This week, Sparky Productions announced the festival lineup: The Phantom Killer and A Small Legacy by playwrights Jan Buttram and Todd Kreidler, respectively. Along with holding public readings and discussions of the plays, the festival invites the public to attend acting and writing workshops taught and attended by professionals in the business. Well-known dramaturge Heather Helinsky will be working with the playwrights, and theater-buff Larry John Meyer will be performing the readings.
This is the third year that Sparky Productions has hosted the Playwrights Festival. Telluride residents Katie Jewett and Jennie Franks founded the company in 1998 when they made their film, Soft Smoke: AIDS in the Rural West, together. Since then, Franks says Sparky Productions has focused on bringing interesting issues to the community, and the Playwrights Festival is no exception.
Buttram, artistic director of the New York City's Abindon Theatre Company, is known for tackling the hard topics. Her recent play, Texas Homos, was directed by Tony award winner Melvin Bernhardt and garnered Buttram a spot in Smith & Kraus Publisher's Best New Playwrights of 2005. Her The Phantom Killer is based on a true story in Texas.
Kreidler is currently the associate artistic director at Atlanta, Georgia's True Colors Theatre Company. He was associate artistic director of August Wilson’s 20th Century at the Kennedy Center last spring, and has worked closely with Wilson in theaters across the country. A Small Legacy is one of a nine-part series about small American towns.
The Playwrights Festival gives writers a chance to test and revise their material on a forgiving audience; in a more cuthroat city, the work might be dismissed immediately. Of the two plays chosen for the festival, Franks says they stood out from among about 100 submissions, and they cover subjects that will be of interest to Telluriders.
“We put the festival on for the community,” Franks says.
Since it's hard to put on a lot of shows in such small community, Frank says that residents are encouraged to share their opinions about the plays during public readings, making the festival both a stimulating and entertaining experience. She adds that as the festival has become higher-profile, the caliber of submissions has gotten higher as well, making this year's plays the best ever.
Beyond that, however, the Playwright's Festival has not evolved significantly in the last three years. The format is the same, and they still operate on what Franks calls “a shoestring budget.” Though the Commission for Community, Arts & Special Events did cut the festival's funding this, Franks says organizers made up for the shortfall by taking the “fat” out of the budget. Telluride resident Kimberly Kirkendoll has also planned a fundraiser for the festival – a $65-per person cocktail party at her home on July 11.
But Frank reiterates that the real benefit of the festival – community feedback – doesn’t cost a thing. “We offer the playwrights the whole community to help them along with their play,” she says.
For more information on the Playwrights Festival, go to www.sparkyproductions.org.