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Creating Other Worlds: Ashland New Plays Festival Fall Season

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Kris Danford and the cast of Go. Please. Go. by Emily Feldman perform a dance sequence as part of a dramatic reading performance at ANPF 2017. Photo Credit: Kara Q. Lewis

After reading hundreds of scripts between winter and spring, Ashland New Plays Festival narrowed down its selection to four new scripts by playwrights across the U.S. and is ready to premier them to the Rogue Valley October 17 – 21.

It is a unique presentation. Without full sets or lavish costuming (or, really, any costuming but the street-clothes on the actors’ backs), scripts are read to an audience; read by professional actors and with all the bravado and intonation from a normal production, but truly just relying on the stripped-down words to carry their weight.

“Our directors and actors are just so talented,” asserts Putnam. “They create these worlds with the use of voice and language that transport people. A number of our patrons have said it’s like listening to a great podcast.”

Each play this season covers a wide variety of themes, from death and artificial intelligence, to how parents handle sexual harassment and a professional woman’s struggle to be taken seriously in the 19th century. A past winning playwright for ANPF, Stephanie Alison Walker for The Madres, which focused on mothers in Argentina, saw her play go on to other theaters in Chicago, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Selected again this year, her new play The Abuelas will focus on grandmothers in Argentina.

“With these readings, it creates a whole other world,” says Co-President Carol Putnam. “We believe so strongly about providing playwrights the opportunity to get plays out. It’s like any theatre; you hope that they are stimulated. You hope that they walk away talking about the play either because it was so funny or it was because ‘Wow, I have never thought about that.’”

(From right) Nolan Sanchez, Lolly Ward, Sherilyn Lawson, and Jamie Ann Romero before a dramatic reading of What We Were by Blake Hackler at ANPF 2017. Photo Credit: Kara Q. Lewis

The other three plays are: The Excavation of Mary Anning by Ian August, a story about a 19th century female fossil hunter; a digital age drama, Primary User by Nate Eppler; and, Cold Spring by Victor Lesniewski about the fallout from a sexual assault claim by a teenager to his baseball coach.

Getting to the final four is a process: Volunteer readers are split up into groups and after reading the dozens of plays given to them, discusses and ranks each one. “It’s complex but it’s a great system for helping us to evaluate so many plays. So each reader probably reads between 50 and 60 plays between December and May,” says Putnam, who was first a volunteer reader for ANPF when she first moved to Ashland. “I fell in love with the mission and the activities and just thought, ‘I want to help.’”

The average play’s length is around 90 minutes for one act plays and 120 for two act plays.

“There’s only so many theaters in the U.S., and there are so many wonderful plays out there that don’t get full productions,” explains Putnam. “One of the things our audience loves is seeing dramatic readings. With the actors we hire, we don’t need a costume or a set to be able to step into the reality of that play.”


Ashland New Plays Festival

October 17 – 21

Unitarian Center, 87 Fourth Street, Ashland



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