The relatively young Colorado New Play Summit, where Feldman saw a full production of her play and Lopez got a staged reading of his, is just one of the country’s significant new-play initiatives. The high-profile, much-admired Humana Festival of New American Plays will launch its 37th edition Feb. 27 at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Sundance Institute Theatre Program and the National New Play Network, among others, are all nurturing and drawing attention to new scripts. But Denver’s Summit has become an increasingly important gathering.
The Colorado Summit has its own distinct format. From Friday through Sunday each year in February, new-play enthusiasts see two fully produced plays and attend five staged readings. Audiences — some theater professionals from around the country, others Denver-area theater lovers — provide written feedback after each play’s two readings, answering questions aimed at clarifying moments and helping the playwrights as they continue working on their scripts.
From those readings, which get greater-than-average rehearsal time for their casts of regional theater veterans and Broadway-tested actors, Thompson and his colleagues choose two or three scripts to produce the following season.
That’s how Feldman’s unusual, physically intense Grace moved from a staged reading at the 2012 Summit to a world premiere play with a monthlong run this season. The experience, she says, has been glorious.
“This is like Disney World, [but] their mission is about new plays,” Feldman says. “Every step of the way, everyone from the artistic director to every other member of the staff asks, ‘What do you need?’ They seem to be excited to be in service of new plays.”
Lopez, whose Legend of Georgia McBride was a clear crowd favorite with an obvious future, agrees.
“This place is astounding,” Lopez says of the Denver Center Theatre Company, which has an annual budget of $12 million, nearly $2 million of that devoted to new plays. “You can make beautiful theater on a shoestring — I’ve done it before and will very likely do it again — but this company is devoting major resources to new work.”
Artistic director Thompson, whose goal is for the Summit plays to have a continuing life at other theaters, explains that the company looks for an eclectic group of plays for the Summit, seeking more scripts by women, Latino writers, black playwrights and “adventurous scripts by emerging and established writers.” New ways of telling a theatrical story are particularly appealing to him, and both Feldman’s Grace and Michael Mitnick’s Ed, Downloaded, did just that.
Mitnick’s Ed, the other fully produced play of this year’s Summit, combines live action and intricate, shifting filmed sequences in the story of a dying man, his older lover and the vibrant young woman who unexpectedly enriches his final days. The futuristic tale imagines the possibility of the departed “living” on through key downloaded memories. Though the play gets swamped by technology once Ed crosses over, its innovative approach is clear.
The Summit’s strong group of staged readings, all works in progress with clear potential, took audiences into richly diverse worlds.