Doug Rowe became the new artistic director of the Ashland New Plays Festival this year. The festival held a fundraiser at the Camelot Theatre, a reading of David Rambo’s “God’s Man in Texas” by Rowe, Bill Langan and Jamie Newcomb. It also reassembled the original cast of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s legendary production of “Death of a Salesman” for a dramatic reading and tribute at OSF’s Black Swan Theater.
In 2010, John Stadelman, Lenny Neimark, Carolyn Shaffer and David Salsa directed four original scripts selected from more than 200 play submissions. Over coffee at Bloomsbury Coffeehouse, Rowe spoke enthusiastically about ANPF’s mission.
DR: All of our lives, those of us who are in the business, owe everything to the writers. It’s their ideas, their words that we are putting in front of us. That we can now do something in return is fabulous. I would really like to see some local playwrights get involved big-time with it as well. We are working toward that end. We’re really trying to find a venue that is suitable.
EH: Is the Ashland New Plays Festival scheduled to take place in October?
DR: Toward the end of the (OSF) season, after the outdoor season closes, more festival actors become available. They all seem to feel strongly about participating, because they all believe the same thing: that the writer is really our essence. Everybody climbs on board with that. It’s quite wonderful.
EH: So this goes on for a week?
DR: A full week. Playwrights participate. This year the Ashland New Plays Festival itself went over quite well; we were sold out every performance, evenings and matinees. We met the playwrights and directors right at the very start. We had a dinner together. A wonderful bonding happened, so that all of the playwrights went to all of the plays, all performances. They got together afterward and talked back and forth. I’m sure a lot was gained by that interaction. I was delighted with the whole week.
The plays were well-received. Audiences were very enthusiastic. One of the nicest things is the discussion afterwards. It’s so exciting to hear the audience participate. Where else but in Ashland do you get such wonderful participation? We have very savvy theatergoers, interested in the same thing. They know that the essence of theater is the writer.
EH: The ANPF conducts a nationwide search for playwrights. How long does that go on?
DR: It’s already begun for next year. (Submissions for next year’s festival were due by Dec. 1.) I think they hold it open for approximately six months. Then they close it off, narrow it down and come up with the final four.
EH: What do you look for in a play? What makes a great play?
DR: There are several levels of success in terms of playwrighting. If an audience walks out of a play and questions a belief that they might have held, the writer has done something. If they come out totally entertained, the writer has succeeded. I think that if they come out of it having learned something, that is the most important part of attending plays.
When you put together a season you want a balance, so that theatergoers, who buy season tickets, have distinctly different experiences. We also have to look out for the sustenance of the organization. I just don’t think that all of the plays, about one subject, are going to be very attractive to theatergoers. You see many of the same people attending every performance, good solid audiences. Given that, you really want to make that week of play-going to be balanced, exciting and entertaining.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.