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Podcasts provide new stage to plays

Plays are coming to a car, gym or bedroom near you.

The Ashland New Plays Festival has launched a podcast stocked with plays and interviews that people can listen to anywhere.

“It’s theater-on-demand. It’s theater that comes to you,” said James Pagliasotti, director of Play4Keeps, the new podcast service.

The audio content is available at play4keeps.org or through podcast apps that can be downloaded to Apple or Android smartphones and tablets.

Play4Keeps already has more than two dozen new plays. Most are available through a premium subscription service, although Play4Keeps is also posting some plays to its free service.

For 28 seasons, the Ashland New Plays Festival has been sifting through play submissions and presenting a handful each year to audiences.

The quality and quantity of play submissions has grown over the years. The Ashland New Plays Festival wanted to find a way to present more plays.

“Too many of those stories never reach an audience, or if they do, it’s too briefly,” Pagliasotti said. “We can reach a much larger audience this way, and support many more playwrights than what we can do as a physical theater.”

Podcasts, audiobooks and streaming music services have boomed in popularity with the spread of mobile devices.

Some have labeled the trend the second golden age of audio — a nod to the golden age of radio from the 1920s into the 1940s, when Americans were transfixed by radio plays, serials, soap operas, talent shows, quiz shows, news, sports, kids programs and more.

Television later supplanted radio as the dominant form of entertainment, with scripted and unscripted programming shifting to the screen.

Pagliasotti noted audiobooks have recently become so popular they have been called “the new way to read.”

He believes plays are even better suited to audio format.

“Books are meant to be read. Plays are meant to be said,” he noted.

Pagliasotti acknowledged some plays aren’t suited to audio-only.

“Some plays we looked at we were not able to do because they were too confusing without visual cues,” he said. “But we’ve been pretty successful in identifying plays that work really well. They’re good stories, told in dialogue. And thanks to the quality of the acting, the plays are very comprehensible.”

To produce the plays, Play4Keeps is drawing on the Ashland New Plays Festival’s long-standing relationship with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

OSF has lent use of a recording studio, and its company of actors has embraced the audio play format.

“Some of the actors have said, ‘This is a new way to present theater,’” Pagliasotti said.

The high-tech Ashland company Project A has helped the effort by creating the Play4Keeps website at a fraction of the normal price, he said.

Play4Keeps is another way for the Ashland New Plays Festival to promote its mission, said ANPF Board President Peggy Moore.

“We’re an incubator for new plays, and Play4Keeps gives us the platform to reach a wider audience because it’s not bound by geography,” she said. “You can listen while flying, driving, jogging or just resting around the house.”

To help listeners navigate the content, Play4Keeps has divided the plays by genre. Listeners can choose comedy, dark comedy, drama, fringe theater, historical, mystery and tragedy.

Each play has a short synopsis.

The website has brief biographies of the playwrights, as well as the actors who bring the plays to life.

For those who want to test drive audio plays before investing in a premium subscription, Play4Keeps has two plays available for free through its podcast service.

In “Artichoke Hearts," playwright Sarah Mitchell interviews strangers about love and shares their stories in her 49-minute one-woman play.

Four actors star in Gabriel Neustadt’s 76-minute play “Knockout Mouse.” A lab assistant discovers a prominent neurobiologist he works for has fudged data on a major scientific paper.

Topics for plays available through the premium subscription service include a sheriff befriending a condemned prisoner, an actor discovering he fathered a child during a one-night stand, a dying writer pitching one last screenplay, a woman falling in love with an amnesiac man, and a theater professor coping with her hoarder mother.

Premium subscriptions are currently on sale at $5.99 per month or $60 per year.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Photo courtesy of Play4KeepsSound engineer Ella Tarczy, left, writer and actor Jeannine Grizzard and Play4Keeps Director James Pagliasotti record the play “Pankhurst: Freedom or Death.”