McCall native Kali Borkoski sat in a Philadelphia theater a few years ago with playwright Larry Loebell, a contact she made through the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference in her hometown.
The play at the Philly Fringe Festival required audience members to write the name of a favorite teacher and put it in a pot. At the end, the names were burned as they also scrolled by on a screen on stage.
Borkoski saw the name she wrote Judy Anderson, her playwriting teacher at McCall-Donnelly High School pass by. She saw Loebells name, contributed by someone else in the audience. Then she saw Seven Devils co-founder Jeni Mahoneys name more than once. Mahoney directed the reading of Borkoskis play at a Seven Devils conference years ago.
It made me cry, Borkoski says.
That moment in Philadelphia brought back her experience of workshopping the play she wrote in Andersons class at the Seven Devils conference, Borkoski says.
Seven Devils will happen again this June. Playwrights established, emerging and student professional actors and dramaturges will converge on McCall to explore and experience theater and reach out to the community. The guest artist this year its Kara Lee Corthron teaches a workshop for anyone who wants to attend. The entire conference is free.
Working a play is rigorous, whether youre a seasoned professional or a student. That process became a turning point for Borkoski. Though she isnt a theater artist today, writing a play gave her a better sense of herself.
Im still working at it, but I credit the conference, Judys class and Judy as a person, for setting me on the quest for emotional and intellectual honesty, she says. Thats how Judys name ended up on that screen.
Its also how Mahoneys name ended up there. A playwright herself and a playwriting teacher at New York University, she and Seven Devils co-founder Sheila McDevitt want to change American theater one play and playwright at a time.
Seven Devils grew out of a confluence of purposes when Mahoney and McDevitt met in McCall in the late 1990s. They both were theater artists living in New York and spending summers in McCall. McDevitt, who is an actor, grew up in Boise spending summers in her familys cabin. Mahoneys husband, Ben Sahl, had inherited his familys summer home and the couple started spending time in McCall.
McDevitt had founded id Theatre in McCall, an actor-led company that produced new plays, but she was having trouble finding quality scripts. Mahoney was interested in developing new plays. It was a good fit.
Mahoney contacted Anderson at the high school where Anderson has taught playwriting for 12 years. They worked out a deal for free use of the Alpine Playhouse by incorporating opportunities for students and making the readings free for the public.
Nowadays, during the conference, the visiting playwrights workshop plays and offer readings to the public. They also serve as mentors to four high school students, like Borkoski, who also workshop and offer readings of their plays.
Its worked out really well for everyone, Anderson says.
That experience has influenced a bevy of emerging Idaho playwrights including Obie-winner Sam Hunter, who grew up in Moscow, as well as Boiseans Dano Madden, Bernie Cockey, Heidi Kraay and Evan Sesek. They all credit the conference with helping them grow their careers.
Sesek connected to Seven Devils through Madden, who wrote a play in its first year.
I dont know if I would have become a playwright any other way without the conference, Sesek says.
He first attended the conference as an intern in 2007 at 17. Each summer, hes gone back to learn more about the process, meeting other playwrights such as Hunter, who has become a mentor, and developing his own work. Sesek developed two award-winning 10-minute plays at Seven Devils.
You learn so much just by watching and listening, Sesek says. My college education was great, but you see these playwrights coming in with 20 new pages every day thats a lot of work. Thats the bar for me now.
New plays are essential to keeping the art form relevant, Mahoney says.
Ive come to think about theater in a whole different way lately, she says. I get the feeling that the bigger institutional theaters arent listening to whats going on in other places. Its not about convincing those places to think differently, its about just doing something different.
Many larger theaters are focusing on development, but they do it from an institutional perspective, McDevitt says.
Theyre looking for their next big hit and its all tied to the producing houses that often believe that only people with MFAs should be heard, she says. We can take a lot more risks because we dont have commercial interests. Were just listening for a particular voice that turns us on and that we want to work with. Were passionate about the people we choose.