SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Each July, the tiny, quaint village of Shepherdstown, West Virginia blossoms into a world-acclaimed live theater destination.
It’s just a 90-minute drive from Washington to the 26th annual Contemporary American Theater Festival, that runs now until July 31 on the campus of Shepherd University. Last year, The New York Times named CATF as one of America’s 50 essential summer festivals. And Germany’s Worldguide placed it as a top ten international summer theatre event.
“Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia doing the newest plays in America,” said Ed Herendeen, founder and producing director of the festival.
Five new plays by some of the nation’s most promising playwrights are staged on three venues in a rotating repertory. Most of the actors are veterans of the New York and Washington theater scenes. But Herendeen finds the bucolic atmosphere of the West Virginia panhandle a distinct creative advantage.
“We’re outside of the glare of the urban spotlight,” Herendeen said. “It allows us to be held captive here for 10 weeks, where we focus on the work and … really take the kind of risk needed outside that glare.”
Three of the five CATF plays this year are world premieres, including “20th Century Blues” by two-time Obie Award winner Susan Miller. Other works making their debuts include “Not Medea” by Allison Gregory, and ” The Wedding Gift ” by Chisa Hutchinson
Also in production, “pen/man/ship” by Christina Anderson, and “The Second Girl ” by Ronan Noone.
Herendeen says the schedule is arranged so theater lovers can see all five plays in two days. Along with the stage works, the festival also features breakfasts, lunches, drinks and lectures where the plays and the state of American theater are discussed.
More information, including tickets and the play schedule, can be found on the CATF website.