There aren’t many opportunities in the Front Range to be an integral part of new play development—or at least, there didn’t used to be. When Pesha Rudnick moved to Boulder from New York 10 years ago, she did a little experiment. What might happen if Boulder’s Local Theater Company held a national play development festival, bringing professionals, theatre-enthusiasts, aspiring creatives, and the average person together to develop new American plays?

Magic. That’s what. 

What started as an experiment has turned into a wild success. Within a year, Local Lab became a cornerstone of Local Theater Company’s season selection process, and attracted some of the country’s most celebrated playwrights. Past Local Lab plays have received the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical, including last year’s Papercut by Andrew Rosendorf. And for the last four years, Local Lab has sold out.

The event works like this: Creatives—including playwrights, dramaturges, actors, and directors mainly from the Front Range—gather a week prior to the festival to rehearse, dissect, and change the plays. In years past, playwrights have finessed dialogue, fixed endings, or even rewritten entire acts at this point in the process.

Then the real magic occurs, when the week-long workshop culminates into three concert-style readings in front of a live audience—that’s you. 

“The audience is an essential part of the recipe because we can’t make theater without them. Theater doesn’t actually function as a solitary or non-performative art form,” says Rudnick, Local Theater Company’s artistic director. 

Now it’s the audience’s turn to give feedback. Following each show is a post-show discussion and conversation—but audience members can also write their thoughts down on a handout or send in their comments online. “All of that feedback gets filtered through the playwright. And, you know, sometimes that really affects the next draft,” Rudnick says. 

Audience members can also meet and speak with the creatives during an assortment of parties—featuring wine and beer, heavy appetizers, and beautiful cheeses—on Friday and Saturday night. Conversation, mingling, and networking are an important part of the process, as is participating in the dance party.

“This is a theater company that likes to party,” says Nick Chase, associate artistic director and one of the directors of Local Lab 2020.

Photo by Michael Ensminger.

This year’s plays—meticulously picked from more than 100 submissions—are timely, brave, and courageous, “tackling the kind of big questions of our time but doing it through very real characters” says Rudnick.

Take Chicago playwright Sandra Delgado’s new play, Hundreds and Hundreds of Stars which tackles immigration by following the story of Clara in her quest for full U.S. citizenship. Or Jessica Huang’s play Mother of Exiles, which brings the audience through one family’s American journey over a 200-year span, starting in 1898 with one woman’s potential deportation, to 2098 through her descendants’ struggle for survival.

The third play, Vroom Vroom by Josh Koenigsberg, follows a used Chevy dealership owner’s attempt to increase business in light of destructive competition. The play “deals with the very serious condition of working class Americans in present day, with humor,” says Chase. 

As an added treat, audience members get to witness eight additional shorter plays written by insightful Casey Middle School students. Through the LocalWRITES program, where bilingual and English-speaking students work with professionals to create plays over the course of the school year, Local Lab provides access to young writers who might not see themselves as artists. These playwrights get the chance to “watch performers bring their work to life and be seen as a colleague and peer in the process,” says Chase.

So, grab a notebook, mark your calendar, and take a seat—it’s time to collaborate, celebrate, and have fun, among the tremendous amount of Colorado theater talent and the endless possibilities that come with it. 

If you go: Local Lab 2020 takes place from March 13 to 15 at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets start at $20 per single-play reading or $125 for an all-access pass that includes all plays and parties.