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The new play is the thing in Four Corners

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Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 4:54 PM

Recently, Joyce Fontana’s play, “Paindemonium,” got a staged reading as a finalist in the Aloha Theatre’s Original Play Festival XXV. Yes, that means one Hawaiian new play festival has been running a quarter of a century. Out of a field of 458 scripts, Fontana’s one-act, rap-style play about America’s opioid epidemic won one of six coveted slots.

A Durango resident and retired nurse practitioner, Fontana brings to playwriting decades of medical knowledge. Her scripts run the gamut of the human experience – comedies and tragedies, contemporary issues and the challenges of everyday life.

Her plays have been finalists in festivals around the country: New York City, Illinois, Minnesota, Alabama and Kansas. Her Alaska win inspired Fontana to travel there with husband Lou Fontana.

“But watching ‘Paindemonium’ come to life on stage this summer with creative interpretation and powerful acting was immensely fulfilling,” Fontana said.

New play festivals in the Four Corners are on the rise. In early August, Durango PlayFest launched a week of workshops and a weekend run of play readings by three professional out-of-town playwrights. Lee Blessings’ “A Body of Water” may have been written in 2003, but he said at a playwright’s panel that he still wasn’t satisfied with the ending. Stephen Nathan’s “The Dizziness of Freedom” and Emily Dendinger’s “#GodHatesYou” rounded out the professional offerings. The readings took place at Durango Arts Center and the Strater Hotel.

Festival Director Felicia Meyer said the first-time venture went better than expected in terms of audience numbers and collaboration with Fort Lewis College. A large number of FLC students worked on and off stage. Recent FLC graduate Jake Yost got to hear a reading of his senior seminar play: “Standby to Standby.”

Durango PlayFest may well have a second run next summer. If so, organizers might reconsider the $25 per-reading tickets. That’s well above new play pricing around the country. The American Playwright Project charges $10 per reading. Our other first-time local festival, The Silverton Theatre Mine, which had the misfortune of being scheduled during the 416 Fire, charged $35 for a season pass.

Last weekend, Creede Repertory Theatre held its seventh new play festival, titled the Headwaters New Play Program. Months earlier, CRT put out a call for full-length scripts. Company members and alumni then read, winnowed and selected two scripts for the summer readings.

The 2018 two-day festival included a reading of “Hazardous Materials” by Beth Kander and “Sanctuary North” by R.W. Schneider. CRT also included a playwrights/directors talkback and the launch of the company’s Youth Outreach production “Seeds of Change.” The CRT festival pass cost $35 and included the Youth Outreach premiere plus a Mexican-style lunch.

CRT artistic associate and coordinator of the Headwaters Program Kate Berry said 250 scripts had been submitted in 2018.

“One third of the shows CRT has produced over the last 15 years have been world premieres,” she said. The goal has always been to shepherd a new play toward a formal production. In the past seven years, for example, five plays and one musical have come through the CRT new-play tunnel to the main stage.

Now in its eighth year, DAC’s 10-Minute Play Festival attracted 120 scripts. A large group of community readers winnows that down to five finalists for a free, springtime reading. In mid-October, the finalists morph into fully staged productions with auditioned actors, directors, costumes and minimal settings. Ticket prices are $10/$14 for DAC members and nonmembers. For more information, visit www.durangoarts.org.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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