By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – “Levity,” a play developed and produced in Big Sky, and featuring Broadway talent, comes full circle in its world debut Jan. 19-21, at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.
“Levity” follows the family-fallout after the death of a rock star patriarch and the troubling appearance of an ex-wife with secrets to leverage. London-based director Stella Powell-Jones and Tony Award-winning star Michele Pawk are joined by cast members David Alford, from the popular television show “Nashville,” and Carolyn McCormick of “Law and Order” fame.
“Levity” began as an experiment in the first Big Sky Theater Workshop at WMPAC in July 2015. Powell-Jones worked alongside four Broadway actors to develop the new script with Broadway playwright-in-residence, Stephanie DiMaggio. After a week of intense development, a workshop-style reading of the play was performed for a Big Sky audience.
The idea of internationally acclaimed theater artists creating works specifically for the intimate WMPAC stage sparked the collaborators to take it to the next level, and the annual Big Sky Theater Workshop was born. In its three summers, the multiple-week residency, which connects top-level theater professionals with aspiring professionals and promising young talent, has attracted more than 50 renowned theater makers from across the country.Last year, WMPAC became an Equity Certified performing house, which granted the organization the ability not only to develop, but debut professional new theater, putting Big Sky on the map as a destination spot for new American plays and musicals.
In 2017, WMPAC produced its first professional play (Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”). Its success led WMPAC to incorporate the world premiere of “Levity” into the 2018 winter season.
In early 2017, producers John Zirkle (WMPAC executive and artistic director) and Danny Williams (head of finance at The Public Theater in New York City, the institution behind such hits as “Hamilton,” “A Chorus Line” and “Hair”) joined forces to make the Big Sky debut of “Levity” a reality.
“As artists in New York we are no strangers to new projects, but a first world premiere ever for a theater is truly something special,” said “Levity” playwright DiMaggio, adding that “the play is 100 percent born because of Big Sky.” Several of the scenes were written at a lunch table outside Lone Peak High School. “It is an honor to have ‘Levity’ be the first of what I know will be many world premieres [at WMPAC].”
The Big Sky Theater Company started when Kristin Kern, a Big Sky resident with East Coast roots introduced Zirkle to DiMaggio, after Kern had seen her perform in a self-written play off-Broadway.
Tucked in a booth at Buck’s T-4 Lodge to discuss the possibilities of artistic collaboration, Zirkle and DiMaggio felt an immediate synergy. Within an hour they had discussed everything from Broadway to ballet, audience development to adventure seeking, and teaching to technology. Above all, their connection was founded on a shared mission to make great art accessible to all communities.
In the continued effort to broaden this accessibility, “Levity” will also be WMPAC’s first open-captioned and American Sign Language-interpreted performance.
Following “Levity’s” debut, WMPAC will premiere its first-ever professional musical, “[title of show]” from Feb. 16 to 18. That’s not a typo, but the name of a production The New York Times described as “genial, unpretentious and far funnier than many of the more expensively manufactured musicals that make it to Broadway these days.”
Both shows mark WMPAC’s increasing focus on developing new work. “Producing our own shows is the next logical step for a theater like WMPAC,” Zirkle said. “And we’ve seen how well our audiences respond to this effort.”
The three performances of “Levity” will take place Friday, Jan. 19, through Sunday, Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for all WMPAC events are available at warrenmillerpac.org.