The Gift of New Stories: Ashland New Plays Festival from Ashland Sneak Preview
The 501c3 Files
By Adam and Sophia S.W. Bogle
Imagine you lived in the time of Shakespeare. Would you have supported that unknown (and sometimes controversial) playwright? Thank goodness someone did or we probably wouldn’t be here in Ashland today. Whether we attend the Shakespearean theater here or not, this town is run on plays. It goes without saying that the old world plays will always have their place here because they are constantly being reinvented for modern audiences. But what about new stories for our current time? You will be happy to know that the Ashland New Plays Festival (ANPF) is providing an oasis for modern playwrights right here in Ashland. They started in 1993 and have become a major play development resource on the west coast.
The main event for ANPF is a one week festival that happens in October. This highlights the four best plays selected out of the hundreds of submissions that ANPF gets from all over the world. The process starts this month by gathering together the play readers. How would you like to be the one to find this new Shakespeare?
My mom came to stay with me one year and to keep busy she became a reader for ANPF. She had been in theater all her life so she really enjoyed the chance to connect with other people in this way. You see, being a reader isn’t just about reading the plays, you also get to meet the other readers to discuss the plays and vote. They need about 50 volunteer readers to get this job done and it must be fun because most of them return year after year. I remember my mom getting so excited about the plays, both the good and the bad. She was very thorough in her assessments, writing copious notes in the margins. (She used to teach English too.) The live readings at the Festival were a wonderful way to celebrate all that hard work.
The ANPF is dedicated to helping their playwrights succeed beyond the October festival. One of the ways they do this is by partnering with other west coast regional theaters. Many of the playwrights go on to have their plays produced in other theaters across the country. Meredith Friedman, one of the winners from 2015, has her play, The Luckiest People, being produced next March in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s 29th season. Some of them are even produced at our own Oregon Shakespeare Festival such as Destiny of Desire by Karen Zacarias which is coming up in 2018.
I know you may not have heard of these playwrights yet, but that’s what is so exciting about it all! I know that Kyle Hayden would agree. This is his third season as the ANPF artistic director. He sat down with me at Cafe 116 to tell me about ANPF and I was most impressed with his passion for making sure that these written works are given life on the stage. Kyle had a lot to share with me about the creation of plays and at some point in our conversation, he said something that just made me stop and think: Plays are not movies. Ok, this seems super obvious, and I might have just glossed over it too. But he went on to explain that what it means is that plays demand something of their audience that movies cannot. Going to a live theater is a chance for us to put down our little blue screens and be a part of the live creation of art. It is a literal “con-spiracy” in that the audience is breathing together with the actors on the stage. And that is why the ANPF is so important. It is bringing us some fresh air!
While Ashland New Plays Festival is a great incubator for the future of theater, its success depends greatly on the theater lovers of today to make it happen. You can’t go back in time to support Shakespeare but there is bound to be a new Shakespeare someday. With your help, we might just find them through the Ashland New Plays Festival. For more information go to www.ashlandnewplays.org.