How to get the most out of FutureFest

Tips for enjoying the Dayton Playhouse festival of new plays

It’s that special time of year when the Dayton Playhouse invites six playwrights to introduce their new plays to a live audience and a panel of judges at FutureFest. The annual festival of new plays has put Dayton on the theatrical map — more than 200 entries from around the country were received for the 2016 competition.

This year’s event is slated for Friday, July 22 through Sunday, July 24. After each of the six plays are presented, the judges will provide feedback and the audience will be encouraged to comment as well. Between shows, guests always have lots of interaction and time to stroll the Wegerzyn Gardens and Children’s Garden — both especially beautiful this year.

“We like the overall ambiance — the excitement of the curtain going up, the anticipation of seeing new plays, the stimulating comments and give-and-take between the adjudicators and the audience; the feeling of being part of a theater-going community, the camaraderie that grows during the weekend among cast members, directors, authors and audience members, and the anticipation of learning which plays are the favorites,” says Connie Blum of Harrison Twp. who has been a FutureFest regular for more than 15 years.

Finalists for this summer’s prestigious honor are “Memories of the Game” by Kristy Sharron Thomas of North Hollywood, Calif.; ” [Miss]” by W. L. Newkirk of Celebration, Florida; “N” by Adrienne Earle Pender of Willow Spring, N.C.; “Shepherd’s Bush” by Scott C. Sickles of Forest Hills, N.Y. ; “The Griots” by Gwendolyn Rice of Middleton, Wisc. and “The Violin Maker by Christopher G. Smith of Rochester, Minn. Half of the new scripts will be presented as staged readings and half as fully staged productions.

Issues explored in this year’s plays range from a family facing Alzheimer’s disease to the challenges of maintaining a family business. A number of the dramas are based historic individuals and situations.“We have several firsts this year,” says Fran Pesch, a past FutureFest chair and current committee member. “We have three female playwrights, two of them African-American, and for the first time all six of the playwrights are from different states. We have one returnee — Adrienne Earle Pender was a finalist in 2002 for her play, “The Rocker.”

Why playwrights come to Dayton

FutureFest newcomer Chris Smith says the Dayton Playhouse provides a wonderful opportunity for playwrights. “I have lived with these characters for so long and now seeing actors names attached to them makes it all the more real,” he says. “As a playwright, it’s tremendously exciting to have the opportunity to hear the voices of these characters and see what a director and actors will do with the script. I’m also looking forward to seeing how an audience will respond to seeing ‘The Violin Maker’ for the first time.”

Returning playwright Adrienne Earle Pender says FutureFest set the bar by which she evaluates all other playwriting festivals. “They really make every effort to make the playwrights feel special; they understand that there would be no theater without a writer, sitting alone in a room and creating a world and characters and telling a story,” she says. “They celebrate writers and writing, and that’s a wonderful thing!”

Pender, who first came to Dayton 14 years ago, said she’s a different person now and hopefully an even better writer. “It will be wonderful to see how much FutureFest has grown in that time as well,” she says, adding that the Dayton event has a great reputation in the play-writing community because it’s about writers.”

Though it’s possible to buy individual tickets to the plays, about 75 percent of those who attend opt to spend the entire weekend at the Playhouse. The weekend concludes with a fried chicken picnic supper and award ceremony during which the winner is announced. An Audience Favorite is also chosen.

This year’s adjudicators include New York theater critic Peter Filichia; actor/director/producer Jana Robbins; theater administrator/playwright Helen Sneed; New York writer/director/producer/stage manager Ashley Rodbro and New York playwright/filmmaker Craig Pospisil, a past FutureFest winner.

We asked seasoned FutureFest attendees to share tips on getting the most out of the weekend:

From FutureFest co-founder Dodie Lockwood:

  • Get lots of rest before the weekend.
  • Take a few notes during, or right after each play with comments or questions.
  • This year, since our plays involve actual people in history — E.M. Forster, Charles Gilpin, Eugene O’Neill, Frances Oldham Kelsey — it might be interesting to read a bit about those people online/books before the weekend.
  • Determine that you are going to approach at least one playwright/adjudicator/director during networking times throughout the weekend. It is so interesting to speak personally with those closely involved in the development, production or review of the plays. Many wonderful friendships have been developed over the years from these discussions.
  • Keep in mind that this weekend is about the written word and how these playwrights can continue to develop their idea.

From audience member Connie Blum:

  • Dress casually. Come prepared to offer a champagne toast — before Friday night’s play — and to engage mentally and emotionally with the characters on the stage.
  • Don’t hesitate to share your reactions and questions with playwrights, directors and cast.
  • At the end of the weekend, applaud enthusiastically for all the volunteers’ efforts that have gone into making this unique event so special to Dayton play-going audiences.

From returning playwright Adrienne Earle Pender:

  • What writers want most is for their audience to feel something, and to leave thinking about what you’ve just seen.
  • We love to hear laughs where we hope they are, and we love even more hearing laughs where we didn’t expect to hear anything!
  • Respond to what you’re watching, engage with the action on stage. Being able to tell that your audience is connecting with your play is the best feeling.
  • For playwrights, readings and events like this especially — when there is a talk back afterwards — are a great opportunity to hear feedback — constructive, of course.
  • I’d suggest having a few questions planned to ask, and then leave room for more questions if the play speaks to you. Questions planned might be: Who was your favorite character, and why? Did the story feel complete? If you could make one suggestion to the writer, it would be “X”.
  • If the play has an intermission, then I might also come up with one question related to the story or plot that was introduced in Act 1, and see if that question gets resolved to your satisfaction if Act 2. If it does, great, let the writer know that! If it doesn’t get resolved, let them know that too.

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