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ANP Fall Festival highlights four playwrights

Secrets, compassion, relationships, life, death and humor. These themes and many more are explored within the scripts of the playwrights who have won spots in the Ashland New Plays Festival.

ANPF, now in its 28th season, will present four playwrights’ new works at its flagship annual event, the ANP Fall Festival, running from Wednesday, Oct. 16, through Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Center, 87 Fourth St., in Ashland.

“I’m excited about our four winning plays and can’t wait to share them with audiences,” ANPF’s Artistic Director Kyle Haden said in a press release. “This was the deepest pool of finalists we’ve had in my tenure at ANPF, but these four plays stood out. The stories are all very different, but are all well-crafted and will stick with you.”

The festival presents readings of four new plays chosen in a blind reading process from a pool of 400 submissions by playwrights from around the world. The ANPF winning playwrights are brought to Ashland and paired with skilled directors and actors, many from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University’s Theatre Department, under guidance from ANPF’s artistic team and ANPF Host Playwright Beth Kander. The weeklong festival engages playwrights and audiences alike in this entertaining and collaborative event that assists playwrights in the development of new works for the stage.

“The week I spent in Ashland (at the Fall Festival) was one of the best weeks in my life as a playwright,” said two-time ANPF-winning playwright Stephanie Alison Walker in a press release announcing the winning playwrights. “From the moment my play was selected for the festival, I felt like I was in good hands. Our team beautifully brought my play to life. The audiences were such careful listeners and so committed to sharing feedback. I left with more confidence in my play and many more friends than when I arrived.”

This year’s winning plays each resonate with compelling plots that find their characters haunted by the past and forced to work through their memories on journeys that have life-altering impacts on their present.

In Tira Palmquist’s “The Way North,” a retired sheriff avoids thinking about a fatal on-the-job event and then finds herself torn between helping a stranger or maintaining the law. Meanwhile, a family’s entrenched denial of their patriarch’s past actions and the resounding effects of this silence create a perfect storm for a horrific act by one of their own in “Starter Pistol” by Michael Gotch. “The Night Climber” by Joshua Rebell — a two-time ANPF winning playwright — follows the examination of a stately Ivy League professor’s life by outsiders and family alike as his old and current relationships with students come to light. And “Pelicans,” by David Johnston, explores how the love and care we give to family shapes who we are, and how we survive, for better or worse.

“I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of the 2018 Ashland New Plays Festival,” says winning playwright Nate Eppler of his experience last year. “The remarkable support and hospitality they provide extends from the ANPF team, to the artists assembled to help nurture the work to the extraordinary volunteers and board members and hosts and donors, to the deeply engaged audiences, and to the community of Ashland itself.”

The festival opens with a members-only reception where guests meet the playwrights, directors and actors, followed by a week of rehearsals, performances and a playwriting workshop led by Kander.

The opening night performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, followed by performances at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 17-19. The festival closes with a 3 p.m. matinee Sunday, Oct. 20. Tickets for the staged readings are $20 for each performance. There will also be a playwriting workshop held from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 19. Admission to the workshop is $10.

Tickets and a detailed schedule of the festival is available online at ashlandnewplays.org, and tickets will also be available at the door, subject to availability.

Additionally, each performance will be followed by a talkback with Kander, the playwright and cast. Kander, an award-winning playwright and novelist, was a winning playwright at ANPF in 2015 and 2016. She will also be giving a book talk at Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St., in Ashland, 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, to promote the second novel in her dystopian trilogy “Original Syn.”

Actors study their roles for a performance during the 2018 Ashland New Plays Fall Festival. Photo by Kara Q. Lewis