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Ashland New Plays Festival celebrates 30th anniversary with six days of new plays

Ashland New Plays Festival will present staged readings of five new plays by playwrights Victor Lesniewski, top left, Clarence Coo, Lisa Langford, Jonathan Spector, bottom left, and Novid Parsi. Submitted photos

Local report

Ashland New Plays Festival will present readings of five new works by winning playwrights Clarence Coo, Lisa Langford, Victor Lesniewski, Novid Parsi, and Jonathan Spector at its flagship annual event. The Festival Week runs Tuesday through Sunday, Oct. 18–23, with evening and matinée showings at Southern Oregon University’s Main Stage Theatre, 491 S. Mountain Ave., in Ashland. Talkbacks will follow each performance, giving audiences the chance to connect with the playwrights about their new work.

“I am really looking forward to my first in-person Fall Festival as artistic director of this compassionate, artist-focused company,” says ANPF Artistic Director Jackie Apodaca in a press release. “Selecting ANPF’s winning plays is a true privilege. I can’t wait to be in the room with audiences as they experience these remarkable new works from some of the industry’s most exciting up-and-coming playwrights.”

This year is celebratory in more ways than one. This season marks the 30th anniversary milestone of ANPF — a volunteer-run, community-based non-profit theater founded in Ashland in 1992—as well as a return to in-person performances after two years of virtual presentations of its flagship event. Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University has stepped up to host this year’s festival in its newly renovated theater space.

“This is our first in-person Fall Festival after two years of presenting our events virtually, and we are thrilled to be back,” says ANPF Board President Peggy Moore. “The only character missing from a virtual stage is the live audience. We have missed this vital part of theater and are happy to have the complete cast of characters for our 30th anniversary of presenting new plays.”

The Festival Week starts Tuesday, Oct. 18, with an opening-night performance of Clarence Coo’s lyrical “Chapters of a Floating Life,” directed by Jennifer Chang. Set during World War II in New York City, the story follows two couples from China trying to make ends meet. Their worlds, once separated by class and education, converge when the two women find each other in Central Park and fall under the spell of the Chinese language.

Returning ANPF winner Victor Lesniewski examines World War II from another angle in “The Hunt for Benedetto Montone,” directed by Minita Gandhi. Set in Italy during the German occupation, the play follows a family caught between Fascist law and Catholic morality.

In Lisa Langford’s “The Breakfast at the Bookstore,” it’s 1973 in Cleveland, Ohio, where encounters with UFOs and spacemen intermingle with the Black liberation movement and a young woman’s journey of love and independence. The reading will be directed by Donya K. Washington.

“This play was inspired by a history podcast, ‘Backstory,’” Langford shared. “There was an episode of the show, hosted by University of Virginia professors, that explored UFOs in American history. In one segment, Stephen C. Finley, professor of Africana Studies and Religion at Louisiana State University, discussed African American close encounters and how they differ from White close encounters. White stories of alien contact tend to follow a narrative of being kidnapped, terrified, and exploited—a narrative that sounds a lot like the experience of being colonized. Black close encounter narratives tend to be positive and revelatory, with added elements of Africanist spirituality and the idea of a greater justice than earthly justice.”

Novid Parsi’s “Remains and Returns,” directed by ANPF Artistic Director Jackie Apodaca, looks with humor and honesty at intergenerational care and neglect. The play explores how one Iranian-American family does not speak of its own traumatic past, yet how the past persists, even in silence.

Finally, Jonathan Spector’s “Best Available,” directed by Marissa Wolf, is a laugh-out-loud tragedy looking at what happens behind the scenes during a theater’s selection of their new artistic director.

“A few years ago,” shared Spector, “a mid-size theater in my region was searching for a new artistic director. They invited me and a few other local artists to be in the room as the final candidates came through and made their pitches. It was a profoundly strange experience, but also a wildly theatrical one… I still have no idea what the regular audience will make of the play, and I am thrilled to have this opportunity to begin to share it with the public.”

On Saturday, Oct. 22, from 10 a.m. to noon, the Festival’s annual playwriting workshop — open to all writers — will bring together Host Playwright Beth Kander and the winning playwrights for a two-hour session filled with writing prompts and inspiration.

“I’m always in awe of the playwriting workshop,” says ANPF Program Manager Kara Lewis, “There is so much knowledge in the room with the always-skilled and giving playwrights. Every year, I learn something new, something that sticks with me and my creative process for years.”

The workshop will be held at Catalyst Ashland, 357 E. Main Street. Tickets are $10, free for ANPF members.

Ashland New Plays Festival’s mission is to support playwrights with the development of their new works. The Fall Festival winning playwrights receive an honorarium and a week to workshop their plays with professional directors and actors, culminating in the public readings. Time spent in collaboration with the gathered artists and in community with our audiences helps the playwrights refine and develop their scripts. This year’s special partnership with SOU Theatre promises to bring local students in direct contact with new work and experienced professionals.

Hear more from the playwrights about their new plays and view the full Fall Festival schedule at ashlandnewplays.org/fall-festival/. Festival Passes are $100 for five plays or single tickets are $25 each, available online and at the door. There is also student/access pricing at $15 per show for those who need access to a lower cost.