Kyle Haden, the new artistic director of the Ashland New Plays Festival, follows the legendary Doug Rowe, who retired after spearheading ANPF for many years. Haden served as an actor and educator at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a faculty member in Theater Arts at Southern Oregon University. We chatted over tea one morning at Starbucks in Medford. This is the first of a two-part interview. The second will be published on Jan. 25.

EH: What is your interest in developing new theatrical works?

KH: I want to tell a story in the most interesting way possible. The playwrights are the genesis of that. What we’re focused on at ANPF, is helping the playwright find that story. We are the first step on that journey.

The main focus of ANPF is our Fall Festival. We solicit scripts from playwrights around the world. This year we had a cap for the first time: We took the first four hundred that submitted. We have a ton of volunteer readers. Each play is read by several people. Folks get together in small groups and discuss the plays.

Eventually every play is scored and ranked to get to four plays that we feel have real promise. None of the plays have ever been produced. When the playwrights come to Ashland in October, they are working with directors and a team of actors to get the chance to hear their plays out loud.

Some playwrights choose to workshop their plays, meaning that they are: writing new pages, writing new dialogue, playing around with scenes, maybe they’re moving a scene, changing the ending, cutting a scene here or there. The playwright and the director work together; they may want to tear the play apart.

Sometimes the playwright just wants to put the play on its feet with great actors. Hopefully we are helpful in getting the story clear: getting the moments articulated that the playwright isn’t quite sure about.

For 2016, we have the Women’s Invitational. We’ve invited 50 top female playwrights to submit their work. We have a team of readers selecting the plays, and we’ll winnow it down. We are going to bring three plays here in March, the 25th, 26th, and 27th. It will be in the Recital Hall at Southern Oregon University.

We’ll bring in directors and actors, and they’ll work on the plays for a week and put the plays up. The people we’ve invited have all had major productions. The audience will see some high-caliber playwrights.

The idea of gender parity has been a hot-button issue lately. People are aware of it and talking about it. Three quarters of the produced plays have been written by men. We’ve had so many plays coming from a male point of view, it’s time we had plays from a woman’s point of view. Diversity and inclusion is important to me, getting a chance to tell different types of stories.

EH: Do you think the plays will be intrinsically different?

KH: I’m sure the stories they have to tell, and the perspectives that they have, are going to be rich, interesting, intriguing and exciting.

The community of readers, volunteers and donors help to refine these stories. If people want to get involved they can reach out to us through the website.

If you want to help tell the stories of the 21st century, come check us out.

Tickets for the ANPF Women’s Invitational, March 25–27, will go on sale soon. The Ashland New Plays Festival runs Oct. 19 to 23. The submission period for ANPF 2017 will begin in June. For tickets and information visit www.ashlandnewplays.org, or call 541-488-7995.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and was a founding cast member at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.