Denver playwrights to take stage at New Play Summit

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Photo: Rough Draught Playwrights
Leslie C. Lewis (left), Jeffrey Neuman and Nina Alice Miller of Denver's Rough Draught Playwrights.

In 2012, a trio of dramatists stood in line waiting to enter the Colorado New Play Summit -- an annual event hosted by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

“We were being grumpy about the fact that there were no Colorado writers in the Playwrights’ Slam for the commissioned writers,” says Leslie C. Lewis. “And we asked, ‘Why can’t we do that ourselves?’”

Lewis, Nina Alice Miller, and Jeffrey Neuman established the Rough Draught Playwrights group and held its first event focused on Colorado new play development a few months later.

Now in its 10th year, the New Play Summit expands to two weekends, making room for a public weekend and other events with a Colorado focus. That includes the inaugural Local Playwrights’ Slam, curated with the help of Rough Draught Playwrights.

"Denver has an appetite for new works and we are excited to have this new capacity," DCPA Theatre Company artistic associate Emily Tarquin says.

"Rough Draught is embedded in the community and it was a perfect collaboration to bring them on and have them choose among their peers to highlight Denver-based playwrights."

The Local Playwrights’ Slam takes place at the Jones Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14. Admission is free with the purchase of any Summit reading ticket.

“It’s about putting the writer in the spotlight,” Lewis, one of the organizers, says. “We wanted writers from very different styles: comedy, drama, absurd, and we wanted new writers.”

While the Summit primarily features staged readings of brand new plays with actors present, the festival’s playwright slams mimic poetry slams. Dramatists read portions of their own work without props or costumes in front of an audience.

Other companies and organizations around the country host similar events, such as the Theatre Communications Group and the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

“It’s all on the writer to bring to the table any expression and however many characters they want to take on,” Lewis says.

In fact, some notable United States playwrights -- Tracy Letts, David Mamet, and Sam Shepard, for example -- also acted.

Some Slam participants do come from performance backgrounds, like Cajardo Lindsey, who won a 2014 Henry Award for Outstanding Lead Actor from the Colorado Theatre Guild.

Megan Fevurly of Denver also trained as an actor and has since written nearly 10 plays. She will read from an untitled work she started six months ago.

“Some of it will be physical, like turning my body different ways in order to indicate that a different character is speaking,” Fevurly says. “But some of it will be voice modulation too.”

The Slam will also include pieces by Erin Rollman and Hannah Duggan of the Buntport Theater Company, William “Bill” Missouri Downs, Josh Hartwell, and Ellen K. Graham.

“We’re hoping to open people’s eyes and expose them to what we’ve got in Colorado,” says Lewis -- who recently spoke with CPR’s Chloe Veltman about organizing the event.

“That’s what’s exciting about this is you could be on the very forefront of something new that’s going to be terrific.”

The Denver Center also revealed this week that a play from its 2013 Colorado New Play Summit is set to make its Off-Broadway debut after the full production premiered in Denver last year.

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” by Matthew Lopez -- who will host two workshops at the 2015 New Play Summit -- will run at the MCC Theater in New York City this summer.

The Rough Draught Playwrights group hosts a handful of events with staged readings throughout the year at the Walnut Room in Denver’s River North neighborhood.