• '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 primarily Chinese-American creative team telling a Chinese-American story for a theatre that does not routinely tell Chinese-American stories. That group includes the playwright, director, costume designer and cast. “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

  • Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

    by John Moore | Jul 02, 2017

    Lauren Yee. The Great Leap
    Lauren Yee’s 'The Great Leap,' which was introduced as a reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, will premiere at the Denver Center next February, then re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Companies are now jumping on new Denver Center works before they have even been fully staged here.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The Denver Center is taking a major step forward in its development of new work for the American theatre in 2017. And one major reason is a hip new term in the theatrical lexicon: “Co-Pro.”

    For the first time, the DCPA Theatre Company will stage two new plays next season that will immediately transfer to major theatres around the country as essentially continuing world premieres. They will quickly re-open in their second cities with their Denver Center directors and casts intact.

    American Mariachi. Summit The Theatre Company opens José Cruz González’s American Mariachi on Jan. 26, 2018. Less than a month after it closes in Denver, the production will re-open at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, which bows in Denver on Feb. 2, will re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here.

    By virtue of these unique partnerships, both stagings are considered “co-productions.” Or, as the kids say, “Co-Pros.” Coincidentally, the re-opening nights in San Diego and Seattle will both take place on March 23.

    (Pictured above right: 'American Mariachi' was introduced as a reading at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    For 12 years, artistic leaders from around the country have come to the Denver Center’s Colorado New Play Summit each February to see readings of developing new works, then come back the next year to see the subsequent fully staged world-premiere productions before scheduling some of the plays themselves. Among the popular titles that have expanded through this slow growth plan have been Jason Grote’s 1001 and Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale.

    But now companies are coming here to see readings and committing to scheduling them even before they are fully staged at the Denver Center for the first time.

    Matt McGrath in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. All this comes at a time when Denver Center-born works are proliferating on national stages like never before. In 2017, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride will become the most-produced new Denver Center work since Quilters in 1982. Ten companies this year are presenting the story of a straight man who explores the world of drag to feed his family in cities stretching from Los Angeles to Key West, Fla., with four more already slated for 2018. Lopez’s newest work, Zoey’s Perfect Wedding, will debut at the DCPA’s Space Theatre next Jan. 19.

    (Pictured above right: Matt McGrath in the Denver Center's 2014 world premiere of 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.) 

    How Georgia McBride has evolved since Denver

    Since former Artistic Director Kent Thompson launched the Colorado New Play Summit in 2006, the DCPA has given 27 new plays their world-premiere stagings. At least 32 productions of 13 DCPA-born works are being presented around the country this year and next, most notably a high-profile return of the reimagined The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which plays from July 21-27 at The Muny in St. Louis. The Muny is America’s largest outdoor musical theatre. After that, star Beth Malone said, the goal is Broadway.

    LEAD MOLLY"That is absolutely the intention of putting it up at The Muny,” Malone said. “There is no other reason than for it go to Broadway. Everyone involved with it feels very strongly that we are completely on track.”

    (Pictured at right: The cast of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown.' Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    Last week, two recent Colorado New Play Summit readings landed on The Kilroys, a curated list of the 31 most promising new plays by women: Yee's The Great Leap and Donnetta Lavinia Grays' Last Night and the Night Before.

    NATAKI GARRETT 3Even older new plays like Octavio Solis' Lydia (2008) are still making an impact. “Lydia is a blast-furnace drama now in its Seattle debut in a blistering, urgent staging from Strawberry Theatre Workshop," Misha Berson of the Seattle Times wrote last month of a "forcefully directed ensemble of visceral power." Last year, the Aurora Fox became the first company to stage the Denver Center’s Native American premiere of Black Elk Speaks since 1996.

    All of this proliferation is not only changing the way the nation looks at the Denver Center, said Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. It is changing how the Denver Center looks at itself.

    “The Colorado New Play Summit is a nationally renowned place where theatre companies from all over the United States come to see those playwrights who are moving up in the ranks and becoming the clarions for the future of playwriting,” she said.  “But I think this is where it was always heading. The most important part of the work we do as theatre artists is to foster and develop new work, and I think this is that idea coming to full fruition.”

    (Story continues after the video)

    Video spotlight: American Mariachi



    What makes for a successful Co-Pro, Garrett said, is the continuation of the Denver Center’s commitment to the playwright once the new play reaches its immediate second destination.

    “What I am really focused on with these companies is, 'Are you willing to make space for that writer to keep writing?’ ” Garrett said. “The whole point is to for them to be able to keep evolving their piece after they leave Denver, if that’s what the piece needs.”

    The Theatre Company’s commissioning program is one reason the pipeline stays stocked. At any given time, the company has a number of renowned and emerging playwrights under commissions. That essentially binds the playwright to write a new work of his or her choice, and the DCPA Theatre Company then has the right of first refusal to stage it. The playwrights with commissions in progress are:

    • Kemp Powers
    • Anne Garcia-Romero
    • Aleshea Harris
    • Mary Kathryn Nagle
    • Tony Meneses
    • David Jacobi
    • Regina Taylor

    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.


    DCPA AROUND THE COUNTRY: 2017-18

    The Unsinkable Molly Brown, by Dick Scanlan and Meredith Willson: The 1960 musical that tells the rags-to-riches tale of Colorado's greatest heroine is infused with new songs and a new script.

    • The Muny, St. Louis, July 21-27, 2017

    The Book of Will, By Lauren Gunderson:  The untold story of the race to publish Shakespeare's First Folio before half his canon was lost to history.

    • Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, June 9-July 28, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Nov. 9-Dec. 17, 2017
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 2017
    • Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore., June-October, 2018

    The Great Leap, by Lauren Yee: An American college basketball team travels to Beijing in 1989.

    • American Conservatory Theatre New Strands Festival, San Francisco (reading), May 19, 2017
    • DCPA Theatre Company, Feb. 2-March 11, 2018
    • Seattle Rep, March 23-April 22, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    The Legend of Georgia McBride, by Matthew Lopez: A young Elvis impersonator turns to drag to feed his growing family.

    • Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, April 4-May 14, 2017
    • GableStage, Coral Gables, Fla., May 27-June 25, 2017
    • Marin Theatre Company, San Francisco, June 8-July 9, 2017
    • ACT Theatre, Seattle, June 9-July 2, 2017
    • Theatre Nova, Detroit, June 9- July 9, 2017
    • Dorset Theatre Festival, Vermont, Aug. 3-19, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Sept. 14-Oct. 22, 2017
    • Hippodrome State Theatre, Gainesville, Fla., Oct. 13-Nov. 5, 2017
    • B Street Theatre, Sacramento, Calif.,Nov. 6-Dec. 9, 2017
    • Uptown Players, Dallas, Dec. 1-17, 2017
    • Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, March 23-April 22, 2018
    • Key West Players, Key West, Fla., May 2-19, 2018
    • Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham Mass., May 3-20, 2018
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., June 8-July 1, 2018

    American Mariachi, by Jose Cruz Gonzalez: The musical tale of an all-female mariachi band in the 1970s.

    • DCPA Theatre Company, Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018
    • Old Globe (San Diego), March 23-April 29, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    Just Like Us, by Karen Zacarías: Documentary-style play follows four Latina teenage girls in Denver - two are documented, two are not.

    • Visión Latino Theatre Company, Feb. 24-March 12, 2017

    Dusty and the Big Bad World, by Cusi Cram: When a popular children’s TV  show spotlights a family with two daddies, it sparks a conservative outcry.

    • Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, July 6-19, 2017

    Appoggiatura, by James Still: A trip to Venice brings love, loss, pain and joy to three weary travelers in search of healing and happiness in a magical story filled with music and amore.
    • Indiana Repertory Theatre, March 7-31, 2018

    FADE, by Tanya Saracho: When Mexican-born Lucia is hired to write for a Latina TV character, she finds an unexpected muse in the Latino studio custodian.
    • Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, Feb. 8-March 5, 2017
    • TheatreWorks, Hartford, June 1-30, 2017

    Lydia, by Octavio Solis: A maid cares for a border family's near-vegetative teenage daughter who was left in a coma after a mysterious accident. 

    • Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Seattle, June 1-24, 2017

    Almost Heaven: The Songs and Stories of John Denver: The songwriter's life story is told through anecdotes and 21 songs.

    • Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre, Grand Lake, Sept. 1-30, 2017

    The Whale, by Samuel D. Hunter: An oversized, homebound and dying man struggles to reconcile with his estranged teenage daughter before it’s too late.
    • Verge Theatre Company, Nashville, June 2-14, 2017

    black odyssey, by Marcus Gardley: An imagination of Homer’s epic lens through the lens of the black American experience.
    • California Shakespeare Theatre, Orinda, Calif., Aug. 9-Sept. 3, 2017

    Quilters, by Molly Newman: A series of vignettes performed in song and spoken word that chart the joys and sorrows of the frontier journey West.

    • Ferndale (Calif.) Repertory Theatre, March 9-April 2, 2017

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Video spotlight: 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.

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