James Pagliasotti is one of the hardest working men in show business. As president of the Ashland New Plays Festival, he helms an organization that, this year, has seen some 400 submissions from all over the world, most recently from Trinidad and Tobago. The reach and success of the ANPF mirrors the ever-expanding influence of the Ashland theater scene in general. As ANPF approaches its 2018 season, I chatted with Pagliasotti about the direction of the festival.
JG: What series of events brought you to Ashland, Oregon?
JP: Family in Portland and in Northern California brought me here from Colorado to visit regularly, so I’ve been passing through Ashland for many years. After making it over the pass back in the '70s during one of those ferocious snow storms, I spent the night in town. Even back then, Ashland had the magic and I never forgot it. When the first two of our grandchildren were born in 2004, Lucretia and I decided to relocate to Oregon to be closer to them. We both love theater and the arts, so after looking at various places around the state, Ashland was where we wanted to be. We haven’t regretted it for a moment.
JG: How did you become involved with the ANPF?
JP: I was asked to help Ashland New Plays Festival develop a strategic plan. After many years as a successful venue for new plays and emerging playwrights, the organization wanted to push the boundaries a little to get a sense of what was possible as it grew and changed. Shortly thereafter, the board president unexpectedly resigned for personal reasons and I was handed the job. Yikes! But it’s been a great experience working with a truly outstanding group of people on the board, our artistic director, Kyle Haden, Jackie Apodaca, our cadre of readers and all the other volunteers who make ANPF such a vibrant presence in the cultural community.
JG: What are you up to in preparation for the new ANPF season?
JP: Our goal has been to become one of the finest new plays festivals in the country and we believe we’re well on our way. One indication of progress is the quality of the plays we’re receiving and the fact that they’re coming to us literally from around the world. We limit submissions to 400 annually, which our readers whittle down to the best dozen. This year, Kyle had the luxury of choosing four plays — the top 1 percent — from a very strong field. ANPF 2017 will feature new work by Emily Feldman, Blake Hackler, Callie Kimball and Don Zolidis, each of whom is an accomplished playwright with an impressive resume. Some of the best actors in our talent-rich town are being recruited to bring their work from the page to the stage. As always, we’ll present dramatic readings of each play in both a matinee and evening performance over five days, Oct. 18-22, at the Unitarian Center on 4th Street. Tickets will be available online at www.ashlandnewplays.org beginning in early September.
JG: What do you see as the dream scenario for ANPF from the perspective of its president?
JP: Being what Kyle calls “an oasis for playwrights.” Finding, workshopping, and presenting the best new plays, helping the playwrights land world premieres of their work at the nation’s best theaters, being an educational venue for young playwrights who are just developing their chops, and doing it all in a professional theater setting that we can call home. When we become a year-around presence in the cultural community that artistic and literary directors throughout the country look to as a source of brilliant new material for the stage, we’ll have reached our current goal. And, when one of our plays wins a Tony, we’ll have entered the dream state.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.