Kyle Haden, the new artistic director for the Ashland New Plays Festival, says the organization is in a position to expand its role nationally, attracting submissions with greater geographic and ethnic diversity.

“We are already a professional theater,” says Haden. “I believe we are ready to take the next step.”

ANPF’s artistic director leads the collaborative process that selects four plays from hundreds of submissions received by ANPF each year for presentation as dramatic readings. The artistic director then selects a director for each play from the local theater community, works with the director on casting and facilitates director/playwright communication during the rehearsal and performance process. The artistic director also works with the ANPF board of directors on fundraising and is active in the festival’s promotion and relationships with the theater community, both locally and nationally.

Haden’s goal is to have the 24-year-old nonprofit organization expand beyond its autumn program of dramatic readings. He is looking to add more readings throughout the year, develop a continuing community education program and create residencies for playwrights that offer help in the creative process.

Haden points to this year’s dramatic jump in the number of play submissions and the increased possibilities of attracting outstanding material.

“There is a continuing movement in theater to reinterpret the traditional,” Haden says. “I see the festival becoming more active in the current — and long overdue — push for diversity in storytelling. Now is the time for a new viewpoint as well.”

With help from his playwright friends, Haden is putting together a questionnaire seeking to discover how ANPF can best serve playwrights.

“I see ANPF as a ‘playwright-centered’ theater organization,” Haden says.

Haden first worked with ANPF in 2003 and comes to the organization with a strong theater resume. He is a professional actor and director but is principally an educator. ANPF President James Pagliasotti said Haden was the unanimous choice from a strong field of candidates.

Haden is the summer seminar on-site program manager at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, coordinating an intensive 12-day theater camp for high school students. He is also on the OSF Institute faculty. He has worked with OSF since 2003 and considers former artistic director Libby Appel and current Artistic Director Bill Rauch his mentors.

From 2010 to 2012, Haden was on the faculty at Southern Oregon University in the performing arts department. He redesigned the BFA and BA performance curricula and chaired the season planning committee. He also designed and taught a curriculum for an intensive masters program for high school and community college theater teachers.

Haden became an assistant professor at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts in 2012. In addition to teaching, he is in charge of the college’s “freshman spotlight,” the conservatory’s program for new plays written by students. He selects and develops the scripts and casts and directs freshmen acting students in the plays.

“I believe every healthy theater organization has a robust educational department,” says Haden. “I see ANPF expanding that function, finding ways to further engage the community.”

Haden says he will be able to continue his work in Chicago and at OSF as he works with ANPF. He is already involved in this year’s ANPF play selection process.

He will be in Ashland this week working with the ANPF board on planning for the fall and with OSF on the summer session seminars. He will return to Ashland for the ANPF festival, October 21-25, and direct one of the winning plays.

“I’ve always wanted to lead a theater organization, to be an artistic director,” says Haden. “I’ve been searching for the right opportunity, and ANPF seemed the perfect fit.”

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.