American in Hiding, a bracing new play by Tracy Shaffer, will be presented as part of the 2011 Telluride Playwrights Festival “American in Hiding”, says Shaffer “is the story of an America family, taking refuge with friends in Amsterdam after Thom slips on the soapbox of his professorial profession. Unable to contain his ego, he sets himself up in Dam Square, ranting the hypocrisies of his homeland and how far she’s come from the Utopian dreams of her Founding Fathers, without realizing that his actions dictate a risky future.”
This year marks a departure for the Festival. Rather than soliciting submissions from a national pool of writers, Festival Director, Jennie Franks shifts her focus to ‘growing local’, nurturing the talents of Rocky Mountain writers and dipping into the Denver talent pool for her lead actors. TPF will mix it up a bit this year: Ms Shaffer’s script receives a week of rehearsals & revisions with a public staged reading at week’s end with audience feedback. Acclaimed playwrights, Judy GeBauer, Ellen K Graham and Gary Leon Hill (who joins after a week at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference) work their scripts in open workshop (public welcome), salon readings and read excerpts in the evening Play Slam at the Steaming Bean. The Telluride Playwrights Festival will become a producing/presenting entity this season as it brings a fully staged production of William Missouri Downs’ “Forgiving John Lennon” into town from the University of Wyoming where Downs is a professor. Telluride Playwrights Festival takes place July 12-18.
Telluride Inside writer, Susan Viebrock, described it this way.

The Telluride Playwright Festival operates like grow dome for fruits and veggies: brand new plays are watered and tended in a safe environment. After they grow and flourish, they are sent out into the world to be enjoyed. Larimore’s “Out of Askja” is one of a number of fine plays that were transplanted from Telluride to fertile soil around the country. Tracy Shaffer’s (W)Hole, also a Playwright Festival alum from 2008, received raves from The Denver Post critic and other rags when it was produced this past fall at Denver’s Paragon Theatre. Next spring, James Still’s play “Love Me Some Amnesia,” one of Playwright Festival’s picks for a 2010 staged reading is scheduled to be produced in Chicago at the American Blues Theatre. And so on.

This spring, Denver placed a respectful #3 on the first annual PR Newswire “Cities on the Edge” study. Factors like our love of extreme sports, a thriving music, arts & cultural scene, the respectful way we’re building green, contributed to our raise rank as well as the perception that we are ‘poised for greatness.’ Of course, we who live in Denver could have told them this. Over the past fifteen years, we’ve watched our Mile High City grow and flourish right before our eyes. We’ve built and rebuilt, created and recreated, and come into our own through the hard work and dedication of our citizens, our leaders and our innovators. We’ve hosted the World Series and the Democratic National Convention, won two Stanley Cups, two Superbowls, built or expanded four museums, created four or five arts districts and some sassy neighborhoods, grown our theatres to the nation’s center stage and thrown some bands into the spotlight. Colorado is on fire!
(…didn’t Governor Owens land in hot water for saying that?)

One thing about living here that makes us great beyond the flash is our strong sense of community. On an early, drizzly morning last week, I roused my grousing sons out of bed and joined more than 500 volunteers for Concert for Kids’ Community Day, a masterfully planned day of giving back. Over 40 of the metro area’s non-profit organizations welcomed busloads of volunteers to their sites for fix-up projects. We were transported to the Bridge Project to complete a to-do list that included painting, landscaping, and cleaning, prior to the Monday morning carpet installation. With goods, services, labor and lunch donated by denizens and sponsors, a slam-dunk day of facility improvement allows these organizations to use their operating funds for the primary programming needs.

I had no idea what to expect from putting a roller and paint brush into the hands of my twelve and seventeen year old sons on a sleep-in-Saturday morning. Could this present a problem? Possibly, but not this day. This was a day of cheerful teamwork, service to others and the kind of hard work they’re rarely asked to do at home. I was uplifted by seeing them in this light; the strong and giving young men they’d grown to be. They were gratified having done something for someone else, and satisfied by the joy they left behind. It’s this kind of dig in and get it done spirit that tips Denver over the edge of greatness and Concert for Kids makes it doable. In gratitude, this weekend CFK presents the Denver Day of Rock in venues throughout the downtown area. Listen to the Gin Blossoms, the music of Styx, the Railbenders and more. Get on your feet and dance some Zydeco with your friends, your family and the strangers you’ll call friends by day’s end. There’s nothing like dancing in the streets to get the summer into full swing!

All this buzz about the end of days has got me thinking. First came the Absurdist humor Tweets and Facebook posts, followed by invitations to post-Rapture looting parties, (what to wear, what to wear?) and the folly that follows a good thread. But as I rise from my desk to continue the perpetual cycle of laundry, a new status update spins into my head. What if this actually happened? Not tomorrow, I’ve got plans, but maybe later in the week, say… Wednesday after Oprah’s final episode? I picture myself, turning off the television, slightly weepy, and crossing through the kitchen to the basement stairs. Wondering how the flies got in the house, I make a mental note to check the screens. The day is sunny; the rains have gone, and as I pass by the open backdoor I hear a croaking in the garden; a familiar sound of frogs who sang me through the summers of my youth. As I land at the bottom of the stairway I catch a glimpse of my teenage son on the basement couch. It’s well past noon and he’s still sleeping… at least I think he’s sleeping. Surely not the slaying of the first born, I think, and wait… there are no frogs in Denver. I cross to the couch, pass my hand by his open mouth to feel his breath and relieved I reroute to the laundry room.
I empty the dryer of its warm contents and bring them lovingly into folds as Apocalyptic thoughts tumble through my head. How different the world would be if the “Righteous” rose and left the rest behind. I imagine we’d reinstate Universal Healthcare to match the bloated need, which would be so much easier with the insurance lobbyists out of the way. Ditto for environmental causes. The real estate market would explode with vacancies, tipping the stagnant market to the buyer’s favor and foreclosures would drop: it’s hard to evict a zombie. Loans would be readily available with a plethora of bankers and mortgage brokers left, though interest rates might be hellish. I’m thinking the ranch style will be the dwelling of choice; writhing up a flight of stairs can be torture.
My thoughts turn inward. How would I feel if this really happened and how prepared am I to meet my maker? The spin cycle stops. I lift the lid and throw linens from their moist drum into the inferno of the dryer. I’d be okay I think, if the rest of my life is any indication: not the Valedictorian, but above average… top of the class perhaps.
Turning the washer dial 360°, the sound of the basin filling calms me. What the hell am I thinking? Of course you’d go to Heaven, Tracy. You’ll be there to greet the sinless mothers, Bounce sheets in one hand, box of Tide in the other: “Our Lady of Perpetual Laundry”. *smiles* Love can wash away a multitude of sins. Love and a can of Shout.

Home buyers are looking for that perfect space they can make their own. To many sellers, often on the advise of their Realtor, this means painting the whole house in shades of beige and removing anything that makes their home too “personal”. There have been times I’ve said the same to my clients, though I can count them on one hand. As a founder of the Thriving Artist Alliance, I focus my business on helping creative people build wealth through real estate. For some it means moving them from renters to homeowners, for others investing in real estate through purchasing fix-and-flip or rental property is a great strategy, and then there are those who long for a living space that allows for or inspires their creative pursuits. Because the Creative Class relates to the world and their place in it differently, I am rarely looking for or listing a “Beige Box”, it’s more likely I’m on the hunt for something special and unique. When the Smiths called me about listing their City Park bungalow at 3105 Elizabeth Street I arrived at our appointment with no idea what to expect. I took to this house (and to the Smiths) immediately and was blown away! The color pallet, artwork, furnishings and decor made me feel happy and instantly at home and I knew I was in the presence of two highly-gifted artists. Though art is not either of their professions, the artist touch has graced every corner of this home. Mrs. Smith is a part-time painter and Mr. Smith used his considerable craftsmanship on a basement finish that is warm and natural and very comfortable.
This home won’t appeal to everyone, and I’m sure we’ll get some “Why don’t they paint the whole thing neutral” feedback, but that’s okay. I’m not looking for that buyer. I’m looking for that special person, couple or family who understand that self-expression is high art and that individuality is paramount. Oh, and it’d be nice if they love the City Park Jazz concert series, because they’re close enough to walk or roll there every Sunday!

The fog lifts, the clouds part and the music swells as 2010 becomes the year of living visibly. After a few years under the radar I’m now accelerating through life full throttle with the Fuzz Buster on. The shoes have fallen and I’ve put them on my feet, the thread has unraveled leaving me naked to the world (except for that stint as Mrs. Robinson, but that was not my doing).
When we began rehearsals, the play had a different ending. Ames had deconstructed her creation and reconstructed it in a different configuration to form a completely different message. She had picked up the elements of her life and put them back together, but had not traveled forward or backward into the new. She was still in the same place, it just looked different. After the first read-through that same, strong voice came to me clearly but this time it said “Go, baby. Go there”, so I did. When the final image is revealed, Ames has returned to herself, just as I have. Though I consciously put my life together this year using what was left and returning to what was there in the first place, it is only in the writing of this blog I’m aware of the parallels between creator and creation. I’m no longer content with separating myself into fragments: the Realtor, the soccer mom, the artist, for the world is all of it at the same time.
Last night I jammed my foot and think I broke a small bone. It is uncomfortable to walk, slightly painful, and believe it or not feels better when I’m in high heels. But then, I always feel better in heels. The funny thing is that the show opens tonight, the “break-a-legs” have been pouring in…I am such a literalist.

I endure hardship, folding it into life like melted butter into batter. It is an expected guest, though an unwelcome one. What unfolded in the summer of ’08 was an unexpected test. I could no longer swim in the waters of chaos, the vortex of mental illness is far too strong. The dam broke in the marriage in February of ’07, flooding me with the realities of raising two sons solo as a Realtor® in a declining market. Two soccer schedules at two different parks had me driving in circles, keeping the boys in their schools meant a ten mile daily commute; I spent many a morning burrowed in the underground parking lot, napping in the back of the Volvo before going to my office. Endurance is endearing, enduring is exhausting. Under the circumstances, this was a trade up; at least the chaos was my own. Slowly, putting one stiletto in front of another I moved forward, no longer sacrificing my life on the alter of addiction. While he took to climbing mountains, I became adept at moving them. It got better. Until the other shoe dropped…
The boys had been with their dad for the Fourth of July weekend. I was on my way to meet them half way for the kid swap when the phone rang. No one had heard from my brother since Thursday. Now if Steve hadn’t called me, his wife or his life-long friend in three days, something was seriously wrong. I promised to go by the house and check in, I called the boys to say I’d need more time, and I got dressed slowly and methodically, thinking ‘are these the glasses you want to wear when you talk to the coroner? Should I take a sweater in case it’s cold in the morgue?’ Driving across town I wished I had some dry cleaning to pick up, contemplated a drive through the Starbucks, anything to delay what I knew was inevitable. I ran through my mental Rolodex, looking for someone who might meet me there, cursing and asking, ‘Why do I have to do this alone?’ Tears were welling but not falling, waiting in the traffic jam of my numbness. The ten minute drive felt like an hour. I pulled up to the house; his car was catty-wampus in the driveway, the keys lying on the threshold of the front door. My deepest fear confirmed in that moment. I walked around the back of the house to check the back, stood at the sliding glass door looking in. A clear voice spoke to me, very strong, “No baby, don’t do this. Don’t come in, you don’t have to do this.” I knocked as a matter of protocol and called the police. “My brother is dead.” “Are you with him?” came the first of many questions from the 911 operator. “No, he is dead at the bottom of the stairway.” I said, having no evidence save the premonition I’d had months earlier as I followed Steve down the stairs. I waited for the cops to come, alone. My real estate partner, Lea, called with a question about condo rules. I answered in a trance and told her where I was. She landed there in minutes, like an angel; staying the five hours it took for detectives and coroners to process the scene. I didn’t break until the photographer arrived. Steve had been a professional photographer and in our LA days I’d been his model, rep and muse. I was crushed under the weight of irony. The family gathered for the “Shaffer Shiva”, a ritual that requires more vodka than prayers. And time passed.

I got a call from Denver Post theatre critic, John Moore, last week about an advance piece on the upcoming production of (W)hole. I answered the call, it’s the press after all, and was surprised by his first question. “Tracy, this script has been around for a long time, hasn’t it? Why did it take so long to get produced?” I hadn’t thought about it, but he was right. “Well… this script hasn’t been around for years, other versions of it have. The story took some time to find itself” (as most stories do) I answered. Scripts don’t feel autobiographical as I write them; and though a seed of an experience or observation lives within me the characters find their own voices and take over quickly. John’s question put me in a state of reflection on the journey from inception to production, through the decade it took to write, all that transpired and the things that took me to my knees or helped me stand again. I’m looking for the string theory that ties it all together. So how did my experience affect the redemptive story?

The play deals with an artist whose life unravels before our eyes and we watch as she stitches her soul back together, all within 90 minutes of stage time. Things which shatter and transform us take longer in real life; the altering instant happens in the slow-motion speed of a car crash. In 2001 (W)hole was ‘the play I wasn’t writing’. At that time I was an actress, writer, and mother of two young sons, living in a placid central Denver neighborhood. As one of ten playwrights who comprised the Denver Center Theatre’s Playwrights Unit under the guidance of Writer in Residence, Gary Leon Hill, I was focused on another script. We’d only had a few of our bi-monthly Sunday night meetings before the planes hit the towers and their impact changed everything in the world. As America searched its wounded soul and rattled sabers, artists sat, collectively staring in stunned silence at the empty page and the stark white canvas, considering the significance of our creations. It was in this moment that (W)hole was conceived. Relationships seemed to be abruptly spinning 180°, a universal shifting of power everywhere I turned: globally, nationally, locally, internally. It was the season of the great unraveling.

Somewhere, deep within my beloved’s brain a random thread was pulled, a synaptic snag untethered him as he began a slow downward spiral. Whatever had held him together for so many years began to crack, leaking rational thought. Alternating episodes of the manic, the depressive and the paranoid wove themselves into my daily life, based on the pharmaceutical whims of his psychiatrist. I began to line up the proverbial deck chairs in perfect rows, I bailed helplessly against the chaos with a beach pail to keep us all from drowning.

He’d been working on a business venture with a friend, a young Pakistani man whose family had taken exile in Oslo during the 1979 Revolution. In the post 9/11 daze, the man I’d married developed a firm belief that because of this association the FBI was following him, tracking his car and bugging our home as we sat on the couch watching CNN. I would come home from the theatre to find bits of insulation on the floor under the attic access panel where he’d been crawling around searching for cameras and microphones. Maybe it was his way of dealing with our national horror, by disconnecting completely from reality as I was doing with the rigor I applied to my vegetable garden. And I wrote to keep myself sane.

To be continued…

One. But he really has to want to share.

For the past seven days, ten writers from around the country and within the Telluride community have been hunkered down at the Sheridan Opera House or gathered in Jennie Franks’ living room for a post-supper salon and informal reading. The event is the Telluride Playwrights Festival, a glorious blend of featured playwrights and theatre professionals existing in a fluid blend of rehearsal, response, reflection and rewrites with the goal of making good scripts better. Now in its fourth year, Ms. Franks has made impressive strides, attracting extraordinary talented writers, garnering support of the community and providing an experience unlike any other. As we lean into our public readings, tonight James McLindon’s DEAD AND BURIED and tomorrow’s offering LOVE ME SOME AMNESIA by James Still, I asked our two Jameses about this Telluride experience:

“I find the Telluride Playwrights Festival unique in that it’s such a small, intimate group of artists working together on these plays. Here, you have an opportunity to get to know everyone and to build relationships and trust. These are essential ingredients for any playwright seeking the constructive criticism necessary to take his or her play to the next level. I’ve also been impressed by the intelligence, artistry, kindness and generosity of the people Jennie Franks has gathered, and the result is, I think, a much better script that will performed Monday night than the one I arrived with last Thursday,” James McLindon told me over cocktails at the TPF funder at the Onyx in the Capella Telluride.
My personal experience two years ago was much like what I learned from listening to James Still. “Unlike a typical one-day reading/workshop… Being given the gift of immersing yourself in your play for 10 days is like finding yourself in a waking dream. The dream is the play you’ve written and are most often rewriting. There’s a tension for me in the fact that the writer’s creative life is a strange combination of the ‘private’ and the ‘public’. Unlike novelists who spend almost all of their writing lives alone (and then later go on book tours and readings in which they interact with their readers), a playwright spends a lot of time alone with his play, and then suddenly finds himself spending time with a big bunch of people and his play. It’s in that moment that the play becomes something else, something more. And that’s what’s happened to me this week in Telluride… I’ve spent time around a table with actors and other TPF members listening to LOVE ME SOME AMNESIA being read aloud, asking it questions, poking it, prodding it, begging it, threatening it, loving it, being mystified by it… And after several days of that, I took the play and retreated back to myself for a couple of days, shutting myself up in the condo where I’m staying and going back to that original relationship: just me and my play. It’s kind of like that moment when you’ve had house guests and you stand on the front porch and wave goodbye, watching them back out of the driveway. You go back inside the house and it’s… quiet. And different. So I’ve been back inside the quiet house that is also my play and is also not so quiet anymore. And I’ve cleaned up some messes, changed some wall colors, rearranged some of the furniture, and even discovered a few rooms I didn’t know were there! Rewriting. Tomorrow I’ll throw the doors open and invite people back in… more time around the table with actors where we’ll read the newest draft, more changes overnight, and then the reading on Tuesday. Private to public to private and back to public. It’s this writer’s life.”

Friend and actor, Paul Page, and me high in the San Juan Mts


This is the question discussed today at the Telluride Playwrights Festival Open House and a conversation that circulates through the theatre community like a five dollar bill. I’ve popped this and a few other questions to some of the TPF participants. Grabbing a post-rehearsal snack at Smugglers with director/playwright William Missouri Downs, in from Wyoming to direct Telluride Rep actors in Phillip Gerson’s This Isn’t What It Looks Like. A prolific author and playwright, Bill has eight upcoming productions around the country and just closed the Denver hit, Books on Tape.

T- “Why do you think we keep asking this question?”

B- “To justify our existence.”

T- “Do we ask if new songs should be written, or if fashion should be recreated seasonally?”

B- “Good point. There’s been so much talk over the past few decades about theatre being dead or irrelevant. And with the Internet, we’ve got so many forms of public dialogue and expression.”

T- “Yes, but it’s not in 3-D.”

B- “We’re the original 3-D. If for no other reason than the disconnect of the internet, we’ve become more relevant. Those who want to participate in the intimate reflection of life that only theatre offers crave it. We are like books printed on paper, and campfire stories; not commonplace as the world changes, but essential nonetheless.”

T- “Like art museums. People still go to them but now they take a picture of the art and move on to the next masterpiece. We exist for those who actually stand there and look at the painting.”

B- “Theatre has got to tell stories which are universal, I believe that more and more. When your medium is about being physically in a room with a group of people for a shared experience, the observational story is less effective. Save that for film and television. Just the fact that you can’t talk in the theatre changes things.”

T-“Really, you’re not supposed to talk? What about texting?”

On the gondola with Denver actor Paul Page. “What do you like about being in Telluride?” I asked.

P-“It’s really exciting to be involved in the thought process of a new play. I’ve done many world premieres with script tweaks and changes before opening, but this is a much more raw discovery of the characters as the playwright is solidifying them. The festival really gives the script and the artists a chance to incubate.”

T-“How do you like the play you’re working on?”

P-“Oh god, it’s fascinating. James Still has created these really interesting characters and put them in a highly charged situation. We’re working through the script slowly, moment-to-moment, asking questions of each other in a process of discovering what the play is.”

T- “Plays do write themselves at some point. If you let them.”

P-“And James is so open, so talented. It’s great to work with artists from other markets. After New York I’ve spent the past twenty years in Denver.”

T-“Working constantly.”

P- “Well, yes. But it’s nice to shake it up a bit.”

We’re only a third of the way through the Festival and the energy is building steadily. Hunkered down in our rewrites and rehearsals, meeting up for dinners graciously hosted by TPF supporters, eyeing the mountains for a chance to hike, my experience of Telluride is always a balance of risk and safety. I feel held, which gives me the power to create. And I feel that is terribly important.

Actor Paul Page and me in Telluride


This is the question slated for the Telluride Playwrights Festival Open House on Thursday, and a conversation that circulates through the theatre community like a five dollar bill. I’ve popped this and a few other questions to some of the TPF participants. Grabbing a post-rehearsal snack at Smugglers with director/playwright William Missouri Downs, in from Wyoming to direct Telluride Rep actors in Phillip Gerson’s This Isn’t What It Looks Like. A prolific author and playwright, Bill has eight upcoming productions around the country and just closed the Denver hit, Books on Tape.

T- “Why do you think we keep asking this question?”

B- “To justify our existence.”

T- “Do we ask if new songs should be written, or if fashion should be recreated seasonally?”

B- “Good point. There’s been so much talk over the past few decades about theatre being dead or irrelevant. And with the Internet, we’ve got so many forms of public dialogue and expression.”

T- “Yes, but it’s not in 3-D.”

B- “We’re the original 3-D. If for no other reason than the disconnect of the internet, we’ve become more relevant. Those who want to participate in the intimate reflection of life that only theatre offers crave it. We are like books printed on paper, and campfire stories; not commonplace as the world changes, but essential nonetheless.”

T- “Like art museums. People still go to them but now they take a picture of the art and move on to the next masterpiece. We exist for those who actually stand there and look at the painting.”

B- “Theatre has got to tell stories which are universal, I believe that more and more. When your medium is about being physically in a room with a group of people for a shared experience, the observational story is less effective. Save that for film and television. Just the fact that you can’t talk in the theatre changes things.”

T-“Really, you’re not supposed to talk? What about texting?”

On the gondola with Denver actor Paul Page. “What do you like about being in Telluride?” I asked.

P-“It’s really exciting to be involved in the thought process of a new play. I’ve done many world premieres with script tweaks and changes before opening, but this is a much more raw discovery of the characters as the playwright is solidifying them. The festival really gives the script and the artists a chance to incubate.”

T-“How do you like the play you’re working on?”

P-“Oh god, it’s fascinating. James Still has created these really interesting characters and put them in a highly charged situation. We’re working through the script slowly, moment-to-moment, asking questions of each other in a process of discovering what the play is.”

T- “Plays do write themselves at some point. If you let them.”

P-“And James is so open, so talented. It’s great to work with artists from other markets. After New York I’ve spent the past twenty years in Denver.”

T-“Working constantly.”

P- “Well, yes. But it’s nice to shake it up a bit.”

We’re only a third of the way through the Festival and the energy is building steadily. Hunkered down in our rewrites and rehearsals, meeting up for dinners graciously hosted by TPF supporters, eyeing the mountains for a chance to hike, my experience of Telluride is always a balance of risk and safety. I feel held, which gives me the power to create. And I feel that is terribly important.