Backstage with Kyle Haden of Ashland New Plays Festival
For over a quarter century, The Ashland New Plays Festival has presented the work of exceptional playwrights in a fall festival of dramatic readings of new plays.
Now there is Play4Keeps, a free podcast of recorded plays that can be accessed on computers and iPhones.
Over 30 plays have been recorded. Recordings are done in Ashland using local actors, many from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The recordings are expertly produced and narrated by Jim Pagliosotti.
I spoke with Kyle Haden, artistic director of the Ashland New Plays Festival, by telephone.
KH: We started Play4Keeps a year and a half ago to take the next step in what ANPF does: promote playwrights to get their work out there and to reach a broader audience. There are a lot of people outside of this area interested in what we are doing. This is a way to spread that reach.
When we produce our play readings, there is obviously a visual component. But, as they said in Shakespeare’s time, “We are going to hear a play.” We’re putting the focus on the audio part of what we’re doing. Putting these plays on tape was a natural extension of what we’ve always done.
We are releasing a play and a conversation a month. I’m excited to produce the next piece, and see how people respond to it. The playwrights are excited about having their work on a platform that can promote them. We’re trying to create recordings and put plays out into the world so that they can go on to their next life. This is a way to extend our reach, to give ourselves a year-round presence, not only in the Rogue Valley, but beyond.
EH: Are the recorded plays the winners from the Ashland New Plays Festival?
KH: We always receive more plays — that we like — than we can produce. This is a way to promote some of those plays as well. We include some outstanding playwrights that really had an impact on us. It’s another way to expand the net of the ANPF family as well.
EH: Tell us about the conversations you include in the recordings.
KH: We match people who know each other and have chemistry together. It’s always fascinating hearing professionals talk about their craft, what they’re interested in, and the people who inspired and influenced them.
EH: What’s your criteria for choosing plays?
KH: I’m looking for compelling stories. I’m particularly interested in stories of different groups of people, different cultures that are applicable to a broader audience. I love seeing different cultures reflected, and seeing the similarities within cultures. I think that’s a great way for theater to bring people together — seeing yourself in other people.
It’s universal, but it’s very specific. I’m interested in different types of stories, seeing people’s stories that we haven’t seen before and finding out what we can learn from them. Cultures can be different, but we can see the commonalities and the humanity that we have. Plays that can allow us to see ourselves, even when it’s not about us, is really attractive to me.
EH: What is the current schedule of ANPF?
KH: We’re into the semifinal round right now. Our readers are all using Zoom to get together and talk about the plays. We will open for submissions again in July.
Play4Keeps is a way that you can take theater anywhere you want. Theater is so uniquely special and so old, with such a rich deep tradition. Especially now, when we can’t gather, this is a way to have some of that back.
To find out more about ANPF, visit ashlandnewplays.org/. To hear the recordings, visit play4keeps.org/anpf/, or tap the podcast app on your phone and search: play4keeps.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with remarkable people, visit her blog: ashlandtheater.net. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.