“I’m excited that we’re having a robust second year. I’m excited that we’re attracting so much nationally recognized talent to our community.”
Terry Bacon, co-chairman of Durango PlayFest, can barely contain himself about a weeklong theatrical event that began last summer and is making a comeback Aug. 5-10. PlayFest consists of a series of rehearsals, panel discussions, actor workshops and readings of new plays. It begins with closed morning rehearsals where playwrights, directors and actors read through and discuss new plays. It ends with four public workshopped readings plus one standalone reading over the final weekend.
In a recent interview, Bacon was bursting to tell anyone and everyone about Durango’s second annual PlayFest. A fledgling in Durango’s summer cultural nest, PlayFest follows Animas Rooted Theatre, a new student-run company, and the much older Music in the Mountains festival. Organizers like Bacon believe a new-play initiative has something unique to offer – and staying power.
“I’m excited that PlayFest is adding another outstanding cultural event to Durango’s summer and is attracting more visitors while also entertaining and enlightening local audiences,” Bacon said. “Our goal is to attract the best playwrights in the country, provide an enriching experience for them as well as the actors and directors, and enhance our community’s position as an attractive summer festival for audiences here and elsewhere.
“The playwrights submit new plays to us. We (the PlayFest Board and Executive Director Felicia Meyer) read and sort them into a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ pile and keep narrowing down until we think we have selections that create a balance of themes and diversity.”
Meyer added: “We’re looking for quality writing: a play that would work as a reading; a play that is far enough along that it would make for an entertaining reading; then to create as much of a balance of theme, genre, etc., for the festival as possible.”
The 2019 roster will include:
“The Ways of Necessity,” by Stephen Nathan.“Two Hander,” by Lois Walden and Barry Kleinbort. “A Shift in Gravity,” by Kathleen McGhee-Anderson.“My Ántonia,” an adaptation of Willa Cather’s classic novel, by Meg Miroshnik.“My Ántonia has already had a weeklong workshop in New York City at The Juilliard Graduate School in May,” Meyer said. “Meg is working on the second draft for PlayFest.”
PlayFest board member Debbie Pfeifer said Miroshnik’s play has also attracted the attention of the Willa Cather Foundation.
“We reached out to Ashley Olson, the CEO of the foundation, to tell her about the adaptation,” Pfeifer said. “She decided to fly in to see it and participate in the free Friday panel.” (2:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at Animas Chocolate Factory, 920 Main Ave., co-sponsored by Maria’s Bookshop.)
A complete schedule of public and private, free and ticketed events is on the PlayFest website. There are five free events, but final readings are ticketed: $25 plus service fees per play or $100 for a festival pass, which includes the Festival Party, 5 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Rochester Hotel’s Secret Garden.
In addition, a new work, “Ceeley” by Lee Blessing, will receive a straight-up reading at 11 a.m. Aug. 10 at the Henry Strater Theatre. Donations will be accepted, and PlayFest co-hosts Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria, will read.
Blessing, 69, is an accomplished American playwright, author of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony and Olivier nominated play: “A Walk in the Woods.” Other works include: “Fortinbras,” “eleemosynary,” staged at Creede Repertory Theatre a few years ago, and “A Body of Water,” read last summer at PlayFest. “Two Rooms” will be staged by Fort Lewis College in February 2020 with Meyer directing.
The summer company numbers close to 70 people, Meyer said.
“Every time I count, I seem to get a new and higher number,” she said. “We’re about 62 right now plus five volunteer ushers.”
“Our cast includes 16 professional actors who will be coming to Durango, as well as eight community actors and four community stage direction readers,” Pfeifer said. “The community actors include several Fort Lewis College students and alumni.”
Bacon heralded local participation.
“We have FLC students and graduates involved in all aspects of the festival,” he said. “When Tom Stritikus (president of FLC) and I talked about an affiliation, we stressed that we wanted to help students learn every aspect of ‘playfesting,’ including administration, planning, stage management, marketing, ticketing, program management, etc.
“Our goal every year will be to bring a mix of Hollywood/New York/ regional theater professional actors and local/student actors. I love the thought that local actors and FLC students will have the experience of working with professional actors, directors and playwrights. What a great way for them to hone their craft.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.