Stars over Boulder: Meet the cast of Full Code

When I was in Denver for early rehearsals of Full Code, people kept asking me how I got such a heavy hitting cast for Full Code. I, of course, had nothing to do it–and I wasn’t familiar enough with the Denver/Boulder theatre scene to get why this crew was so buzz-worthy. Upon a closer look, it’s become clear that BETC has assembled a powerhouse ensemble for this production. Between them, they’ve won just about every award in town, and from the rehearsals I saw, I understand why.

Hard to believe it, but opening night is a week away: October 22 (with public previews starting on the 20th). I’ll be there to cheer on this amazing ensemble and I hope some of you will too.

As seen in the banner photo above, Laura Norman (Callie) and Maire Higgins (Lauren) play the wife and “work wife” of Sander, who is in coma after a traumatic injury. The Sander each woman knows is quite different than the other’s vision and they clash over their who best speaks for what he would want next.

Norman is a Henry and True West Award-winning actress, whose roles span Harper in Angels in America to the protagonist of GroundedHiggins is an Irene Ryan Award finalist and Yale Cabaret performer who joined the national tour of Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

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Luke Sorge and Casey Andree

Casey Andree (Sander, at right) bumps fists with an imagined visitor (Luke Sorge) who enters the subconscious universe of his coma. Sander’s dream life, based on actual coma survivor diaries, mixes fantasy characters, stimulus from the real world, and a stew of loaded memories.

BETC Ensemble Member and Henry Award winning actor, Andree’s past roles are are diverse as Melchior in Spring’s Awakening and Lurch in Addams Family. Fellow BETC Ensemble Member Sorge was praised by Westword for his work in Stupid Fucking Bird and by the Denver Post for his work in Bug.

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Warren Sherrill and Devon James

Warren Sherrill (Nurse Dennis) and Devon James (Dr. See) are Sander’s medical team. The doctor is pragmatic and unemotional; Nurse Dennis is all about connection and wants to try a stimulus pattern the hospital disavows.

Associate Artistic Director of Edge Theatre Company, Sherrill is a Henry Award-winning director. James has won True West and Henry Awards and has appeared in everything from Heartbreak House to Steel Magnolias.

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Karen Slack

Karen Black (Jackie) is a former coworker with an ax to grind and perhaps the best insight into what makes Sander tick, and the element of his coma life that is most troublesome to him.

With Henry, Ovation, and Denver Westword awards, Slack is one of the Denver area’s busiest actors, with past roles including the title role in Medea and Vanda in Venus with Furs.

The only drawback to having such a stellar cast is…well, actually, as far I can tell, there is none. It’s all win for me as a playwright and for BETC audiences.

 

Tickets 

To Austin, to Austin: The Mermaid Hour to be included in the NNPN National Showcase of New Plays

For a little-known playwright, getting your work in front of theatres can seem near impossible. With no agent, I cold submit all the time, and I have to accept the Zen of Submissions: Send the work out into the world and let it go. That’s it. Keep writing, hoping, and submitting, but don’t obsess.

Last year, I sent my play The Mermaid Hour to the Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, not knowing a thing about their nuVoices Festival or the company itself. (And, classic northerner, picturing Charleston, which is a complete other Carolina.) I couldn’t have imagined the growth that The Mermaid Hour,  once accepted for the festival, would make in Charlotte. With the stellar director Lyndsay Burch and guidance from the wise Martin Wilkins, the play really found its voice (and a new ending) that week.

Chip Decker, ATC Artistic Director, nominated the show for inclusion in the National Showcase of New Plays. I was appreciative but dubious: the cast has only 6 characters, but among them are a Cuban-American, two Japanese-Americans, a genderqueer adult, and a trans tween. When I was commissioned in 2013 to write the play for the EST Sloan Project, I was committed to representing the truth of American diversity in my story, but I also felt (and have since been told by others along the way) that the play’s future life might well be doomed by its casting challenges. As I’ve bumped into that before with similarly diverse scripts, I suspected that the play might be too “much” for more theatres to take on. Even so, I didn’t change the characters to be more casting-friendly.

When it became a Eugene O’Neill Finalist (an honor no play of mine has had), it was heartening and made me hopeful about the play’s life. But when Chip let me know that the National New Play Network had indeed selected it as one of six plays for the showcase, I was pretty flabbergasted. A quick glance at the stunning roster made it clear I shouldn’t have worried that there isn’t a market for diverse theatre.

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This festival is part conference and part matchmaker, bringing playwrights together with theatres from around the country (artistic directors I don’t know, many of whom I can’t blindly submit my work to). The attendees see all these new works with an eye toward bringing them to their stages.

It’s a thrilling opportunity for a play to find audiences, but also a great chance to meet other playwrights (about whom I’ve already heard great things), who, like me, must constantly navigate the world of submissions.

What’s more, inclusion in this festival is proof that I can’t ever know where my work will go next, only that I must first release it into the world to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where it happens: Boulder, Part II

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(Clockwise from left: Heather Beasley, Maire Higgins, Luke Sorge, Casey Andree, Karen Slack, Devon James, Laura Norman, Wareen Sherrill, Maxie Bilyeu, Stephen Weitz)

The writing life is often solitary. When I’m working on a new play or a book, there are hours and hours spent quietly inside a world of my own making. It can be a bit of an echo chamber in there–no way to know what is pure gold and what is pure poo. With a novel, there’s not much to do but send a draft off to what writers call a Beta reader and hope they have insight, but even then, that person reads alone and then gives feedback.

Theatre offers something that no other genre does: the chance to be present as others experience the work for the first (and second and third…) time. When a playwright is included in rehearsal spaces for the development of a play, a dialogue happens, one full of questions, answers, discoveries, and growth. (At least that’s what supposed to happen; some playwrights show up with a script, a chip on their shoulder, and a reluctance to keep working. For the record, theatres hate that.) Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company has given me the gift of being in the room twice: first when they developed a draft of Full Code in 2014 and this week as they prepare to mount the world premiere next month.

A play isn’t finished until the script is “locked” for production, and even then, many theatres are still open to massaging elements even as the show runs. Shuffle Along shaved off an hour and changed the ending on Broadway last season–after audiences were already coming to see it. A good director, dramaturg, and cast take the playwrights’ original words and ideas seriously but also look at avenues for growth and added depth; assuming you’re kept in the loop, it’s a marvelous new way of seeing for a writer.

Last night–two years after the workshop and four years after the first draft–I discovered continuity issues none of us had ever noticed, but also rich resonances we heard for the first time, and fresh takes on what some of the passages mean or achieve. Four hours of rehearsal didn’t get us even to the act break, but all the stops and starts for discussion meant characters started coming to life and electric connections were being drawn from scene to scene and beat to beat.

It was also a time for bonding. Luke Sorge (top right) pointed out that the word crèche sounded to him like a cross between a crepe and a quiche; suddenly we were all envisioning impossibly thin savory pancakes cut in nativity shapes, and sold under the name Qreche. Maire Higgins (at left) commented on a passage about Bostonians in sweats carrying Dunkin Donut cups, which set off a whole riff on Dunkin ubiquity and the far each of Dunks beyond Massachusetts. And we debated the difference between Southern women and Cajun women, which pretty much comes down to belles versus badasses.

Does it sound like we got off topic? In fact, crèches, Bostonian habits, and Cajun steel all spring from the play in some way. But the storytelling exchanges were as much about creating comfort, connection, and community among the cast. There was plenty of time to interrogate text and theme, but the laughter and teasing are just as important on their own merits at this point.

As writer, such moments enrich the entire experience for me. Forgive me a little Hamiltizing:

No one really knows how the play gets to the stage
The pieces that are sacrificed that were once upon the page,
But I was in the room where it happens
I get to be in the room where it happens.
I got to be
I love to be
in the room.

Zooming into Boulder: Full Code Rehearsals

I started my trip on a roll–a medium-slow roll through Logan airport on a wheelchair. Things sped up once we had competition. For a while it was neck and neck between me and an actual little old lady in another wheelchair, but my driver was a true Masshole and left her in the dust. I’m not sure what primal need this filled for him but I was at my gate speedily.

A few hours later I was in Boulder for the first read through of the world premiere of my play Full Code with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. BETC selected Full Code as the winner of their first Generations Prize competition and workshopped the play in 2014. In the play, two women with competing claims to the affection of a man in a coma clash over who he really is, how their beliefs may have life or death repercussions, and how to know when to let go or fight on. Throughout, we get to see the inner life of the man’s coma, with memories, imagination, and stimuli from the waking world jumbled together.

At the read through, a group of donors and board members were gathered to not only hear the play but see presentations from the set, costume, lighting, and sound designers. For instance, costumer Maribeth Hite did a slide show starting with images of neuron pathways that served as one of her inspirations for colors and patterns; it was fascinating to hear her describing subtle clothing changes as yielding their own story arc in the play. Sound designer Jason Ducat played original music composed for transitions and drew attention to embedded hints of ambient hospital noise and a ticking clock.

It was rewarding to hear the private audience laughing so often, sighing at times, and sniffling by the end. I totally earned my you’ll-laugh-you’ll-cry badge–or, more accurately, the cast earned it, showing such great fluency with their characters for a first night.

Before leaving, I discovered that among the guests was someone who influenced my childhood: Christopher Sarson, who created Zoom. To say that this was my favorite show for much of the 1970s almost undersells it. I stood there in the rehearsal room singing the theme song with him, rattling off cast names, demonstrating the invisible arm trick — and he spoke to me in “ubby dubby.” The youngest of my play’s cast members was enthralled with this strange retro-bonding moment even though she was born 20 years after the show itself. And Sarson also created a little something else you may have heard of: Masterpiece Theatre. Hopefully, he’ll use both words to describe Full Code.

The Revengers adventure begins…

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Now, I know what you’re thinking: since when is Dave a YA author? Much less one writing supernatural horror? Happily for me, when I pitched my novel to Pandamoon Publishing–a rising indie press out of Austin– they did not know me as cuddly Dave, homey Dave, funny Dave, or pacifist Dave. They only knew that I pitched a very dark story about three teens getting the chance to avenge the deaths of loved ones by meting out the justice themselves. They loved the ghost story elements, the thread of nightmares, and all the things that go bump in the night, and they embraced my mash-up of Fury myths and Salem witchcraft. Best of all they were down for a YA novel with an African-American female protagonist, in a story whose leads are straight and gay, and of three different races–a story with diverse characters that isn’t about diversity at all. I’m lucky to have found the ideal publisher; now I just have to finish book two. (Did I mention it’s a series? Since when am I series author?) So, the adventure begins and you’ll hear all about it here.

 

 

Can Dave keep up a blog?

Oh sure: I can write books and plays and Huffington Post columns. I can teach and parent and tweet and make a mean pie. But can I do all that AND blog? Perhaps not. This space is where we’ll find out together. From notes on writing (mine and that of others) to my latest news and public appearances, I’ll try to blog it all here. For a more complete overview of my work, visit my website. (In its favor: it already exists and has content.) And if my blogging attempt tanks, I’ll just claim I was never much of a talker. (Cue laughter)