Connection and community through the Colorado New Play Festival
Festival offers New York-style theater experience in Steamboat Springs
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
For 24 years the Colorado New Play Festival has been bringing people together through the raw power of words.
This year the festival celebrates a return to a full lineup with six new plays that explore stories about the human experience, community, connection, regrets and resolutions.
“At the heart of the festival is connection,” said Jim Steinberg, producing director of the CNPF. “Theater connects our community through story, shared experience and emotions — connecting people to story, connecting our community to theater professionals at lunch and dinner, and connecting people to experiences outside their own.”
On June 12, six of the country’s most exciting and innovative playwrights will arrive in Steamboat Springs to spend a week taking their plays from page to stage. The week culminates with the plays being read by professional actors before an audience at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp on June 17 and 18.
Plays for the festival were chosen through CNPF’s unique model of curation, partnering with theater companies instead of playwrights. Over 70% of the plays that have been part of the Colorado New Play Festival go on to production throughout the United States.
Past playwrights have included Pulitzer Prize and McArthur Genius grant award winners. Actors have included Emmy and Tony nominated talent.
“The festival is one of the few opportunities to have a New York-style theater experience in Steamboat Springs,” said Lori Steinberg, who is the festival’s executive producer.
The Youth Playwright Slam kicks off the festival June 16 at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. The Slam is a collaboration with the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Colorado and aspiring young writers in Steamboat.
Each participant creates an original written work that will be read on stage by professional actors. Stories receive feedback by theater industry professionals in a safe and nurturing environment. The winner will receive a full pass to this year’s festival. All additional writers will receive free tickets to a reading of their choice.
For those not familiar with readings, they are a barebones version of a play without sets, costumes or design elements, just words and emotion. The audience gets to use their imaginations to bring the world behind the words to life.
The setting at Main Studio at Perry-Mansfield creates intimacy for the audience and actors while bringing the festival back to its roots, where it began 24 years ago as the New Works Festival.
2022 readings at the Colorado New Play Festival include:
• “A Million Tiny Pieces” by Spenser Davis (South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California)
Assigned to an important cover story at the last possible second, two journalists travel halfway around the globe to uncover the true story behind one of the most recognizable pieces of pop culture in history. Their question: how did a video game created by one man in the heart of the Soviet Union lead to a high-stakes legal battle that split the Iron Curtain? This is the story of Tetris.
• “Parental Advisory” by Idris Goodwin (Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee)
During their first live show since the pandemic, a rapper and a DJ join up to explore the history of obscenity in hip hop in an attempt to answer the question: How young is too young to introduce your kid to the Wu Tang Clan?
• “The Gett” by Liba Vaynberg (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, New York)
“The Gett: A Young Wife’s Tale” explores the American Jewish experience as told through the dissolution of a marriage. It is a deeply emotional and uplifting story about reclaiming the feminine in Judaism and embracing regeneration post-crisis while taking a unique look at a rarely-discussed topic.
• “Under a Baseball Sky” by José Cruz González (The Old Globe, San Diego)
From the writer of American Mariachi comes a story about baseball’s deep roots in the Mexican American community. When troublemaker Teo is assigned to clean up a vacant lot belonging to the elderly Elí O’Reilly, these two unlikely friends form a bond forged in history and America’s pastime. Inspired by the playwright’s research into the history of San Diego’s Logan Heights neighborhood, “Under a Baseball Sky” celebrates communities and individuals coming together to find hope, healing and love. Real time English to Spanish translation will be available through personal phones or tablets through text or voice.
• “Walden” by KJ Sanchez (Alliance Theatre, Atlanta)
Celebrating one of earth’s greatest resources: the passion, drive and commitment of teenagers and young adults today, this play interrogates our role in the catastrophe of climate change. In so doing, it examines the tension between isolation and forgiveness and abstract principle and concrete responsibility to our fellow human beings.
• “El Jefe” by Bill Martin
El Jefe is a special benefit performance for the Colorado New Play Festival. Be the first to experience this taut drama of one man’s attempt to revisit and resolve his past. The play is free with a suggested donation of $10 at the door.
People can purchase tickets for individual plays or a festival pass for the June 17 and 18 readings. A festival pass gives access to all five plays, the benefit performance, dinner with theater professionals Friday night and lunch with theater professionals Saturday and an invitation to the Wrap Party Saturday night after the festival. Rehearsals take place June 13-16 at Colorado Mountain College and are free and open to the public. A schedule will be posted on CNPFSteamboat.org.
The Colorado New Play Festival is also looking for volunteers to help during festival week to set up and break down meals and serve food in exchange for tickets to readings. Email Executive Director Dagny McKinley at firstname.lastname@example.org for more.
Inspiration behind the plays
Bill Martin on “El Jefe” — All of my four publicly presented plays so far, including “El Jefe,” are autobiographical. At some point during the writing process when I discover my themes, I kick my alter ego out of the play and bring in someone, a character, whose personal struggles reflect the themes the play is illuminating. In the case of “El Jefe,” the experience comes from when I lived in Colombia in the 1990s developing electrical power projects. In this case, I was trying to capture methane flared from oil wells in the Llanos and thereby reduce pollution and create cheap electricity for the region (the character is at first just drilling for oil). I was working at the epicenter of a conflict among land barons, narco guerrillas, the Colombian government, and a rigorous vigilante movement. The project died. People died. I lived to tell the story.
José Cruz González on “Under a Baseball Sky” — I was inspired to write “Under a Baseball Sky” when I interviewed a Latinx elder who was writing about her community and baseball. I didn’t know that baseball played a very important role in community building and organizing.
Liba Vaynberg on “The Gett” — Judaism. The patriarchy. My mother’s endless voicemails. Depressing electric menorahs. Unsatisfying sex. The fact that I still wonder if my soul actually hovers above me while I sleep.
KJ Sanchez on “Walden” — Thoreau’s Walden. But really, the current times, the crisis with our climate, our society, our country. I found myself leaning toward misanthropy and I found myself incredibly compelled by young people today and the (messed) up world they are inheriting.
Spenser Davis on “A Million Tiny Pieces” — My work tends to have a sociopolitical bent to it, asking difficult but necessary questions that the typical theater-goer might not typically find themselves having to confront. But when I received a commission from South Coast Repertory a few months into the pandemic — the same week I lost my day job, actually — I realized that what I really wanted to contribute and spend my time on was a big, vibrant ensemble comedy. During my first phone call with SCR, I shared a few different ideas with them … and nothing was really popping. Then I remembered that they’d really enjoyed my first play, titled “MERGE,” about the rise and fall of the video game company Atari. So I said, “You know, I fell down a rabbit hole recently doing research on the true story behind the creation of Tetris. I know that’s an odd topic for a play, and I don’t want to become the ‘video game playwright’ but I really think there’s something there. What if I tackled *that* play?” They got excited, I got excited, and we were off to the races. After the fantastic response that it received at the Pacific Playwrights Festival, I’m jazzed to get back to work on it at CNPF.
• Idris Goodwin on “Parental Advisory” — I became a parent in 2012. Hip hop played such a critical role in my development in so many ways. Naturally I want to pass this down in some way But how? and when? and if I am being honest, should I?
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