Augustana Arts presents “Dreams and Aspirations” performed by the Stratus Chamber Orchestra and featuring guests from the Lighthouse Writers Workshopand Picture Me Here, a storytelling fellowship for refugees and immigrants who are new to Denver. In this creative collaboration, we explore the theme of “dreams” through the interplay of words and music, enhanced through images and photographs. A diverse group of Denver storytellers will share pieces written in response to great works by Beethoven, Aaron Copland, and Charles Ives, visionary composers who dreamed big and changed music.
Performancesare 7:30 p.m.on Friday, February 2 at the First Plymouth Congregational Church, 3501 S. Colorado Blvd, Englewood, CO 80113 and again on Saturday, February 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 E. Alameda Ave., Denver, CO 80246. Tickets are $10 – $25 and available by calling 303-388-4962, online at www.AugustanaArts.org or at the door.
And Toto too Theatre Company is presenting two one act plays THE WAY STATION & THE SOUTH STAR by Colorado Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill.
THE WAY STATION is the story of three strangers from different places and times, each pulled out of their travels and dropped off at a mysterious way station. At this surreal crossroads, no excuse, lie, or self-delusion holds up to scrutiny, and each person must find the strength to face his or her own dark secret, only then may they move on.
SOUTH STAR is set seven years in the future, during the second American Civil War, South Star is the story of a survivor, an inspiration, a reluctant hero who wishes she could just stop running. Stel finds herself in the company of two people – one an apparent victim, and one an apparent predator. What commences is a figurative game of three-card-Monty; the stakes are Stel’s life.
Here is my Q&A with Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill
The Way Station and South Star are one act plays that share a few elements but do not seem directly related. How do you describe them, and did you conceive them as companion pieces?
I would describe the Way Station as a mystery, and South Star as a suspense story. The two of them do share some elements that I always find intriguing: 1 – a space that doesn’t belong to any of the characters – a space that is on the way to another space and 2 – a trap: a reason the characters can’t leave. In The Way Station, the trap is physical, in South Star, it’s psychological. Also, I love a 3-person play. They provide a great opportunity to keep shifting alliances – one person is always against two, and you can keep shifting that dynamic around.
I didn’t specifically conceive them as companion pieces – South Star is much more clearly a companion to my full-length, The Greater Good, which And Toto Too was the first to produce – but I love the way that they’re coming together under Susan’s guidance. The actors, I hope, get to have fun showing some range, and, like any 2 pieces of art when you put them side-by-side, one gives a different context to the other.
After reading these plays I first thought of Rod Serling, (like you he also taught writing) not as a direct comparison, but simply as a salute. Is there any connection to his style for you?
Oh absolutely! The Way Station is very much inspired by The Twilight Zone, which I think is a classic of American Literature. I think that Rod Serling, (and Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King) are strong influences on my writing. They are giants. So if you see the salute, I’m more than flattered. South Star a little less directly inspired. That idea came from an immersion in literature about the WWII French Resistance movement.
What drew you to writing one act plays?
One-Acts are how I learned to write plays. I started writing plays in college, and took the (two) playwriting classes my college offered. My mentor, Peter Parnell, encouraged us to write for the One-Act Festival my school hosted, which is how I got my first productions. The length and the limit of the one act suited me – I like compact stories. One acts were all I wrote until grad school, because it’s all I thought I knew how to write.
On the New Play Exchange you write that you are “bored of cynicism and I appreciate cleverness.”, how did that point of view develop for you?
Thank you for reading my NNPX page! I sometimes think I’m whistling in the wind on that one. OK, so, I teach, and I’m a judge for a couple play contests, and the result is that I read a ton of plays. (I also watch a lot of TV and movies) a ton, mostly by beginning writers, who tend to lean comfortably back into being cynical about the state of, well, everything. But then I sometimes get to see cleverness – innovation – something I haven’t seen before. That’s so, so exciting. Cynicism is a place where one can rest. Cleverness is like a call to action, innovation, and movement.
It’s straight-up wonderful working with And Toto Too. Susan and I figured out that we had been working together in some capacity since the first Play Crawl, 2010. They produced a reading of, then a full production of The Greater Good , which went on to be published. Susan takes such good care of her actors, designers, and playwrights. She’s professional and focused, and what’s really lovely, is I always feel in very good hands. I trust And Toto Too with my work, and I have always been treated with care and respect. I’m really very grateful for this opportunity.
Anything else you would like to share?
The actors are wonderful! The set design is exciting! The Lighting designer is talented! I’m very much looking forward to seeing how And Toto Too brings the plays to the stage, and I am really, very proud to be working with And Toto Too again.
As artists continue to take charge of their work so they can create authentic representations of their own experiences many find ways to produce their work outside of large arts and culture organizations. Jeff Campbell built an audience in 2013 with a powerful and provocative piece called “Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?” doing just that. He has returned to Denver and to it’s theater community with a new work and a new theater company.
Set in the dynamic landscape of present-day Denver, Honorable Disorder is a story of reconciliation, growth, and recognition for a young black veteran.
For your first piece since returning to Denver you founded a new theater company (Emancipation Theater Company) and serve as Producer/Writer/Actor/Director for the premiere production “Honorable Disorder”; How did the company come together? How was if formed?
The concept of Emancipation Theater Company is inspired by the Marcus Garvey quote: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” Also inspired by the 1958 Academy Award Winning film “The Defiant Ones” starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. The film is about two escaped prisoners, who are chained together, one Black, and the other White, who must cooperate in order to survive. The ETC logo depicts two abstract characters, not specifically representing races, but rather the dynamic opposites of the human spectrum, bound together by their humanity, who must work together to overcome the matrix of forces that inhibit their experience as human beings. When I came home from Georgia, after being gone a year, I knew I wanted to form a company that represented freedom, justice and equality, and approach theater in for profit business model, like a film company, and donate to it’s non profit community partner organizations. I raised the money on my own, working my construction job. It’s a single member LLC, and I function just like a general contractor who hires tradesmen to create a finished product.
In “Honorable Disorder” you show us the world some Vets experience, and take us through the story of a neighborhood changing without appreciation of the existing community. The character Nancy says she doesn’t understand why people move to a neighborhood but don’t participate in the community. “Most of these folks move to this neighborhood, don’t ever become a part of the community once they here. Are they afraid of their neighbors or something?” How did these stories come together for you?
Veterans are disproportionately represented at the bottom of the socioeconomic landscape and in a rising housing market, they are disproportionately affected. I learned about the difficulties veterans face accessing their benefits while working for the veterans resource center in Georgia. I’ve been watching Five Points change over the last 15 years, but when I left in 2016, and returned in 2017, the change felt even more drastic. I chose to talk about those things simultaneously because they are so connected.
The intersection of arts and political activism has a long tradition. What do you think the role of the artist is in this community today?
Not only social commentary and “telling it like it is” but utilizing your power as a catalyst to gather the community in a way that folks on the frontlines of social justice can be highlighted and supported through your art monetarily. You cannot simply call yourself an activist because you “tell it like it is” in your art. Raise the awareness in the community of the people doing the work in the movement, and back them with dollars. Collaborate with organizations and individuals who are working towards social change.
How will you measure the success of this first production for Emancipation Theater Company?
If the community is inspired to continue the dialogue and take action.
Although there are 6 characters in the play from an archetypical point of view, there are really only 3. The Mother and the Sergeant are the same, they represent the embattled sages of wisdom. The veteran and the social worker are the same, both have the savior complex. The uncle and platoon buddy are both cynical co-dependent anti heroes. I approached the writing in that way in order to draw parallels in their lives and allow their commonality to be organically expressed through their point of view. Often we get so wrapped up in issues, and identities, that we forget that people are the same, no matter who they are. The antagonist isn’t a person, it’s our lack of understanding, compassion, and empathy for one another.