This weekend, six Colorado playwrights will see their words brought to life in staged readings at Vintage Theatre's first-ever New Play Festival.
The intimate Aurora venue opened up submissions for the festival last December as a way to reach out to the Colorado writing community and also give playwrights a chance to have their plays read as a part of their editing process.
During the six-month submission period, Vintage received fifty full-length plays that had never seen the showbiz stages of New York or Los Angeles. Festival organizer Lorraine Scott drew on her theater connections to assemble a panel of judges from the community, and each play was read and evaluated by three of the arbiters online. The volume of entries pleasantly surprised her, Scott says, as she "didn't know there were that many playwrights."
Once the judges had culled the pool to a final six, Scott selected directors and cast the works with actors who'd work with Vintage in the past. According to her, the final picks range from contemporary dramas to comedy-dramas, all requiring eight or fewer characters — although, she notes, "there was not that much comedy...which I think is a reflection on our world today." One, for instance, documents an elderly man's tumultuous relationship with his middle-aged sons, while another chronicles two gay men working to navigate sickness and identity.
Playwright Scott Gibson was sitting in his cubicle at Handyman Matters when Scott's email appeared in his inbox in late May. As an experienced playwright, Gibson submits work to festivals around the country, so often by the time an acceptance or rejection rolls around, he's forgotten what script he sent in. But this time, he knew exactly what the email referred to, because he'd met Lorraine over a decade ago in Pocatello, Idaho, when one of his plays won an award at the Rocky Mountain Writers Festival. While he's grown good at handling emails that begin with "We're sorry to inform you...," Scott had written to congratulate him on The Politics of Inertia's selection for the New Play Festival. Gibson walked through the office, giddy, and shared the news with his colleagues. "It got me through the whole week," he says.
The Politics of Inertia "pivots on the simple act of a woman...who decides one day to set out a new salt and pepper shaker in her new breakfast nook," says its creator. The simple act is "a baby step; it's a gateway drug," and the other characters — son David, daughter Marisa and friend Joan — react strongly.
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Gibson's "dramedy," as he characterizes it, is in the trusted hands of director Kate Mangett, whom he met while doing a 24-hour-play project. Because the plays are being presented as staged readings, the casts have only met for three or four rehearsals; they'll read from scripts, have music stands and stools on hand and perform only the barest of blocking. The intention, Scott explains, is to provide writers with a test run, so they can finesse their work.
The talkbacks that follow each reading will offer playwrights a chance to understand audience reception. Gibson's had his fair share of talkbacks, to the point that he can recite a three-act structure for them: vague comments and praise, the first criticism ten minutes in that makes others comfortable with voicing critiques, and finally the people "who are talking just to talk," he says. Gibson is eager to see how the audience reacts, and says he generally incorporates a good 75 percent of comments in the edits he makes before sending the revised script out for other performance opportunities.
Scott says his company plans to continue the New Play Festival, but if you want to experience the inaugural showcase or weigh in on new works this year, head to Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street in Aurora, from August 4 to August 6. You can find a schedule and tickets, at $5 a pop or $20 for a whole-festival pass, online.