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Ashland New Plays Festival goes online

The Ashland New Plays Festival will present readings of plays written by Andrew Lee Creech, top left, Meghan Brown, top right, Thomas Brandon, bottom left, and TyLie Shider, bottom right.
New plays explore relationships, history, Shakespeare

The Ashland New Plays Festival will bring four plays about relationships, lesser-known aspects of American history and a falsely accused Shakespeare character to audiences in October.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ANPF’s Fall Festival from Oct. 20-24 will feature online livestream readings of the winning plays by Thomas Brandon, Meghan Brown, Andrew Lee Creech and TyLie Shider. The festival will also feature three live Zoom events for audience members to connect with each other and the playwrights.

“We are thrilled to bring these four new plays to our audiences,” said ANPF Board President Peggy Moore. “It’s been another difficult year, and being able to support these artists, their work and to continue building community through theater — even virtually — means so much to ANPF.”

The Ashland New Plays Festival will present online readings of four plays for its Fall Festival in October.

Each year, ANPF’s trained volunteers read through hundreds of scripts without knowing the identities of the authors. The submissions are narrowed down to roughly a dozen finalists.

“This is the first year I have had the opportunity and responsibility of selecting the four winning plays,” says ANPF Artistic Director Jackie Apodaca. “The finalist pool, chosen through a vigorous process completed by our 70 devoted readers over 10 months, included 12 truly compelling plays. Our four winning playwrights stood out for their unique, original stories told through engaging characters.”

The livestream play readings will be presented one per evening at 6 p.m. from Thursday, Oct. 21, through Sunday, Oct. 6.

The Oct. 21 play, “Pocket Universe” by Brandon follows a husband and wife on a picnic at a park where they shared their first date. Their reminiscing about the past reveals troubling memory gaps that lead to a dark discovery.

“Pocket Universe is not only about fear, but also about the reckless hope that opens our heart to new love, even in the face of heartbreak we know is coming,” Brandon said.

The Oct. 22 play is “Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family” by Shider. In his dramatic comedy, a disintegrated American family living in Plainfield, New Jersey, tries to repair itself and re-migrate south during the long hot summer of 1967. But racial tensions erupt in the city and threaten to thwart the family’s dreams for the future. The play is inspired in part by Shider’s own family history.

Faced with dead-end jobs in the Jim Crow South, Shider’s grandfather wanted to secure upward mobility by emigrating to the northeastern U.S.

“And in January of 1966, he arrived ‘up north’ with his family — just 19 months before the summer of 1967 — the summer the race riots broke out in major American cities and led to civic unrest in smaller towns like Plainfield,” Shider said.

The Oct. 23 play, “What Happened While Hero Was Dead” by Brown, looks at Hero, a lead female character in William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“I wrote this play to avenge Hero,” Brown said.

In Brown’s play, Hero finds herself embroiled in false rumors and discovers that being dead might be the best thing that could have happened to her life.

The Oct. 24 play, “Last Drive to Dodge” by Creech, is set at the tail end of the golden age of cowboys. The play examines race, love and legacy during a time when everyone was scrambling to get a piece of the American dream.

“Black history and American history are synonymous, and yet a barrier exists between them,” Creech said. “’Last Drive to Dodge’ is part of an intended nine-play, multi-century-spanning cycle exploring the lives of Black Americans in pivotal moments of American history, with the goal of breaking down this barrier.”

Ticket pricing for the online play readings is based on a sliding scale, with a suggested price of $20 per ticket. Package pricing for festival passes is $70.

In addition to the live online events, ANPF will offer encore on-demand presentations of the readings from Oct. 26-31.

The Fall Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, with a launch party and playwright panel where guests can mingle via Zoom and hear directly from the playwrights. The evening will be led by Apodaca and host playwright Beth Kander. The event is free for members with registration, and $10 for nonmembers.

There are more ways to engage in the creative process and connect with playwrights during the festival, organizers said.

An annual playwriting workshop is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 23. “Writing Across the Distance” is an intensive session with the four winning playwrights and Kander. The workshop costs $10 and is open to writers of all levels and backgrounds.

From 2-3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, ANPF will welcome participants to a free panel discussion with the five emerging playwrights from the organization’s inaugural New Voices Retreat: Kathryn de la Rosa, Ty Greenwood, Heesun Hwang, Jasmine Sharma and Carlos-Zenen Trujillo. The talk will focus on theater today from the perspectives of this diverse group of playwrights under age 30 who are finding their way through the industry amidst the pandemic.

For tickets to events and more information, see ashlandnewplays.org.