Jim Pagliasotti directs Play4Keeps, Ashland New Plays Festival’s recently launched website featuring audio recordings of new plays. The latest works by promising and prominent playwrights, dramatized by top local actors, are now available by subscription and as free podcasts at: Play4Keeps.org. The website was developed by Project A. I chatted with Pagliasotti one afternoon at Growler Guys in Ashland.
JP: In the time that I have been involved at ANPF, I have been aware of all the challenges playwrights face. It’s incredible what they have to go through. It seems like the aperture is getting smaller and smaller, through which everybody is trying to pass. There are agents, and not many theaters have the curatorial resources to sort through new works. I’ve also seen how hard playwrights have to work to promote themselves, to keep their name and their work out there.
EH: How did you come up with the idea of an audio website?
JP: Ashland New Play’s Festival is a mission-driven organization. The mission is to support new playwrights and encourage development of new works for the stage. In doing so, we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve been around for twenty-eight years now, and we’re getting to be one of the better known new plays festivals in the country.
We spend a lot of time thinking of how we could do more with what we have. It occurred to us that we have some assets that we could make more use of. One of them is our 28 year relationship with playwrights, and the trust that that engenders after a time. Another is the incredible talent pool we have here in Ashland, thanks to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and many other theaters: This is a theater town. And the third is the technical industry. There are new ways to help playwrights present their work and keep it in front of people. That’s where Play4Keeps comes from. We believe there’s amarket out there for good stories; plays are just good stories.
We also think that there is an opportunity to keep these works alive. When playwrights write a play, they print it up, they send it off; it ends up in a slush pile more often than not. Well-intentioned people mean to get to it, but it gets buried with more on top of it. We have the curatorial resource of five or six dozen readers who are knowledgeable, who spend 7,000 hours a year sorting through all the plays we receive.
Technology has enabled us to reach much further than we can as a physical theater in Ashland. Everybody’s multi-tasking these days. The technology exists that we can present theater, present plays to the professional theater community, in a different way. If someone is on a plane, or at the gym, or walking, they can hear a few plays, or hear pieces of plays, and listen for that voice that they’re looking for. It seems like an opportunity to do something that isn’t being done. The more we can help people know what’s out there, what’s cutting edge in theater today, the more likely they are to take a chance with that, and put it on.
It’s a service where you can access new plays, performed by some of the best actors in the country, whenever you want. Hopefully it’s a way of keeping these works alive. We hope it becomes a living treasury of plays and new works for the stage. It’s a way of presenting theater that doesn’t really exist elsewhere. It’s a little bit like books on tape, a little bit like radio. It’s theater on demand.