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Performing Arts

Durango PlayFest launches week of workshops and readings

Dan Lauria and Wendy Malick, co-founders of Durango PlayFest, appear in the 2021 reading of Lia Romeo’s “Sitting & Talking.” (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

Audience talk-back sessions key

“We lost a year a year because of COVID,” Durango PlayFest co-founder Dan Lauria said recently in a telephone interview. Flying from New York to Los Angeles to Durango this week, Lauria said he’s looking forward to the fourth annual festival minus one year, because of the pandemic.

“COVID seized everything, stopped everything,” he said, expressing frustration about massive setbacks across all cultural institutions throughout 2020. For Lauria, new-play development is the lifeline for American theater.

“Durango’s PlayFest has real potential to advance new plays before expensive backers’ auditions,” he said. “It’s a 10-step process to find a script for regional theaters. After a week of workshopping with the playwright, actors and directors, you get a feeling for what to cut, where to cut, where a joke is needed and if the first 15 minutes are interesting or not. You can’t do this in New York; it costs too much and New York is too jaded.”

Dan Lauria (Courtesy of Durango PlayFest)

The word “incubator” summarizes the PlayFest mission. It’s what drives a week of closed workshops ending in public readings with scripts in hand for the general public. The audience talk-back sessions are key, Lauria said, adding PlayFest’s tag line: “See tomorrow’s great plays – today.”

PlayFest started in 2018 with two new works by playwrights Stephen Nathan and Emily Dendinger and a previously produced play, “A Body of Water,” by well-regarded American playwright Lee Blessing. It was a Broadway outlier from 2008 and explained as “needing a refresher.” A new work, “Standby to Standby,” by Jake Yost, a recent Fort Lewis College graduate, rounded out the offerings.

In 2019 PlayFest showcased six works by established playwrights and the company expanded to 70, including a dozen FLC-affiliated personnel.

In 2020, COVID-19 shut down many arts organizations including PlayFest except for a livestream of Lia Romeo’s two-hander “Sitting & Talking,” with Lauria and his PlayFest co-founder Wendie Malick.

Lia Romeo (Courtesy of Durango PlayFest)

Last year, PlayFest returned with only a slightly reduced format. Romeo’s “Sitting & Talking,” got a reprise, and her new play “Ghost Story” got a fully-staged reading with props and all. The community play, “Golden Gate,” by Lindsey Kirchoff, was presented at the Durango Arts Center. And one of Blessing’s new plays, “The Family Line,” closed out the festival under the Smiley Building tent. Every presentation concluded with a talk-back session.

If you go

WHAT: Durango PlayFest, fourth annual festival of new American plays with readings, talkbacks, parties and panels.

WHEN: Aug. 4-7.

WHERE: Festival tent on Fort Lewis College campus, 1000 Rim Drive; Lola’s Place, 725 East Second Ave.

TICKETS: Free-$100. Available online at www.durangoconcerts.com or by phone at 247-7567. NOTE: Tickets must be purchased ahead of time.

MORE INFORMATION: Call 335-8264 or visit www.durangoplayfest.org.

For 2022, Romeo returns with a new play titled “The Agency,” where clients hire actors to serve as surrogate friends or loved ones. Richard Dresser’s new play is titled “Our Shrinking, Shrinking World,” which is about a couple at odds about whether to have a baby or not.

Lauria’s newest play, “Just Another Day,” centers on an elderly poet and a comedy writer. Both are in the throes of dementia as they meet every day on a park bench.

“In most plays about dementia, it’s all about the family,” Lauria said. “But in my play, there are no children, no doctors, no nurses, etc., just two people who trade barbs and are nostalgic about old movies. And, all the while, they are trying to remember who they are and how they are connected.”

Blossom Johnson (Courtesy of Durango PlayFest)

The community playwright offering, “monster SLAYer,” by Diné storyteller Blossom Johnson, explores how a family processes grief over a missing daughter while awaiting the birth of twins. Siblings Isabella and Jaiden conjure sacred beings in the process of creating a superhero comic.

All readings are ticketed except for “monster SLAYer,” which is a free presentation and begins at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 6 in the Festival Tent on the FLC campus.

Be sure to seek out Lauria for conversations about the plays.

Richard Dresser (Courtesy of Durango PlayFest)

“I want to hear from people,” he said. “Durango matters.”

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