SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Six brand new contemporary plays are coming to Shepherdstown this July as part of the 2018 Contemporary American Theatre Festival (CATF).
Founding Producer Ed Herendeen said during a press preview earlier this month he hopes that from July 6 through the 29, the quiet town on the Potomac River becomes the cultural gateway into West Virginia.
That has certainly been the case over the last 27 years, as the festival has drawn theatre goers from 37 states, Washington, D.C. and numerous countries.
Herendeen started the festival in 1991 with a few plays and a much shorter season but has grown that over the years.
Herendeen said expanding the festival to six plays last year has been a boon for business.
“They’re (patrons) are staying another night longer, they’re eating at more establishments, they’re shopping. That increases the economic impact.”
Part of the mission is to make CATF the ultimate theatre experience, with workshops and other events surrounding the shows.
“People have moved here and bought property here because they experienced Shepherdstown because they happened to have come to a play,” Herendeen said.
And, Herendeen said, many have experienced more of the Mountain State as they return each year, traveling further in state with each visit.
Rep passes go on sale Mar. 26 with single-ticket sales beginning April 16, but Herendeen said it is important to the CATF Board of Trustees and the staff that as many people as possible have access to the festival.
They achieve that with special group rates, discounts for seniors and for West Virginia residents.
Plus, there’s an opportunity for folks to attend shows for as little as a penny just before the festival opens.
“All those seats that week are pay-what-you-can,” Herendeen said. That makes theatre open to everybody who wants to come.”
This year’s plays cover a wide range of contemporary topics, from gay marriage to “fake news”.
The line-up includes “The Cake”, by Bekah Brunstetter of “This is Us” fame; “Berta, Berta”, by Angelica Chéri; “Memoires of a Forgotten Man”, by D.W. Gregory; “Thirst”, by C.A. Johnson; “The House on the Hill”, by Amy E. Witting; and “A Late Morning (In America) with Ronald Reagan”, by Michael Weller.
Herendeen agreed to produce the Reagan play before Weller had even begun writing.
Taking a risk on brand new work is not unusual for the festival.
To date 115 new plays have been produced there, including 43 world premiers.
“Contemporary plays are immediate. Contemporary plays are present,” Herendeen said.
He added that it’s his goal for the audience to leave the theatre ready to talk about what they just experienced.
AAnew economic impact study is in progress, but almost 10 years ago it was estimated the festival infused around $2.8 million into the local economy.
Retailers have said anecdotally that July is like another Christmas for them, with some stating they wouldn’t be able to stay in business without the annual bump.
A full schedule of this year’s shows and other festival offerings is available at www.catf.org.