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Charles Fuller.

So, the 2014 Season is live. Tickets are for sale. The buzz is buzzing.

2014_CATF_ABSOLUTE_FINAL_One_Night--2-17-2014 copyWe had the — and I’m being hyperbolic-free here — life-changing opportunity of hosting Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Charles Fuller with us this weekend as we announced this year’s line-up of plays.  He was, frankly, incredible  at the Shephedstown Opera House on Saturday.  He spoke from the heart and had the audience eating out of his hand. He has a genuine commitment to telling America’s story, warts and all, and to make the country a better place. If art can change the world–and we think it does–he has every intention of doing so. The standing ovation at the end of his talk with Ed could have gone on all night had he not insisted on stepping down from the stage.  Mr. Fuller has something important to say with his new play ONE NIGHT and he certainly intends on disrupting the universe a little bit with this production, as well he should. (It premiered this past fall at my old haunt, Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. Cherry Lane, under the leadership of Artistic Director Angelina Fiordellisi, commmissioned the play and co-produced it with Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre.)

The evening included Ed intorducing the full slate of plays on tap this summer (more to follow in a separate post on that front), a terrific clip from Mr. Fuller’s film adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A SOLDIER’S STORY (the movie, with a young Denzel Washington, is called A SOLDIER’S STORY and is definitely worth checking out), and then an hour-long conversation tracing his career, time in the military, and the impetus behind this new script. It was deeply moving and inspirational.

What an artist and what a patriot. Thank YOU, Mr. Fuller, for giving us the opportunity to meet you and produce your work. Ed will be directing this second production in the Frank Center and it will open the Festival on Friday, July 11th.

Here’s a terrific article in DC Theatre Scene by Mark Dewey about the evening and the roll-out of the ’14 season: http://dctheatrescene.com/2014/03/04/catf-makes-belief-shepherdstown-wv-announcing-season-24/

And a couple of photos of Mr. Fuller:

Ed and Charles

Playwright Charles Fuller talks with CATF Producing Director Ed Herendeen, Saturday, March 1, 2014, at the Shepherdstown Opera House.

 

Charles Fuller Delta Sigma Theta

Playwright Charles Fuller, winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize, with members of the Eastern Panhandle Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. March 1, 2014.

Charles in Ed's Office

Prior to the Season Announcement, Charles Fuller met with Ed Herendeen about the script and process for ONE NIGHT. Note Ed’s original copy of Mr. Fuller’s A SOLDIER’S PLAY on the table. March 1, 2014.

-jkm

Welcome to the Marinoff!

Last week, Shepherd University President Suzanne Shipley announced the official name of the theater housed within the new phase of the Center for Contemporary Arts.  This 180-seat flexible space will be called the STANLEY C. AND SHIRLEY A. MARINOFF THEATER in honor of a recent legacy gift made by Dr. Stanley Marinoff to the Shepherd University Foundation. This endowment gift will be used for the long-term support of CATF’s programming and education initiatives.

READ THE PRESS RELEASE HERE.

In January, at the CATF annual board retreat, Dr. Shipley and Ed Herendeen announced this to the board at a private event in the lobby of the new theater (scroll down for more photos):
Stan at podium

Dr. Stanley C. Marinoff

Dr. Marinoff made the following remarks:

This Endowment gift is a continuation of the Marinoff family’s commitment to the Contemporary American Theater Festival. There has been a Marinoff on the board for 21 years, and in fact, Shirley was an original board member and one of the first in the community to see CATF’s potential. She would be proud of this day and to see how far we have progressed over these years.

I remember early-on in the Festival’s history when I had to co-sign a bank loan to keep everything going; now we have financial stability–a testament to the great strides we have made. This is a gift that will last forever.  It is made to help enshrine a permanent future for CATF and guarantee that the organization can forever benefit and know that it can count on my family’s support.  It will ensure that future students, artists, and audiences will be impacted by this gift for years and years to come. It is a long-term pact that will serve the organization and community in perpetuity. With this gift, I am able to know that every future CATF season, and future University students, will be supported by the Marinoff family.

Shirley and I first discovered Shepherdstown the same year CATF was founded and as soon as we built our house here we became involved in the organization. I have witnessed this community and campus expand and grow over the last 23 years along with CATF.  The cultural fabric—and quality of life improvements—that the Theater Festival and the University has provided Shepherdstown is proof of the power and importance of the arts.

The University has supported CATF and has provided us our own modern theater. CATF’s partnership with Shepherd remains paramount to my support as both education and the arts share a mutual mission of opening minds and inspiring critical thinking.  Shepherd’s focus on a liberal arts curriculum, and CATF’s commitment to thought-provoking new work, continue to successfully fulfill this important need.

With this gift, our internship program will be expanded and a future generation of theater students will be given the opportunity to begin their careers at Shepherd University and CATF. Many former Marinoff Interns have gone on to work in theater around country, including our own James McNeel who was an intern in 1998.

There are so many needs in the world, and often the arts are the first to be cut.  This gift will, hopefully, help shelter CATF for when times are tough; and expand and develop the organization when things are not.  As Ed always says, the arts are not a luxury, but a necessity of a civilized society. This organization and this university are the pillars for the continued vibrancy of Shepherdstown.

Finally, I hope this gift will inspire others to consider the future of CATF by building up its endowments and continuing its home here on Shepherd’s ever-growing and beautiful campus. It is rewarding—even fun—to donate money to something you believe in deeply. —Dr. Stanley C. Marinoff, January 12, 2013.

Here are some additional photos from this festive day–one of the great keystone moments in the history of the Festival. Thank you Dr. Marinoff and the Marinoff Family!

(photos by Seth Freeman)

Allison hugs Stan

(pictured above) Dr. Marinoff is hugged by his daughter Allison Marinoff Carle, with Ed Herendeen and Trustees Ray Smock and Elena Echenique

SU Drum corps

(pictured above)  Members of the Shepherd University Drum Corps provided the musical backdrop to the announcement.

CATF board applauds

(pictured above) Members of the CATF Board and Honorary Board applaud the announcement.

theater2

(pictured above) Billy Thompson and Mary Hott sang in honor of the Marinoffs–the unofficial first performance in the theater!

Stan and Allison

(pictured above) Dr. Stanley Marinoff and Allison Marinoff Carle.

in the theater

(pictured above) On the (at that point unpainted) floor of the Marinoff Theater.

on the grid

(pictured above) “Up on the catwalk” – taking a tour of the theater: the Marinoffs with Dr. Mark Stern, Marjorie Weingold, Ray Smock, and Gary Horowitz (CATF Trustee R.B. Seem snaps photos in the distance)

Ed with Stan

(pictured above) Ed Herendeen shares a private moment with the Marinoffs. There has been a member of the Marinoff family on the CATF board since the Festival’s founding. Stanley’s late wife Shirley (Allison’s mom) was an early advocate and supporter of Ed’s work and vision.

 

The Off-Season

One of the most common questions we receive during this time of year is: “So, what do you do during the off-season? Is it just down time?”

The answer, in a word, is ‘no.’

The answer, in multiple words, is ‘No, no, no. No. Hardly.’

As a general rule, CATF operates on an annual calendar that is segmented into various activities and areas of focus.  For the general public, July is our most visible and seemingly bustling time—which it is.  As is the month of June when the full company has arrived in Shepherdstown, the shows are being built, rehearsals are happening, etc.

But what about the other 10 months of the year? Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that though CATF during the summer is a company of theater professionals that numbers nearly 90 people, for the rest of the year there are only three of us on staff to—along with our extraordinary volunteer board of trustees—make it all happen.

Once the Festival has closed, strike has been completed, and our guest artists have departed (all in the first week of August), we do, admittedly, take a breath, lick our wounds, and recover from the whirlwind of the season.  It normally takes about four or five weeks to reconcile the previous year, assess the organization’s financial picture, review attendance figures, submit funder and union reports, and post mortem the successes and challenges of the just-completed CATF season.

In September, we meet with our board and report back.  At the same time, Ed has begun his reading of scripts for consideration for the next year (he’s read upwards of 120 so far this fall, for example).  Meanwhile, Peggy and I work with our board Finance Committee to begin the budgeting process for the next year.

We dream. We think of ways to grow the Festival. We clean the office.

Oh, and we start raising money.

By November 1st, we have closed the books on the previous year (except for the annual audit, which will actually begin next week—and let me tell you, nothing screams the holiday spirit quite like three straight days of digging through deposit slips, invoices, check stubs, grant letters, journal entries, and bank statements…) and started a new one.

Around now, Ed narrows down his selection of plays—normally to his top 10.  At that point, we work on season scenarios with a mind to casting, venue, production value, etc.  This is a complicated matrix of sometimes competing demands.  With a commitment to “repping” our actors, and also the wide variance between each of our three theaters, it can be an arduous process—and yet, incredibly exhilarating.  You see, once the plays for the next season are chosen, they will become our best friends:  we will think and talk (obsess?) about them – promote and develop them – for the next seven months.

Oh, and we raise more money.

The fall is also a time of organizational “housekeeping.”  We review policies (by-laws!) with the board, strategize new programs, develop marketing strategies, get our committees situated, establish our board leadership positions for the year, and get caught up on the industry.  What others in the field are up to becomes blurred from the spring into summer as we are up to our elbows in pre-season prep, rehearsals, and performances.  One way to re-engage is to attend conferences and showcases with our theater colleagues.

This fall, we have been to two excellent events that deserve mentioning:

In early November, Jenny (our board chair), Ed, Peggy, and I were in New York City for the TCG (Theatre Communications Group) Fall Forum.  The topic was diversity and featured fantastic panels and breakout sessions and a kick-ass keynote speech by playwright Katori Hall. You can see video from the weekend on the TCG website (click here).  Our good friends Teresa Eyring and Kevin E. Moore, along with the TCG staff, put on a heckuva show.

That same weekend we had a CATF reunion with over 35 former CATF actors, designers, and staff covering almost 10 different seasons.  We also saw Samuel Hunter’s THE WHALE at Playwright’s Horizons (featuring CATF actor Cassie Beck), DISGRACED by Ayad Akhtar at Lincoln Center, and a reading at the terrific new play development center The Lark (click here).

This past weekend, Ed and I attended the National New Play Network Annual Showcase, hosted at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC.  We saw six stage readings of new plays and rubbed elbows with numerous playwrights, literary managers, and artistic directors from around the country.  It’s an excellent organization that works to encourage theaters to collaborate and produce “rolling world premieres” of new plays to ensure that writers get multiple productions of their new works. Check out NNPN (click here) to learn more. Many thanks to Jason Loewith and Jojo Ruf for inviting CATF to participate.

There is much to report in future posts—the new building, American Theatre Critics Association, an update on the commissioned plays, the season.  But first, there is more money to raise (donation, anyone? www.catf.org/donate).

Until next time: think theater.

-james.

P.S.//And in case you’ve missed it, AMERICAN THEATRE magazine has just published its December issue. It features the full script to Johnna Adams’s play GIDION’S KNOT, which received its world premiere this summer in Shepherdstown (the magazine features photos from the CATF production!). Click here to check it out.

P.S. (part 2). Speaking of raising money…we are thrilled to announce two recent grants:  The National Endowment for the Arts has just awarded CATF a project grant (thank you our fellow Americans!) and a new grant was just received from the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation.  We couldn’t do what we do without this amazing support.

Ed, Peggy & James TALK THEATER.

The following marks the first installment of a discussion between CATF Producing Director and Founder Ed Herendeen, Associate Producing Director Peggy McKowen, and Managing Director James McNeel. Join the CATF staff throughout the year as they discuss theater, festival machinations, the 2012 plays and artists, and much more.

James

Okay. Here we are, 2011 coming to a close – we had a great year and season, with record-setting attendance, the groundbreaking for the new theater here on Shepherd University’s campus (to open in 2013), former CATF plays hitting the big screen and Broadway, Ed joining the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) board, etc., etc.  But what are your most striking memories of the past year? Shotguns? Finicky fans?

 Peggy

Wow! I heard this question and I stopped to think about a striking memory and everything was truly a blur.  Perhaps oddly enough, some of my most memorable moments came from our additional programming.  I thought watching Dr. Aaron Anderson, or resident fight genius, work with our audience in a stage combat session was just priceless. Listening to our audiences argue and debate the merits of WE ARE HERE in a talk-back was enlightening to me.  At a Lunch & Art session, one of the artists brought his parents to participate in the conversation and listening to them talk with pride about the work of their child and his involvement with CATF was simply rewarding to hear.  I guess what I realize now is that it is truly the exchange we have with our audiences that reaches through the plays to a deeper, more powerful relationship.

Ed

The past year has seen protest, unrest, and upheaval around the globe.  Here at home we are all painfully aware of the political stagnation and divide, as well as the continued economic uncertainties.  Through it all, life and art went on – it was not only at CATF that there was record attendance, but around the world – at the Epidaurus Theater, Barcelona Festival, France, etc.  An article in The New York Times in August – which featured conversations with a number of artistic directors – hypothesized that “perhaps people turn to art in difficult times.”  If so, this impulse—this reaction—continues to be interesting to me and I’m hopeful CATF is feeding and responding to that need in some way.

Personally, one of my fondest memories from 2011 was the opportunity to direct the world premiere of FROM PRAGUE by Kyle Bradstreet.  It was exciting to have the “living playwright” in rehearsal and work with the cast and him on developing the script during those four crucial weeks leading up to its performance run.  Plus, of course, talking to Sam Shepard about AGES OF THE MOON – he gave me excellent insights into his script which helped tremendously. And working with props designer Sean McArdle – who has worked on several of Sam’s plays now – on the fan provided a great special effect. The RACE rehearsals sizzled – the cast was fantastic and it was a joy to work with them on the tempo and rhythm of a David Mamet play.  Also, I am so proud of THE INSURGENTS – it’s always a risk to commission a new play; as they are produced without the safety net of tradition. Lucy Thurber was a joy to work with.  Commissioning a work is truly collaborative process – from the donor (our friend Katha Kissman) taking the lead, to the creative team, the director Lear, the actors – and I am thrilled about our partnership with this important and original voice. You don’t have to look deeply into the year’s news headlines – “we are the 99%”, “class warfare” – to see how prescient Lucy was with this play.

James

Peggy, I’m sure for many of our CATF friends and patrons – beyond June and July – they don’t know what we do with the rest of our year here. Once the final performance comes to a close and our incredible production team strikes the sets, we go from a company of over 90 theater artists to just the three of us, and our terrific board, left standing.  How have we been passing the time since? Obviously sleep was priority number one in August – then what?

 Peggy

I think many people have some inkling of the process to take down the scenery, put the costumes away and say goodbye to all the artists, but I often wonder if people truly understand the level of administrative detail that closing a season involves. We have $800,000 worth of receipts, payroll stubs, deposits slips, etc. to be accounted for, filed, and prepped for an extensive annual audit.  Just think of what you do to prepare your household taxes!   Analyzing the previous season for financial trends as we prepare the upcoming season budget is always fascinating and informative by providing a tangible sense of what occurred the previous season.   Manuals, handbooks and policies all need finalized before the close of each fiscal year. The “paper closing” seems endless sometimes.

 And then, while the ending of one season is consuming us, the beginning of the next must simultaneously happen.  What do we want to improve on next year?  How can we provide more opportunities for our audience to really participate with us?  What plays will we do?  How do we raise the money to do that play?  When is the grant deadline? Who will the artists be?  What does the marketing look like?  Each question takes more than a minute to answer, often requiring weeks of the team’s collaborative work to come up with the 2012 solution.

 James

Ed, without giving too much away, what are your first reactions to the plays you’ve been reading (and now have selected) for the 2012 season? 

Ed

I am overwhelmed by the 75+ manuscripts I have read this fall. The work is full of pain and joy; drama and conflict; and social issues and personal moral and ethical character choices. The economy, housing crisis, violence, evil acts done by real human beings, dysfunctional families – all dominated my reading.  Comedies were mostly absent – while dramas and political and psychological thrillers were common.  Plus, I read a lot of historical plays set in the civil rights period, Nazi Germany, the War of 1812.  Every fall, I feel like I am given a front row perspective on the pulse of the country and world through the lens of our contemporary writers. I think the 2012 season of plays will provide a diverse snapshot on the issues and ideas dominating our world and thinking right now. 

James

Peggy, you and I have the unique perspective of watching Ed build, practically from scratch, the annual repertory of plays.  What’s the process like?

Peggy

It’s like riding the biggest, fastest roller coaster ever while knowing that Ed Herendeen is driving the lead car.  You jump in the car thinking, I’ve been on a roller coaster before—what’s the big deal?  As we climb, Ed talks you through his ideas about the season and then suddenly there are three new, fabulous plays to consider. He absolutely loves them and you’re whisked away in a rush of passion and intensity and you think, ‘we will never discover more exciting  plays’.  On the next upward climb we discover that the rights aren’t available or it won’t fit with the parameters of the casting pool and the climb seems to keep going forever.  The following morning, Ed is back in the lead talking about another new play and you think, ‘this is it!  How could we do better?’  But as we read the play aloud to each other we discover that the play doesn’t live up to its “selling pitch” and so the climb continues.  Finally, at a certain point the ride just has to end…so CATF slows down — Ed has found work that fits into our budget, the casting matrix, and venues and we are ready to produce a (well vetted, read, discussed, debated, and reread) selection of plays.  And then, before you know it, we’re right back at it preparing for another year, as if it the ride had never really stopped.

 

[The 2012 season will take place July 6 – 29. Look for the full season announcement in late February.  Want to be a part of the process?  Consider a tax-deductible contribution by visiting www.catf.org/donate.]