— 2017 CATF season not afraid to confront, compel, inspire.
For 2017, the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) at Shepherd University (SU) is increasing its repertory from five to six productions—continuing the annual tradition of producing and developing new American theater while capturing a snapshot of the current American landscape.
In its 27th season, CATF will include four world premieres: “Welcome to Fear City,” by Kara Lee Corthron; “Wild Horses,” by Allison Gregory; “Everything is Wonderful,” by Chelsea Marcantel; and “We Will Not Be Silent,” by David Meyers. Additionally, two new plays will be featured: “The Niceties,” by Eleanor Burgess, and “Byhalia, Mississippi,” by Evan Linder.
Set for July 7–30, the internationally known festival will offer over 100 performances throughout the month, including numerous “talktheater” events like free lectures, discussions, and staged readings. These events offer engaging supplemental content surrounding festival productions.
Founded by Ed Herendeen in 1991, CATF produces new plays each summer in rotating repertory on the campus of SU. To date, CATF has produced over 115 new plays, including 43 world premieres and ten commissions.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Herendeen recently to get his take on what attendees should expect from this year’s event, and why CATF continues, year after year, to garner such widespread appeal.
Kidd: What’s exciting about the 2017 season?
Herendeen: The big news this year, from our point of view, is that we’ve gone from five plays in rotating repertory to six. Our mission from the start to today has never changed: developing and producing new American theater. The repertory remains the same—you can now see six plays in any two-day period—or you can come back and forth and see the plays whenever you want. And this was always part of our strategic plan—six plays. The next exciting step will be to go to six weeks—when we feel like we’re ready for that growth.
Kidd: What does the insertion of an additional show do for both the community and CATF?
Herendeen: It gives our local economy an opportunity to have people staying longer, shopping more, dining, lodging. And given the uncertainty in regards to government funding from both the federal and state levels, I personally felt that this was the year to make the move to six. A lot of theaters around the country are worried about where the National Endowment for the Arts may be—and other funding sources. They might be playing it a little more cautiously. But our reputation has never been cautious. We chose Shepherdstown to create an atmosphere where artists and writers and actors could come for the summer and take the kind of risks that they do. With that in mind, we felt now was the time to give the audience, our guests, and the local community more choice, more theater, more art.
Kidd: Part of that choice comes in the form of supplemental events.
Herendeen: Yes. We’ve continued, and expanded, the opportunity to talk theater. We’ll be offering lectures on Saturdays, breakfast with me twice a week, and a luncheon twice a week—where you get to meet the different artists. We’re also excited about our Theater in Context … if a play has a certain theme or story behind it, we’ll have a lecture that prepares you for it. Friday Films is another great opportunity—where we partner with the Shepherdstown Opera House to show films that are related to, and correspond with, the plays at the festival.
Kidd: How did a sixth show affect your process personally?
Herendeen: There might be 12 plays I’m compelled to produce after I read 125 plays. And then it’s “… how do I get the biggest bang out of one acting company, but also the content of the plays …” so that they’re not all the same? And how do these plays speak to us? Are they immediate; are they relevant; are there issues that are pressing—that we should be discussing—especially within our “talktheater” events? And adding another show meant adding another director position, another professional stage manager position—as well as the changeover. It’s two set designs. Which expanded the budget.
Kidd: Did you notice anything special about the writing this year?
Herendeen: When you read as many scripts as I do, you really do think about what’s on the minds of these writers. These plays were written recently—but all of them before the election. It was obvious that there were a lot of people writing about division—or that we don’t have conversations anymore. There’s this sense of how do we make America listen again?
Kidd: Keeping with that thought, how does CATF use live storytelling to provide a cultural experience that impacts participants and artists alike?
Herendeen: Over the years, the festival has created an atmosphere of safety for the writer to take certain risks here. The key word is experience—for audience members and artists. Everyone’s having these experiences here—whether it’s a reunion from the previous year, the actual performances, the supplemental conversations we arrange, as well as experiencing Shepherdstown itself. They get to immerse themselves in the CATF experience.
Someone once said “tell me a story” are the four most important words in the English language. I believe we crave it now more than ever—to go into a dark room and turn off the devices, and pay attention to something outside of ourselves. There’s something you can’t put your finger on—that when you’re in a room with other people—to sit in the dark with strangers and watch other strangers impersonate human behavior and make you forget where you are—make you experience emotion, reflection, inspiration. I think we would all agree that ideas are powerful. We want new ideas, we want to be engaged, but stories are even more powerful.
— CATF will deliver matinee and evening performances Tuesday through Sunday (July 7–30). To order tickets, call the Box Office (800-999-2283) or visit www.catf.org. Single tickets range from $35 to $65; packages range from $120 to $305. Student, military, and group discounts are also available. For full information on shows, show times, and supplemental events, visit the above link, and find the Contemporary American Theater Festival on Facebook.