Be a Part of the Creation: Ashland New Plays Festival Puts the Quill in the Audience’s Hand
Why should Ebert and Roeper get to have all the fun? Or Rotten Tomatoes make up their own “tomatometer”? Not only do the viewers of the annual Ashland New Plays Festival on October 18 through 22 get to give their opinion on the plays presented, but the playwrights are right there, eager for suggestions that will improve their works.
“The audience is part of the shaping of that work,” says ANPF Artistic Director Kyle Haden. “We sometimes joke and say that it is ‘crowd-sourced,’ well, I’m not sure that I would use that term, but that public feedback is crucial to the experience.”
This year, the plays and playwrights are: A Dark Sky Full of Stars by Don Zolidis, Go. Please. Go. by Emily Feldman, Sofonisba by Callie Kimball, and What We Were by Blake Hackler. And, Haden adds, this year he was impressed by all 12 of the potential plays, and would have “loved to have seen any of them.”
While there is only an approximate prep time of 12 hours prior to the readings, the plays each have their own director, all of which happen to be women this year, notes Haden.
“I’m excited that we have four female directors; that perspective is really exciting,” he says. “We are striving for gender variety in theatre; it is something we are really conscious of.”
Here’s how the weekend works: Each of the four plays are scheduled at certain times for viewing by the public, where the actors will be seated or standing at music stands, reading their parts of the script. Even without props, sets, costumes and general movement, the quality of the actors is such that the story is still engaging, perhaps even more so, as it is without those other, well, distractions.
“It’s like an old radio play; you are filling in the blanks with your imagination,” says Haden. “People are surprised how they are transported to these places: an apartment in the South side of Chicago, Buenos Aires, or West Texas.”
Then after each reading, the playwrights come out and get feedback from the audience. Sometimes, they have questions they want to ask, and other times, they just listen, adds Haden. And, with a matinee and evening reading of each play, he says that you will see those reading in other plays or other playwrights sitting next to you in other performances—“a community develops.”
Haden has been the Artistic Director of the Festival for the past three years, and was unable to pick a favorite, as he says, “I only have one child, and they say that if you have multiple children, you still can’t pick a favorite, and that is how I feel about these four plays.” He is acting in Go. Please. Go., which he is excited about not just for the play, but also because he has never acted in ANPF, only directed.
“I’m excited to just be an actor, and feel that energy from the stage and hear the reactions of the audience from that perspective,” he says.
As ANPF grows in local and national attention, Haden emphasizes their focus remains the same.
“People miss how playwright-centered it is; we are celebrating the people creating these stories,” he says. “This week is set up for them, and everything we do is designed to allow them to present the strongest script and put themselves in a position to go on and have success with that story.”
Additionally, a boon to the location of ANPF is that we here in the Rogue Valley are actually, ahem, quite experienced with watching good theatre.
“We have passionate, intelligent audiences that understand how theatre works,” says Haden.
View the full schedule at ashlandnewplays.org.
Ashland New Plays Festival
October 18 – 22
Unitarian Center, 87 Fourth Street, Ashland