SPARKy: Venturing Out & Giving Back

SPARKy: Venturing Out & Giving Back

Connect the dots – founder/artistic director Jennie Franks, board chair Rachel Bowers, even the protagonists in two productions penned by Franks – and the picture becomes clear: SPARKy/ Telluride Playwright Festival is all about strong women.

Two summers ago, Playwright Fest featured what was then a new work by Franks; “Ayn/Sister” was first presented to a packed house in town and then in New York at (part-time Telluride local) Frances Hill Barlow’s Urban Stages.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

That production was in keeping with one of SPARKy/Telluride Playwrights Festival’s long-term goals to provide an opportunity for the Town of Telluride to view and comment on new works in general, then watch them take wing. Also to help take playwrights and plays to the next level: finding productions in larger cities. Another example of what happens in Telluride, often does not stay in Telluride – because so many Telluride cultural initiatives warrant a broader audience. Case in point: “Ayn/Sister.”

Jennie’s play about Ayn Rand is back on the road to further its journey from page to stage, returning to New York with a reading at the historic National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, New York. The event takes place Monday, September 19. 7:30 p.m. RSVP here.

In the mid-1970s, Ayn Rand, America’s premier philosopher and bestselling author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” brings her younger sister Nora over from the Soviet Union. The sisters have not seen each other since they were girls. Ayn thinks Nora will help her complete her autobiography, detailing how their father was responsible for Ayn’s Objectivism, a philosophy that succeeded in changing the political, social, and economic climate of not only America, but the entire world.

Thee sisters soon discover they have completely different views on life and differing memories of their upbringing. The stakes are high. Ayn who for so long has controlled her own destiny, now finds her fundamental beliefs and marriage in jeopardy by a sister who is the only person strong enough to destroy her.

A lightning-rod piece loaded with timely political content, said screenwriter-director-producer Laurence Kasdan.

Now, after 10 years of success, SPARKy takes on another objective: the idea of giving back to the Telluride community for its ongoing support by generating support for other worthy causes.

“The Hispanic Women’s Project,” update:

Rosa, Boss Lady, Coyote, Renata

Rosa, Boss Lady, Coyote, Renata

To date, “The Hispanic Women’s Project,” SPARKy has managed to raise over $165,000 to establish the SPARKy Latina Scholarship Fund, created as a way to honor the women who told Jennie their stories that became the play. (My review of “The Hispanic Woman’s Project” here.)

For those who missed the performances, these poignantly powerful histories focused on the difficulties and triumphs of local Latinas who live and work in the San Miguel region. The resulting production proved to be eye-opening for Telluride, which  rarely, if ever, hears the truth about living and working out of sight, sometimes undocumented, often in poverty and violence.

“The Hispanic Women’s Project” was performed by a dedicated group of local women of various nationalities, including Latinas, over five nights at the Sheridan Opera House. The play was written specifically to celebrate the Telluride Playwrights Festival’s 10th Anniversary in July.

“All the money raised by the Festival this year went directly into the scholarship fund. Besides that, donations large and small have poured in from the community. Without the generosity of this town, this fund could not have achieved the success that it has. Last Christmas I met with the women whose stories I heard and told them we hoped to raise money for the fund. When I said that, each and every one of them burst into tears of joy to think they had contributed in such a meaningful way to raising awareness and starting a dialogue –let alone helping young girls get a higher education” says Franks. “One of the women told me, even if we weren’t able to raise the money, it was enough that someone listened to her story. Well, I think the community not only listened, but willingly gave money to change young Latinas lives for the better.”

SPARKy Productions is in the process of forming a committee of locals and educators to facilitate and award the first scholarship, which will start next year in 2017. In addition to awarding financial aid the committee hopes to support students emotionally and strategically as needed.

SPARKy Productions received a grant for this production from CCASSE and the Telluride Foundation, which has been and remains very supportive of the endeavor and is also managing the fund. With regard to the Hispanic community, the goals of both organizations strongly coincides.

“We hope to raise $200,000 by the end of the year,” says Franks

Note: New York’s National Arts Club was founded in 1898 as a private club for artists of all genres. The club is open to the public for the reading of “Ayn/Sister.”
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