Quills & Queues: Ashland New Plays Festival marks quarter century

By Jeffrey Gillespie For the Tidings

Ashland New Plays Festival has just wrapped up its season with a successful reading series that included four new plays. As they move into their 2017 season, I caught up with ANPF’s artistic director, Kyle Haden, to talk about this longtime Ashland institution and the direction it will take in the upcoming season.

JG: Kyle, ANPF is now in its 25th year. To what do you attribute the longevity?

KH: It’s fully a community organization. The organization is a group of community members who are passionate about theater, and, specifically, new plays. We have a team of smart board members, volunteers and readers who truly are invested in the future of new plays in this country, and their enthusiasm is evident the moment you talk to them. We had a 25th anniversary reception at the beginning of our Festival Week, and almost all of the people who were integral parts of the organization over the years came, and it was amazing to see how many people played a hand in helping us get to where we are today. I’m excited to stand on their shoulders as we go forward into our next 25 years.

JG: As artistic director, what has been the most fulfilling aspect of your work with the festival?

KH: Probably meeting all of the readers involved. Their enthusiasm for the work is so high, you can’t help but be excited to get to work. They are not shy with telling me how they feel about plays or productions, but it’s because they are so invested. I love that.

It’s also been wonderful to meet our playwrights. They have all been kind and wonderful, and it’s exciting being part of presenting a story for the first time.

JG: What would you like to share about your 2017 season?

KH: We’re thrilled about what we’ve got on tap for 2017. We’re looking to have more of a year-round presence in the community, and this season is the first step towards that. I’m very excited we’re partnering with OSF’s Play On! Project to do a reading of Octavio Solis’s translation of Edward III — which is about as “new” of a Shakespeare play as you can get. We’re also continuing our tradition of bringing successful new plays to the valley with a reading of Nick Payne’s “Constellations” in May. And, of course, we wrap everything up with our flagship Fall Festival in October. We’ll also be having our Theatre Talks during the summer, where we sit down with a local actor and give them the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” treatment.

JG: Tell me a little bit about your favorite plays since you began your tenure with the festival? What do you most enjoy about incubating new plays?

KH: Well, I love them all — I’ve been excited about the work we’ve done since I started last spring. I do have fondness for the two plays I’ve directed for the Fall Festival, “The Luckiest People” by Meridith Friedman and “Hazardous Materials” by Beth Kander. I expect both of those plays to have life after our festival. I’m very proud of Jiehae Park’s “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” which was the winner of our Women’s Invitational this past spring, and will be part of the OSF season in 2017. And I was so excited to do a reading in the summer of Scott Kaiser’s “Now This” — it gives me a lot of joy to promote the work of a local artist.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at [email protected].

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