Ashland New Plays Festival

The play may be the thing, but at the Ashland New Plays Festival, play writing is the biggest thing. The organization turns 15 this year and will be presenting another week of brand new theatrical works read and directed by some of the region's finest theater professionals.

In addition to hearing four plays read, theatergoers will have the opportunity to meet the playwrights and learn from them in four workshops being offered as part of the week's events. Plays and workshops will take place at Oregon Stage Works, 191 A St., Ashland.

Things get off to a start with "What's In It For You?" the keynote address by this year's playwright host, Robert Koon, at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, at Carpenter Hall, 15 S. Pioneer, Ashland. Koon is director of the Playwrights' Network at Chicago Dramatists where he is resident playwright. Koon's talk will be followed by the Playwrights Forum.

The first play, Paula Fell's "Acceptable Risk," will be read at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17. Janet Greek directs. Deceptions and lies are uncovered in a marriage held together financially by ties to nefarious business practices. When payments to a loan shark fall behind, a hit man arrives at the home. As the fa&

231;ade unravels, the truth is finally revealed. The cast features Sarah Rutan and Tyrone Wilson.

Two more plays will be read on Thursday, Oct. 18; "The Language of Trees" by Steven Levenson at 2 p.m. and "Such Moments" by Drew Katzman at 8 p.m.

Caroline Shaffer directs "The Language of Trees" in which a young boy &

an ardent environmentalist &

believes he has discovered a way to communicate with trees. He attempts to convey his unusual insights to his emotionally fragile mother while his father is abroad serving as a translator in a Middle East war zone. The characters are forced to confront the limitations of language as a means of communication. The cast features Dee Maaske, Liisa Ivary, Orion Bradshaw and Tim Blough.

G. Val Thomas directs "Such Moments," which tells the story of the lifelong friendship of two women over a 60-year period. In the ups and downs of their relationship amid the challenges of life in the last half of the 20th century, the two friends' need for one another remains constant. The cast features Suzanne Irving and Eileene DeSandre.

On Friday, Oct. 19, "Acceptable Risk" gets another reading at 2 p.m. At 8 p.m. Liisa Ivary directs "Saving Grace," by James McLindon. A disillusioned priest prepares to administer the last rites to a hardened criminal who is testing his belief that he can still go to heaven despite his crimes, provided he can make a perfect confession right before his death. The cast features Daniel Haley, Richard Elmore and Anthony Heald.

"Saving Grace" will be read again at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, and "Such Moments" at 8 p.m. "The Language of Trees" gets another reading at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21.

The very first Ashland New Plays Festival was held in April 1993. The collaborative event brought together seven local theaters each presenting a new play by a local playwright. This remained the format for the next three years. In 1996 the festival became a nonprofit company under the name of ArtWork Enterprises. Dedicated to the development and enhancement of new works for the theater, with strong educational and outreach components, the Ashland New Plays Festival has given more than 50 playwrights from many parts of the United States an opportunity to have their fledging works read in a supportive public forum. Many have gone on to garner further success in the greater world of theater.

Prior to 1997 as many as eight new works were read in various venues around town with submissions limited to playwrights of selected western states. That changed in 1997. Only five plays were on the program, among them David Rambo's "Speaky-Spikey-Spokey." Rambo's enthusiasm for the Ashland New Plays Festival led to his invitation to become host playwright for the next few years. The submission process has since been expanded to include the entire United States.

In 1998, a one-week summer program for youth playwrights, Fresh Ink, was held. In partnership with faculty from Southern Oregon University, 20 high school students created an evening of short plays around a single theme. In 2000, playwright Karen Zacharias received a Helen Hayes Award at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for her play "The Sins of Sor Juana" which was one of the plays in the 1999 ANPF. In 2004, ANPF established residency at Oregon Stage Works for its October Festival, and introduced the first Ten-Minute Play Festival. The year 2007 saw the advent of the 24/7 project in which seven plays were written, directed and rehearsed within 24 hours, then performed.

With its emphasis on developing the craft of play writing, the Ashland New Plays Festival arranges for playwrights to be in residence for an entire week. During this time they have the opportunity to interact with other playwrights, work with directors, actors, and other artists gathered from the community's professional and semi-professional theaters.

"This is a laboratory experience for playwrights, prior to seeing their plays in full production," said ANPF board president Janet Rodkey. "It becomes the time to discover which pieces of the play work well or not-so-well, and audience feedback is critical to the process. Numerous letters from our past playwrights attest to the value of our festival, its supportive atmosphere, instant feedback, and most of all, its emphasis on the word."

An important part of the new plays festival is the opportunity to learn first-hand from the playwrights. Each of this year's visiting playwrights will conduct a workshop on some aspect of the creative process of writing a play. Workshops are from 10 to 11:30 a.m., at Oregon Stage Works, 191 A St., Ashland.

Submissions for the October 2007 festival came from 172 playwrights nationwide. Starting in February, ANPF's group of about 30 readers rated each play, with a minimum of eight readers ranking the 52 plays that made it to the second round in April. By mid-June, there were 10 plays in the final round. Of these, professional directors read and selected the four winners and these became the scripts for the October festival.

"As we complete our 15th year, we like to think that the work of the next generation of great American playwrights just might begin with a reading at The Ashland New Plays Festival," said Rodkey.

Tickets are $10 for each play and $5 for each workshop. Tickets are available at Paddington Station and at the door.

For a complete schedule, see , or call 482-4357.

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