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A playwright’s dream, one line at a time

Lindsey Kirchoff. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)
August PlayFest ready to launch

Play readings are back.

After disappearing along with live theater in the wake of COVID-19, public readings of new works have resurfaced across the country. Regionally, Durango’s PlayFest returns the first week of August, and Creede Repertory Theatre will present its ninth Headwaters New Play Festival later in the month.

Now in its third iteration minus the COVID-19 year, PlayFest opens Thursday with a lineup of four new works. The opening act has been titled “PlayFest in the Community.” It’s free, but tickets are required. “Golden Gate,” written by Lindsey Kirchoff, a newly minted Durangoan, and directed by Bud Franks, a longer-term Durangoan, the play is a first-time effort. A week of workshops plus a public reading with audience feedback are what aspiring playwrights dream of.

Other PlayFest readings carry a $25 ticket price and take place under the Smiley Festival Tent: “Sitting & Talking,” by Lia Romeo, 3 p.m. Aug. 7; “Ghost Story,” by Romeo, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7; and “The Family Line,” by Lee Blessing at 11 a.m. Aug. 8. In addition, a $100 ticket will buy you food, schmoozing and a presentation of “Ghost Story” at 6 p.m. Aug. 6, in the Smiley Tent.

Lee Blessing.(Courtesy)
The Playwrights

Lee Blessing is an American playwright of some stature, having once been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and twice winning the American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg award. His play, “A Walk in the Woods,” garnered him serious attention when it opened on Broadway and London in the late 1980s. Blessing’s latest play-in-progress centers on Finn (Sky Lakota Lynch) a teenage boy whose mother has died from COVID-19 and whose grandfather (Dan Lauria) drives him across country to live with his estranged father.

Lia Romeo is a prolific playwright and a fellow in the American Playwrights Program at Juilliard in New York City. Her plays have won truckloads of awards. She teaches playwriting at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Two of her works-in-progress will be examined during PlayFest: “Ghost Story” is a two-character play about Lydia (Nikkole Salter) and Davis (Brian Lee Franklin), a guy she meets at a bar and brings back to her apartment, which may or may not be haunted.

Romeo’s “Sitting & Talking” has had wide distribution on Zoom and is being adapted for a live audience. It’s a love story about Charles (Dan Lauria) and Enid (Wendie Malick), first-time online daters who stumble onto an awkward, humorous path toward companionship. Romeo said she welcomes a live audience presentation.

Lia Romeo. (Courtesy)

Lindsey Kirchoff, a 2012 Tufts University graduate in English and environmental studies, has written her first play this year, “in a whirlwind of inspiration,” Kirchoff said in a recent interview.

“I wrote it in a week. I had been on a trip to San Francisco during Pride Month. That gave me the idea,” she said. “I wrote for hours straight. I pounded it out.”

Since college, Kirchoff has immersed herself in several areas of business writing. She started as a marketing assistant at the Massachusetts Air and Space Museum, where she developed a campaign to promote STEM education.

“I also started a blog about marketing for millennials.” It was so successful, it appeared on many different platforms including The Los Angeles Times. One challenge led to another, and Kirchoff worked her way up in a Boston ad agency to become a senior account executive.

“I learned to write in many voices when I wrote ad copy,” she said. Her clients included BOSE, FAGE Yogurt, Capital One and Olympus.

If you go

WHAT: Third Durango PlayFest, four play readings by two national and one local playwright. Note: “Golden Gate” is sold out.

WHEN: PlayFest: Aug. 5-8, Headwaters: Aug. 27 and 28.

WHERE: Durango Art Center, 802 East Second Ave., and Smiley Festival Tent.

TICKETS: Durango – Free community event Aug. 5, $25 others with $2 surcharge.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangoconcerts.com or call 247-7657; or www.durangoplayfest.org, 335-8264.

Still in her 20s, Kirchoff said she had yet to find and develop her own voice, which drove her to take online courses in creative writing.

Kirchoff and her husband, Chris, realized if they worked remotely, they could travel and support themselves online.

“We’ve traveled through Europe and South America, collecting stories, mythologies and fairy tales,” Kirchoff said, noting they travel more or less lightly “with 240-liter backpacks.”

The last time they returned to the United States, Kirchoff said they decided to establish a home base. They ruled out places they had earlier called home: Boston, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.

“Last September, we left Austin and visited Durango,” Kirchoff said. “We liked it and thought ‘this is it.’ So, we moved here.”

Two decisions then factored into Kirchoff’s unexpected turn to playwrighting. She applied for and got the job of production coordinator for “Badwater,” a TV series about the Southwest. Based in Mancos with an experienced writer-director team, the series has yet to find a network home, but her experience was invaluable, Kirchoff said.

“And on Oct 26, 2020, I made a decision to write every day,” she said.

“Golden Gate” centers on Beth, a widow (Kate Loague) who has stalled out on grief books and yoga classes. She encounters Izzie (Maya Mouret) and Elle (Mandy Gardner), two women whom Kirchoff calls “the world’s worst good Samaritans.”

“The characters have been inspired by a combination of people in my life,” was all Kirchoff was willing to say. “I’m 30 now, and I’ve ruminated about the subject a long time.”

“Durango gave me the opportunity to write. San Francisco gave me the spark,” she said.

A playwright and eight judges

PlayFest put out a call for local scripts in early June with a very short turnaround time. Kirchoff said she was ready.

Her decadelong career in business writing may not have prepared her for a dialogue form, but she’s taken just about every online creative writing course she could: memoir, short story, the novel, and screenwriting.

Kirchoff’s “Golden Gate” competed against nine other scripts, Mandy Mikulencak, managing director of PlayFest, said. The eight-person panel of readers included Mikulencak, PlayFest Artistic Director Felicia Lansbury Meyer; Community Play Director Bud Franks, FLC Associate Professor of English Candice Nadon, two local actors, Charlie Grice and Doug Gonzales, and two PlayFest volunteers, Anthony Kingsley and Kathleen Costello.

“I love a deadline,” Kirchoff said about a June call for an August reading. She sent her script in, knowing it would undergo weeklong workshops, changes and a public reading with more feedback.

A little PlayFest History

“The PlayFest mission is to attract nationally known artists to Durango, empower them to develop new plays and also engage the community in a forum,” said Christina Erteszek in 2018.

That mission has changed slightly from a fairly substantial beginning in time, money and commitment to reflect the COVID-19 era.

In 2018, two new works by national playwrights Stephen Nathan and Emily Dendinger were featured: Lee Blessing’s “A Body of Water,” which had been on Broadway in 2008, got a refresher. In contrast, a first play by recent Fort Lewis College graduate Jake Yost, “Standby to Standby” got a reading on the festival’s last day. Additional events filled the week: a playwrights’ panel, a meet-the-artists evening and the obligatory fundraising party.

In 2019, PlayFest’s second year welcomed six national playwrights: Blessing, Nathan, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, Meg Miroshnik and the duo Barry Kleinbort and Lois Walden. The company swelled to 70 members, including 16 professionals and a dozen FLC-affiliated personnel. No works by local playwrights were on the bill, but three free workshops were offered in acting, directing and improv techniques. The playwright panel and the patron fundraising party rounded out the schedule.

In 2020, the pandemic canceled summer play festivals everywhere, although Durango’s PlayFest kept the form alive by streaming Lia Romeo’s “Sitting & Talking” as a fundraiser for the Community Emergency Relief Fund.

In 2021, play readings followed by talkback sessions have resumed. Two national and one local playwright are involved. PlayFest organizers want audience members to know that COVID-19 safety protocols are being followed. PlayFest is a fully vaccinated company and a COVID-19 compliance officer oversees all safety efforts.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

On Website plus Kirchoff by JLR

1. Lee Blessing Courtesy of PlayFest

2. Lia Romeo Courtesy of PlayFest

3. Lindsey Kirchoff Courtesy of J. Reynolds

Possibly – PlayFest Logo

Local actors in “Golden Gate”:

1. Kate Loague- Beth

2. Mandy Gardner - Elle

3. Maya Mouret - Izzie