Festival kicks off Perry-Mansfield’s 99th season in Steamboat
June 14, 2012
Steamboat Springs — They chose the cabin for a reason.
Cabeen — as the oldest building on the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp campus is called — was where it all began nearly 100 years ago.
And that's exactly what Dan Wheetman and Randy Myler were working on inside the rustic, wood building Wednesday: a story about how it all began.
What one day will be a multimedia theater piece was, on Wednesday, handwritten on hundreds of pink sheets of loose-leaf paper. The text was in flux as the performers suggested changes and the writers tweaked the words here and there. What never changed was the overriding sense that Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield, the founders of the school, were watching over their efforts.
"The vibe is just right — it's so appropriate to be where it started," Wheetman said Wednesday. "There's certainly a spirit of these women present in this place."
The team of Wheetman, a playwright, and Myler, a musician and songwriter, was commissioned three years ago to write a theater piece about the history of Perry-Mansfield for the school's centennial celebration next summer.
The pair are at the school this week for the 15th annual New Works Festival, during which they had the chance to huddle inside the cozy cabin as they watched the words and music come to life through professional and student performers.
There will be a staged reading of the piece at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Main Studio, culminating the New Works Festival that brought about 50 artists from across the country to the woodsy campus to develop new ideas in a comfortable and pressure-free setting.
Including "Perry-Mansfield: A love story," there are four theater pieces and one dance presentation that will be staged for the public this weekend.
While the plays delve into themes such as love and loss in modern times, the historical significance of the Perry-Mansfield campus wasn't lost on the rest of the artists.
Casey Stangl, who is directing the reading of "The Few," a new play by Samuel Hunter, said the group of visiting playwrights, directors and performers was captivated while watching a documentary about how Perry and Mansfield traveled to Colorado from the East Coast and launched the camp in 1913, altering the landscape of modern dance and eventually drama.
"The pioneering and rebellious nature of these women, it's inspiring," Stangl said.
Choreographer Thang Dao has spent the past week at Perry-Mansfield using professional and student dancers to help develop a new work called "Lenore," a contemporary piece set to a reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" by Basil Rathbone.
"I look forward to this every summer," Thang Dao said about the New Works Festival. "It's such a creative space. It allows me to be inspired and create works that are meaningful to me.
"When the dancers come in, I explore the movement. When they do one movement, I can see the next movement on their body."
The New Works Festival features staged readings of theater pieces at 8 p.m. Friday, 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Thang Dao's dance presentation is at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Festival Artistic Director Andrew Leynse said many of the works staged this week will go on to be produced across the country.
"We are a collaborative art form, and having an audience teaches you about the work," he said about performing staged readings of unfinished work. "It gives you an understanding. … It gives you momentum."
2012 New Works Festival schedule
8 p.m. "Kinship" in the Main Studio: The story of a newspaper editor involved in a romantic entanglement with a junior reporter.
1 p.m. "The Vast In-Between" in Julie Harris Theater: The long and difficult journey of marriage, from "I do" to "goodbye."
4 p.m. "The Few" in Julie Harris Theater: A man returns to his labor of love — a newspaper for truckers — after a four-year absence.
8 p.m. Thang Dao dance presentation in the Main Studio
2 p.m. "Perry-Mansfield: A love story" in Main Studio: A look at Perry-Mansfield's early years through theater and song.
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com
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