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Arts center hones theater mission

On-stage plays and education will be focus

From left, Hattie Miller, Durango Arts Center Theater Director Theresa Carson and Maureen May rehearse a scene Wednesday from Lee Blessing’s play “Independence.” Opening night will be March 15. The play is being produced in collaboration with Merely Players and is directed by Mona Wood-Patterson. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

From left, Hattie Miller, Durango Arts Center Theater Director Theresa Carson and Maureen May rehearse a scene Wednesday from Lee Blessing’s play “Independence.” Opening night will be March 15. The play is being produced in collaboration with Merely Players and is directed by Mona Wood-Patterson.

This year, some space at the Durango Arts Center will be used in a new way – theater.This will be the center’s 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.

“It’s a lot, but I think it’s what this theater should be,” Carson said.

Carson’s season will kick off March 15 with a production of Lee Blessing’s 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 “They’re 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 “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” and the center’s 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. “We’re going to pick and talk about an issue, hopefully local or social issues, something they’re dealing with. The first couple of classes we’ll determine what we want to discuss, then figure out how to present it. It’s almost like documentary theater. There’s always going to be musical theater, and Shakespeare isn’t going anywhere, but it’s just a different way to think about theater. It’s important for kids to be exposed to that now, and where they can take it later in their lives is so cool to me.”

Neubert’s 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 center’s 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, it’s a lot simpler.

“I love to act, learn about characters and different places in time, and to make an audience happy,” he said.

ted@durangoherald.com