Peggy McKowen Appointed as CATF’s Acting Producing Director

Marellen Aherne & Peggy McKowen

Marellen Aherne (left) and Peggy McKowen (right) with Playwright Terence Anthony at a Playcast Plus event in July 2021.


A message from CATF’s Board President, Marellen Aherne:

This is a momentous time for the Contemporary American Theater Festival. Ed Herendeen’s vision has given rise to the Contemporary American Theater Festival and put Shepherdstown, West Virginia at the forefront of American theater. His steadfast dedication to playwrights and commitment to telling provoking and timely stories has no doubt shaped the landscape of new play development. As Founder Ed Herendeen announces his retirement, we are joyously celebrating his countless accomplishments and the milestones of the festival.

Staying true to CATF values, we are exploring new possibilities. CATF is in the process of transforming its leadership model and over the next year, the Board will conduct a national search for members of the next leadership team. During this significant transition, there is truly only one person who can lead the festival.

The Board of Trustees has emphatically appointed Peggy McKowen the Acting Producing Director of the Contemporary American Theater Festival. As of September 9, Peggy assumed all Producing Director responsibilities.

Peggy has been CATF’s Associate Producing Director, and Ed’s artistic partner, for fifteen years. In addition to her leadership role, she has designed some of the most memorable costumes on CATF’s stages such as The Wedding Gift and Everything You Touch. She has worked in theaters all over the country – from Alaska to New York – and around the globe in Germany, Brazil, and China. She chaired West Virginia University’s Department of Theatre & Dance, was instrumental in the creation of Shepherd University’s groundbreaking Contemporary Theater Studies program, and named the West Virginia Artist of the Year in 2018. The Board knows Peggy’s unparalleled artistry, leadership, and knowledge of the inner workings of the festival will lead CATF forward.

As Peggy takes on the role of Acting Producing Director, she will be leading the full-time staff members – Ebonée Helmick, Trent Kugler, Nicole M. Smith, Gabrielle Tokach, and Vicki Willman. They all have their unique talents and areas of expertise, and come together to create a most remarkable and collaborative team. Most importantly, they all have the dedication and passion to craft and shape the CATF experience.

CATF is not complete without you. The board, staff, and artists are anxiously awaiting your arrival in Shepherdstown for the July 2022 season – the final season of plays selected by Founder Ed Herendeen.

With deep appreciation for your ongoing support,

Marellen Aherne




Marellen J. Aherne
President, Board of Trustees

Ed Herendeen

Ed Herendeen at CATF: ‘Not a One-Person Operation’

Ed Herendeen


The founder of Contemporary American Theater Festival looks back on 31 years of producing new plays in rep.

In 1991, Ed Herendeen found his way to Shepherdstown, W.Va., after a three-year stint as an adminstrator at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. In partnership with Shepherd University, he set out to bring some of the Berkshires’ summer theatre magic to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Under Herendeen’s leadership, the Contemporary American Theater Festival has produced 133 new plays, 56 world premieres, and 11 commissions in its 31-year history.  I first traveled to CATF in the summer of 2015, and I was lucky to return the following three summers in my capacity as a writer and editor for American Theatre, each time bringing friends and family to experience America’s newest plays in West Virginia’s oldest town. MORE»


Producing director Ed Herendeen (center) at the reading of the CATF season lineup in June. (Photo by Seth Freeman)


Ed Herendeen

‘Time for new blood’: CATF founder to retire in December

Ed Herendeen


More than 30 years after the fact, Ed Herendeen can still recall the moment he knew Shepherdstown would be the perfect place to build something like the Contemporary American Theater Festival.

He was visiting the town with his wife, Sue, and they were sitting on a bench in front of the Frank Center on Shepherd University’s campus. The Blue Ridge Mountains were in the distance, and the picturesque landscape that spread out in front of them spoke volumes without making a noise.

“We were just staring into an empty field, and my wife said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to grow old in this town?’” Herendeen reflected in an interview Tuesday. “And that’s what did it for me, that’s what did it for us.”


Photo: Ed Herendeen, left, founded the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown more than 30 years ago. Photo by Seth Freeman.