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.


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?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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? 


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. 


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?


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]

Ed Herendeen

It’s Worth The Trip

What dya’ say we go on an odyssey?… What a great sound that has.

What dya’ say we go on an adventure?

(pause, another approach)

How about…let’s just take a trek to Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia doin the newest plays in America?

It’s closer than you think…AND… It’s worth the trip!

So…what dya’ say?

Do you wanna be engaged?

Do you wanna be entertained?

Do you wanna be inspired, transformed and transported by the power of a good story?


Where else can you see and experience FIVE new plays in rotating repertory in a beautiful, rural, historic American town? Where else can you meet other theater lovers like yourself and form an instant kinship and bond over art and ideas? Where else can you have total access to the makers of the art and engage in a living conversation? Where else can you dine, relax, walk and talk-theater?


There is no place like the Contemporary American Theater Festival. Our 21st Odyssey continues with a rotating repertory of FIVE new American plays by:SAM SHEPARD. DAVID MAMET. TRACY THORNE. KYLE BRADSTREET.  LUCY THURBER.

So…What dya’ say we go on an odyssey…an adventure…and discover new American theater?

(pause, very simply this time)

How ’bout let’s just drop everything and go to the THEATER FESTIVAL?

Wanna join our artistic community…in July? Do you wanna share our journey to create the future?

Come on…What dya’ say?


Be present for the future of the American theater.

BE HERE NOW! The future spends the summer in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

So…What dya’ say?

Ed Herendeen, Producing Director


Last Thursday we were in New York City attending a very successful CATF BUZZ PARTY hosted by our friends Doug Moss and Roy Hardin at their fabulous downtown loft. It was a very cool event and we met many new potential CATF patrons. CATF playwrights Sheri Wilner, (HUNGER and FATHER JOY); Michele Lowe (INANA CATF 2010); Max Baker (EELWAX JESUS 3-D POP MUSIC SHOW CATF 2010); Lucy Thurber (CATF commission 2011) joined us at this promotion event. Max and Michele talked about their upcoming plays at the 2010 Festival. Lucy spoke about her 2011 CATF Commission: The JOHN BROWN PROJECT and Sheri spoke about her experience working at the Festival. Sheri also read a quote from Todd London’s new book OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE NEW AMERICAN PLAY published 2009 Theatre Development Fund. This is the quote from page 256:

“Some theatres are lauded as much for the bonds they forge with audiences, as for their support of artists. The Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV., is one such organization. In separate discussions, a writer and an artistic director applaud the work of artistic director Ed Herendeen, for cultivating among his theatergoers a genuine interest in exploring dramatic form, especially in challenging work. The playwright marvels at the degree of investment this small theater inspires from its semirural community. “He’s a P. T. Barnum out in West Virginia. (Herendeen) has completely educated his audience. They’re so excited that he is bringing in brand-new plays, and that they can now identify themselves as this breeding ground for new plays. He’s also educated his board that he’s going to pick something he loves. Don’t question it. He would take a bullet for any of those four plays that he chooses. He believes in them so strongly and it’s contagious. They may hate his choices, but they love arguing them with him at the bakery…”

This quote is from Chapter Six: Positive Practices and Novel Ideas. I recommend Todd’s book for those of you who are interested in new plays. OUTRAGIOUS FORTUNE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE NEW AMERICAN PLAY looks at the lives and livelihoods of American playwrights today and at the realities of new-play production from the perspective of both playwrights and not-for-profit theaters.

Tonight we will be attending our Washington DC BUZZ PARTY at the MANDARIN ORIENTAL HOTEL hosted by CATF Trustee, Erich Hosbach. The event begins at 6PM-8:30PM at 1330 Maryland Ave, SW. If you are in the DC area please join us. I will be giving a preview of our 2010 Repertory.

CATF BUZZ PARTIES create excitement and Buzz. They are an opportunity for “Social Marketing” and “spreading the CATF Story.” We hope to inspire and motivate our loyal CATF audience base to invite their “social network” to attend the 2010 Festival. Our goal is to motivate our loyal base…our early adopters to become CATF Evangelists. We have an important story to tell. BUZZ PARTIES help us to tell our story. They create AWARENESS of the Theater Festival. They help us to create a stronger presence RE: our Brand and Identity. Our goal is to interact with our audience base and inspire them to participate in the CATF marketing process by becomming CATF Evangelists. Evangelists create AWARENESS…that leads to …CONSIDERATION…which leads to…PURCHASE.

Please make a comment below. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on “Social Marketing.” 

Ed Herendeen 





I had a very productive trip to Philadelphia and New York. On Saturday I met our CATF architects Malcolm Holzman, Doug Moss and Debbi Waters at the Walnut Street Theatre. We saw my production of THE ECLECTIC SOCIETY. Afterwards we had a delicious dinner at The Oyster House in Philadelphia. I enjoyed seeing how the production has grown since Opening night. After dinner we took the train to New York.

Lucy Thurber and I met on Sunday morning for a breakfast meeting near Bryant Park. We discussed her ideas for her play inspired by John Brown. We have commissioned Lucy to write a new play for our 2011 Festival. THE JOHN BROWN PROJECT will examine the following questions: What is terrorism? What is fanaticism? What is revolution? Lucy is interested in the difference between terrorism, fanaticism and revolution…”America was or was not built on the back of terrorism/revolution.” Lucy’s plays SCARCITY and KILLERS AND OTHER FAMILY both deal with Race and Class in America. Her critically acclaimed plays provoke a conversation that many of us are too terrified to have RE: Race and Class. THE JOHN BROWN PROJECT will explore her interest in the culture of poverty in America. Lucy proposes that poor rural Whites and African Americans actually have more in common, in terms of pressure, options and self esteem than people of any color in this country that are raised with privilege. In our meeting Lucy said “America is built on dreams, equality, hope, faith, slavery, oppression and genocide. As a country we refuse to acknowledge all the building blocks. I want to acknowledge and discuss them all.”

 We had a great conversation and I am looking forward to introducing you to Lucy Thurber this summer when she will be in residence at the Theater Festival doing research for this provocative new work. Her plays SCARCITY and KILLERS AND OTHER FAMILY have been published and are available. I recommend both plays. Lucy is truly an original playwright with a fresh ideas and a powerful voice.

While I was in New York I had the pleasure to meet with CATF 2010 playwright, Michele Lowe. We discussed our upcoming production of INANA. It was a terrific meeting. I learned so much about INANAafter meeting with Michele. INANA is both a mystery/story and a love story. “Save the world through love.”...she says. “I am a student of history.” Michele helped me to understand the the main ideas in INANA.This is what I love about CATF…I get to talk with the living playwright in person. I enjoy this one on one collaboration withthe writer. Michele gave me very specific ideas RE: the world of her play and set design opportunities. I will share these ideas with Bob Klingelhoefer our set designer and Peg McKowen our costume designer. I left our breakfast meeting very jazzed about directing INANA.

On Tuesday I met with our New York Casting Director, Pat McCorkle and her staff to discuss and plan our upcoming Auditions for the 2010 Repertory Acting Company. We are preparing the casting breakdowns and audition sides to send to the New York talent agents. Pat will select the actors for me to audition in April. Our New York casting call begins April 6th through April 9th.

I am back in Shepherdstown preparing the 2010 Repertory. Our Festival Guide is at the printers…look for it in the mail. Please let me know your thoughts RE: our 2010 Repertory.

Ed Herendeen