately chose that road, and he and Freeland went to work. The ensemble cast will feature local stars Brett Aune, Amelia Corrada, Laurence Curry, Chris Kendall, Jessica Robblee, Leslie O'Carroll and Luke Sorge, all of whom will head to New York for the 2016 edition of Fringe. But there's a catch: A longtime advocate of fair pay for creative work, Moore says it is imperative that the actors get paid for their time. And this is where he needs the public's help.
Moore launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000, which should cover all costs associated with the production, including compensating the actors, paying for flights and lodging, and compensating Denver's Buntport Theater for rehearsal time. Moore and Freeland will take care of their own expenses.
"There's a certain amount of attraction to just having the opportunity to go to New York and perform in five different theaters and be seen by New York audiences, which is great," says Moore. "But I don't want to trade off of that; I can't be the guy who wrote for all of those years in the Post that artists must be paid and then I get this personal opportunity to be featured in New York. I can't take advantage of the actors' kindness. I have to set an example for the rest of the community, and that example is to respect the artists and pay them for their time."
As for being on the other side of theater criticism for the first time, Moore says he looks forward to the feedback. After putting out his own opinions for more than a decade, the writer knows that the best critics take their task seriously and try to offer commentary that could make a work better.
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"This is a brand-new play, and I have absolutely no idea if people are going to love it or hate it, and I can't wait to find out," says Moore. "I don't think that you necessarily have to be a playwright to be able to write with authority about somebody else's play, but I will say that it does build empathy to try — to see what it's like to risk something."
Denverites will have a chance to see Waiting for Obama in its rehearsal phase at shows starting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28, through Monday, August 1, and again August 4 through August 7 at Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street. The rehearsals are free; donations for the production will be accepted at the door but are not required. The official staging of the production will take place at the New York International Fringe Festival beginning August 12.
The Waiting for Obama IndieGoGo campaign is on now and runs through July.