Culture » Performing Arts

Rough Writers comes as advertised: Fresh, fun and original



Once every two years the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center becomes an incubator for new plays, giving promising new scripts a full reading before an audience at the Rough Writers festival.

The 2015 festival features four local and three national playwrights, along with one from Toronto, Canada. After the first of two readings of each play, I found the Colorado Springs scripts very competitive with those from New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. The local talent involved was outstanding as well.

The festival is two weeks long, but the second week is a repeat of week one. You won't find fully staged renderings, but readings, which, for theater fans, is a unique peek into the creative process. It's also a bonus for the playwrights themselves, who are in the audience during post-reading feedback sessions that follow each play. The FAC has designated 2015 as the Year of Georgia O'Keeffe, so each entry is required to relate to the artist or her work.

As these are works in development, week two readings may be different from week one, as playwrights make changes based on audience feedback. And as the scripts are not ready for full production, this is not a review. I'm making no judgments on their quality. Some were stronger than others, however the overall experience was entertaining, and the works fresh and creative. Here's a taste:

Two Nine One Letters, Jade O'Keeffe (Toronto); Thursday, June 11, 8 p.m.

Jade O'Keeffe's (no relation) script is based on approximately 5,000 letters between O'Keeffe and her lover (and later, husband) photographer Alfred Stieglitz. O'Keeffe has done extensive research on the artists to create dialogues based on excerpts from their letters. The episodic conversations between the two range from intimate loving moments to explosive confrontations. O'Keeffe has stitched tog=ether letters and conversations showing the human flaws and brilliance of both artists. Georgia O'Keeffe is well-known for her art, but her writings are as eloquent, visual, and as beautiful as her paintings.

The Flower, Alyson Mead (Los Angeles, California); Thursday, June 11, 8 p.m.

Mead's piece is a contemporary take on O'Keeffe's art and relationships, centered on a lesbian art professor and a student struggling to understand "art." Intimate iPhone photos of the professor's student, taken without her consent, parallel Stieglitz's unapproved display of nude photographs of O'Keeffe.

A Woman on Paper, Susan Shafer (New York, New York); Friday, June 12, 8 p.m.

Susan Shafer's script tracks the relationship between O'Keeffe and Stieglitz from the day they met, to the day Stieglitz seduced O'Keeffe, and finally to the day she left him for New Mexico. She stayed in touch, but kept her distance. These are unquestionably the most dramatic moments in their relationship, and watching them unfold reveals much about both artists. A Woman on Paper reminds us that O'Keeffe was a pioneer in a male-dominated field, opening up the art world for the women who followed her.

Georgia On His Mind, Sue Bachman (Colorado Springs); Saturday, June 13, 8 p.m.

Artists are known to be quirky; if you put two of them in one household, you may get artistic overload. Bachman picks out some of the most intimate moments in the O'Keeffe/Stieglitz relationship, such as Stieglitz's wife and daughter walking in on the pair in bed. Awkward doesn't begin to convey the drama. Bachman moves through several such moments, including Stieglitz's wife giving up on him, as she warns O'Keeffe that she is no more than the latest in a long list of Stieglitz's discarded mistresses.

Mary and Georgia, Grant Swenson (Colorado Springs); Saturday, June 13, 8 p.m.

Swenson makes O'Keeffe an imaginary character, seen only by Mary, an aspiring artist. The imaginary O'Keeffe is Mary's muse and inspiration, advising her to trust her talent. Mary follows O'Keeffe's advice, becomes a successful artist, but eventually forgets O'Keeffe's advice when dealing with her daughter, who has a dream different from her own. O'Keeffe is again there for Mary, giving her parenting cues at a critical juncture.

The Real Meaning of Things, Todd Wallinger (Colorado Springs); Saturday, June 13, 8 p.m.

Wallinger's script is intentionally humorous, distinguishing it from other selections for Rough Writers. Two strangers meet by chance in the New Mexican desert. O'Keeffe's car has stalled and a rancher (Earl) stops to help her. Although Earl has no idea who she is, he wouldn't leave a woman stranded on a back road in the harsh desert environment. They talk about the beauty of the desert while he gets her car started. O'Keeffe offers him a small painting she has done, but he declines. After some negotiating, he pays her a few dollars for it.

The Last Rabbit, Jessica Weaver (Colorado Springs); Saturday, June 13, 8 p.m.

Are you squeamish? The Last Rabbit may not be your cup of tea. Jessica Weaver puts her characters in O'Keeffe's New Mexican desert, a place of great beauty where only the strongest survive. The unusually dark script evokes visuals of several of O'Keeffe's paintings as stage directions and dialogue set the scene for a desert nightmare. Weaver uses the images of O'Keeffe paintings to tell a horror story that includes kidnapping, torture, serial murders, peyote-induced visions, and even a touch of cannibalism.

Early Sunday Morning, Dara O'Brien (New York, New York); Sunday, June 14, 3 p.m.

Dara O'Brien's entry tells the story of one of O'Keeffe's contemporaries, Josephine Nivison, artist and wife of Edward Hopper. Where O'Keeffe had a supporter and soulmate in Stieglitz, Nivison was less fortunate. She supported Hopper's career in any way she could; Hopper didn't reciprocate. As a result, Nivison never broke through in the art world. O'Brien's script blames Hopper's belief that no woman could create great art.

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