Jan. 25 2022 – By Dr. Heather Beasley, Dramaturg
You may have heard that in 2021, BETC changed our company name. As part of this re-envisioning, our staff, board, and ensemble created and shared a new mission statement, vision, and values. One of the artistic choices our company leaders, Stephen and Rebecca, made during the shutdown was to double down on our company’s commitment to new play development.
Formerly Associate Producer for the company, I became Associate Artistic Director. In practice, this shifted staff time and focus toward developing new work. As a teaching artist, dramaturg, and playwright at BETC, I work with artists from first-time writers to internationally recognized playwrights, and I’ve contributed as a collaborator to the new works we develop and produce.
Our Fall 2020 Lit Club, an online play reading and discussion group, featured some of America’s most exciting contemporary playwrights, as we hosted Zoom conversations with Idris Goodwin, Alexis Scheer, David Valdes, Lauren Yee, and Karen Zacarias. During our hiatus from live production, we interviewed, co-created, and filmed “CO2020,” an original documentary drama that employed over 50 Colorado artists and explored the twin pandemics of systemic racism and COVID-19 in our state.
Two new, innovative short play development programs began, which BETC will continue in the coming season. Science Shorts invites selected Colorado playwrights and researchers to create short educational plays and science talks about environmental issues. (inter)Generations pairs teens and older adults 50+ to learn playwriting skills and create short plays based on one another’s life experiences. Our next (inter)Generations cohort will bring together Dawson School middle schoolers with area adults for play creation with a focus on character development, worldbuilding, and story crafting.
Back in 2018, I co-founded the BETC Writers Group with ensemble member Josh Hartwell, to support the work of Colorado playwrights and to contribute to the national pipeline of new works in development. Writers Group members develop full-length new plays over the course of each year, meeting for monthly discussions and table readings. The playwrights then share their plays in progress with BETC audiences in an annual public reading series. Several featured plays have gone on to full productions elsewhere in our state and around the country.
Accessible offerings by diverse artists. Intergenerational communication. Interdisciplinary creation. Engagement with multiple perspectives on some of the most challenging issues of our time. A commitment to Colorado theatre makers. All of these are what you get when you come to see new work at BETC.
“Fourteen Funerals” kicks off our 2022 season, which features three world premieres among five planned productions, including two on BETC’s Touring Theatre Truck. The best way to prove a commitment to new plays is to produce them! So, how else does this play represent BETC’s continued commitment to developing thought-provoking, engaging new work for the stage?
We discovered this play when a draft was submitted to our annual Generations competition. BETC runs a national residency competition each year for playwrights who are parents of at least one child 18 or younger. The winning playwright spends a week in Boulder working with BETC artists to develop their winning script. Our winning plays have all gone on to publication and production, and two have received world premieres at BETC (“Full Code” and “Birds of North America”).
When we began the competition nine years ago, our staff members had very young children. We knew personally the time, financial, and family pressures of creating art on a shoestring budget while working other jobs, on evenings and weekends when little outside child care was available. So we chose our competition eligibility criterion to encourage parents of young children to continue writing for the field, even with the competing demands of parenthood. We included a child care stipend as part of the prize for the winning playwright so that they could afford care during the residency in whatever way they best saw fit. Some parents have used it to bring their children and partners along for the residency, while others have used it to supplement care at home. Generations was the first parent playwright residency program in the U.S. Since that time, other programs have sprung up across the country at places including New Harmony, SPACE at Ryder Farm, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing.
The competition typically receives about 200 submissions for consideration each year, after which a dedicated panel of volunteer readers contributes detailed feedback throughout a four-month selection process.
“Fourteen Funerals” was the winner of our 2021 competition. In an interpandemic year filled with tragedy and trauma, we found we not only enjoyed, but really needed this comedy. Our readers loved it because it touches on so many issues of the moment while remaining character-driven, full of heart, and funny as hell. We decided to move it to full production even before our November 2021 workshop, because it was the comedy we’d been seeking for several months, and we saw it as a perfect fit for our long-awaited return to indoor productions at the Dairy. Lucky for us, playwright Eric Pfeffinger has been a joy to work with throughout revisions and this world-premiere production process.
Sienna and Millie may meet due to accidental circumstance, but their friendship grows through the funereal situation they’re stuck in together. No spoilers, but these two women have already faced plenty of loss and damage in their lives. In their brief few weeks together, though, they find consolation, joy, self-knowledge, personal growth, and some new snappy rhymes. They have a lot of fun crafting and telling the stories of people they (sort of) knew for a captive audience of mourners. In their own ways, each tries to write her way out of a less-than-shiny past into a newer, brighter future. And both of them learn something about Blissfield, Indiana in the process.
Given the local events of the recent past, it’s almost impossible not to see this play through the lens of the Marshall Fire. Such sudden, unexpected loss can come to any of us at any time. The wounds of this catastrophe are still very raw, most of all for the families and neighborhoods involved. It may take years for restoration work to bear fruit. Still, area recovery efforts have already brought out some of the best qualities within our local communities – generosity, caring, selflessness, resilience, compassion.
So what more could any of us ask of good theatre as 2022 begins, than new hope, new friendships, and a new perspective on a community that we thought we already knew too well?