WV's Contemporary American Theater Fest Has Two World Preems, July 4-29

News   WV's Contemporary American Theater Fest Has Two World Preems, July 4-29 The world premieres of John Olive's The Ecstacy of St. Theresa and Harry Newman's The Occupation are among for new American plays being staged in the 2001 Contemporary American Theater Festival, beginning July 4.

The world premieres of John Olive's The Ecstacy of St. Theresa and Harry Newman's The Occupation are among for new American plays being staged in the 2001 Contemporary American Theater Festival, beginning July 4.

Stephen Belber's Tape, previously seen at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and The Pavilion by Craig Wright round out the season on the campus of Shepherd College in rural Shepherdstown, WV. The festival is devoted to new American voices, premiere and recent works, presented in repertory in two theatres. Previews begin July 4. Performances continue to July 29.

Producing Director Ed Herendeen will direct the world premiere of The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa and the world premiere of The Occupation on the Frank Center Stage. Wendy Goldberg will direct Tape, and Lucie Tiberghien will direct The Pavilion, both at the Studio Theater. Opening night is July 6, which begins the press weekend.

According to the season announcement, The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa "is a play about art — collecting it, creating it and forging it. The intersections between artistic, erotic and spiritual passion are explored as the main characters attempt to recreate the imagined, legendary painting 'The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa' while the continent coils for war."

The Occupation "is a tensely paced drama about the psychological journey that occurs when cultures clash and human rights are exploited." Tape, playing at the Studio Theater, "takes place in a motel room where a simple reunion of three old high school friends transforms into a heated battle over truth, loyalty and friendship." The Pavilion is billed as "a cosmic, comic and highly-theatrical tour-de-force in which high school sweethearts meet again at their 20th high school reunion and confront the consequences of time."

Playwright Olive is a founding member of the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis and has also written extensively for radio, television and film. His plays include Minnesota Moon, Careless Love, The Summer Moon (1997 Kennedy Center Award for New Plays) and The Voice of the Prairie (more than 100 American productions to date).

Newman's plays have been performed at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Circle Rep, BACA/Downtown, among others. He was playwright-in-residence at the Cincinnati Playhouse and co-founder and first Executive Director of the Non-Traditional Casting Project. His plays include Dry Time, The Dark and The Good Mud.

Stephen Belber is one of three associate writers of Tectonic Theater Project's The Laramie Project, which he also performed in Off-Broadway and regionally. His plays have been produced at such theaters at the Lincoln Center Living Room, Playwrights Horizons, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Juilliard, and Soho Rep. Belber's solo show, Finally, won the Best Playwright's Award at the New York Fringe Festival and he has also written the book for the new rock musical, Sugar Mountain.

Craig Wright's plays include Orange Flower Water, Molly's Delicious, The Big Numbers and Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty. Wright received several grants and awards for his work, including a playwriting fellowship from the McKnight Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Herendeen founded the Contemporary American Theater Festival in 1990-1991 and has directed over 20 new plays there. He has also worked at such regional theaters as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Missouri Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe Theatre, the Lyceum Theatre and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Director Wendy Goldberg is an associate artist at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, where she recently directed K2. Director Lucie Tiberghien directs across the country and internationally, most recently at the Avignon Festival in France and the Director's Company in New York City.

The CATF acting ensemble for the 2001 season features Greg Baglia, Kevin Daniels, Jason Field, Mateo Gomez, Kwana Martinez, Jason Manuel Olazábal, Lee Sellars and Jennifer Mudge Tucker.

The design team for the 2001 season includes: Markas Henry (sets), Anne Kennedy and Mimi O'Donnell (costumes), Michael Foster and James Fulton (lights) and Tony Angelini (sound).

On Saturday afternoons during the Festival, CATF offers the Under the Tent Lecture Series — opportunities for audience members to participate in discussions and lectures based on the hot topics addressed in this season's featured productions. Post show discussions will also take place after several performances, allowing theatregoers to personally address the actors and ask questions.

Single tickets range $15-$25. For information, call (304) 876 3473 or (800) 999-CATF, or visit www.catf.org.

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CATF was started in 1990 by Herendeen in an agreement with Shepherd College, a state liberal arts college in Shepherdstown. CATF produced its first season in the summer of 1991, operating under the umbrella of The Friends of Shepherd College. CATF is a rare thing for West Virginia: It's one of only a few companies in the state with a relationship with Actors' Equity. When it opened, CATF became the first theatre in West Virginia operating under a regional (SPT, or small professional theatres) contract with Actors' Equity Association. (Theatre West Virginia in Beckley, founded in 1955, has used an Equity guest artist contract in the past.) The company bills itself as West Virginia's only constituent member of Theater Communications Group (the national organization for America's regional theaters), and upgraded its contract with Equity to LORT D status. It is the state's only LORT (League of Resident Theares) theatre. LORT levels are determined by the company's past box office figures.

Herendeen told Playbill On-Line the budget for the first season was $91,000. In 2000, the budget was about $500,000. A long range vision includes six plays in three venues and a longer summer season. Herendeen agrees that the festival is one of the best-kept secrets in East Coast theatre, but hopes it won't be a secret much longer. In 1999, more than 3,500 people attended festival events, according to managing director Catherine Irwin. In 2000, when three world premieres were produced, CATF expanded its audience base and ticket sales by 44 percent.

The first season featured the East Coast premiere of Accelerando by Lisa Loomer, staged in the 450-seat Frank Center for the Creative Arts, and two non-Equity productions in the 99-seat Studio Theater.

In 1992, the fest expanded to four plays: two Equity productions in the Frank Center, and two non-Equity productions in the Studio. In 1992, CATF also offered its first staged readings and a series of special events that included contemporary visual arts, music, and avant-garde cabaret. In 1993, a managing director was hired and between 1993 and 1996, four plays a year were staged.

In 1995, CATF expanded its contract with Equity to include the flexible Studio Theater, allowing for professional actors in all four productions.

As funders and audiences grew, CATF issued its first commissions in 1997. Commissions Carry the Tiger to the Mountain by Cherylene Lee and Interesting Times by Preston Foerder has their premieres in 1998.

Publicist Lauren Fitzgerald, who grew up near Philadelphia, told Playbill On-Line that Shepherdstown is "the quaintest little place you ever did see." It's an historic town in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia on the Potomac River, not far from Harper's Ferry and Civil War battle sites.

"That's one of the things that I find interesting," said Fiztzgerald. "We're doing new works and there are 18th and 19th-century homes here. The downtown is village-like, we have antique shops, art galleries, one of thee only gourmet restaurants in West Virginia."

For information about the festival, call (800) 999-CATF or check out the website at www.catf.org.

— By Kenneth Jones