Pittsburgh gets a taste of West Virginia's Contemporary American Theater Festival

Friday, 09 May 2014 08:33 PM Written by 


The Pittsburgh chapter of the Dramatists Guild of America hosted "A Conversation with Ed Herendeen" tonight at Bricolage Theater, Downtown, where the founder and producing director of the Contemporary American Theater Festival offered insights into how he chooses plays.

2014CATFAward-winning Pittsburgh-based playwright Tammy Ryan, who interviewed Herendeen (above) and faciliated a Q&A tonight, asked if there was an "Aha! moment" that happened with each play. Not exactly.

Herendeen's answer was admittedly vague. By way of explanation, he used a rejection letter that was shared with him by Jeffrey Hatcher, a playwright from Steubenville, Ohio, whose association with City Theatre of Pittsburgh includes "Compleat Female Stage Beauty" and Louder, Faster." The short and not-so-sweet letter said, "I was not compelled to do your play."

CATF feaures plays that Herendeen feels compelled to do.

It's not quite that simple, of course. There are many considerations that go into choosing a five-play season to rotate in repertory from among the, say, 125 plays he reads -- just him, all 125.

Some plays start as pitches that might lead to commissions -- plays like Lucy Thurber's "The Insurgents," which he said will be produced by Labyrinth Theater Company in New York. The playwright told him the play would have the characters John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner and Timothy McVeigh, and they all had something in common: They were deeply religious and they loved their country.

Mr. Herendeen was compelled to say "Yes" there and then. "That was it. I was in," he said.

Dominating themes he has seen in recent years include veterans with PTSD, particularly those who have suffered sexual assaults while in the armed services; the racial and class divide in America, much of which reflects economic standing; and mortality, including attempts to cheat death. Dramas or comedys alike confront issues of ethics and morality.

The Contemporary American Theater Festival is headquartered at Shepherd University in picturesque Shepherdstown, W.Va., hard by the Potomac. It's an hour from D.C., about 90 minutes from Baltimore and three hours, give or take, from Pittsburgh. Watch for more about visiting the 24th season of CATF, which runs July 11-Aug. 3, in the PG Sunday Magazine later this month.


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