Denver New Play Summit 2017

I have attended the New Play Summit in Denver often enough now to feel at home there.  I see a lot of familiar faces.   I know where I like to sit in each theatre.  I know I won’t be hungry and will have very little free time.  I know I will see five new play readings and three fully produced plays.  And, I know the theatre will be of such consistently high quality that we will all comment to each other on the great performances, direction and eclectic selection of good plays.

Here is why it is so much fun to go to the Denver New Play Summit:

1.   THE WORK 

At the end of the post I will list and tell you a bit about the specific plays I saw.  But, the readings are works in progress and are expressly not to be reviewed, and reviews are not what TheatrePlaybyPlay is about anyway.  You will be correct if you assume they were all excellent, perhaps in slightly varying shades of readiness for full production, but each one a fully engaging, thought-provoking piece I am very grateful to have seen.

Instead, let me try and help you envision, if I can, the delicious feeling of being surrounded by theatre artists who are delighted and stimulated by being surrounded by theatre artists, seeing and making great theatre.

Actors Robert Manning Jr., John DiAntonio and Jennifer Le Blanc in Eric Pfeffinger's "Human Error" (c) John Moore

Actors Robert Manning Jr., John DiAntonio and
Jennifer Le Blanc in Eric Pfeffinger’s “Human Error”
(c) John Moore


With a few exceptions for illustration, I will try to avoid over-doing the name dropping.  A large number of the people attending the industry weekend of the Summit were talented and, within theatre circles, well-known playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, actors and other artists and I couldn’t help but be a bit impressed by the talent.  Most of the rest of us were affiliated in some way with regional theatres from around the country, scouting potential new works for possible future production, or theatre aficionados or Denver Theatre patrons or subscribers.  So, with rare or no exception, I was surrounded for three days by people who know and love theatre.

Here’s a taste:  On the first night of the Summit, my companion and I got our dinner from the buffet and sat at a large empty round table, to be quickly joined by a director, a dramaturg and FIVE playwrights, all of whom were or had been commissioned by the Denver Theatre Company.  I had met a few of these individuals before (and one is a friend) but the chance to meet the rest, to participate in the conversation (and overhear some of the sidebars) was a real highlight for me.

Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Lauren Yee

Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Lauren Yee


Not just at that first dinner, but all around me, all the time (except during performances, of course!) were fascinating theatre discussions.   Some I instigated, some I actively participated in; some I  listened to and some I just overheard, but always people were talking my favorite subject.  Here are a few examples of things I learned, or said or heard during the Summit:

  • Robert Schenkkan (winner of the Tony award for best play All the Way and screenwriter of the movie  ”Hacksaw Ridge“) has an imminent rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network of his play called Building the Wall (guess what it’s about?).  It’s opening in Los Angeles at The Fountain Theatre on March 18, at The Curious Theatre in Denver on April 3 and at several other theatres around the country.
  • I was able to renew my acquaintance with playwright Kemp Powers and congratulate him on the fact that his play One Night in Miami is being made into a film.
  • I learned from director Giovanna Sardelli that the play Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph (which I saw in its first reading at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley New Works Festival last year) has been picked up for full production by the Alley Theatre in Houston.
  • A young emerging playwright sought and received great advice from a more seasoned, experienced playwright on how to solve a very specific writing conundrum.
  • Several fascinating discussions about the frustrations of getting second productions of great premiered plays. Once is not enough!

details, details:

Here’s a very brief description from the Summit’s website of the five readings we saw.  The links on the play titles will take you to short video clips and great interviews with each of the playwrights by Senior Arts Journalist John Moore for the Denver Center Performing Arts NewsCenter.

  • Donnetta Lavinia Grays’ Last Night and the Night Before opens with a Georgia woman on her sister’s doorstep in Brooklyn, with her 10-year-old daughter in tow. The mystery for both the characters and the audience to solve is what trauma took place in Georgia that brought them here.
  • Rogelio Martinez’s Blind Date centers on Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev’s first meeting at the Geneva Summit in 1985 to try to open up channels between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
  • In Eric Pfeffinger’s comedy Human Error, a couple goes to what they think is a routine appointment at their fertility clinic only to discover that their fertilized embryo has been mistakenly implanted into another couple. And it turns out they are polar opposites.
Playwright Eric Pfeffinger (c) John Moore

Playwright Eric Pfeffinger
(c) John Moore

  • Robert Schenkkan’s Hanussen is set in 1931 Berlin and introduces us to the brilliant mentalist Erik Jan Hanussen, who captivates German audiences with his ability to read minds and his uncanny predictions of the future. His reputation brings him to the attention of avid occultist Adolf Hitler, who does not realize he is a Jew.
Playwright Robert Schenkkan and daughter actress Sarah Schenkkan

Playwright Robert Schenkkan and daughter actress Sarah Schenkkan

  • Lauren Yee’s  Manford at the Line, or The Great Leap follows an American college basketball team as it travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game during the politically charged Cultural Revolution in 1989.
Actors Francis Jue and Brian Keane in  "Manford at the Line, or The Great Leap" (c) John Moore

Actors Francis Jue and Brian Keane in
“Manford at the Line, or The Great Leap”
(c) John Moore

In addition to the readings, I saw terrific full productions of Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson and Two Degrees by Tira Palmquist.

My mind keeps going back to what I saw and what I heard and what I want to see again.  Good Summit. Feeling happy and grateful.


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