C. Denby Swanson: A play for Clifford

Austin playwright C. Denby Swanson has received a prestigious national grant to develop a play based on the life of Clifford Antone with the Zachary Scott Theatre Center

Clifford Antone spent his life around stages, but most were in clubs. The late, great blues patron likely never pictured himself on a stage in a theatre, but that's where he's headed, courtesy of C. Denby Swanson. The local playwright – who's also artistic director of Austin Script Works and a Chronicle contributor – was one of 11 dramatists from across the country selected for the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts/Theatre Communications Group Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, which connects writers with host theatres to develop new work and get involved in the theatre's artistic life and community activities. Each playwright receives $25,000 and up to $1,000 in additional funds for "individual life needs" (health insurance, child care, care for aging parents, etc.). Swanson will be in residence at Zachary Scott Theatre Center to develop Blue Monday – a working title – based on the life of Clifford Antone.

"The idea for the play hit me when I was on a walk around Town Lake, a week or so after Clifford passed away," says Swanson. "I had seen him introduce Pinetop Perkins at a benefit for the Paramount, and that was fresh on my mind." When she finished the walk, she e-mailed Zach Artistic Director Dave Steakley, thinking Zach's track record with musicals such as Love, Janis and It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues made an Antone project "a natural fit." Within minutes she had a reply: He wanted to do it. She plans to start with extensive interviews, in the vein of Keepin' It Weird. "I'm looking forward to talking with Clifford's friends and family – I've been in touch with Susan Antone – making a road trip to Port Arthur, hanging out a lot at the club, buying a lot of music, and dealing with the complicated events of the life of Clifford Antone, the life of blues music in Austin. I'm an Austin native, but this will be my first chance to really write a local story, and this one feels pretty important."

By the by, Swanson isn't the only Austinite chosen for this year's residency program. Dan Dietz, acclaimed author of tempOdyssey, Americamisfit, and A Bone Close to My Brain, gets to develop The Difference Engine, a drama about the relationship between 19th century engineer Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, the math-prodigy daughter of Lord Byron, at Salvage Vanguard Theater. This honor arrives as Dietz is bidding Austin "au revoir" after a decade of providing important stage work as a writer and actor. He's taken a teaching position in the theatre department at Florida State University in Tallahassee. A valedictory production of his short plays and monologues has been assembled by Shrewd Productions under the title Trash Anthems. It opens Thursday, May 3, and runs through May 26 at Hyde Park Theatre. For more information, call 479-PLAY.

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Clifford Antone, C. Denby Swanson, National Endowment for the Arts / Theatre Communications Group Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Dan Dietz, Salvage Vanguard Theater

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