Headwaters New Play Festival

Hello, Creede! In the past few weeks I have mentioned Creede to many people who have lived in Colorado their whole lives, and have received blank expressions in return. However, when I mention it to someone who cares about theater, I can count on a different response altogether.

In the summer, Creede is home to a popular repertory theater. In repertory, a theater assembles a versatile cast which then performs several shows during the same season, often rotating the shows every night or two. For example: during the weekend we were in Creede, audience members could take in Little Shop of Horrors, Peter and the Starcatcher, Hazardous Materials and Pride and Prejudice — all with the same cast of actors playing all of the roles. This model can be especially useful for a town as remote as Creede, Colorado or Ashland, Oregon, because audiences can travel once but binge multiple shows.

As if that weren’t enough for a theater to take on, Creede Rep also hosts the Headwaters New Play Festival. I witnessed two of the festival’s staged readings — stripped down, script-in-hand performances that give a theater a sense of how a play works with an audience, without creating a fully-staged production. Though these readings require some imagination on the audience’s part, they are a wonderful glimpse behind the scenes of how a play comes to life “from page to stage.”

When selecting a script for the Headwaters treatment, Creede Rep focuses on plays which tell stories of the west. Producing Artistic Director John Diantonio explained that this is not always a literal articulation of a western; they also consider broader themes of the west, such as “agriculture, isolation, grit.”

The two readings I experienced were incredibly different from one another. First, Into Place by Skye Robinson Hillis, the story of a man who never left his hometown and a woman who upends his life. Second was North Star by Georgette Kelly, which bounces between a tragedy in the present and a mythical voyage in the past. (Read longer descriptions of these two plays here.)

The actors (the same actors as in the repertory productions, by the way) performed both readings with tremendous energy and passion. In particular, I was impressed by the impact that Into Place made on the audience without so much as a beer bottle as a prop. The emotional response speaks to both the talent of the actors and the strength of the story.

The casts had obviously rehearsed these readings in advance, but this was their first chance with an audience present. On a few occasions, the audience’s response visibly surprised the actors — it was sweet to watch them light up when they had to pause for an unexpected laugh, for instance.

(Pictured above: Development Director McCorvey, Education Director Brittni Shambaugh Addison, Artistic Associate Kate Berry, Producing Artistic Director John Diantonio.) 

Headwaters also includes talkbacks with artists and playwrights, social events, and performances of an outreach tour that Creede Rep produces. It is always fantastic to see a theater of any size put so much emphasis on contemporary work. Creede Rep takes that commitment a step farther: this year’s main stage show Hazardous Materials is a world premiere… which got its start as a staged reading at Headwaters.

I would be delighted to return to a future Headwaters New Play Festival to see the newest script they have fully realized. On top of that, I need to see more of Creede — while I was essentially camped out in the theater all weekend (i.e. living my best life), Dan was off touring mines and photographing waterfalls and mountain biking until the roads washed out.

P.S. I did manage to carve out time to visit Creede’s many art galleries. I fell hard for a local painter, Stephen Quiller, whose use of color speaks to me in a visceral way. You can spot another piece of Quiller’s work earlier in this post, spanning the lobby of the Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre.

Hello, gorgeous.
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