• New Denver Center plays take center stage in Seattle, San Diego

    by John Moore | Apr 14, 2018
    Our video report from the openings of the Denver Center-born plays 'The Great Leap' and 'American Mariachi' in Seattle and San Diego. Video by John Moore and David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter. 


    Theatre Company's first co-productions in a decade open for West Coast audiences on back-to-back nights 

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    It was an hour before the opening performance of the Denver-born play American Mariachi at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and something wasn't quite right. A large backstage table was filled with floating balloons, sweets and several bouquets of fresh congratulatory flowers, including one from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

    But then there was the incongruous vase on Bobby Plasencia’s dressing-room table. Its water was discolored, its flowers tired and wilting. But to the actor, they were surely the most vibrant flowers in the room.

    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by John Moore“They’ve been here ever since our final dress rehearsal,” said Plasencia, who plays an old-school mariachi player whose wife dies in the story. After that performance almost a week before, the actor got word that a 12-year-old boy in the audience wanted to meet him. Plasencia walked to the stage door and was greeted by “this super-cool little dude,” he said, wearing a tie and perfectly gelled hair. The boy took one look at Plasencia, fell into his arms and burst into tears. “And he just couldn’t stop,” Plasencia said.  

    One of the grown-ups in the entourage pulled Plasencia aside and whispered that the boy had recently lost someone very close to him, and that the play had moved him immensely. The boy collected himself and presented Plasencia with flowers as a gift for the entire cast. “And they are going to stay right here until our very last day here on April 29,” Plasencia promised.  

    Those kinds of powerful audience responses to José Cruz González’s family drama have been steady since the play premiered back in Denver on Feb. 2. And because of several unique partnerships the DCPA Theatre Company has forged this season, they are continuing to happen in multiple cities.

    American Mariachi is one of two world-premiere plays the Denver Center has recently launched as co-productions with other leading national theatre organizations. The other was Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap in partnership with the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Both plays tell culturally specific stories that bring underrepresented voices to the stage while also telling uncommonly universal family stories.

    Jose Cruz Gonzalez quoteA co-production, or “co-pro,” as they say in the biz, is a collaboration between two companies that have a shared investment in launching a new play, both artistically and financially. They work together on the development of the piece, share certain expenses and then present the play in both cities back-to-back, with the original casts intact.

    When both plays closed in Denver last month, all key creative personnel packed up along with the sets, props and costumes and set forth to either Seattle or San Diego for their immediate transfers. By great calendrical coincidence, both plays opened in their second cities on back-to-back nights: March 28 and 29.

    Despite the modest financial benefit that comes with partnering with other companies, large-scale co-productions are rare in the American theatre. In its nearly 40-year history, the DCPA Theatre Company has only participated in three previous co-pros — Pure Confidence with Cincinnati Playhouse in 2007; and the world premieres of The Laramie Project with the Tectonic Theatre Project in 1999-2000 and Tantalus with the Royal Shakespeare Company the following year.

    The partnerships with Seattle Rep and the Old Globe involved dozens of people but were primarily negotiated by first-year DCPA Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. The goal, she said, was simple: To make better, more finished plays — thereby giving them better chances for a continued life in the American theatre.  

    “The main reason I wanted to push for these co-productions is because I wanted to look for opportunities for the writers to continue to work on developing their plays,” Garrett said.

    Both productions shared key creative personnel from both companies, including American Mariachi director James Vásquez, who considers the Old Globe to be his artistic home; and Seattle Rep Director of New Works Kristen Leahey, who has served as Dramaturg for The Great Leap since its first draft. That almost all of the Latinx artists Vazquez has brought home with him to the Old Globe are now working there for the first time, Artistic Director Barry Edelstein said, “is a special happiness for all of us.” His Seattle counterpart, Braden Abraham, called The Great Leap "an irresistible opportunity to showcase a rising Chinese-American playwright in the Pacific Northwest," and said working with Garrett and the whole team in Denver was "a pure joy."   

    (Story continues below the photo gallery.)

    Our complete photo gallery from Seattle and San Diego:

    Denver Center in Seattle and San Diego

    Photos from the openings of 'The Great Leap' and 'American Mariachi' in Seattle and San Diego. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Both plays were begun as commissions by former DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson. A commission is when a company pays a playwright a stipend to write a new work for its right of first refusal to produce. González began writing American Mariachi in 2014, and it was first presented as a featured reading at the Denver Center’s 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Back then it was a sprawling, 150-page script. By the time of its world premiere in Denver in February, it was down to 95 pages. “So it's now very lean, and it moves like gangbusters,” said González, who continued to hone the script all the way up to opening night in San Diego on March 29.

    “Having the opportunity to have a play done in two places is a tremendous gift to a playwright,” González said. “First, to be able to premiere it in Denver and work out all the things that still needed to happen in terms of casting, storytelling and design. We left Denver feeling very satisfied, and yet that whole time we were still watching our audiences take in the play. We were learning from them and thinking about how we could improve it. And then there is the gift of that second production.”

    the-company-of-american-mariachi-photo-by-adamsviscom_39989611081_oAmerican Mariachi, set in the early 1970s, follows the journey of a young woman named Lucha who has become the caretaker for a mother with dementia. When she finds an old mariachi record that briefly brings her mother back to life, Lucha becomes determined to learn how to play the song for her with live musicians before it is too late. Although being a female mariachi player was unheard of at that time, Lucha defies her grumpy father, assembles a group of women and makes her dream come true.

    (Pictured above, from left: Amanda Robles, Jennifer Paredes, Natalie Camunas, Crissy Guerrero and Heather Velazquez. Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    American Mariachi played in the Denver Center’s largest theatre (750 seats) and exceeded box-office projections. The play is enjoying the same kind of crossover appeal in San Diego, where it is playing in a slightly more intimate, 600-seat space. None of which surprises the women in the cast.

    “This play is doing much more than filling a Latino slot on the season,” said actor Crissy Guerrero. “It has touched anyone from any background.” It is also the right time to be telling this story in the current cultural zeitgeist, said castmate Natalie Camunas. “It is important to show strong women on the stage doing what they do best right now, which is encouraging and supporting each other and shining,” she said.

    Video spotlight: Our interview with Lauren Yee

    All theatre companies, to an extent, program according to their censuses. In Denver, the Latino population is 31.8 percent, compared to 31.6 percent in San Diego. While the Denver Center has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to presenting plays with Latinx voices (most recently Native Gardens, Just Like Us, Fade and Lydia), The Great Leap, meanwhile, is only the second play by an Asian-American playwright the Denver Center has ever presented. But in Denver, the Asian-American population is just 3.4 percent, compared to 13.7 in Seattle.

    linden-tailor-photo-by-adamsviscom_39272674395_oYee’s The Great Leap, set in the late 1980s, follows a scrappy Asian-American kid who talks his way onto a college basketball team that embarks on a series of “friendship” games in a China in the throes of the post-Cultural Revolution. Yee grew up in basketball-mad San Francisco, and her story was inspired by events from her father’s real experiences. Much of the play revolves around the intersecting lives of the two coaches — the compliant Chinese and the (really) ugly American.

    "This is a play that I never would have written in quite the way I did without Denver." Yee said. "Wherever it goes, there is something embedded in its DNA what Denver is all about." Added Director Eric Ting: "What a gift to have two pre-eminent theatre companies working together to make this play happen."

    Actors Keiko Green and Linden Tailor say Seattle audiences, which are made up of many more Asian-Americans than in Denver, are reacting to the story very differently, specifically as it pertains to the American coach who spews comic racial epithets throughout.

    “In Seattle, the audiences are way tougher on the coach, absolutely,” Green said. “The race comments that he makes are definitely felt more. You can see people be slightly offended and then remember, ‘Oh yeah, this is written by a Chinese-American woman.’ ”

    That, said Tailor, “is the great thing about Lauren's writing. She wants to push the envelope and ride that fine line of making you uncomfortable and making you think. I feel like here in Seattle, we are more making them think.”

    Vásquez says the same is true of American Mariachi in San Diego. “It was a raucous comedy in Denver,” he said. “I think people are leaning in and really listening to the story a little closer here.”

    American Mariachi in San DiegoThat, to Seattle Rep’s Kristin Leahey, was the whole fun of The Great Leap. “It was a really exciting thing to be sharing this work with the Denver audience as well as the Seattle audience, and to see how it engages with each of them differently,” said Leahey.

    Making the money work

    DCPA Managing Director Charles Varin said the unusual creative arrangement of a co-pro calls for an unusual financial arrangement as well. As the instigating company, he said the Denver Center assumed the cost of producing each initial staging as it would for any other show on its season. But in the case of The Great Leap, Seattle Rep contributed about $40,000 toward the $350,000 budget and the Old Globe contributed about $75,000 of a $650,000 budget.

    Varin estimated that having a producing partner ultimately represented about a 10 percent improvement to the Denver Center’s bottom line. While that is significant, he said, it is not enough to be a motivating reason to enter into a co-pro. “This was all very much artistically motivated,” said Varin, who attended both out-of-town openings. “Having a second staging helps the playwright immensely, and I think both productions were measurably improved in their second cities.”

    Video spotlight: Our interview with José Cruz González

    A similar model of play development has been employed by the National New Play Network since 1998. That’s a group of 30 core companies that select a number of new plays each year to be fully staged by a minimum of three member companies successively. It’s called a “rolling world premiere,” and the script isn’t sealed and published until after the third staging. The major difference from a co-pro is that the chosen playwright works with completely different casts and creative teams in all three cities.

    LAUREN YEE QUOTESo what happens now?

    The extended initial birth journeys for both plays end soon — The Great Leap closes April 22 and American Mariachi on April 29. But both already have their immediate futures laid out for them: The Great Leap will be staged off-Broadway this June at The Atlantic Theatre starring Tony Award-winner BD Wong. It also will be staged by the prestigious Guthrie Theatre next January in Minneapolis. American Mariachi will be presented by the Arizona Theatre Company next March.

    American Mariachi resonates in myriad ways with the kaleidoscope of our community,” said Arizona Theatre Company Artistic Director David Ivers, a former longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor. “The writing, the gift of mariachi music, the celebration and empowerment of women, and the struggle of loss in the face of hope are powerful and meaningful messages to explore in the communities we have the honor of serving.”

    This all comes in a year when Denver Center-born works are proliferating on national stages like never before. Last year, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride became the Denver Center’s most-produced new Denver Center work since Quilters in 1982. Not only is it getting its own upcoming staging at The Guthrie, it is also being made into a film starring Jim Parsons. Last week, Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will won the American Theatre Critics Association’s Steinberg Award as the best new play of the year produced outside of New York. It opens this summer on one of the nation’s largest stages, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 

    Read more: Denver Center's new place on national stage

    “I think all of that continues to advance the idea that the Denver Center is at the forefront of new-play development,” said Garrett. “As we are moving through the 21st century, one thing I lament about how we develop plays is that we all seem to be looking only for opportunities for playwrights to write something that is going to be a hit right now. There is a need for immediate success, as opposed to providing a space for something to unfold and be given life over time.”

    The benefit for actors  

    One of the ancillary windfalls that comes with any co-production benefits the actors themselves. The casts of both The Great Leap and American Mariachi were signed to four-month contracts. In a business where actors are most often signed to smaller contracts ranging from just four to eight weeks, an extended co-pro is about the best job they can get outside of a long run in New York.

    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by John Moore“I feel very lucky, and I think everyone else who is involved with this play feels very lucky to be a part of it,” said Plasencia.

    But the biggest benefit, says Rodney Lizcano and others, is the familia that takes shape when a creative team spends that much more time together. The American Mariachi team performs six days a week, he said. And yet, he said, they have almost to a person spent nearly every day off together as well.

    “There has been a consistently positive camaraderie since Day 1,” he said. “We share or lives both onstage and offstage — and I think the performances have deepened because of that.”

    Which makes ultimate benefit of a co-pro to the play itself and, by extension, to its expanded audiences.

    “I always had a feeling that this was going to be a very special play for everyone who saw it, and it has come to pass because it tells a story that audiences are hungry for at this very moment in our history,” Plasencia said of American Mariachi. “This is a story about inclusion and seeing yourself represented onstage, and I feel like a lot of people have been longing for a play like this. I think there is an audience this play in every big city in the country.”

    And in every audience is the potential for another life-changing moment, like that 12-year-old boy at the final dress rehearsal of American Mariachi in San Diego.

    “It is such an honor to walk out into that theatre lobby each night and see crowds of Latino families. That doesn't happen a lot,” Vásquez said. “Just tonight, a young Latino friend came up to me and said the moment the lights came up and the music started and he saw Mexican people onstage, he just started crying — because he had never seen anything like it.

    “I think that's the biggest takeaway.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by Douglas Gates
    'American Mariachi' in San Diego. Photo by Douglas Gates.


    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:

    Behind the scenes video: Making the Great Wall of American Mariachi
    Tony Garcia: American Mariachi is an American beauty
    When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her true voice
    American Mariachi
    Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

     

    The Great Leap in Seattle'The Great Leap' in Seattle. Photo by John Moore.

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    The Great Leap prepares for its big bound to Seattle
    Lauren Yee: “This play would not exist without the Denver Center'
    Video: First look at The Great Leap, and five things we learned at Perspectives
    For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
    Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What's a pick and roll?
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'The Great Leap' prepares for big bound to Seattle

    by John Moore | Mar 07, 2018
    Kristin Leahey and Lauren Yee. Photo by John Moore

    'The Great Leap' Dramaturg Kristin Leahey and playwright Lauren Yee at the opening-night celebration in Denver. The play next transfers to the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Dramaturg, playwright talk hoops as The Great Leap prepares to leave Denver and visit the Great Northwest

    The DCPA Theatre Company's world-premiere staging of The Great Leap has its final Denver performances this weekend, but the play is just starting its creative life. After closing on Sunday (March 11), it packs up with its cast, creatives and scenery intact and moves to the Seattle Repertory Theatre for a run starting later this month.

    The play, set in San Francisco and China, follows a scrappy young Asian-American kid who talks his way onto the University of San Francisco basketball team that is about to embark on a series of “friendship” games in China, which is in the throes of the post-Cultural Revolution era. Personal and international politics collide like Jordan driving to the hoop against Shaq. The story was inspired by events from playwright Lauren Yee's  father’s real experiences. 

    Kristin Leahey and Lauren Yee Quote. Photo by John MooreSeattle Rep dramaturg Kristin Leahey, who has been a key team member in the development of the play since it was first introduced at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, sat down with Yee for a Q&A about the play:

    Kristin Leahey: Lauren, who did you write The Great Leap for?

    Lauren Yee: My dad. Growing up, my father, Larry Yee, played basketball –  every day, all night, on the asphalt courts and rec center floors of San Francisco, Chinatown. It was the only thing he was good at. He was never good enough that he was going to play for the NBA or even at the college level, but for a 6-foot-1 Chinatown kid from the projects, he was good. Really good. I know this because even today, people still stop him on the street and try to explain to me what a legend he was. They tell me his nickname — Spider — his position — center — and his signature move — the reverse jump shot. Then they will tell me about China. My dad's first trip to China was in the '80s playing a series of exhibition games against China's top teams. At their first game, my dad and his American teammates faced off against a Beijing team of 300-pound 7-footers who demolished my dad's team. It was the first of many slaughters. My dad doesn't play anymore, but you can see how his head is still in the game. Sometimes, he'll walk up to tall young men at checkout counters, parking lots, and sporting events, and ask them if they've ever considered playing basketball. And it doesn't matter what they say: he'll start coaching them on the game right then and there. So while this play is not my father's story, it's a story like it.

    For playwright Lauren Yee, family is generation map

    Kristin Leahey: Did you know a lot about basketball before working on this play?

    Lauren Yee: Despite my father’s history with the game, I actually knew very little, so I got to apprentice myself to this whole new world. And using basketball as a means to explore China-America relations turned out to be an incredibly apt metaphor. China has played basketball almost as long as America has; it’s the most popular sport in China, the only western sport never previously banned by the Chinese government.

    Kristin Leahey: As you have been developing The Great Leap, you have also been working on two other incredible plays, among many others, The King of the Yees and Cambodian Rock Band.  What do you see is the connection with these works? 

    Kristin Leahey and Lauren Yee 800. Photo by John MooreLauren Yee: King of the Yees, which had its Northwest premiere at A.C.T. last September, is a love letter to Chinatown and my real-life relationship with my dad. Cambodian Rock Band is also a father/daughter story, a play with music about a Cambodian American young woman’s discovery of her father’s secret past as the bassist for a rock band during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Along with The Great Leap, these plays form a kind of trilogy, about ordinary people intersecting in extraordinary places in history.  Each play reveals the hidden histories that lived alongside each other and that you would have never unexpected (basketball and Communism, rock bands and genocide). Seeing these plays through to production has revealed to me the breadth and depth of the Asian American acting community. Each play requires specific, extraordinary talent, and gives actors the chance to be so many different things on stage: funny, virtuosic, heartbreaking, and versatile –  something that Asian American actors frequently do not get to do. I feel if nothing else, one of my proudest accomplishments is creating roles worthy of today’s Asian-American actors.

    (Pictured above right: 'The Great Leap' Dramaturg Kristin Leahey and playwright Lauren Yee talk at a public forum to discuss the play with Denver Center audiences. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Kristin Leahey: Can you share with us about your writing process? 

    Lauren Yee: I start writing even before I know what I’m writing about. I can sketch out the pieces of the plays — for example, the setting, the characters, the language — fairly quickly. Most of the writing process — or rewriting process — is me figuring out how these pieces best fit together. My intuitions are rarely wrong, but it usually takes me a very long time to figure out why these particular characters are in these particular situations. In fact, in The Great Leap, I didn’t figure out one of the key plot points until very late in the writing. I’m also incredibly motivated by collaboration with others. One of my favorite things to do is enter a week-long workshop with the goal of mapping out a brand new play or pushing a half-finished piece of writing forward. I have a great respect for actors and directors, and so the thought of them having to wait for me to complete a scene makes me churn out work so much faster than I could by myself. And once I’ve nailed the characters and circumstances, I’ll go back to see where I got things right (or not) and fill in all the gaps. For me, research comes late in the process.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Kristin Leahey: You’ve spent a lot time in Seattle developing your plays.  Can you share what you love about the city and the Seattle theatre scene?

    Lauren Yee: I have never seen a city hungrier for new work than Seattle. The joy that Seattle audiences harbor for new work is incredibly motivating; they will show up for readings with an inquisitiveness that you don’t always see in other cities. It’s also an inspiring place to think about story. There’s so much unexpected and unexplored history in Seattle. And every time I come to Seattle, I’m floored by the layers I continue to unearth.

     Kristin Leahey, Ph.D., is Director of New Works for the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

    Production photos: The Great Leap

    The Great Leap Photos from 'The Great Leap,' opening Friday (tonight) and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by Adams VisCom.  

    The Great Leap: Ticket information
    GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Through March 11
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    Lauren Yee: “This play would not exist without the Denver Center'
    Video: First look at The Great Leap, and five things we learned at Perspectives
    For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
    Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What's a pick and roll?
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

  • Summit Spotlight, Sigrid Gilmer: What makes you laugh will make you cry

    by John Moore | Feb 20, 2018

    Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.


    In this daily, four-part series for the DCPA NewsCenter, we will introduce you to the plays and playwrights featured at the Denver Center’s 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. Over the past 13 years, 29 plays introduced at the Summit have gone to be premiered on the DCPA Theatre Company mainstage season. First up: Sigrid Gilmer of San Francisco, author of Mama Metallica.

    'Mama Metallica' is playwright's love letter to her mother, Metallica and the theater in one heavy-metal smash-up

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    John Moore: What happens in your play?

    Sigrid Gilmer: A woman named Sterling Milburn has a mother with dementia and she's coping with the grief of that through her muse: The heavy-metal band Metallica.

    John Moore: So why Metallica?

    Sigrid Gilmer: The play really is a love letter to my mom, to Metallica, and to the theater, which were the three biggest influences on me growing up.

    John Moore: Let's go through those. First, tell us a little bit about your mom.

    Sigrid Gilmer: My mom right now suffers from dementia, but she obviously didn't for most of my life. She was a single mom, so a lot of it was just the two of us hanging out. We used to travel, and she cooked a lot. It was a good childhood. But and like all mother-daughter relationships, it was complicated, and I have had to kind of negotiate and  reconcile that. The play is really me grieving somebody who's still alive.

    John Moore: Is it possible that you've managed to write a play about dementia that's actually funny?

    Sigrid Gilmer: Oh, it's super funny. I mean, what makes you laugh will make you cry, right? I think that whatever that edge of crying and laughing is, that openness, I feel like they're in the same emotional neighborhood.

    Sigrid Gilmer Quote 800


    John Moore: Why do you love heavy-metal music?

    Sigrid Gilmer: Because it's just naked aggression and rhythm and rage. And that's what I feel like on the inside.

    John Moore: How does Metallica help you deal with what's going on with your mom?

    Sigrid Gilmer: I discovered Metallica in my sophomore year of high school. I was listening to the college radio station after school one day when they played the song “Master of Puppets,” and it just blew my mind. It's a very long song about how addiction is the puppet master. It's amazing. It's orchestral. We had this giant stereo system and I remember leaning against these really huge, tall speakers. It was cranked up, and my mind was just blown.

    JMama Metallica Adams Viscom. ohn Moore: And how is your play a love letter to theatre?

    Sigrid Gilmer: I have been doing theater since I was 9, so I haven't really haven't done anything else with my life. My play is a salute to the mid-century autobiographical plays like The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, anything by Arthur Miller. Those are the first plays I ever encountered, and they are so well-made. I felt like Mama Metallica is my homage to that kind of play. (Pictured right: Courtney Sauls. Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    John Moore: So, when I hear your mother, Metallica, and mid-20th-century playwrights  … they sound like three different plays. How do they work all together in one?

    Sigrid Gilmer: Well, they're three different things, but they're all filtered through me, so it becomes one thing. They're thrown together and spliced together and smashed up against each other, and I think it makes an interesting kaleidoscope. Some of the dissidence is really quite beautiful and fun. It’s a cacophony, like a good heavy-metal jam. If you listen to any really good Metallica song like “Master of Puppets” or “Disposable Heroes,” they're long and complicated and they have different melodies and strains and rhythms running throughout them. And at some point, it all coalesces into this magnificent tapestry of sound.

    Sigrid Gilmer Mama Metallica. Photo by John Moore


    John Moore: So tell us about some of the famous characters you have written into your story.

    Sigrid Gilmer: Tennessee Williams is in it, and Eugene O'Neill, and Metallica.

    John Moore: They were all available?

    Sigrid Gilmer: They were all available — and they all wanted to be in it.

    John Moore: This is what you do in a lot of your plays. You worked Duran Duran into one of your plays, Axiom.

    Sigrid Gilmer. Mama Metallica. Photo by John MooreSigrid Gilmer: Oh, yeah! That play is about how a Duran Duran song sparks a student-worker riot in a factory. I find that pop culture is a really good way of anchoring emotion. Especially pop music, because it’s always in the background as you're living your life.

    John Moore: How did it ever occur to you to re-imagine Harriet Tubman as an action star in your play Harry and the Thief?

    Sigrid Gilmer: Oh, my God, it's so easy. I read this one anecdote about Harriet Tubman and it was that she kept a gun with her when she ferried people to the north. And when people would freak out, she would turn to them, pull the gun out and say, "You're going to be free or you're going to be dead." And I was like, "That is the best action-movie line ever." I thought, "Where is the Michael Bay production of this story?" It was kick-ass.

    John Moore: Is it true that your playwriting career started with you taking a class in college?

    Sigrid Gilmer: Oh yes, and coincidentally, the writer of (The DCPA Theatre company’s current world premiere) American Mariachi, José Cruz González, was that playwriting instructor. I think the value of taking a playwriting class is the ability to shape a world for yourself and to be able to tell whatever story you want. And to to actually know how to construct a story for the stage is powerful.

    John Moore: What would you think if someone tried to tell you that there are rules of playwriting that you should follow?

    Sigrid Gilmer: If somebody were to tell me there's one certain way to write a play, I would be thinking mean things — but I would be polite. There's no one way to tell a story. There are as many people in the world as there are ways to tell a story. Everyone has their certain way of viewing the world and negotiating and navigating that world. I mean there are certain devices and narrative structures that are helpful to know, but I think those are negotiable.

    John Moore: When did you find your own voice and know this is what you wanted to do?

    a jose-cruz-gonzalez-webSigrid Gilmer: It was actually taking that first playwriting class with Jose (pictured right). I had always known that I wanted to be in theater. I did theater, acting and directing as an undergrad until I realized that, as a black woman, there weren't going to be as many choice roles for me. Nobody was going to hand me Othello or let me play Iago — which I think is probably the best character ever created. I was really thinking of leaving theater altogether before I took that playwriting class. And when I wrote my first play, I knew this is where I belong in the theater. I got to play all the roles. I got to be everybody and make everything happen. That's an amazing feeling.

    John Moore: What are your initial thoughts on your first Colorado New Play Summit?

    Sigrid Gilmer: For me, having that second week allows the work we're doing in the first week to be less precious. We can be risky. We can take more chances knowing that if something doesn't work, we have another week to tweak it and put it back up on its feet. Having a process that's less geared toward presentation frees me up as a playwright. I think it also frees up the actors and the directors to be adventurous and find the beauty that can come out of a mess or an accident or by being haphazard. It doesn’t have to be perfect, which means there's more freedom and more breathing room. And when we try something out in front of an audience, and if it doesn't work we can just sweep that under the rug. Nobody has to know.

    John Moore: What would it mean to you if, one day, Metallica was in the audience watching this?

    Sigrid Gilmer: Oh, my God. It would just be crazy amazing. In the fantasy production in my head, Metallica's playing onstage — but it is Metallica in 1987. Dear Metallica, if you're reading this, come and be in my play.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Mama Metallica. Photo by Adams VisComMama Metallica: Cast list
    Written by Sigrid Gilmer
    Directed by Jaki Bradley
    Dramaturgy by Ricardo A. Bracho
    Stage Manager: Dana Reiland
    Stage Management Apprentice: Molly Langeberg

    • Sterling Milburn: Courtney Sauls
    • Louise Bell Milburn: Lee Sherman (pictured right, photo by Adams VisCom.)
    • James Hetfeld: Nick Ducassi
    • Lars Ulrich: Grayson DeJesus
    • Kirk Hammett: Linden Tailor
    • Cliff Burton: Adam Haas Hunter
    • Blue Orchid: Robert Lee Hardy
    • Pink Orchid: Luis Quintero
    • Stage Directions: Aspen Rader

    2018 Colorado New Play Summit: Ticket information Second weekend (Festival Weekend): Friday, Feb. 23, through Sunday, Feb. 25
    303-893-4100 or INFO

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit

    Summit prep begins at the intersection of Eugene O'Neill and Metallica
    2018 Colorado New Play Summit selections announced
    Authentic voices: DCPA Education names 2018 student playwriting finalists

  • Summit prep begins at the intersection of Eugene O'Neill and Metallica

    by John Moore | Feb 13, 2018
    2018 Colorado New Play Summit Photos from the first day of the DCPA Theatre Company's 13th annual Colorado New Play Summit, which features readings of new works by Sigrid Gilmer, David Jacobi, Kemp Powers and Barbara Seyda. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of downloadable photos. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

     

    DCPA's 13th annual Colorado New Play Summit is underway as dozens of artists begin work on four new plays 

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Preparations for the DCPA Theatre Company's 13th annual Colorado New Play Summit officially got underway today with the first gathering of dozens of professional actors, playwrights, directors and other creative artists who will help to develop four promising new plays over the next two weeks.

    They will take on developing works that address systemic racism and hypocrisy in the criminal-justice system, that revisit the Challenger space disaster and an 1855 slave trial. One — no joke — explores the intersection of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and the heavy-metal band Metallica

    A Summit 400"We're in this rocky time in this country, in our lives and in our history," Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett (pictured right) said at the welcome gathering. "As a nation, we are trying to figure who we are and who we are going to be — and in these moments, I feel like it is so important to listen to playwrights."

    The Colorado New Play Summit, which has one public weekend of readings Feb. 17-18, followed by a second weekend attended mostly industry professionals Feb. 23-25, is the DCPA’s signature festival dedicated to supporting playwrights and developing new work for the American theatre. Garrett made a point of thanking former DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson for founding the celebration of playwrights back in 2006. The Summit comes at a time when Denver Center-born new plays are proliferating on national stages like never before. And just yesterday, it was announced that  Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, which was born at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit, will be made into a film starring Jim Parsons.

    Summit PlaywrightsThe 2018 Summit will feature readings of new works by (clockwise from top left) David Jacobi, Kemp Powers, Barbara Seyda and Sigrid Gilmer, alongside world-premiere productions by José Cruz González, Matthew Lopez and Lauren Yee.

    The playwrights, some commissioned by the Theatre Company, are given two weeks with professional directors, actors and dramaturgs to workshop their new plays.

    "We get to hear from the mouth and the body and the heart and the soul of these vessels who bring forth their incredible ideas to remind us how much better we can be in the world," Garrett said.

    The pool of more than 35 actors is a mix of familiar names in the Colorado theatre community, returning Denver Center, visiting actors and several who currently performing in Theatre Company world premieres.

    The roster includes Colorado Theatre Guild Lifetime Achievement winner Billie McBride, legendary film and stage director donnie l. betts; Denver Center veterans Steven Cole Hughes, Emily Van Fleet, Gareth Saxe, Erin Willis, Nick LaMedica and Aspen Rader; DPCA Teaching Artists Joelle Montoya, Quinn Marchman and Robert Lee Hardy; and nearly the entire cast of Curious Theatre's current offering of Detroit '67: Jada Dixon, Cajardo Lindsey and Anastasia Davidson. She and Alaina Beth Reel recently appeared in The Catamounts’ You on the Moors Now.

    The Summit casts also include Linden Tailor from the DCPA Theatre Company's The Great Leap; Natalie Camunas from American Mariachi; and Nija Okoro, Grayson DeJesus and Nick Ducassi from Zoey's Perfect Wedding.
     
    Since its founding, the Summit has introduced 53 new plays, over half of which returned to the stage as full Theatre Company productions. Recent Summit world premieres include Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will, Tanya Saracho’s FADE, Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale, Theresa Rebeck’s The Nest, Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey, Karen Zacarias’ Just Like Us, Jeffrey Haddow and Neal Hampton’s Sense and Sensibility The Musical, and Dick Scanlan’s reimagined version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

    2018 FEATURED NEW-PLAY READINGS:

    2018 New Play Summit 2018 Gilmer Mama Metallica
    By Sigrid Gilmer

    Directed by Jaki Bradley
    Dramaturgy by Ricardo A. Bracho
    Stage Manager: Dana Reiland
    Stage Management Apprentice: Molly Langeberg

    Budding playwright Sterling Milburn has always been overshadowed by her fabulous mother, Louise. Even when she’s holed up in a care facility with Parkinson’s, Louise finds a way to steal the spotlight. But with the overly critical eyes of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams to fuel her rebellion and the frenetic energy of Metallica to help find her voice, Sterling sets out to write a story that is finally her own. As unfortunate histories mesh with hilarious interludes, Sterling must face the truth: her pain, her joys and her life will forever be shaped by and linked to the woman who raised her. Sigrid Gilmer’s joyfully irreverent black comedy entwines issues of identity with pop-culture icons for a truly unique — and head-banging experience.

    Says the playwright: "The two big influences on my life have been my mom and the heavy-metal band Metallica. My play is about how those two things collide. The play is also a love letter to theatre and the tradition of those big, sweeping autobiographical mid-20th century plays by Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams."

    • Sterling Milburn: Courtney Sauls
    • Louise Bell Milburn: Lee Sherman
    • James Hetfeld: Nick Ducassi
    • Lars Ulrich: Grayson DeJesus
    • Kirk Hammett: Linden Tailor
    • Cliff Burton: Adam Haas Hunter
    • Blue Orchid: Robert Lee Hardy
    • Pink Orchid: Luis Quintero
    • Stage Directions: Aspen Rader

    2018 New Play Summit 2018 David JacobiThe Couches
    By David Jacobi

    DCPA Theatre Company Commission
    Directed by Caitlin Ryan O’Connell
    Dramaturgy by Doug Langworthy
    Stage Manager: Corin Ferris
    Stage Management Apprentice: Amy LeGore

    Ethan Couch has lived in a bubble of pampered privilege for his entire life, so when he’s convicted of killing four people while driving drunk, he and his mother take $40,000 and flee to a resort in Mexico rather than face the consequences. In this self-imposed state of limbo, Ethan pays hotel clerk Daniel $1,000 to be his friend and help maintain the facade of his prior life. But as the unlikely pair drink, sing, and stumble through the night, delusions of how the world works melt away as quickly as their cash flow. Playwright David Jacobi draws from the infamous real-life 2013 “affluenza” court case to weave a surreal story of personal and legal recklessness.

    Says the playwright: "Ethan Couch came from a rich family and he a had a great lawyer who argued that Ethan was too rich to know right from wrong. I was enraged when he went on the run, but when he was caught, I felt like this was a really interesting idea of late-stage capitalism: These people hiding out in this antiseptic place waiting for justice. And the play devolves into this Lynchian nightmare. ... I think it's funny." 

    • Ethan Couch: Nick LaMedica
    • Tonya Couch: Tasha Lawrence
    • Daniel: Cesar J. Rosado
    • Stage Directions: Alaina Beth Reel



    2018 New Play Summit 2018 Kemp PowersChrista McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue
    By Kemp Powers
    A DCPA Theatre Company Commission

    Directed by Nicholas C. Avila
    Dramaturgy by Jerry Patch
    Stage Manager: Rick Mireles
    Stage Management Apprentice: Mariah Brown

    Even though they share the same DNA, twins Steven and Bernard have lived drastically different lives. The big reason? One is plagued by racism because of his dark skin while the other passes as white. Steven spent his childhood fitting in with fellow classmates and is now a successful attorney. Though he was an extraordinarily bright student who had his eyes on outer space, Bernard’s future is as dismal as the Challenger Space Shuttle that once inspired him. As he prepares for trial and potential jail time, Bernard must face his childhood bully behind the judge’s bench and confront his brother’s advantages. Following his DCPA audience favorite One Night in Miami…, playwright Kemp Powers’ piercing meditation on race and privilege targets the circumstances that can change a child’s destiny.

    Says the playwright: "This really happens through a wonder of genetics where one twin comes out looking completely black and the other comes out looking completely white. And in the days leading up to the Challenger disaster in 1986, these two brothers had a massive falling out. I wanted to explore how family so often manages to let each other down — with a racial context added. When the Challenger exploded, every schoolkid in America was watching live on television because Christa McAuliffe was the first schoolteacher to go into space, and that launch was supposed to symbolize where we were going as a society. Ultimately, this is a play about bullying and the issue of nature vs. nurture."   
    • Bernard “Bear” Gentry: Tobie Windham
    • Steven “Sevvy” Gentry: Allen E. Read
    • Joseph “Joey” Martinelli: Bradley Fleischer
    • Mr. B: Brian Shea
    • Migdalia: Natalie Camunas
    • Rich: Quinn Marchman
    • Summer: Anastasia Davidson
    • Stage Directions: Joelle Montoya


    2018 New Play Summit 2018 Barbara SeydaCelia, A Slave
    By Barbara Seyda

    Directed by Nataki Garrett
    Dramaturgy by Sydne Mahone
    Stage Manager: Heidi Echtenkamp
    Stage Management Apprentice: Molly Becerra

    In 1855, 19-year-old African-American slave Celia was convicted of killing her master and hanged. Her story became known as a notorious failure of justice in American history, but to truly understand its significance, look to the people of Calloway County who experienced it all. Using oral histories and official records as her guide, playwright Barbara Seyda investigates the event with a tapestry of interviews with the dead. This stunningly evocative play illuminates the brutal realities of female slave life in the pre-Civil War South as it resurrects a panorama of real people on stage. The piece won the Yale Drama Series playwriting competition.

    Says the playwright: "One of my structural prototypes was Fires in the Mirror, which was Anna Deavere Smith's response to the Crown Heights riot that took place in Brooklyn in 1991. She does this amazing integration of performance and public ritual and journalism, using the stage as a portal of truth. My themes include systemic racism and slave litigation."

    • Jingo: Cajardo Lindsey
    • Ulysses a.k.a. Uncle Pee Wee: donnie l. betts
    • George : Jacob Gibson
    • Justice Abiel Leonard / John Jameson: Gareth Saxe
    • Polly Newsom / Virginia Waynescot: Emily Van Fleet
    • David Newsom / Dr. Hockley Yong / Benjamin Sheets / Felix Bartey: Jake Horowitz
    • Viola / Solace: Nija Okoro
    • William Powell / Judge William Augustus Hall / Higgler: Steven Cole Hughes
    • Mildred Louisa Rollins: Billie McBride
    • Bethena / Euphrates: Jada Dixon
    • Celia: Celeste M. Cooper
    • Vine: Tihun Hann
    • Matt: Owen Zitek
    • Coffee Waynescot: Tristan Champion Regini
    • Aunt Winnie / Stage Directions: Erin Willis

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    The 13th Annual Colorado New Play Summit

    Launch Weekend: Feb. 17-18
    Festival Weekend: Feb. 23-25
    More details: denvercenter.org/summit

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit
    2018 Colorado New Play Summit selections announced
    Authentic voices: DCPA Education names 2018 student playwriting finalists


  • Photos: First look at 'The Great Leap,' Opening Night of 'American Mariachi'

    by John Moore | Feb 09, 2018
    Production photos: Your first look at The Great Leap:


    The Great Leap Photos from 'The Great Leap,' opening Friday (tonight) and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by Adams VisCom.  

    The Great Leap: Ticket information
    GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Through March 11
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here


    Photos: Opening night of American Mariachi:

    Making of 'American Mariachi'

    Photos from opening night of the DCPA Theatre Company's world premiere of 'American Mariachi,' performing in the Stage Theatre through Feb. 25. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of photos. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Video: First look at 'The Great Leap,' and 5 things we learned at Perspectives

    by John Moore | Feb 06, 2018
    Your first look at 'The Great Leap.' Video by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Playwright Lauren Yee intends to take audiences right down to the buzzer when her new play opens Friday  

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Denver audiences have not yet seen Lauren Yee’s new basketball play The Great Leap, opening Friday in the Ricketson Theatre. But while no literal hoops action goes down on the stage, actor Linden Tailor says the story plays out much like any good, close basketball game: You don't know how it’s going to come out till the very end.

    “The play builds in intensity the same way a game does in those final two minutes,” said Tailor, who plays a short but scrappy Chinese-American player named Manford in Yee's tale of a college basketball team that travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game and lands right in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. “That’s the feeling I hope the audience gets when they see the play.”

    The occasion was Perspectives, the DCPA Theatre Company’s ongoing series of community conversations held just before every first preview performance. Literary Manager Douglas Langworthy was joined by Yee, Tailor, actor Keiko Green, Dramaturg Kristin Leahey of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and Scenic Designer Wilson Chin.

    Yee takes great pains to make her play mirror the game she honors in several ways. The sound of dribbles make for heightened sound effects, for example. Intermission is like halftime. There is a big game at the end of the play, but the audiences only hear about it in a fugue of language. Actors quickly toss words back and forth like the passing of a basketball. "There are times when all four of us are sharing a sentence," Green said. The effect is similar to the teamwork you see in a game. “You can feel it when the players are comfortable and supportive of each other," she said. "And that’s the feeling we hope to convey as actors."

    Here are five things we learned about The Great Leap at Perspectives. Next up: A conversation with the creative team from Native Gardens at 6 p.m. Friday, April 6, in the Jones Theatre:

    The Great Leap Perspectives. Photo by John Moore

    From left: Douglas Langworthy, Keiko Green, Linden Tailor, Lauren Yee, Kristin Leahey, Wilson Chin and Eric Ting. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Full photo gallery below.

    NUMBER 1"Let's go co." In its nearly 400 productions, the DCPA Theatre Company has only participated in two previous “co-productions” — world-premiere plays created in full partnership with another company. And they both took place in 2000: The Laramie Project, with Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theatre Project in New York, and the epic 10-play cycle Tantalus with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Until now. This season, the DCPA is launching two "co-pros" simultaneously: The Great Leap with the Seattle Repertory Theatre (opening there March 28) and American Mariachi with the Old Globe in San Diego (opening there on March 29). One of the primary reasons most theatres enter co-productions is the opportunity to share expenses. But Leahey said this arrangement has far more to do with overlapping interests. "It was an affinity for the play, for the playwright and the opportunity to collaborate with our friends the Denver Center," she said. "It was not for financial reasons."

    NUMBER 2The evolution will not be televised. Yee's play was first introduced to Denver Center audiences last February as a featured reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Since then, "I think the play has changed an incredible amount," said Yee — and not just the title, which has morphed from the original Manford at Half Court to Manford at the Line Or The Great Leap to, finally, the shortened The Great Leap. "As a writer, I tend to know the major pieces of the puzzle early on, like the characters and the setting," Yee said. "For me the rewriting process — like being at the Summit for two weeks and seeing how it works in front of audiences — is figuring out better ways of connecting those pieces together."

    NUMBER 3Language barrier. Half of The Great Leap takes place in San Francisco, and half takes place in China. Yee was asked by a Perspectives audience member if the play will ever be staged in China, and she said that had not yet even occurred to her. "I don't think it would work there," she said. "My references are so American, both in terms of language and pop-culture references, that I don't know how it would read to a Chinese audience. In America, we have a very specific take on what our history is, and I'm sure that China has a very specific take on what world history is. I think if you were to see my play in China, you would be like, "No. You are completely wrong about our history. I see it entirely differently.' "

    NUMBER 4The Great Leap Linden Tailor Nuggets. Photo by Hope GrandonThe Hornets rest. The Great Leap cast made a field trip on Monday to the Denver Nuggets' game against the Charlotte Hornets, where they were welcomed by a message on the giant scoreboard. They also met Rocky, one of the most popular mascots in all of sports. And in return, the cast sent the Nuggets their good vibes, which surely played a part in the Nuggets' 121-104 rout. "It's fun to go to a game and have it be research," Tailor joked. (Photo: Rocky and Linden Tailor. Photo by Hope Grandon.)

    NUMBER 5Ordinary people. Yee’s next play is called Cambodian Rock Band, and it bears one major similarity to The Great Leap, she said: Ordinary people intersecting with extraordinary places in history. “In Cambodia during the 1960s and '70s, there was a whole psychedelic surf-rock scene that you never heard about because the communists took over Cambodia in 1975, after the Vietnam War ended," Yee said, "and the first thing they did was kill all the artists. In four years, 90 percent of their musicians died, and the only ones who survived are those who hid their identities. My play is the story of a Cambodian-American woman and her father, who is a Khmer Rouge survivor. In the course of the play, the daughter learns that her father was in this rock band. I think that's something we can all relate to: Not really fully knowing who your parents are.” It opens March 3 at the South Coast Repertory in Orange County, Calif.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist.

    Photo gallery: The making of The Great Leap:

    The making of 'The Great Leap' Photos from the making of 'The Great Leap,' opening Friday and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Pictured above is Director Eric Ting (pictured). 

    The Great Leap: Ticket information
    GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Through March 11
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Read more: Our complete interview with Lauren Yee

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
    Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What's a pick and roll?
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'The Great Leap:' 5 Things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Jan 12, 2018
    The making of 'The Great Leap'Check out our full gallery of photos from the first rehearsal for 'The Great Leap.' To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by Sam Adams John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Newest Denver Center world premiere is a basketball story that already has a road trip scheduled after its home opener 

    Rehearsals began Tuesday for the third of three soon-to-be simultaneous DCPA Theatre Company world-premiere plays. And, like American Mariachi, when Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap finishes its inaugural run in Denver on March 11, it’s hitting the road with its cast and creative team intact.

    The Great Leap, about a college basketball team that travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game in the post-Cultural Revolution 1980s, is a co-production with the Seattle Repertory Theatre, where it will run from March 23 to April 22. The play will then make its New York premiere opening May 23 at the Atlantic Theatre Company with its own, different cast and creative team.

    “We are excited for this play to have a long and successful life, and we are honored to be premiering it here at the Denver Center,” said Associate Artistic Director Charlie Miller.

    Yee was commissioned to write The Great Leap for the Denver Center in 2015. The play was first introduced to audiences a year ago as a reading at the Denver Center’s Colorado New Play Summit. The dramaturg was, and remains, Kristin Leahey of Seattle Rep.

    The Great Leap Lauren Yee Photo by John Moore“The Denver Center has been so welcoming in inviting us to be a part of this wonderful journey with this fantastic play,” Leahey said at the opening rehearsal. “We are so thrilled to continue on this journey together, and we hope you all join us in Seattle for the next iteration of the show.”

    Since the Summit, Yee has aggressively developed her story, workshopping the play at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis and at New York Stage and Film. “So it’s done a mini-United States tour already, and it hasn’t even opened yet,” Miller said. "There is already a lot of positive buzz about this play throughout the field."

    The Great Leap focuses on a short kid from San Francisco’s Chinatown named Manford who talks his way onto the China-bound exhibition team and soon finds himself inadvertently embroiled in international politics. "It's really the story of a young Chinese-American kid who goes to China to learn something about himself as a basketball player, as an American, and as someone of Chinese descent," Yee said. "And I think it is about how sports and politics intersect and mirror one another."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The story is told "with a ton of heart and is also very funny," Miller added, "but it is told with a historical and political backdrop that also gives people an interesting window into Tiananmen Square and the cultural revolution in China. It’s not often that you have a play about sports that also deals with so many other bigger issues.”

    The remarkable thing about the play to Director Eric Ting is its utter originality. After all, how many plays have there ever been about a Chinese-American basketball player? “A young Asian man on a basketball team is already an uncommon affair,” Ting said. “Manford is a person without a place wherever he is — which is a story I think many of us are very familiar with. We want to make sure this play is a celebration of what it means to be different.”

    Here are five quick things we learned at first rehearsal:

    NUMBER 1The Great Leap Eric Ting Photo by John MooreTiana who what where? One thing that has caught Ting off-guard over the past year is discovering how many young people have never heard of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Which, if you are over 30, probably just made your back ache. But it’s a rather central plot point, so here is a refresher: The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital city of Beijing in the summer of 1989. The protests, primarily targeting government corruption, lack of transparency and freedom of speech in post-Mao China, were forcibly suppressed after the government declared martial law. Troops with automatic rifles and tanks killed several hundred demonstrators trying to block the military's advance toward Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths has been reported variously from 180 to 10,000. The enduring image from all that bloodshed was of a lone unidentified man dressed in a white shirt and holding a shopping bag who stood in front of a column of tanks. He became known around the world only as “Tank Man,” a powerful symbol of both violence and non-violent resistance.

    NUMBER 2Founding father. The inspiration for the play is Yee's father who, like the fictional Manford, grew up in Chinatown. “Before my father had children, the only thing he was good at was playing basketball,” said Yee. In 1981, he was invited with some of his American teammates to play a series of exhibition games throughout China. “My father had never been to China,” said Yee. “They played in 10,000-seat stadiums. The games were broadcast back on American television. And when I asked him, ‘Did you win?’ he told me, ‘We got demolished almost every single game.’ And that was because my father was the center — and he is only 6-foot-1. Their tallest player was 7-foot-6 and 350 pounds. My dad said, 'Nobody wanted to guard this guy,’ and they got creamed.”

    NUMBER 3The game is afoot. Even though the play has very little actual basketball game play in it, “there is a rhythm and an energy to the script that should make you feel like you have just been through a basketball game,” Ting said. "The scenes move like a game, and are quick in transition," Yee added. But that doesn’t mean the storytelling is always kinetic. “Basketball isn't just about movement,” Ting said. “It's also about stillness. It's about holding your ground. It's about finding each other in the space.”

    (Story continues below the video.)

    Video bonus: Our interview with Lauren Yee from the Colorado New Play Summit

    Th title of Lauren Yee's play changed three times during development before settling on 'The Great Leap.' Video above by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.

    Read more: Our complete interview with Lauren Yee

    NUMBER 4The enduring Dream. When Ting first read The Great Leap, he made the not-so-great leap to the archetypal American Dream. “It is very hard to underestimate the profound impact the possibility of the American Dream has on all the immigrants of this Earth, and the role this nation has played, historically, in inspiring people to make change,” Ting said. “One reason this play is important right now is to remind of that role we still play as a country. This is a play about what it means to dream and pursue something."  

    NUMBER 5Team Uncommon. The returning Scenic Designer is Wilson Chin, who blew audiences away last season with his singular vision for the DCPA Theatre Company’s The Secret Garden. “That was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Chin said. “I really fell in love with the Denver Center, and I fell in love with this town." With The Great Leap, Chin is now part of something almost completely unheard of: A creative team led by a Chinese-American director telling a Chinese-American story written by a Chinese-American playwright for a theatre that does not routinely tell Chinese-American stories. “Eric and I have done a few shows together, but in all my years of working in the theatre, that has never happened before," Chin said. "To get to tell a Chinese-American story with other Chinese-Americans is moving, and it’s thrilling. I can't wait for us to go down this road together.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist.

    The Great Leap: Cast and creatives

    • Written by Lauren Yee
    • Directed by Eric Ting
    • Scenic Designer: Wilson Chin
    • Costume Designer: Valérie Thérèse Bart
    • Lighting Designer: Christopher Kuhl
    • Sound Designer: Curtis Craig
    • Projection Design: Shawn Duan
    • Dramaturg: Kristin Leahey
    • Stage Manager: Jessica Bomball
    • Assistant Stage Manager: D. Lynn Reiland

    Cast:

    • Bob Ari as Saul
    • Keiko Green as Connie
    • Linden Tailor as Manford
    • Joseph Steven Yang as Wen Chang

    The Great Leap: Ticket information
    GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Feb. 2-March 11
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.