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Giving Tuesday: Ashland New Plays Festival

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For the past four years, the Rogue Valley Messenger has hosted the largest in-person Giving Tuesday event in southern Oregon, an opportunity to mix-and-mingle with local nonprofits. The irony! In a year that organizations and individuals most need support, we are not able to gather.

In the weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday, we will post interviews with local nonprofits—and urge you to give and support.

Peggy Moore is Executive Director for Ashland New Plays Festival.

Rogue Valley Messenger: You just finished a virtual New Plays Festival.  How did it go?  What was it like to have a virtual audience?  Was there clapping and laughing and audience responses?

Peggy Moore: Our 29th Fall Festival was held virtually this year.  It went well. Attendance was down a little but the feedback from our audiences suggests they enjoyed it.  All rehearsals were done virtually as well. All the playwrights were from the East Coast this year and directors were also mostly from the East Coast. 

It was an interesting experience since often actors “play off of one another,” not being together for rehearsals or performances, did not allow for that opportunity.

The virtual audience could type in questions for the talk backs but no applause or laughter or sobs were heard. I think this certainly affected the community sense of experiencing a play but the strength of the performances shone  through despite that. And of course when an audience is immersed in the play, those unconscious reactions like laughing or dead silence does provide a gauge for the actors as to how the play is going. 

RVM: What lessons did you learn from this festival – and will those be relevant moving forward when we return to in-person theater presentations? 

PM: I think we learned that we can  pivot when needed. Who knows how long theaters will be dark for live performances. We learned from our virtual experience things for future virtual productions. Fine tuning and ways to perhaps enhance that type of performance. I’m not sure we learned much that can translate to live performances that we didn’t already know. 

What we did also learn is that a theatre community like the Rogue Valley hungers for theater and the opportunity to provide it, even in a virtual form, was both a challenge and an opportunity.  We were able to select actors more easily who are not local because the time needed to travel to Ashland and commit to eight days here was not needed. We were also able to attract some audiences from across the country which was a happy opportunity. 

RVM: Are you seeing plays reflect the changes from the past six months – whether that is/both responding to the isolation of quarantines or the calls for more equity? 

PM: Since our process involves the reading for the next season beginning in January of the year we were not immediately effected by restrictions. For example we are screening 2021 plays now and the submission deadline closes in early December. Then the reading process begins after the holidays and we are into 2021.  So this year, the pandemic had not hit by the time the deadline for 2020 plays was upon us. Thus,  issue of isolation and the needed attention to equity had not yet happened. 

What we are seeing in some of the submissions for 2021 do have issues that are current .  We will see what “shakes” out once the 500 plays are in and reader groups begin their tasks. 

The subject of isolation (sans quarantine) is a universal subject for many and so the nuances of the quarantine were not present and I don’t know whether they will be in this year’s crop of plays. Equity has been an issue in many plays in the past but the positive reception of this critical issue will, I am sure, find its way into our plays for the coming season.

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