Contemporary American Theatre Festival’s 5-Ring Circus
September 20, 2016 - Picnic Time
“1, 2, 3!” came a yell, and a tiny army of interns, technical staff, and dress apprentices carried a front finish of a futuristic-looking set. Behind them, a undulating, streaked walls flew adult into a fly complement and a section wall descended in a place. “Table entrance through!” piped in another voice as a dining list and 4 chairs were whisked onstage. A vital room fast seemed downstage, light fixtures were lowered above a kitchen counter, and an public line of entertainment workers shaped to place books on a shelf and dress a domestic setting.
In reduction than an hour, a Frank Center during a Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) had finished a changeover from a dystopic cityscape of Chisa Hutchinson’s The Wedding Gift to a enviable Manhattan unit of a day’s second play, Susan Miller’s 20th Century Blues.
Down a mountain on a campus of Shepherd University, a home of CATF in Shepherdstown, W.Va., a organisation was maturation a large sail on a grass; it would hang above a set for Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship. Outside a Marinoff Theater, set pieces from Ronan Noone’s The Second Girl were built in custom-built crates with casters and rolled from a opening space into an adjacent storage space, giving congregation a look during a Tetris-like slight of changing over a repertory sets. Inside, a technical staff divided a H2O siphon from a operative faucet and plantation sink, and wheeled a paunch stove out of a onstage kitchen. The building was afterwards lifted, and a underlying pool of H2O was refilled in credentials for a evening’s opening of pen/man/ship. “They’ve got it down to 39 minutes,” CATF owner and producing executive Ed Herendeen pronounced with a smile.
These breakneck set changeovers were orchestrated with such precision, they seemed like they contingency be a well-worn routine. In fact, this was customarily a festival’s opening weekend (this year’s ran Jul 8-31). Each summer, CATF mounts 5 contemporary plays in 3 opening venues during Shepherd University. A torrent of constant congregation descends on a old-fashioned city in a month of July, fervent to knowledge them all—and many of them do it in a camber of 48 hours, as we did.
It’s a practical whirlwind of entertainment activity, and any year it starts on one man’s desk. Long before set pieces are built and tickets are purchased, Herendeen culls by a crowd of submissions to curate a season; this past year, he narrowed it down from some-more than 100 scripts.
“I never collect a theme, yet a plays always start to pronounce with one another,” pronounced Herendeen, who has led a festival given a pregnancy in 1991. Correlations could positively be found among a works this season: plays desirous by classical thespian literature, dual worker narratives, a majority of womanlike playwrights (four out of five). He attributes some of a inflection among them to a fact that “the plays were created within one or dual years” of any other. He also pronounced he’s cultivated relations with literary agents who know his ambience for plays: As he put it, they have to strike him in a gut.
After winnowing down his raise of gut-punching works any fall, Herendeen shares a comparison deteriorate with CATF’s 5 full-time staffers; a lineup is strictly announced in January.
“Ed is a enchanting curating elf,” author Hutchinson said, laughing. “He is a bravest artistic executive we know. It’s unequivocally enlivening to see that there are people like that in positions who can chaperon in new plays and support playwrights in that umbrella way. It is refreshing.”
Ronan Noone shares a appreciation for Herendeen’s backing. He pronounced he was beholden for “the eventuality to get The Second Girl into a second production—which is not an easy thing to get—and be means to reconstruct it from a prior production” during Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company final year. He joked that Herendeen’s “middle name is ‘whatever a playwright wants.’”
Allison Gregory counted herself anxious that her play Not Medea, that is in a midst of a National New Play Network rolling star premiere, would also be partial of a CATF season. “I have finished changes to what could work better,” pronounced Gregory. “Having a oppulance of carrying one prolongation right after another in a totally opposite context has helped a play, and me, immensely.”
Though CATF is any bit a new-play festival, it doesn’t indispensably conclude “new” as “world premiere,” as 3 out of this year’s offerings had a prior production. The other dual were being seen onstage for a initial time: Miller’s 20th Century Blues and Hutchinson’s The Wedding Gift (the latter didn’t take prolonged to measure another production, as it’s now during Seattle’s Forward Flux Productions Sept. 20-Oct. 8).
It’s not Hutchinson’s initial CATF star premiere: Dead and Breathing bent there in 2014; it given went on to be published and will seem in London subsequent season. She confessed she was “surprised that Ed wanted to do The Wedding Gift, given we suspicion it was too uncanny to live.” Hutchinson’s play follows Doug, a time traveler from today, who finds himself during a marriage in a distant, non-English-speaking future—and he’s a suggested gift.
Christina Anderson is no CATF newbie either; her play The Ashes Under Gait City debuted during CATF in 2014. After carrying a initial entertainment during Magic Theatre in San Francisco and afterwards entrance to CATF, pen/man/ship will be constructed during Oregon’s Portland Playhouse after this deteriorate (Feb. 8-March 5, 2017).
In short, it’s transparent that CATF, that puts playwrights during a core of a action, is one of a nation’s preeminent festival-based new-play springboards, rivaled customarily by Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays and a Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference. Though Herendeen called this summer’s offerings “a signature season, flattering standard for CATF,” a module is atypical for summer theatre, not customarily for a location—in a Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, roughly 75 miles from a D.C. metro area—but for a approach it puts irritable new plays by a repertory wringer.
The repertory indication has been in place given a festival’s initial in 1991, when a university postulated a fledgling association a singular volume of time to use a space. As Herendeen wanted to fit as many plays as probable into his allotted time slot, he saw repertory as a best approach to multitask.
It’s not a elementary warden operation, though. CATF’s repertory is kept in suit with a aforementioned tiny army—this year’s enclosed a organisation of 42 interns, a government team, a pattern team, and a association of actors with all hands on carpet that kept a boat in motion. A pivotal actor in this bid was Therese Bruck, who designed costumes for both The Second Girl and 20th Century Blues, and who initial worked for a festival in a early days. Since then, she noted, theatres operative on a repertory indication have dwindled.
“The interns here are training a qualification and removing to see what unequivocally few theatres indeed do anymore, that is a repute and a changeovers that occur, and a suspicion slight that goes into those changeovers,” pronounced Bruck. “It’s a singular thing, it doesn’t occur many places—it is a outrageous undertaking.”
Bruck formerly worked on a inhabitant debate of Blue Man Group, where she watched sets unpack out of 10 trucks and into outrageous hockey arenas, afterwards get packaged behind adult again. “But we have to be honest,” she said, “that pales in comparison to what happens here, given they literally collect all adult and reset for a totally opposite expose in an hour.”
As playwright Noone put it, “One play is collaborative. Five plays is just…I don’t know if there is a word for it.”
CATF’s 5 full-time staffers were assimilated by a association government organisation in May, who organised housing for a 130 association members—the largest array a festival has ever hosted—and prepared a “welcome” picnic. The time heading adult to a operation duration and a acquire events can be a many difficult widen for a association government team. The cruise itself was a biggest CATF eventuality of a summer, as a whole company, board, titular board, trustees, village members, and friends of CATF all collected on campus to flog off a 26th season. “This year we designed for 350 people, and that was flattering accurate,” pronounced festival association manager and events coordinator Samantha Cotton. “It’s a large crew!”
Next came rehearsals, that started with a reading of 4 of a season’s plays during a commencement of June. Herendeen pronounced that a association read-through is his favorite day in a whole process.
“The whole company—technicians, designers, admin staff, PR people—we all come in a room together with some of a supporters and house members,” he said. “It unequivocally demonstrates a tour we are about to embark on; it is looking during a whole picture.”
Bruck agreed, job a reading a rewarding knowledge for a company, generally a immature artists in a room. “They get to listen to all a plays, watch them mounted, and afterwards see them realized. As an rising entertainment artist, that is customarily amazing.”
The operation slight began around a table, and for some casts, rehearsals stayed around a list until tech week. As pen/man/ship, for instance, is a text-heavy show, many of a operation duration was spent operative by a words. “Lucie [Tiberghien] is a good executive given she invests in list work,” pronounced Anderson, “and I’m beholden that we took that time to work with a text.”
For The Second Girl, Noone came for a initial 5 days of rehearsals to work around a table, accommodate a pattern organisation and cast, and share his ideas before withdrawal for a few weeks. He wanted “to concede them to get a play into their souls.” Because a play requires onstage food preparation, cooking, and dishwashing, some of a operation duration was dedicated to training a kitchen blocking.
“What was so smashing about a entertainment business was being means to use it,” pronounced Cathryn Wake, who portrayed a impression of Cathleen, a lassie in a domicile of a Tyrones of Long Day’s Journey Into Night—Noone’s play envisions a same setting, yet from a kitchen staff’s indicate of view. “By a thwack of a ladle or a platter slammed onto a table, we could use a business to serve a point. To hide, to brush something underneath a carpet customarily to have a other expose it again, ensured a singular opening any night. No dual performances could ever be a same.” The kitchen rehearsals also ensured that a initial dual rows of assembly members would knowledge a rush of sizzling bacon in a theatre.
This season, 4 shows common opening spaces (Not Medea had a campus’s tiny entertainment to itself for a whole run), and customarily one expel was totally repped opposite dual shows—an startling happenstance given of a singular casting needs for 20th Century Blues (more on that below). But for a shows in full repertory mode, rehearsals were cut in half, during 4 hours any day for a given play, that could feel like a check for directors and playwrights.
“Every time we got going and had momentum, it was a finish of a operation time,” lamented Anderson. “It was shocking.”
For a double-cast actors, a operation duration felt some-more like a marathon. Margaret Ivey, who juggled heading roles in pen/man/ship and The Wedding Gift, credited her ability to means a prolonged rehearsals and two-show days to crock-pot dishes and naps.
As strenuous as a repute indication is, Herendeen has finished a satisfactory share of troubleshooting over a years and frankly greets hurdles head-on. This year, a casting for 20th Century Blues called for 4 women in their late 50s and early 60s—an age organisation not represented in any of a other shows. Thus, a expose was not a good fit for repertory casting, let alone a allocated Equity budget, yet Herendeen felt it was a play that indispensable to be seen by CATF audiences. So after pity a book with a board, a organisation of women shaped a Staging Committee and lifted an additional $30,000 so a square could be produced.
“My knowledge here is customarily extended by these people who adore a play,” pronounced Miller, a work’s author, who led discussions about a play with those additional sponsors.
The hurdles of repute can also be physical. Anderson’s pen/man/ship follows a father and his son as they tour to Liberia in 1896 on a boat for a puzzling mission. “The boat is a fifth impression of a play, and a sea is a sixth character,” pronounced Anderson. When she relayed that to set engineer Kris Stone and executive Tiberghien, a dual landed on an suspicion to move a star of her play to a Marinoff Theater—by carrying a actors perform in a pool of H2O onstage.
“Of march we were peaceful to do it, yet we can suppose already what that means to a repute of a other expose and a stupidity of how that unequivocally works,” pronounced Peggy McKowen, associate producing director. “But it seemed like such a good approach to tell this story that we all knew we customarily had to figure it out.”
Because a expose played in repute with Ronan Noone’s The Second Girl, a space had to be finished to fit both narratives. “For me that is a excitement,” pronounced Herendeen, who destined The Second Girl. “One of a good metaphors that Ronan is regulating is that a Tyrone kitchen is a sweatbox; it is where a servants work. So we literally noise this kitchen in a center of a pool, on a deck.”
Another jump of a deteriorate was reduction simply jumped. The Wedding Gift’s illusory environment compulsory 35 costumes (complete with additional headpieces, hoop skirts, and height shoes), some-more than 150 sound cues, and 120 lighting cues. “Our entertainment manager was joking that she indeed has some-more content than a actors,” laughed Nathan A. Roberts, one of a show’s sound designers.
Aside from a lead, Doug, all characters in a play pronounce a denunciation concocted by Hutchinson. Cast member Nafeesa Monroe put together a glossary of difference to assistance her and her castmates memorize lines. “One of a things we need to keep reminding myself is that some of my lines are tangible cues for tech—they need to hear a right word out of my mouth,” pronounced Monroe with a laugh.
Lighting engineer D.M. Wood, who has worked during CATF for 9 seasons, also found a prolongation timeline for a expose challenging. “It was a genuine lurch this year,” she said. “The Wedding Gift is an impossibly perfectionist show, customarily in a structure of a piece. we worked by all a previews until they took a list away, that I’ve never finished before.”
A insane lurch also took place in a dress shop, where village members volunteered to assistance finish hemming a costumes for a expose a day before a 10-out-of-12 tech rehearsals began. But a tough work paid off in formulating a swap star a playwright imagined.
“This is hands-down a best set I’ve ever had, and maybe a many pleasing set I’ve ever seen. Period,” raved Hutchinson. “And it is illuminated beautifully—it is like a opposite set whenever a lights change.”
The village of Shepherdstown is constituent to making a festival probable any summer, with businesses and restaurants scheming for a liquid of CATF association members and attendees in a town, whose race is customarily over 2,000. An Alpine-style examination atop a steep of a Potomac River non-stop a forever pool for CATF staffers, charity a relaxing atmosphere for their singular giveaway time via a operation and opening period. The resort, stairs divided from Shepherd University, also hosted an opening-night celebration for a company.
Deb Tucker, who owns Bistro 112 on a town’s categorical drag, German Street, spends a months heading adult to a festival scheming for CATF. She hires additional employees customarily for a month of July, coordinates a restaurant’s hours with a festival showtimes, and bonds adult on martini glasses.
“There are a lot of tiny businesses and restaurants that are solitary proprietors here in town, so it is a lot of work to horde as a arrange of additional hands that are assisting to make a festival a success,” Tucker said. “But it is good value a while; we make a lot of good income that we can bank. We never make a register rings in Jul in any other month.”
Tucker isn’t customarily eyeing her restaurant’s bottom line, though; she also sees a plays as early in a deteriorate as she can—all a improved to inverse with congregation about a festival. “People adore to pronounce about theatre,” she said, apparently including herself. On opening weekend, she even kept a grill open late for a span of couples articulate about pen/man/ship prolonged after a servers clocked out.
The tagline for a festival is “Think theatre,” and indeed, a entirely enthralled congregation follow that directive. “You eat, sleep, and splash 5 new American plays,” pronounced Herendeen. “You’re articulate entertainment and meditative about entertainment for a 72-hour period. The whole village is positively hold serf in many ways by a work. The emporium owners, a merchants are intent in what is function in these venues.”
In fact, Joey Parsons, who played a lead in Not Medea, pronounced she had to cause in additional time to get to a entertainment any day given congregation were fervent to stop her on a travel to pronounce about a show. And it’s not customarily onstage organisation who get recognized. As Christina Anderson put it, “Our cinema are in a CATF brochure; we can’t go to city for a crater of coffee though being stopped to pronounce about my play.”
For her part, Chisa Hutchinson pronounced she welcomed a “oasis of on-going thinking” in a town. “Everyone is unequivocally open to discussion,” she said. “There are lots of free-thinking people who respond to art as art.”
Patrons don’t customarily inverse about a festival’s plays; they share honest opinions. “It has been startling and lovely to have assembly members tell we exactly what they suspicion of any play, with no reservations,” pronounced actor Margaret Ivey. In further to a conversations around town, CATF offers breakfast sessions with Herendeen, row discussions with a pattern team, harangue array with a playwrights, and talkbacks for any of a plays via a festival.
Said Herendeen, “We are outward a glisten of a civic spotlight—the festival is some-more than 70 miles from Washington, D.C., and 80 miles from a Baltimore area,” he said. “It unequivocally gives us a leisure to emanate a work that we wish to do.” Last year, he said, congregation trafficked from 37 states, and several repeat visitors have been formulating a kind of Brigadoon-like village over a indirect years.
Of course, being distant from a large city has a drawbacks too. “It’s tough not carrying entrance to all a association members are used to and perplexing to make them feel during home in semi-rural West Virginia when they’re entrance from Manhattan,” conceded festival association manager and events coordinator Samantha Cotton. This year a association government organisation spent hours shuttling behind and onward between a sight hire in Harper’s Ferry and a Baltimore airfield to collect visiting association members.
The dress emporium can also record several miles customarily collecting a required fabric and sewing material. When a washing fumble left a white robe for Not Medea discolored, it took trips to mixed stores to find customarily 7 yards of a fabric. The dress was totally rebuilt customarily in time for a initial preview—a dress neophyte handed it to a lead performer in a wings moments before a entrance onstage.
Throughout a dispatch and discord of tech week heading into previews, a association government organisation kept a suggestion afloat by feeding a association dishes between rehearsals and dusk records sessions. The association staff worked around a time cooking, picking up, and transporting food to a campus. Sydney Hill, a association government intern, picked adult trays of mac-and-cheese and boxes containing 175 pieces of duck from a internal grill for one of a meals. When a chili recipe went awry, Cotton resorted to devise B: She called Domino’s and said, “Hi, I’m carrying a bit of a food emergency, do we consider we could holder out 40 pizzas for me in a subsequent hour?”
She didn’t leave it during that: She and Kurt Engh, another association government intern, hopped behind a opposite to assistance Domino’s employees furiously overlay pizza boxes while they anxiously awaited a pies. Exclaimed Cotton, “We laughed by a whole event—it was indeed kind of fun. Theatre magic!”
At a association grill after a shows all opened, finish with games of cornhole and a print booth, a organisation presented a indifferent association government organisation with present certificates for massages in lapse for all their entertainment magic.
Even after a pattern teams and playwrights left Shepherdstown following opening weekend, a sorcery continued. CATF hosted 25 high propagandize students in a Shepherd University residence halls. For dual weeks, a students attended workshops and classes and schooled about a slight of formulating entertainment and ascent a festival. CATF also welcomed members of a Dramatists Guild Fund and partnered with internal schools to offer educational opportunities.
After a shows closed, ubiquitous manager Joshua Midgett counted 2,500 sheet buyers for a sum of 14,000 sheet sales for a season. And while a festival might be outward a glisten of a civic spotlight, a transport is open for review, and big-city papers were among a visiting throng.
“Ronan Noone achieves his possess attainment of arrogance with The Second Girl, this year’s many discriminating work,” wrote Celia Wren in The Washington Post. She praised Not Medea as “a musical imagining on guilt, alienation, resilience, and double standards for group and women.” In DC Theatre Scene, Debbie Minter Jackson wrote that Anderson’s pen/man/ship “connects difficult concepts, interweaving them via a march of her script. The outcome is a fascinating interconnection of issues that customarily are not addressed together.”
And before a 5 full-time staffers could locate their exhale or reminisce about a deteriorate after a entertainment strikes, they were behind to work scheming grants, renewing stewards, and scheming for subsequent summer.
“We have skeleton to boost general traffic,” pronounced Herendeen. “We wish to put into place appropriation and grants that would concede us to trade a work internationally, and to import general audiences.” And with skeleton to start a collateral debate to build a fourth opening space during Shepherd University, a association isn’t customarily meditative theatre—they are meditative big.
Will carrying another space take some of a vigour off a CATF prolongation staff? Possibly, yet not likely: Herendeen pronounced he hopes it will concede them to supplement another dual shows to a repertory.
The repertory suggestion of CATF is foul not customarily with a prolongation staff and a actors yet among a writers as well.
“It is singular as a playwright to be consulted so early on in a slight about design, and to be enclosed in that slight has unequivocally been a treat,” pronounced Allison Gregory. “This pattern organisation has been unequivocally penetrating to a romantic landscape of a play. This is a accurate expose that we wanted it to be, and that doesn’t always happen.”
A chronicle of this story appears in a Oct 2016 emanate of American Theatre.