There’s no business like the stage business, and Fort Lewis College students have access to it all, thanks to FLC’s thriving Performing Arts Department and the annual Durango PlayFest. For Theatre K-12 Education senior Tyler Gleason, a summer internship with the PlayFest, which just wrapped up its third season, provides the perfect platform to hone his skills for pursuing his dream career: teaching theatre.
“My high school teacher, Melissa Souers, was just such a great leader, teaching us the basics of theatre and also how to be an artist in our field,” says Gleason (Diné), who is from Farmington, N.M. “She taught us that you can make art and feel comfortable doing so.”
An FLC alumna, Souers (Theatre, ’09) inspires her students to embrace their artistic passions and seek opportunities across the region, says Gleason. She would coordinate field trips for the students to FLC for plays and state theatre competitions, opening their worlds beyond the classroom. In 2018, Gleason graduated high school, received a scholarship from FLC, and, upon encouragement from Souers, signed up to intern as a first-year assistant stage manager with the debut Durango PlayFest that summer.
“As stage manager, I basically pay attention to every detail and make sure the artists are following the rules,” says Gleason. “I immediately loved it.”
I feel like the [PlayFest] experience has really prepared me to work in a professional setting. I’ve learned how to speak clearly and concisely and give clear and adequate directions. And the best part is that PlayFest, and any theatre for that matter, brings us together as a community into one space, no matter how we identify.
After 2018’s successful thespian event, which brings famous and emerging artists to Durango for a weekend of staged readings, Gleason was chosen by FLC’s Theatre Department (now the Performing Arts Department) to oversee the production of Teaching Disco Square Dancing to our Elders: A Class Presentation in 2018, and again in the fall of 2019 for The Mystery of Irma Vepp: A Penny Dreadful. In 2020, when in-person gatherings were canceled due to the pandemic, Gleason was tasked instead to be the department’s stage manager for the virtual showing of Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat. The workload was about the same, says Gleason, considering the theatre team put together plays in person before showcasing them over Zoom.
According to Gleason, a day in the life of a stage manager begins before the artists step into costume and on the stage. Gleason says he gets there before anyone else “so the actors are set up for a good show.” From readying the space to “blocking” the stage (that is, telling the actors and actresses where to stand), and then making sure they follow those directions, his job can be quite stressful.
“I’m in charge of everything, so if something goes wrong…” he trails off. “I just breathe through it, reminding myself that at the end of the day, it’s all going to be okay. No one’s going to die.”
The PlayFest canceled the 2020 edition due to COVID-19 and was thrilled to revive the third annual event in an open-air tent over the weekend of August 5-8, 2021. This year’s soiree featured three new works and staged readings from nationally recognized actors, including Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years,” “Lombardi”), Wendie Malick (“Just Shoot Me!,” “Hot in Cleveland”), Emily Swallow (“Supernatural,” “The Mandalorian”), Mike Farrell (“M*A*S*H”), and Brett Dalton (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”).
To help get the festival on its feet, Gleason started his paid summer internship in May, accepting three roles as production intern, assistant stage manager, and stage manager. While he received school credit, Gleason says he also got a lot of practice polishing his skills in time management and communication. He also handled a lot of paperwork, from scheduling actors to securing locations.
With three years of PlayFest under his belt, Gleason is ready for the next challenge: directing his first show, Chief Tender-Foot, a play written by Colorado-based playwright Annawyn Shamas. Five performances will take place at the FLC Theatre October 15-23 as part of the Indigenous Artists Festival.
2021 Indigenous Artists Festival
Plays and performances
When: October 15, 16, 17, 22, 23 (7:30 p.m.) October 17 (2 p.m. matinee)
Cost: Tickets are free for FLC students!
Wild Horses by Rhiana Yazzie, directed by guest artist Kim Gleason
Buffalo Tricks by Alan Kilpatrick, directed by senior Shane Ventris
Chief Tender-Foot by Annawyn Shamas, directed by senior Tyler Gleason
“Chief Tender-Foot is a Nez Perce legend about the first moccasins,” says Gleason. “This story means a lot to me because, being Indigenous, often our stories go untold, or told from the white perspective. My show will showcase the oldest tradition: storytelling, and how we pass it down from generation to generation.”
While Gleason focuses on directing a successful play, he’s keeping his eyes on his goal to teach theatre, starting next spring. Of course, he also aspires to continue working with the Durango PlayFest over the coming years.
“I feel like the [PlayFest] experience has really prepared me to work in a professional setting,” says Gleason, a first-generation college student. “I’ve learned how to speak clearly and concisely and give clear and adequate directions. And the best part is that PlayFest, and any theatre for that matter, brings us together as a community into one space, no matter how we identify.”
As an intern with PlayFest, I really grew in my field. They do a great job involving students and pushing them to understand what it’s like working in a professional atmosphere. Interning with PlayFest during my time at the Fort also pushed me to stay creative outside of my classes. I can’t stress it enough: I truly wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t jump in and commit to my roles as an intern.
Communication Design, ’19