|Posted by [email protected] on April 10, 2015 at 2:20 PM|
Buried in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, along the Rio Grande, is a little town of four-hundred people. It has a total of two restaurants (besides a litte hot dog stand that opens in the summer), and one coffee shop that closes at noon. This is Creede, a tiny town with one main street and one street on either side. Yet right in the middle of downtown (which is about five minutes from the outskirts) is the nationally recognized Creede Repretory Theatre. This theatre is the life blood of the town. It was begun specifically to help the town's economy, and it does just that. It only has a summer season, but during that time audiences come by the thousands. They fill up the RV park just outside of town. They drive from miles and miles away, just to take in a week or so of quality theatre.
It was to this town, and supported by Creede Repretory, that I went in March to a writers' retreat. More specifically, it was a co-op. Myself and five other playwrights were the guinea pigs for a program the organizers plan to expand next year. The retreat was organized and sponsored by the HBMG Foundation out of Austin, Texas. The people behind were the founder and president, Anne Pittman and Menuel Zarate, themselves writers as well. You can check out them, their foundation, and an amazing new software Manuel is developing, the Human Stage, here:
The Monday after Seven Ways closed, I packed my suitcase, shoved my storyboard into a poster tube and headed off to the airport at 3:30 in the morning. The flight was my birthday present, so I flew first class. After sleeping most of the flight, including straight through breakfast, my storyboard and I (this was very cumbersome piece of luggage, but it beat the bulletin board I had at home) arrived in Denver. It took a while for me to find the gate for my connecting flight to Alamosa (the closest airport to Creede, which was an hour away from the town), because it turned out it was downstairs. As I walked past A58, A59... and there was almost no one else around. I was sure I was in the wrong place. Maybe I'd stumbled into the basement? No, at last I reached the end of the hallway and found gate A63. It looked like a small town airport. The employees were chatting with each other, passing around the new flavors of potato chips. I was initially one of three passengers waiting for their flight. My flight was an hour late, so I spent quite a bit of time listening to how the mango salsa chips are disgusting, and how one of the employees had submitted bruschetta flavor last year. At last, the plane arrived, and my storyboard and I lined up at the "gate" (it was just a door to the outside) with two other people. We were led outside, and boarded a small plane that looked like it belonged in an old movie like Casa Blanca. They put my storyboard in the closet, and we were off on the bumpiest, loudest flight on which I had ever ridden. A kind older lady who lives in a green house with a smiley face on it (the other two passengers and I struck up conversations before take-off) gave me an extra pair of ear plugs. An hour later we landed at Alamosa and I understood why the organizers, who were picking me up, had never asked how they would recognize me. I stepped off the plane and walked into a two room airport: there was the room with the metal detector, and the rest of the airport. Standing in one spot you could see baggage claim (that was not used), the rental car counter, check-in, and where they scan the checked luggage. There was a children's play place in one corner, and a security guard talking on his cell phone in the other. It was another world. Needless to say, my ride found me quickly: the only person of the three looking confused.
The hour long drive to Creede was, of course, gorgeous. Much of it was along the Rio Grande and we were driving into mountians with snow patches and brilliantly colored cliffs. On the way, I got to know Manuel and Ann a bit. I found out that some years ago Manuel worked with the theatres in Seattle. After mentioning I had a headache, I was also admonished for not drinking enough water to prevent altitude sickness. Whoops, I'd forgotten about that. After stopping at the grocery store for water and some less than tasty "grapefruit" flavored powder to help with altitude sickness, Ann and Manuel drove me up to the house. The other writers and I were being put up in a house on a hill overlooking Creede. The women lost the coin toss, so we slept downstairs in the basement, which was cold when the heaters weren't on, but oddly cozy. The owner of the house had decorated the room with costume renderings and, somewhat randomly, two world maps under which I slept. But sleeping in the basement really didn't matter. I didn't fly all the way to Colorado to write inside. I preferred to spend my time writing on the back deck. Even though there was still snow in places, at certain times the sun shone so hot that I actually got a sun burn. When it wasn't warm, I simply bundled up in my coat and extra blankets and kept writing. Being a little cold was worth it for this view: (please excuse the fact that this picture is sideways. I can't quite figure out how to flip it, but with some strategic head tilting, I think you'll get the... picture)
There are few things more inspiring then looking out over snow-covered mountains. I did realize the irony of it, however. The play I brought with me is about people in hiding, shut off from the world. As I wrote it I was looking at a vast expanse of some of the most beautiful sights the world has to offer. It heightened my sense of what my characters had lost and what they were hoping for in the future. My most memorable day of writing was the day when, sitting amongst fluffy blankets, with my head buried in a hood, it began to snow. It was light hail at first. Then the snowflakes came, landing on my blankets and staying long enough for me to notice the ornate crystal patterns. I stopped writing for a bit just to enoy being surrounded by softly falling snow. Except for the flume on the other side of town, Creede is quiet. Add snow to that, and it was one of those magical times when you feel like it's just you and nautre. You and God. This was wonderful, as one of the main relationships in the play on which I was working was between the main character and God. Inspired by this time alone in God's creation I wrote some quite touching scenes, if I do say so myself.
Writing in this breathtaking beauty was only part of the great opportunity I had in Creede. Aside from having alone time to focus solely on writing, I was surrounded by incredible, experienced playwrights. There was Tom Evans, a college professor who has taught in England, had many full productions of his work, written a book, directs and designs sets. He could also name drop with the best of them, having had Kenneth Branagh and Ben Kingsley guest lecture in his class. (I do believe I also overheard him mention an argument he had with Edward Albee.) Then there was Mary Burkin, an entertainment lawyer who writes and performs in LA. She has Theatre, TV, and film credits to her name. She could also do some impressive name dropping, including Lee Meriwether and Robin Williams. Then there was Barbara Shaw, a former speech therapist who now is the board president of a theatre in Aspen. She's won numerous awards for her writing in theatre and film. There was T.Y. Joe, a Korean retired teacher who has been produced all over the place. During the week he wrote a fabulous and touching Noh style short play. Finally, the playwright closest to me in age, Jonson Kuhn, who has been produced many times, as with the rest of the playwrights. The play he brought with him has been chosen to be read by The Script Readers in London. I don't know how I fit into this mix, but I am so glad I got to be in it! I asked questions when I could, listened in to coversations, anything to glean as much information as possible from the combined experience in the house. Not only were these playwrights experienced, but they were supportive and eager to encourage a young playwright. Though I didn't have much to offer in conversations, and couldn't do an ounce of name dropping, they treated me as an equal, a playwright in my own right, and not a novice. Even so, they were there to answer my questions, listen to my frustrations, and reassure me that what I was working on was worthwhile.
Everyday someone's play was read by the professional actors who were permanant residents of Creede. We listened to the stellar, cold read performances, then discussed and critiqued the play. The environment here was one of creation and not competition, so the discussion was kind and supportive, even if it was brutally honest. We did not sit and critique what the playwright should have done, or what they did wrong. Instead, we talked about what they did right, what they were trying to say with the play, and how their creation could be made stronger. I didn't have much to contribute to these sessions. I made a few positive comments, posed a few fairly surface questions. Personally, this was more of an opportunity for me to learn. We discussed the arc of a story, character development, consistency in theme and storytelling devices and so many other things specific to each writer's play. Everything was helpful for all of us, as it was easily transferrable to anyone's work. As I sat in the room with decades and decades of professional experience, I soaked in the comments and discussions. I eagerly, but quite nervously, awaited my own reading, which was to take place the last day.
Then, half way through the week, technological disaster struck...