A Dramatist’s Guide to Denver/Boulder
Denver skyline
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When I first moved to Denver 30 years ago, sight unseen and having never visited, I had no idea what to expect. But, finding myself in a world filled with mountain vistas, a leisurely pace of life, and cloudless blue skies that rival a Pantone swatch in both purity and clarity, I wholeheartedly fell in love with my new home state. 

But it was the people that made Denver immediately feel like a personal and artistic home, people who offered the most easygoing of smiles, as if the 300 days a year of sunshine they experienced in the Mile High City infused them with a warmth they couldn’t wait to share. 

I’ve learned that sharing is something Coloradans do well. So, when I asked some trusted friends, all respected theatre makers, to offer thoughts about resources available to dramatists looking to live, work, create, or simply visit the Denver-Boulder area, they were all excited to contribute. 

“As playwrights, we’re always looking for open doors,” said Heather Beasley, author of The Gentle Life-Changing Magic of Burning it All Down to the Ground and Director of Education at Miners Alley Playhouse. “Networking within our rich tapestry of a theatre community (over 75 active companies in the Denver/Boulder metro alone!) can lead to full productions and ongoing creative relationships. Some Denver/Boulder companies that accept script submissions directly from Colorado playwrights for full production consideration, whether through open submission periods, competitions, or annual application processes for selected programs include And Toto Too Theatre Company, Benchmark Theatre, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) – Writers’ Group, Cherry Creek Theatre, Coal Creek Theater of Louisville, Curious Theatre Company, Vintage Theatre, Local Theater Company, and Su Teatro.” (NB: all these companies produce second and third productions of new plays, too.) Beasley also identified Boulder-based The Catamounts as a company that collaborates “directly with playwrights to develop and produce site-specific, immersive, and other original work rooted in our Colorado community.”

Melissa Lucero McCarl, author of Painted Bread (Denver Post “Best New Play,”2005), feels that finding community is, perhaps, the best way to forge your path in the Colorado theatre landscape. “You might find said tribe through a dramatic writing class like those offered at Lighthouse Writers, the Denver Center, and Red Rocks Community College, among others, and then create a support group or find an accountability buddy from that class. I think class is also a good idea, too, because many writers are looking for structure and it’s a great place to find that, while also generating writing that could be developed into longer pieces.” 

Regarding inroads through educational institutions, Heather Beasley added, “With more than 60 colleges and universities in the state, and hundreds of high schools, the academic theatre scene is another fantastic way for Colorado playwrights to get their new plays produced.”

 Ann Sabbah, Executive Director of the Denver Fringe Festival, has been “under the spell of the creative arts her entire life” and, after experiencing Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, was determined to bring a similar venture to her home state. “Like all Fringe festivals,” Sabbah said, “we are set up to support independent writers, artists, and producers so they can get new work in front of audiences. We are an open-application festival and strive to include as many applicants as possible every year. More than just a once-a-year festival, though, Denver Fringe is becoming a community for creators and performers of all types as well as a launching pad for new work to be taken to the next level, to other Fringe festivals, and even to theatrical runs.”

Ellen K. Graham, author of The Wave That Set The Fire (O’Neill Finalist) and founder of Feral Assembly, an ensemble of self-producing theatre makers, has found it liberating to take matters into her own hands. “Denver/Boulder is home to quite a few small theatrical operations run by creators who produce their own work, including square product theatre, The Three Leaches, Grapefruit Lab, Emancipation Theater Company, Theatre Artibus, and my little outfit, Feral Assembly. Denver’s Buntport Theater has been collaboratively writing and producing original plays for over twenty years. Their towering artistic achievements aside, they also have a fantastic space and are good friends to companies seeking to put up new work.” Graham also added, “I think the absolute best resource in Denver for writers/creators wishing to forge their own path is the community of gifted actors and directors we have here. It can be tough to get funding, press coverage, and institutional support, but Denver has an abundance of talented humans excited to work on something new.”

Playwrights who live in Colorado are, of course, facing many of the same challenges as other dramatists working in our country today, including a very noticeable decrease in development, production, and reading opportunities, which were growing at an unprecedented rate pre-pandemic through the companies already mentioned as well as with now defunct or dormant enterprises such as Questionable Theatrics, the Denver Center’s Playwrights Group, Rough Draught Playwrights, and 5280 Arts Coop, which, along with Su Teatro, was one of the only groups dedicated to putting up new works by local playwrights of color. 

What I admire about this theatremaking and theatregoing community, though, is its adventurous and collaborative-minded spirit despite these challenges. Ours is a community in every sense of the word, with members who are always willing to extend themselves, offer support, and include those who would like a new seat at the proverbial table. So, my personal advice to playwrights living in or coming to Denver would be to be an active presence in that community, see and support as much theatre as you can, and, while doing so, don’t be afraid to say “hi,” ask questions, apply for volunteer opportunities, or respectfully request an informational meeting with any theatremaker in any position at any theatre. More than likely, you’ll be received with one those easygoing, mountain-living smiles I’ve grown to love, the ones that broadcast, much like the sign at the state border, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” 

Jeffrey Neuman
Jeffrey Neuman

, playwright and dramaturg, is one of Colorado’s Regional Ambassadors for the Dramatists Guild. His work has been performed at theatres, universities, and festivals across the United States, Australia, and the UK. Selected works include What You Will, Exit Strategies, and The Headliners, which was recently published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (Issue 72). www.theaterbyjeff.com