Denver has done a great job of supporting youth playwrights (see: Curious New Voices and Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ High School Playwriting Competition), but the next Marianne Elliott or Sam Gold*? Not so much. Gavin Mayer, the new executive director/artistic director of Uptown’s Avenue Theater has an idea to change that: The inaugural Emerging Voices Series (EVS)—which kicks off July 6—focuses on mentoring and providing real-world practice to budding college-age directors. “One of the biggest complaints I hear from young people is finding opportunities for directing,” Mayer says. With an MFA in directing and a second job as an adjunct professor at the University of Northern Colorado, Mayer knows the importance of having directing gigs at professional theaters on your resumé.

Four Colorado students are currently working through the full directing experience—from submitting a proposal to the theater to hiring a crew to casting to running production meetings and rehearsals—all on a $500 budget (which Avenue is covering). “It’s a very realistic situation for them to go through,” says Mayer, who regularly visits rehearsals to provide feedback and notes. “I’ve been very impressed.” Each director is leading two or three nights of a play of their choosing; the second evening will feature a talkback with the entire cast and crew, composed primarily from the directors’ peer groups.

The four full-length shows are:

  • The Pillowman (July 6 to 8) directed by Trevor Hazell (Colorado Film School)
  • Polaroid Stories (July 10 to 11) directed by Jackie Honold (UNC)
  • The Clean House (July 16 to 18) directed by John Carter (UNC)
  • Five Women Wearing the Same Dress (July 28 to 30) directed by Katherine Foote (recent UNC graduate)

Mayer hopes to fill Avenue’s 96 seats all 11 nights. After expenses are paid, the directors will receive 20 percent of the house; Avenue will reinvest the other 80 percent into future iterations of EVS. Tickets are $16.50. You can also donate to EVS here. “It’s just so hard to get your start in directing,” Mayer says. “We’re molding the future of Denver theater. This is your chance to see the origins of their careers.”

*2015 Tony Award winners for Best Direction of a Play and a Musical, respectively