This year, some space at the Durango Arts Center will be used in a new way theater.This will be the centers first designated theater season, and Theater Director Theresa Carson has been charged with finding a balance between education and performance.
The theater has always been the home of Durango Performing Arts Company and has hosted countless events in recent years, but the distinction is who is in charge. Instead of subletting the theater to the DPAC student actors or booking outside shows and concerts, Carson will oversee a full schedule of theater classes and produce six shows this year.
Its a lot, but I think its what this theater should be, Carson said.
Carsons season will kick off March 15 with a production of Lee Blessings play Independence, in which she also is a cast member. The show is a collaboration with Merely Players and is directed by Mona Wood-Patterson. Neil Simon will be featured in the summer season; his musical Theyre Playing Our Song will rotate with the three-act play Plaza Suite.
Later this year, the center will produce the musical Cabaret, a holiday staging of Its a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play and the centers own Third annual 10-Minute Play Festival.
In between stage productions, Carson and a small group of instructors will teach the next generation of thespians to ensure that future casting rolls are never wanting. The first classes will begin next week, when Durango native Alyse Neubert and Marcellina Chavira will introduce Durango to Devised Theatre. The after-school program encourages students to serve as playwrights and actors, and to create their own material from their own experiences. Neubert learned the method from Kathryn Moeller at Fort Lewis College, and Chavira, a Texan by birth, comes to Durango via New York University.
I call it a performance rather than a play, Neubert said. Were going to pick and talk about an issue, hopefully local or social issues, something theyre dealing with. The first couple of classes well determine what we want to discuss, then figure out how to present it. Its almost like documentary theater. Theres always going to be musical theater, and Shakespeare isnt going anywhere, but its just a different way to think about theater. Its important for kids to be exposed to that now, and where they can take it later in their lives is so cool to me.
Neuberts take is not just an opinion. Like music, many educators are recognizing the academic benefits of arts education, including theater. Nancy Heleno was one of the founders of Animas High School and Mountain Middle School, and her 10-year-old son, Pearce Fazekas, acted in the arts centers holiday production of A Christmas Carol this winter.
As a researcher and writer on the neurology of intelligence and emotions, I know there are, among others, three important components to childhood development: imagination, advanced language skills and positive self-image, Heleno said. We are lucky to have the Durango Arts Center serving the children of La Plata County with their upcoming dramatic opportunities. My son used and improved his problem-solving skills and literacy competency and was directed in a structured yet supportive environment.
For Pearce, its a lot simpler.
I love to act, learn about characters and different places in time, and to make an audience happy, he said.