Peggy McKowen

Peggy McKowen

Artistic Director

Peggy McKowen’s association with CATF began in 2006, when she designed the costumes for Mr. Marmalade and Jazzland. As her time with the festival continued, she designed costumes for: Antonio’s Song: I was dreaming of a son, The Welcome Guest, The Wedding Gift, Not Medea, Everything You Touch, 1001, H2O, and Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah; and scenery for From Prague, Wrecks, and Gidion’s Knot.

In 2007, Peggy joined the full-time staff as the Associate Producing Director. Since then, she has produced new works by: Johnna Adams, Christina Anderson, Lee Blessing, Angelica Chéri, Kara Lee Corthron, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Lydia R. Diamond, Steven Dietz, Richard Dresser, Charles Fuller, Keith Glover, Allison Gregory, Barbara Hammond, Chisa Hutchinson, Dael Orlandersmith, J.T. Rogers, Antonio Edwards Suarez, Lucy Thurber, Michael Weller, Beau Willimon, Bess Wohl, and others.  She was instrumental in expanding the festival’s season from four to five, and from five to six plays. She was a driving force behind transferring CATF’s Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons to 59E59 Theaters in New York, CATF’s first Off-Broadway production.

Peggy is dedicated to creating an anti-racist and anti-oppressive (ARAO) culture at CATF. She was instrumental in creating the institution’s ARAO committee and monthly ARAO discussion groups. She is developing a strategic and ongoing ARAO plan with Sarah Bellamy, CATF’s equity, diversity, and inclusion consultant, while engaging both staff and trustees in the journey.

Peggy strengthened CATF’s educational and outreach programming. She created new initiatives to increase and sustain the attendance of young audience members including Hostel YOUTH! for high school students and CATF/U for college students, and also reimagined the festival’s internship experience for emerging professionals. She enhanced and leads talktheater, the organization’s humanities series that encourages audience members to actively discuss the themes of the plays in a variety of events including lectures, panel discussions, and deliberative dialogues.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peggy led the Contemporary American Theater Festival’s quick switch to digital programming. She envisioned CATF art in new ways for patrons and artists.  She created both the CATFUNMUTED and playcastplus series that included online engagement between audiences and artists, interviews with designers and directors, audio dramas, and community celebrations.

Peggy was the featured artist in the exhibition High Drama: Costumes from the Contemporary American Theater Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, Washington County, Maryland, which also toured to four cities throughout West Virginia. In 2018, Peggy was named West Virginia Artist of the Year at the Governor’s Arts Awards and in 2019, she was recognized by WV Living Magazine as one of the Wonder Women of the Year. Shepherdstown’s Insurance Outfitters awarded Peggy the 2018 Culture and the Arts Guide Award for her dedication to the local arts community. She is a member of United Scenic Artists 829 and has served on the board of the National New Play Network.

Prior to joining the festival, Peggy was the resident designer for the Obie-award-winning Jean Cocteau Repertory in NY and the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. Her regional theater work has been seen at Arkansas Repertory Theatre; Barrington Stage; Milwaukee Repertory Theater; Tennessee Repertory Theatre; Texas, Dallas, and Houston Shakespeare Festivals; and Perseverance Theater. International theater work includes the B.A.T. Studio Theatre (Berlin, Germany); the Teatro Alfa Real (Sao Paulo, Brazil); and the E.T.A. Hoffmann Theatre (Bamberg, Germany). Peggy designed the first full-length English-speaking production of The Tempest in Beijing, China and the first Mandarin translation of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying for the Seven Stages Production Company in Beijing.

Peggy holds an MFA from the University of Texas (Austin), and has taught theater and humanities at Shepherd University, Dickinson College, Dickinson College/London/Rome, and West Virginia University, where she was Chair of the Division of Theatre and Dance for five years and received the Outstanding Creative/Scholarship and Teaching Award several times throughout her tenure. Peggy played a significant role in creating Shepherd University’s theater major – a B.A. in Contemporary Theater Studies, in collaboration with the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater. She is often a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival for arts administration, design, and play performance.

Peggy has been a member of the Rotary Club of Shepherdstown, is currently a member of the Shepherdstown Centennial Lions Club, and connects CATF in an active partnership with the Eastern Panhandle Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. Peggy served on the Arts Advisory Council for Hagerstown Community College and the Board of the Shepherdstown Visitors Center. She directed the Antietam Remembrance walk, an inter-state event between West Virginia and Maryland. From 2011 to 2019, she also directed and produced Rumsey Radio Hour, the annual fundraiser for the Shepherdstown Library.

In recognition of her work as both theater designer and administrator, Peggy has been featured in Live Design and Wonderful West Virginia magazines. Her production work has been captured in American Theater magazine, The New York Public Library Videotape for the Theater on Film and Tape ArchiveThe New York TimesBack StageNew York MagazineThe Wall Street Journal, and The Theater Experience and Theatre: The Lively Art. Peggy is also the co-editor of the anthology, Plays by Women from the Contemporary American Theater Festival, a collection of plays by women that had their first production at the festival.