J0LT OF CREATIVITY: Teachers band together for first-run show at CCA

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A good coffee shop is more than just a place to get a caffeine fix.

The perfect café is a place for community, collaborations and deep thought. The ideal coffee house is a site where stories converge, a business that’s deepened by the stories and experiences of its patrons. Coffee drinkers exchanging stories, reflecting on their own personal scars, contemplating life’s dramas and disappointments — it all makes for great drama.

That’s part of the impetus behind “Comings and Goings,” a new original drama penned by Community College of Aurora theatre director Stacey D’Angelo, former CCA faculty member Wayne Gilbert and retired Hinkley High School drama teacher Annell Weissenbuehler. The show, set to run at Carter Theatre at the CCA CentreTech campus for a single weekend in August, is a montage of monologues, poems and meditations.

And it all takes place in a single coffee shop.

“Stacey plays the barista. She breaks the wall for the audience. She reflects on the rules, the etiquette of the coffee shop and the things she sees in a day, in a shift,” said Weissenbuehler, who won the Colorado Theater Educator of the Year award before retiring from Hinkley last year.

The comings and goings of café patrons serves as a diving board for bigger questions about patterns of life. The 90-minute show follows the characters’ lives over several years. In their regular visits to the shop, they tackle issues tied to forgiveness, love and aging. The show explores Alzheimer’s disease, it tackles life’s seemingly random patterns and it delves into issues of loss.

“It deals with our very human attempts to purposefully communicate or try not to,” Weissenbuehler said. “There are a couple of sections where we deal with technology, how we’ve escaped into that … There’s also a pretty strong sense of the role of forgiveness and how difficult it is to finally reach that point — for yourself, for other people and frequently just for life itself.”

The show marks the second collaboration between Weissenbuehler and Gilbert, a former CCA English professor and an accomplished poet. Since retiring from his post at the community college, Gilbert has remained active in writing and performing, showing up at poetry readings across the metro area and publishing compilations of original poetry.

After retiring, Weissenbuehler and Gilbert formed the “Us-In-A-Box Theatre Workshop” in an effort to make creative use of the newfound liberty of spare time. The effort produced “Heartboxes,” an original piece that ran at the CCA campus in January. “Comings and Goings” follows a similar format and gestation process, but this show will also benefit from input by D’Angelo, who will spend her summer vacation returning to her roots.

In addition to playing a role in the show, D’Angelo also wrote a monologue pulled from personal experience. Playing the barista, D’Angelo details the struggles raising an infant daughter with a rare and often undiagnosed disorder. D’Angelo talks about the challenges associated with Sensory Processing Disorder, a malady that dulls an infant’s appetite and keeps her from eating.

All of those words were based on D’Angelo’s real-life experiences with her young daughter. Putting those struggles into a monologue form made D’Angelo flex some creative muscles she doesn’t always get to use as a teacher.

“I wanted to use this medium and form for myself. But I’m going about it in a way that I don’t always take my students through – sitting down and just writing and speaking. I’m used to putting so many bells and whistles on things. This is just me, raw. It’s exciting and really scary at the same time,” D’Angelo said.

The process has offered refreshing challenges for all of these current and former teachers. Whether it’s Gilbert and Weissenbuehler finding a new creative path after retirement or D’Angelo returning to her stage roots during her summer break, this show has offered new insights about the craft, discipline and joy of theater.

The demands of teaching are gone for the moment, and the freedom purifies the creative process.

“The joy of this, really, is that we’re not overseeing each other,” Weissenbuehler said. “We can say, ‘OK, this is our basic concept.’ If every decision you’re making individually is justified based on that concept, we’re in good shape.

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

“Comings and Goings”

Will run at 7 p.m. on Aug. 9 and 10 in the Larry D. Carter Theatre in the Fine Arts Building at the Community College of Aurora CentreTech Campus, 16000 E Centretech Pkwy.

Information: 303-360-4700 or ccaurora.edu.