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Playwrights and playgoers share insights

Each year, hundreds of original scripts from around the globe are submitted to the Ashland New Plays Festival. This year, works by four playwrights have been selected for dramatic readings during ANPF's four-day event. The annual festival draws theater lovers from afar and gives playwrights — both emerging and seasoned — the chance to transform their work through audience feedback, discussions and workshops.

"The wonderful thing about this festival is that the Rogue Valley is full of avid playgoers who can give educated feedback on each production," says Lenny Neimark, director of a winning script, Carol Verburg's "Spin, or Twilight of the Bohemians."

"There is a unique dynamic between audience and writer, and it truly benefits the playwrights," Neimark says.

"Spin" will be featured this year along with Thomas W. Stephens' "Countdown to the Happy Day," Steven Haworth's "Fernando" and Gary Dontzig's "Couples."

Neimark, a longtime freelance director, says he was intrigued by Verburg's script.

"It's a nontraditional plot — more of a character piece centering on life's drama. I've discussed Carol's intention with her and communicated with the actors to put on the play she set out to create," he says.

Each play will be read twice during the Ashland New Plays Festival, opening Wednesday, Oct. 19, and running through Sunday, Oct. 23, at the Unitarian Center, 87 Fourth St.

"One of the great benefits of an event like this is having expert eyes on your own work and being able to step back and enjoy the work of other playwrights," Verburg says. "I feel so committed to the idea of writers working together, not telling each other how to do things differently, but supporting one another."

Narrowing the submissions down to just four plays was not an easy task, says artistic director Douglas Rowe.

"This was the best year for submissions so far, and the four we've chosen are remarkable," Rowe says. "I cried when I read one of the scripts for the first time. There is a quality of greatness occurring here."

The nonprofit organization is volunteer-run and aims to help playwrights develop new works through public readings featuring professional actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the community.

"This is a community whose main industry is theater, and thanks to the seasoned playgoers, the talk-backs after each show can be amazingly helpful to writers," Rowe says. "The playwrights have noticed the intelligence of the audiences here."

So, what do ANPF readers look for in a winning script?

"We watch for scripts that would adapt well to a reading," Rowe says. "Not all pieces have that quality, even if they're great."

Verburg, who wrote her first prize-winning play at age 16, will make her debut visit to Ashland from San Francisco for the festival.

"When I found out about ANPF, I knew it would be a great excuse to visit Ashland," she says. "I loved the idea that there was this small town so wholeheartedly devoted to the arts.

"And the thing I love about theater is that you can draw from every other art form. It has such diversity, and Ashland is a great example of what is keeping the arts alive."

Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at www.showtix4u.com, by emailing tickets@ashlandnewplays.org, at Paddington Station in Ashland or by calling 541-488-7995.

Hannah Darling is a writer in Ashland. Contact her at hannah.isis3@gmail.com.

Actor David Kelly glides into character during Ashland New Plays Festival's rehearsal of Carol Verburg's “Spin, or the Twilight of the Bohemians.” - Photo by Kayla Young