Denver Center’s New Play Summit a proving ground for new metro area works


The cast and crew of “Ed, Downloaded” had plenty to worry about in the weeks leading up to opening night earlier this month.

The drama written by Michael Mitnick that debuted at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts posed its own unique challenges in terms of set design, blocking and rehearsal. Described as “two-thirds play and one-third movie” by video designer Charlie Miller, the show’s constant combination of live action and pre-recorded video clips carried unique demands. The actors, director and crew had to prep for a show that used multimedia tools in unorthodox ways; they had to adjust to a different kind of stagecraft and a unique brand of performance.

“The challenge is manifold. There are a lot of logistical challenges. We couldn’t film any of the content until all of the actors were in town. We couldn’t film too early in the rehearsal process,” Miller said. “The video does not just stand alone. It’s not like we just push ‘play’ … It’s very interactive.”

Luckily, they didn’t come completely unprepared. As one of the featured original works in last year’s New Play Summit at the Denver Center, the personnel behind “Ed, Downloaded” had already had two weeks to tweak and test out an early, bare-bones version of the show for audiences from across the country. In the past eight years, the Summit has become an important regional showcase for young playwrights and new shows, and it’s offered an important starting point for ambitious shows like “Ed, Downloaded.”

“Without that time … we would not have nearly as complete or successful a product as we do now,” Miller said. “We had two weeks to experiment and to try out different things in a room without the pressure. We came into the development process for the production already having two solid weeks of work behind us.”

“Ed, Downloaded” is one of the two plays that debuted at last year’s Summit to be turned into full-fledged productions by the Denver Center Theatre Company in the first months of 2013. “Ed, Downloaded” and “Grace, or the Art of Climbing” will run as part of this year’s New Play Summit, set to run Feb. 8 to 10. The summit will include readings of new plays by Catherine Trieschmann, Matthew Lopez, Laura Eason, Marcus Gardley and Karen Zacarías.

“Grace, or the Art of Climbing” by Lauren Feldman, poses its own challenges. The drama about a young woman dealing with simultaneous crises and losses involves a good deal of rock climbing. That central feature of the plot has driven set designers and other crew members to examine the Space Theatre in a new way. The Space, a theater in the round, has had to accommodate several scenes that see characters scaling sheer rock faces.

“It was a pretty unique set of challenges because of the physical demands of climbing,” said Dane Laffrey, the set designer for “Grace.” “That was a relatively tall order going into it. But it was a good challenge. In the end, I think it really shocked us into it. We just had to basically walk away from any of the existing architectural reference points.”

Last year’s New Play Summit was an important first step in finding the right way to tackle those challenges, according to director Mike Donahue.

“It’s a good opportunity,” Donahue said. “For a theater to really commit, to say we’re going to do readings of these five plays and we’re actually going to produce a couple of them, (that) means so, so much. For the theater to really commit to supporting the new work they’re developing … it’s really spectacular.”

And the benefit isn’t limited to the theater scene in the Denver metro area. “The Whale,” one of the dramas featured during last year’s Summit, went on to an Off-Broadway production in New York in 2011. Actors, directors and producers from across the country come to Colorado during the event to scope out original works and find new theatrical gems.

“I think it will be fun for the Summit’s returning attendees to see what came of the show, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity,” Miller said, referring to the development of “Ed, Downloaded” in the past year. “Industry professionals come from all over the country. They use it as a way to network and as a way to scout new work. It’s a (chance) for us … to get our work out there and to have a lot of different people to see it.”

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at [email protected] or 720-449-9707