When Arizona Theatre Company transitioned to a virtual season last year, Artistic Director Sean Daniels knew that the company’s longtime playwright-in-residence would be part of the plan.
But what he didn’t know then was that two other Tucson theater companies — Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre and Winding Road Theater Ensemble — also had plans to present Elaine Romero’s plays.
Three Tucson companies presenting the same playwright and one who happened to be from our own backyard?
Sounds like the makings of a festival.
When Daniels pitched the idea of RomeroFest to Romero, she reached out to a handful of theater companies around the country that were fans of her work and got them involved.
The result: A monthlong digital celebration of the Tucson playwright’s works by more than a dozen theater companies throughout the country and one in Mexico City.
“I am really excited. It is a gift of a lifetime,” said Romero, who also teaches at the University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film & Television. “These times are so hard and painful and human and frail, and then this beautiful gift is handed to me.”
The festival kicks off Thursday, March 4, with Justice Theater Project of Raleigh, North Carolina, performing “A Sentiment,” the first of 16 performances that showcase the diversity and range of Romero’s catalogue. Throughout the month, companies — including Teatro Travieso/Troublemaker Theatre out of Portland, Oregon; Philadelphia’s Theater Ariel; and Childsplay Theatre Co. from Tempe — will perform dramatic readings of Romero’s plays to celebrate her 23 years with ATC.
“Sometimes we don’t realize who we have living here and the way that they are looked at nationally,” said ATC’s Daniels, who has made it his mission since taking over the company in summer 2019 to champion new playwrights and new works.
Winding Road will tackle “Wetback” on March 15; UA School of Theatre is doing “Mother of Exiles” on March 17; and Philadelphia’s InterAct Theatre Company is doing “Revolutions” on March 20, a play that Mexico City’s Foro Shakespeare also will perform March 23.
The festival’s highlight, though, could come on March 10, when Arizona Theatre Company does the first-ever public reading of Romero’s newest play, “Halsted.”
“When we were trying to figure out which one to do, she said, ‘I have this new play that is autobiographical about my husband and would you just read it, let me know what you think,’” Daniels said. “It kind of came from a moment of bravery on her part. I always think to put out a play that you just wrote is a deeply brave act. But to put out something autobiographical is even more so.”
Romero wrote “Halsted” a couple of years ago during the Silent Playwrights Retreat at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California. For five days, she spoke to no one and focused on the play, retracing the days and months and years since her husband, Brad Eggers, suffered a stroke in Chicago in 2011. With humor and humility, Romero relives the tragedy and heartbreak and her evolution from wife to caretaker.
“These things happen in life, and you don’t know when an event is going to happen that’s going to change your life,” she said.
“Halsted” is Romero’s first autobiographical play, and she admitted the journey from the script to the stage has been harder than with her other plays.
Daniels said RomeroFest is a first of its kind — an all-digital, national celebration of a living playwright whose name is not widely known.
Daniels said RomeroFest is also a chance to celebrate Romero and her impact on ATC while she’s alive, something that rarely happens and certainly not on this sort of scale.
“We foolishly only do celebrations of a body of work when a playwright dies or moves away. Let’s not wait for either with Elaine,” Daniels said.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com. On Twitter @Starburch