Pearce Fazekas auditions at the Durango Arts Center for the upcoming Merely Players production on Tuesday evening. This summer, Merely Players and The Durango Performing Arts Co. merged under the umbrella of a new organization, Imaginary Friends./ Photo by Steve Eginoire

Plays well together

Local theater, performance groups join forces as Imaginary Friends
by Stew Mosberg

After talking about it for years, two of Durango’s biggest theatrical names have joined forces. This summer, Merely Players and The Durango Performing Arts Co. (DPAC) announced a creative and financial merger under the umbrella of a new organization, Imaginary Friends.

According to Merely Players co-founder Mona Wood-Patterson, the goal is to maximize funding efforts and theatrical experiences in town while maintaining the two separate group’s identities.

“It’s just a restructuring,” Wood-Patterson said. “DPAC focuses primarily on programs for kids, and Merely Players focuses more on theatre for adult audiences and (also) Shakespeare for all ages.”

Merely Players was founded by Wood-Patterson and husband Charles Ford in 1995. Its name comes from the well known monologue in Act 2 of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Ford and Wood-Patterson are known for their work at Durango High School and their nationally recognized theater arts program.

At the same time, Durango Performing Arts has long been dedicated to fostering theatrical skills in local children. The group’s cadre includes Denise Hagemeister, Susan Belshe and Caitlin Connaughton-Cross.

On most Monday evenings in the summer, DPAC’s young performers can be seen entertaining in the plaza on the corner of Main Avenue and College Drive, outside Starbucks. In addition, DPAC’s school outreach programs takes it into District 9-R schools as well as the La Plata County Fair, Relay for Life and various local clubs and organizations. In the summer, DPAC holds summer performing arts camps for children ages 12 - 18 and just completed its sixth year.

Through the new partnership, Imaginary Friends plans to nurture local actors through individual productions, as well as via collaboration with other artists and groups. The coalition will act as an umbrella organization not just for the two theatre groups, but for the Salt Fire Circus, Heart Hustle Collective and Four Corners Film Commission.

As a new entity, Imaginary Friends is offering season subscribers various ticket packages and discounted prices. All subscribers will also get a listing in the performance programs. The new entity will be expanding on its typical venues, the Back Space Theatre and Durango Arts Center, with one upcoming production planned for the pool at the Best Western-Mountain Shadows Inn.

Having just completed a week-long production of “Brilliant Traces,” the next scheduled show is DPAC’s “Sleepy Hollow: A Musical Tale,” slated for the Arts Center right before Halloween. The modern-day musical version of Washington Irving’s classic follows three children as they make their way past an odd array of characters, traditions, ghosts, goblins and even the headless horseman himself, in an attempt to find their way home. Directed by Shea Costa, the show will have technical direction by Caitlin Connaughton-Cross.

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” will arrive at the DAC in May. As a collaboration between Merely Players and DPAC, it will incorporate technical design by Ford and the entire Imaginary Friends team, with costuming by JoAnn Nevils.

Not to be missed in November will be Merely Players’ production of “Metamorphoses by Ovid” (43 BC –18 AD). The inspired theatrical event will be taking place in the aforementioned swimming pool, and Wood-Patterson cautions tickets will be extremely limited.

According to the director, the play uses a lot of water imagery and was originally performed in a pool, something she has always been interested in. “I have wanted to do a play in a swimming pool for years,” explained Wood-Patterson. “Mountain Shadows Inn will be draining their pool for repairs, and they graciously agreed to let us do a play in the meantime. However, the hot tub will be working, and we’ll use that too.”

Merely Players’ mission is to use a variety of venues, and the group has already done plays in the warming hut at Chapman Hill and the Discovery Museum, but always welcomes new ideas. “If anyone in the community has an idea about a fun place to do a play, we’d love that,” said Wood-Patterson.

As for Connaughton-Cross, she acknowledged that after leaving DAC, Durango Performing Arts was fortunate to find a new home in the Smiley Building. “All of our popular classes and programs will continue there in Studio 5,” she said.

Auditions for “The Little Mermaid” will take place Nov. 13-15 for ages 9-18. Class and rehearsals begin in March.

For information on season tickets, subscriptions and more, call 749-8585.

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