August in Durango is known for attracting mountain lovers looking for some summer fun in the sun. These days, though, it’s also known for gathering theatre lovers looking for serious – and seriously entertaining – conversations, workshops, and presentations of cutting-edge playwriting.
In its second year, Durango PlayFest brought to town nationally recognized writers, directors, and actors for a week of rehearsals, panels, coaching, and dramatic readings of new plays. This year’s attendees included:
• Kim Brockington (“Guiding Light,” “Asunder”)
• Austin Cauldwell (“Switched at Birth,” “Invisible”)
• Brett Dalton (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
• Carla Gallo (“Superbad,” “Undeclared”)
• Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years,” “Lombardi”)
• Andrew Leeds (“Veep,” “Bones”)
• Wendie Malick (“Just Shoot Me,” “Dream On”)
• Jon Tenney (“The Closer,” “Tombstone”)
• Matthew Sullivan (“JAG,” “Line of Fire”)
• Emily Swallow (“Supernatural,” “The Mentalist”)
• Tatiana Wechsler (“Oklahoma!,” “X: Or Betty Shabazz v. The Nation”)
Senior Lecturer of Theatre Felicia Meyer, co-founder and festival director of PlayFest, says the festival means that aspiring thespians and authors right here in Durango can now meet and learn from acclaimed actors and playwrights they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. “I think it's an incredible opportunity for students and community members to interact with professionals,” says Meyer.
And it also means that aspiring professionals in other fields can learn firsthand about the business of running a festival. Among the supporting cast of staff who put together PlayFest are students and alumni from majors across campus. Student interns and alumni staff get involved in all facets of the event: production, community engagement, social media promotion, graphic design, box office management, as well as performing and reading.
“Starting in May and throughout the summer building up to PlayFest in August, students had the opportunity to see how to build a festival from the ground up,” Meyer explains. “And they end up getting exposed to all aspects. So, even though they might come in as a social media intern, they end up working with and learning from all of us as we prepare for the festival.”
“And once the artists get here,” she adds, “we encourage students to take time to interact with them, to be with them in rehearsals, to come to lunch with them, and to sit down with the artists as much as they can. And all the artists are amenable to that. They're excited to be working with students.”
Senior Communication Design major Alexis Blosser worked as a paid graphic design intern with PlayFest this past summer. “I worked on and designed a variety of big and exciting projects,” she says, “such as advertisements, stickers, event rack-cards, the festival playbill, a banner over Main Avenue, and even a digital-display ad that was in the Durango airport.”
“I learned a lot about event promotion and community relations, and about time management, communication, and organizational skills relevant to my design work,” she continues. “Plus, it was very exciting to meet and work with professional actors. I enjoyed a lot of my interactions with the actors, and was thrilled to have been involved in such an enriching and unique experience.”
And those interactions, says Meyer, are the point of PlayFest.
“It’s about that opportunity to connect with professionals. Having this real-world experience and contact with professionals is valuable for everyone, especially students,” she says. “I think spending your summers developing skills and making contacts and being challenged in ways that you wouldn't normally be challenged is a really productive use of your summer. It's a great way to grow.”