Durango may not be the biggest town in the world – We don’t have skyscrapers, a Target or even an escalator. But what we seemingly lack, we make up for in a vibrant arts and entertainment scene.
Take November, for example.
This month, Durango High School Troupe 1096, Fort Lewis College Theatre Department and Merely Players will all stage major productions – a scheduling fluke that works, especially when all three companies are united in getting the word out about the strength of our local theaters. In fact, a proclamation is set to be read by City Council declaring November Theater Month, said Merely Players Director Mona Wood-Patterson.
“All three dates just lined up. With that in mind and the true belief that together we’re stronger – we’re in a small community and we share a lot of actors and we’re in each other’s stuff – we work together,” she said. “We want to build each other up and not tear each other down or compete with each other. For Durango, it’s actually pretty darn exciting.”
Here’s what the companies are offering in November:
Durango High School Troupe 1096: “The Little Mermaid”The student thespians of DHS Troupe 1096 will stage the splashy Disney classic “The Little Mermaid,” the story of 16-year-old mermaid Ariel, who is fascinated by life on land. On one of her visits to the surface, which are forbidden by her father, King Triton, she falls in love with a human prince. Determined to be with her new love, Ariel makes a dangerous deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human for three days. But when plans go awry for the star-crossed lovers, the king must make the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter.
“Everyone was on board for ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and it’s been a blast putting it together,” said Director Ben Mattson. “Every year, it’s amazing to see the previous year’s juniors, sophomores and freshmen step up their game and take on bigger roles, hungrier ambition and stronger leadership.”
Mattson said this ambition is evident in the fact that much of the production has been designed, built and executed by the students. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. It’s a beautiful show, and I can’t wait for their work to be seen by the Durango community,” he said.
“The Little Mermaid” is a show for the whole family, and tickets for Troupe 1096 shows go fast, so it’s best to get them sooner than later. But, Mattson said, if tickets sell out online, the chances of getting in to a show if you show up is pretty high. In fact, he said, they’ve never needed to turn anyone in the waiting line away.
And for Mattson, theater is vital to the community.
“Theater doesn’t ‘just happen.’ What an audience sees is the very tip of a giant iceberg of time, energy, money, failed choices, successful risks – every show has literal blood, sweat and tears ingrained into every aspect of the production,” he said. “Shows are put together with love and trust, everyone depending on everyone to pull through and bring creativity and magic to the table. What I love about Durango is that we rarely bring in people outside of our community to perform or design. These huge, amazing productions are put together by our children, our friends, our co-workers and our neighbors. People should see these shows, not out of obligation but because they are gifts of crafted storytelling by, for and engaging our community. They aren’t simply to be enjoyed; they are to be a shared experience for the community.”
Fort Lewis College Theatre Department: “Gypsy”The Fort Lewis College Theatre Department is taking its November production of “Gypsy” and turning it into a community affair, said Director Theresa Carson.
Along with FLC theater students, the show will include 14 children ages 8 to 14 from the community, FLC staff and alumni.
“Gypsy” is based on the memoirs of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s the story of a power-hungry stage-mother as she pushes her children into the show business world of vaudeville.
Carson said the production is “Gypsy: Past, present, future” because it features actors from all stages: The alumni represent the past, students are the present and the child actors are the future.
“We really wanted to connect with the community and get the community involved, not just as audience members but as actors,” she said.”We are a college, of course, our priority is our students, but there are really great lessons to be learned. From our students working with alumni, people who graduated from our department and gone on to do a lot of things in acting or other areas. And what’s been really beautiful is watching our college students be on stage with children.”
Merely Players: “Every Brilliant Thing”For its November production, Merely Players will be tackling issues of suicide and depression in the show, “Every Brilliant Thing.” It’s a one-woman show starring Sarah Syverson.
“From the very first moment that I read this play, I immediately went, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to do this show,’ Wood-Patterson said. “First of all, it’s just a brilliant script. It’s fantastic writing, it’s written for one person – author Duncan McMillan gives permission for that person to be played by either a man or a woman. Immediately, I could see it in my head. But the more important issue is that it addresses depression and suicide, believe it or not, in a really interactive, uplifting, funny, positive play.
“Every Brilliant Thing” is the story of a little girl whose mother attempts suicide. When her attempt fails, the girl lists all the things that are brilliant in the world, so her mother can see that life is worth living. As the years go by, her mother’s attempts continue, and the girl – now a woman – has issues of her own.
“I think, you know, when people might hear, ‘Oh, this is a play that addresses suicide,’ they think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be dark.’ It’s not,” Wood-Patterson said. “That is the brilliance of this piece. Of course, it’s poignant, it doesn’t take it lightly or make fun of it, it’s just very real.
“It’s a beautiful play – heart-wrenching and funny,” Wood-Patterson said.