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New Denver A.D. Hits Ground Running

[The following news item appeared in Variety the week of October 16th.]

When Kent Thompson was introduced as the new artistic director for the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC) he outlined a broad vision that included a new play program, increased work by minorities, and fundraising to support these activities. Now three months into his tenure, Thompson has made giant strides in every area he's targeted.

Photo of Kent Thompson
New DCTC artistic director Kent Thompson
Photo: Bob Bows
Set to open his first season with the Tony Award-winning regional company, Thompson took time out from rehearsing A Flea in Her Ear—through which he is familiarizing himself with the resident actors he inherited from his predecessor, Donovan Marley—to reflect on what has been a whirlwind prologue to opening night.

"So far I have to say that I've gotten a very positive response from people because I'm going in and trying to be very passionate about what I believe in." And the rewards have been immediate. His commitment to exploring new plays by women has resulted in the creation of a Women's Voices Fund, the brainchild of DCTC Development Director Dorothy Denny, which is already well over half-way to it's goal of a $500,000 endowment.

"She had the idea of getting a hundred women to join a founding membership and they'd each pledge to contribute $5,000 over five years, a $1,000 a year commitment that we can use to commission a play or two each year. We have women that wrote the check for $5,000, and we have women that are having $83 a week taken out of their paycheck. So, it's really spoken to an audience a lot of them are people who have given to us before, and a lot of them are people who haven't."

On the heels of this interview, the company announced that in addition to 65 individuals who have already pledged $325,000 towards this goal, the American Express Company selected DCTC's parent organization for a $175,000 grant over two seasons to bolster the center's larger effort to expand its audiences by giving further emphasis to women, Latino, and African American playwrights.

Part of this ambitious program, entitled New Vision New Voices, is the Colorado New Play Summit—set for an inaugural conclave February 9, 10, and 11, 2006—that includes: the world premiere of Wayne Lemon's Jesus Hates Me; three new play readings; a panel comprised of playwrights, critics, artistic directors (including Wendy Goldberg, the new artistic director at the O'Neill, who is directing The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, opening at the DCTC March 23, 2006) focused on the issues facing the playwright today; and a playwright slam where invited playwrights will get to read 5 to 10 minutes from their newest work.

Thompson envisions that in two to three years the festival will work up to having two or three world premieres and readings of four to six plays.

"We didn't want it to be the Humana Festival, where we produced six or seven scripts in one time period, because I think Humana does that well, but we wanted to create an environment where people would come here to see the one or two world premieres and then see the other three or four plays. And commissioning four to six plays a year, gives us the opportunity to reach out to several communities."

In addition to the Humana Festival, Thompson says, "I really followed the model of South Coast Rep (Pacific Playwrights Festival), and what I did in Alabama (Southern Writers' Project)."

Behind Thompson's push for greater cultural and intellectual diversity is an integrated view of the arts' role in society.

"I feel like we've become a country where civic and civil discourse is being abandoned. We don't get together to argue about some of the great ideas and agree and disagree in debate and come to some kind of compromise. I feel like we're in a world where it's got to be one way or another. I find that very alarming. But I also find that a great opportunity for theatre. It means that we have to become a town hall for a lot of the ideas that are out there in our community.

" That means we're going to do some things that may offend ourselves, get ourselves riled up. Somehow we've got to get our communities back to talking about ideas, and if I program well, we'll be able to provoke that kind of discussion without turning away audiences."

Bob Bows

 

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