Keeping it fresh | SteamboatToday.com

Keeping it fresh

New Works Festival preserves the lifeblood of American theater

Margaret Hair

Dancers rehearse for a piece in the 2007 New Works Festival. Run-throughs and readings for this year's festival start Monday, with performances starting June 20.

New Works schedule

¤ “MAMA HATED DIESELS: The Songs and Stories of an American Truck Driver,” by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman; 8 p.m. June 20. Presented by New Works Artistic Director Andrew Leynse and his Primary Stages Company, this musical play is based on interviews with truck drivers and their families.

¤ “Wild Blessings – A Celebration of Wendell Berry,” by Marc Masterson and Adrien-Alice Hansel; 1 p.m. June 21. Presented by Actors Theatre of Louisville, this work is a collage inspired by poet and philosopher Wendell Berry.

¤ Choreography by Peter Chu; 8 p.m. June 21. New Works Choreographer Peter Chu presents original dance with Perry-Mansfield students.

¤ “When Tang Met Laika,” by Rogelio Martinez; 1 p.m. June 22. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company, this play chronicles a 1990s space race.

¤ “What’s That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling,” by David Pittu and Randy Redd; 4 p.m. June 22. Presented by the Atlantic Theater Company, this musical satire follows the less-than-illustrious career of fictional songwriter Jacob Sterling.

— To start its summer 2008 season, Perry-Mansfield will take on rockets, songwriting careers and the truck-driving life as part of a New Works Festival that challenges playwrights, actors, dancers and choreographers to develop their works-in-progress for the stage.

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Entering its 11th year, the festival has grown to include four theater companies from New York, Denver and Louisville, Ky. From June 20 to 22, those companies, along with Canadian choreographer Peter Chu, will workshop, rehearse and refine drama, musical theater and dance for a series of world premiere performances.

“I think of the pieces that we’re doing this year, every one of them has the opportunity to be on the stage somewhere next year,” New Works Festival co-chairman Jim Steinberg said. Of the four pieces that showed at the 2007 festival, three made it to stage in the past year.

Working with festival artistic director Andrew Leynse, Steinberg said he looks for theater companies that are a good fit for Perry-Mansfield and Steamboat Springs. Those companies need to be developing new work they are passionate about, that has a real chance at making it to the stage or developing in some other way.

“As a development workshop, we really want to make sure that we don’t contribute to having just another reading of something,” Steinberg said. “What we want to do is bring in artists to develop a piece and to help it go on to its next stage.”

Leynse, who is artistic director for the Off-Broadway Primary Stages Company, said the festival’s one-week workshop format gives its works time to breathe and grow.

“I think to be involved with the creation process, and to have a signature that you can put on that process, is a unique experience,” Leynse said. Because past New Works productions have been staged across the country, the festival’s role in their development is important, if not instrumental, to their continued life, he said.

“You quite don’t get that when you’re doing a revival or something that’s already been done,” Leynse said, adding that the festival’s collaborative and organic rehearsal process gives its performances and finished works a fresh feel.

“The authors, choreographers and the music directors are all there, they’re all live and adding in their two cents. That opportunity of creating, as well as performing, is quite inspirational,” he said.

Steinberg said New Works aims to let artists work outside the pressures of a normal festival environment, as well as give Perry-Mansfield students the chance to collaborate with professionals in the early stages of a work. That kind of environment is vital to allowing theater to evolve from its classic roots.

“New work really is the lifeblood. If you don’t develop new work, what happens is theater becomes a museum,” Steinberg said.

“The second part of that is that there are so many great stories yet to be told by so many great writers. Because we have become such a great diverse community here, and by that I mean in this country : there is this large cross-cultural segment of American society that has stories to tell. We want to make sure that we’re a part of that as we move forward in the new century,” he said.

Attending the New Works Festival gives audience members the immediacy of seeing something brand new and gives them a chance to see work in its incubator stage, but also offers a wide variety of mediums and experiences, Leynse said.

“It’s a chance to get a smorgasbord of the artistic landscape – doesn’t that sound filling?”

Key points

¤ Perry-Mansfield New Works Festival

¤ Performances begin June 20; free, public rehearsals for those performances begin Monday

¤ Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, 40755 Routt County Road 36

¤ Single performance tickets are $15; a Festival Weekend Ticket Package for admission to all performances and readings, a dance presentation and a reception is $65

¤ 879-7125 or (800) 430-2787

New Works schedule

¤ “MAMA HATED DIESELS: The Songs and Stories of an American Truck Driver,” by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman; 8 p.m. June 20. Presented by New Works Artistic Director Andrew Leynse and his Primary Stages Company, this musical play is based on interviews with truck drivers and their families.

¤ “Wild Blessings – A Celebration of Wendell Berry,” by Marc Masterson and Adrien-Alice Hansel; 1 p.m. June 21. Presented by Actors Theatre of Louisville, this work is a collage inspired by poet and philosopher Wendell Berry.

¤ Choreography by Peter Chu; 8 p.m. June 21. New Works Choreographer Peter Chu presents original dance with Perry-Mansfield students.

¤ “When Tang Met Laika,” by Rogelio Martinez; 1 p.m. June 22. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company, this play chronicles a 1990s space race.

¤ “What’s That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling,” by David Pittu and Randy Redd; 4 p.m. June 22. Presented by the Atlantic Theater Company, this musical satire follows the less-than-illustrious career of fictional songwriter Jacob Sterling.