For the first time in history and in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Dayton Playhouse has canceled its FutureFest of new plays. The 30th annual summer festival, a nationally recognized, all-volunteer event, was slated July 17-19.
“We don’t sense there is any appetite from our artists, volunteers or audiences to go back into a theater setting that soon, even if we might be allowed to sell only 50 percent of our house,” said Playhouse Board Chair Matthew Lindsay.
“That said, the board did set up a committee to explore alternative programming for July that will allow us to honor the finalists. The committee has begun to meet and it is hoped we will have something to announce soon.”
“The Dayton Playhouse Board discussed various options and alternatives that included proceeding with a modified FutureFest,” said FutureFest Program Director Fran Pesch. “Because of the ‘newness’ of virtual streaming, securing directors, casts, production personnel, ensuring participation of our FutureFest ‘regulars,’ etc., it was decided that we would not be able to give playwrights (what they) have come to appreciate and look forward to when coming to Dayton – a weekend of seeing new works, networking, visiting with our theater savvy audience, and (more).”
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Chosen from 303 scripts across the country and narrowed from a field of 12 semi-finalists, the six finalists are:
• “Before Lesbians” by Elana Gartner of Brooklyn, N.Y. A Civil War-era drama concerning Charlotte and Vivian, military wives who fall in love while their husbands fight on the battlefield.
• “Ghost of a Chance” by Kimberly Shimer of Media, Pa. In this contemporary comedy of love and loss, a deceased wife gets the chance to return to earth to reconcile with her husband.
• “The Good Deli” by Kevin Cirone of Wilburn, Mass. After a family patriarch has a health scare, he longs to visit the delicatessen that reminds him of better days, particularly with his daughter. This is another contemporary comedy exploring the central theme of reconciliation as well as forgiveness and hope.
• “Otis” by Shanti Reinhardt of Los Angeles, Calif. A charming character study about a diverse group of Manhattan apartment dwellers conversing and desiring connection while riding the titular elevator.
• “Thoughts and Prayers” by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich of Montclair, N.J. In this dramatic tale of gun violence, a teacher battles with grief in the wake of a deadly school shooting.
• “Truth Be Told” by William Cameron of Washington, Pa. A dramatic tale of gun violence involving a mother of an alleged mass shooter and the true-crime writer who seeks to interview her for a book on the shooting.
Having served on this year’s final selection committee, I can honestly say the finalists are among the most progressive, provocative and timely plays to ever be submitted and chosen as the top six. The festival’s cancellation is understandable but it also stings, especially since the majority of the playwrights are women (a rarity for FutureFest) and strong female roles are evident in each script.
In fact, “The Good Deli,” a witty and cinematic story of a New England family in crisis, features a fascinating comedic female lead written in the vein of such modern comediennes as Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Whitney Cummings, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
“FutureFest is more than a component of our programming,” Pesch said. “Not only is it what sets us apart from other community theaters, it provides encouragement, support and validation to playwrights. It is unfortunate that this year we are not able to provide each playwright his or her time in the limelight.”
The six playwrights will not experience the traditional enjoyment of basking in the festival’s supportive glow, but the Playhouse maintains a celebratory mindset. In spite of COVID-19, its leaders are pleased to have kept the tradition of championing budding playwrights and new works alive once again by selecting the finalists.
“In any given year with a different set of readers, a playwright might never be selected as a finalist,” Pesch said. “The fact that it did happen should be celebrated because one never knows when one’s talents will be acknowledged again.”
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