Setting The Stage For Morality Conversations: Ashland New Plays Festival Present Great Plays, But Hard Questions
For the past quarter-century, Ashland New Plays Festival has presented plays in progress, scripts that are at their final step before stepping fully costumed on to stage. It is a rare and unique glimpse into the process of a script hatching into a fully-staged production—and, for four days this month, four new scripts will showcase some of the best playwriting talent in the country—and with themes that are as engaging and they are thorny.
Although not intentional—as the selection process shifts through 450 submitted scripts, letting the cream rise—the theme that emerges with this fall’s batch of new scripts addresses contemporary moral issues and presents hard-to-answer questions about our judgement of others.
In The Way North by Tira Palmquist, a lost and pregnant young woman wanders into a rural homestead—and, in doing so, forces questions about weighing the right thing to do against the legal thing to do, all set in the larger context of immigration debates (although interestingly not focused on the Mexican border, but on the frozen tundra between Minnesota and Canada).
“I hope audiences experience their own moment of assessing where their own compass points are,” explains Palmquist in her press release.
Likewise, in The Night Climber, New York-based writer Joshua Rebell takes on an uncomfortable topic and task of creating sympathy for a man with an esteemed career whose skeletons shake out of his closet as he is accused of sexual misconduct. In his notes about the script, Rebell explains that he hopes it will confront “trying to see the good in us–to ask question like ‘do we really erase everything positive this person has given us because of what they’ve done wrong?’”
Peggy Moore, President for Ashland New Plays Festival, sat down with the Messenger to give a bit more insight into the selection process for the scripts.
RVM: The topics seem to be addressing current social issues: MeToo Movement, immigration, arguing about global warming. How important to the selection committee was that contemporariness?
PM: It isn’t a criteria at all. We’ve had plays done in the past that are not necessarily topical in theme. We are interested in well-crafted plays.
RVM: Can you share any of the struggles for the selection committee? Was there a protracted argument about a script that did not make it?
PM: I have been a reader for 10 years myself and we have in some group or groups some plays which do create very strong feeling among some of the readers. And this year was no exception.
We depend on the leadership skills of the group leaders (and we have some amazing ones) who can help direct the discussion away from the areas that are more personal to focus on the quality and interest of the script, the strength of the characters and the opportunity to provide another play that might reach audiences far and wide in the future.
There are, as in life, winners and losers in any discussion. I find most readers invest a lot of time and energy into this process, and so care very much about particular scripts. In the end, most can understand (especially when the Artistic Director explains the reasons for his choices) why one play was chosen over another.
RVM: How much is the selection about the script and how much about the writer? Or, asked differently, is considering the writer part of the process?
PM: Since all plays are read blind, that is the author or her/his gender, ethnicity, etc. is also blind; there is no chance the writer plays any part in the selection.
When the Artistic Director announces the winners, he does not even know who the author is. It’s all about the plays that will create the most interest and that evidence the best quality of theater productions that are selected.
Presentations: 7:30 Wednesday, October 16; 1:30 & 7:30 Thurs – Sat. Octo 17 – 19, 3 pm Sunday Octo 20. $20. Playwriting workshop, 9 am – noon, Sat Octo 19, $10. Complete festival schedule and details at: AshlandNewPlays.org