Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The most important part of theatre

My new playwriting group, The Drama Lab, had its first meeting last night and everyone agreed it went very well. We had twelve people show up, including four actors and two playwrights beside myself.

I never worried about attracting writers. There's a healthy number of aspiring playwrights out there and we're one of the only places in town where they can see their stuff on a stage.

My big worry has always been actors. While we offer them a great opportunity to practice their craft, they have a lot more places to go.

But I was pleasantly surprised by how many people came just to watch. And I soon realized the incredible gift they bring to the readings. Their comments to the playwrights were spot on, and I know that hearing their laughter--or lack thereof--during the reading of my play helped me nail down which lines needed work.

Sure, playwrights are the ones who turn blank pages into stories. And actors breath life into those stories.

But in the end, it's the audience that makes theatre happen. Without them, we're just shouting into a dark and empty room.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Making theatre where you live

Westcliffe, Colorado is a town that takes its theatre seriously. And that's largely because of one woman, Anne Kimbell Relph.

Relph is a former stage and screen star who in 1992 planned to retire by buying her dream property, a large ranch just outside this little town in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the dream. Relph learned that the six-decade-old Jones Theater was about to be sold and turned into a laundromat. Horrified, she bought the building and rechristened it the Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts, eventually adding a costume shop, youth theater and radio station.

That's where my one-act comedy Long Tall Lester was performed this weekend along with three other plays, all winners of the New Rocky Mountain Voices Competition. The two-night run attracted about 75 people in this town of 300--a percentage of the local populace that any New York City playwright would kill for.

The historic 184-seat theater is still used to show first-run movies, but it also hosts community theater productions, high school plays, bluegrass concerts--even the occasional opera. Ever supportive of her community, Relph also offers the theater for free to local fundraising groups.

Oh, and that ranch? Fuhggedaboudit. Relph lives with her husband in the small apartment above the theater.

And she couldn't be happier.