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Ashland New Plays Festival will be online event this year

The Ashland New Plays Festival will go virtual this year as it presents the new work of four playwrights.

ANPF will feature live-streamed readings of plays by Ian August, Kari Bentley-Quinn, David Hilder and Grace McLeod from Oct. 21-25.

The virtual festival will include live-streamed performances, talk-backs with audiences after performances, a playwriting workshop and other opportunities to engage with this year’s winning playwrights.

The winning plays were chosen from among 450 submissions that were read by a group of 60 volunteers. During the blind process, the volunteers didn’t know the authors of the plays. They honed the submissions down to 12 finalists, with the ANPF artistic director picking the winners.

“At this time in our history, it feels like art has been put on hold,” said Peggy Moore, ANPF board president. “It has left many of us without opportunities to experience the emotions and lessons learned from theater artists. We are excited that we can share these four new works with audiences. The plays are food for the mind and the heart.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ANPF is going virtual with its main event after canceling smaller live events this year, including its spring fundraiser and a June through September Theater Talk series.

Other entertainment events, including the Ashland Independent Film Festival, have gone virtual, while others had to shut down live performances for the entire season — most notably the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

This year, ANPF’s four winning plays will take audiences on virtual journeys to very different places.

In August’s darkly comic allegory “Zero,” three reform-school teens at the edge of a mysterious forest discover a bottomless pit, in a narrated tale of the inexplicable and unspeakable. He was a previous festival winner in 2018 with his play “The Excavation of Mary Anningwas.”

Hilder is another returning festival winner after his play “The Insidious Impact of Anton” was read at the 2010 event.

He’s back with “Those Days are Over,” a deeply felt comedy and journey into grief that follows five estranged sisters who meet at their childhood home in the wake of their mother’s death.

Bentley-Quinn takes audiences to a small Cape Cod town in her play “Hyannis.” In the relatable drama, a family grapples with the financial and emotional impacts of addiction as one of their own returns from his second stint in rehab.

McLeod’s “The Communist Revolution: A Ninth-Grade European History Project (There Will Be a Practical Demonstration)” portrays a battle of wits between a 16-year-old and her father over who is right about the state of the world and how best to fix it. The ultimate showdown ensues in this black comedy about rich white liberals whose desire to be “good” runs up against their own fragility.

The four winning playwrights receive a $1,500 stipend and a weeklong workshop of their plays with award-winning directors and actors, many from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University’s Theater Department, under guidance from ANPF’s artistic team and host playwright Beth Kander.

Playwright David Johnston, whose play “Pelicans” was one of the 2019 winners, said the experience is rejuvenating, artistically satisfying and fun. He praised the skills of the actors, directors and collaborating artists who bring the plays to life.

ANPF’s goal is to support playwrights in the development of new plays and to engage the community as active participants in the creative process.

“I have rarely come across a theater-going community as passionate and engaged as the members, audiences and volunteer readers of Ashland,” Johnston. “At every moment, I felt I was being cared for, that my work was valued, and that everyone’s goal was to make this — as one of the board members told me — ‘a Cadillac experience for the playwright.’”

Tickets to the online festival will go on sale in August. ANPF members receive advance access and discounts on tickets.

See ashlandnewplays.org for details as they become available.

Submissions for the fall 2021 festival will be accepted starting July 15.

Ashland New Plays Festival 2017 file photo by Kara Q. Lewis