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Ashland New Plays Festival returns to in-person events

Briawna Jackson, left, and Emily Ota act out a scene during a past Ashland New Plays Festival play reading.
Plans include play readings, writers’ retreat

The Ashland New Plays Festival is planning a slate of in-person, live performances and events throughout the year as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.

The nonprofit festival kept serving as an incubator of new plays in 2021 by hosting online events.

This year, it will celebrate its 30th anniversary by welcoming a cohort of Oregon-based playwrights to Ashland for a writers’ retreat, followed closely by a workshop of a compelling new comedy by ANPF associate artist Sarah Cho. The season will wrap up with a bigger-than-ever take on the company’s annual flagship event, the ANPF Fall Festival of new play readings.

The new plays are chosen through a highly competitive selection process.

As part of the celebration, ANPF invites all winning playwrights from the past three decades to attend this year's festival.

“Over the last 30 years, audiences have experienced a variety of plays at our readings,” said ANPF Board President Peggy Moore. “Many of our playwrights have received full productions at theater companies across the country, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Guthrie, Creede Repertory Theatre and more. One has even earned the playwright a Pulitzer — Martyna Majok’s ‘Cost of Living.’”

Other notable ANPF-winning playwrights include Lauren Yee, Jiehae Park, E.M. Lewis, Steven Levenson and Karen Zacarías.

“New work is the lifeblood of the theater world, and ANPF’s support of up-and-coming playwrights is a key piece in the journey of new voices to our stages,” said ANPF Board Treasurer Bill Saltzstein.

In June, the 2022 season kicks off with the return of ANPF’s New Voices Playwright Retreat. This year, the focus will be on emerging Oregon-based playwrights, who will converge in Ashland to connect and recharge. New Voices playwrights will have the opportunity to hone their skills in workshops with industry professionals, develop their creative work and draw inspiration from being in community with fellow artists, ANPF said.

ANPF Artistic Director Jackie Apodaca was eager to bring the New Voices retreat back for a second year.

“ANPF is committed not only to the recognition and development of new plays, but to supporting playwrights themselves,” she said. “Our retreat gives us the chance to uplift a talented group of up-and-coming writers, while providing time and resources to support the evolution of their work. I’m excited to focus on Oregon artists this year. My hope is that we can jumpstart regional collaborations that may benefit our community for years to come.”

In July, ANPF will host a workshop of “stains” by Cho, with in-person reading performances at the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 9, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10. Her new play is a coming-of-age comedy about a teenage girl whose family sees her first period as a burden.

An autobiographical play about growing up poor, female and Korean American in Los Angeles, “stains” is in development as part of Moving Arts Theatre’s 2021 MADlab Playwriting Development Program and was selected to participate at the 2022 Great Plains Theatre Commons New Play Conference.

ANPF will present its flagship event, the annual Fall Festival, with in-person readings of the winners of its new plays competition. This year’s festival will include an additional winner and feature five plays running Oct. 18-23.

The winning playwrights will travel to Ashland and collaborate with directors and actors to develop their scripts, which will be shared with the community in evening and matinee readings followed by audience talk-backs.

The community playwriting workshop is also back and in-person, led by the Festival’s 2022 winning playwrights and host playwright Beth Kander.

“I love the magic of the Fall Festival,” says Kara Lewis, ANPF’s program manager and one of the many volunteer readers of works submitted for the new plays contest. “Seeing the readings, hearing the playwrights’ words direct from the page, brought to life by amazing actors — we’re present at such a pivotal moment in the life of a play, and audiences get to engage with the playwright afterward and share in the creative process.”

ANPF was established in 1992 and held its first festival in April 1993.

Since then, ANPF has held a playwriting competition each year, culminating in a festival featuring the winning plays. Competition winners are chosen through an intensive reading process undertaken by as many as 70 volunteer readers from the community and beyond. Working over many months, volunteers read and score the submitted scripts with playwrights’ names redacted, winnowing up to 500 submissions down to 12 finalists, which are presented to the artistic director with authorship revealed. The artistic director, working in collaboration with her associate artists, then chooses the winning plays, which are presented each October.

This year’s Fall Festival winning playwrights will be announced by July 15.

In recent years, ANPF has expanded its offerings and become a year-round presence in the Rogue Valley, producing new play workshops and other events throughout the year. The festival also developed the ANPF Play4Keeps Podcast, which provides free, convenient audio performances of new plays plus conversations about theater.

“Through it all, we have stayed focused on the playwrights and their work — helping to workshop each play, hone it with the help of professional actors and directors and our dedicated and engaged audiences, who provide honest and helpful feedback while sharing in the joy of supporting new works for the stage,” Moore said.

For more information, visit ashlandnewplays.org.