FutureFest returns in-person to showcase emerging playwrights

Dayton Playhouse will introduce six new plays July 15-17.

It’s an exciting month for theater lovers. One of the Miami Valley’s most impressive and ambitious theatrical undertakings will return to town in-person for the first time since 2019.

The entertaining weekend known as FutureFest introduces six new plays and their creators to an appreciative audience each summer at the Dayton Playhouse. The weekend, with the magnificent Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark as backdrop, kicks off Friday night, July 15 and runs through Sunday, July 17.

“For the past two years we acknowledged playwrights and their new works virtually, but this year we will once again be able to celebrate the sense of community among playwrights, adjudicators and audience that only an in-person FutureFest permits,” says delighted FutureFest program director Fran Pesch. “Attendees will be treated to a diverse collection of plays in terms of genres, presentation, comedy and drama.”

The mammoth all-volunteer project begins each year when playwrights around the world submit their scripts to the Playhouse for consideration. This year, 378 scripts arrived from throughout the United States and from France, Canada, England and Ireland. Two of the six playwrights have been in Dayton before as finalists –William Cameron of Washington, Pennsylvania, and Angela J. Davis of Los Angeles. For the second time, four of the finalists are women.

About seven to eight weeks before the festival, after the six plays have been selected, directors hold auditions and choose their casts. Depending on the size of the cast and whether the play will be fully staged or presented as a staged reading, rehearsals are held three-to-four times a week.

At the same time, volunteer crews are busy building sets, assembling costumes and readying the Playhouse for the weekend. When out-of-town playwrights and adjudicators begin arriving, volunteers are there to welcome them to ensure a pleasant stay.

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“As a playwright, it’s important that you send your work to places where you feel there is at least a chance that it will find a welcoming home,” notes Daniel Damiano of Brooklyn, New York, whose play, “The Wild Boar” will kick off the festivities Friday evening. “I had known of Dayton Playhouse’s Futurefest for some years, and so it too felt like a place that was worth sending some of my work, particularly in that it appears to hold a considerable place in the culture of its city. "

Damiano says he’s not only excited to see his own work presented but is also looking forward to being with other playwrights from different parts of the country and experiencing their work.

After each FutureFest play is presented, the playwrights take the stage to tell their audience how their drama came to be written. Donna Kaz of Blue Point, New York, author of “The Docent,” says her play was inspired by her experience of losing her artistic mentor and many others to AIDS in the ‘80s. “I also wanted to address climate change and connect trees to memory,” she explains.” I was a docent for many years at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and was tasked with finding ways to connect people to surviving artifacts. I found the 9/11 Survivor Tree especially inspiring.”

The role of the adjudicator

Following each production, a professional panel of judges, known as adjudicators, share comments and suggestions on topics ranging from dialogue to plot. Many, like Eleanore Speert of New York, return year after year. She says she loves to witness new writing, feel the energy from the audience, exchange ideas about the plays and see actors and directors practice their craft.

“Having a live audience watching, thinking, and questioning, gives an energy to a production that can’t be duplicated with a video or filmed production,” Speert notes. " It’s that immediacy, that reciprocal energy, that makes theater tick to a rhythm all its own.”

Dedicated volunteers

Tina McPhearson is just one of the dedicated volunteers who make FutureFest happen. She’s been involved, both onstage and off, since the festival’s inception and says helping to create a play from the ground up is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s led to lifetime friendships. “It really makes it feel like a huge family, all together to celebrate our love of theater and new works.”

“Our goal with FutureFest is to see these shows move on, evolve and continue to have productions all over the country,” McPhearson explains. “The concept of the festival I love the most is that the playwrights get a chance to be celebrated, see their works on a stage with actors and have their work seen by other theater professionals who can give them solid advice about the next steps for their plays.”

Honoring Jim Payne

This year’s FutureFest will be dedicated to James R. Payne (Jim) who died in March at age 82 and served as managing director of the Playhouse from 1980-1994. The recognition will take place at 7:45 p.m. on Friday night. “Basically, the Dayton Playhouse wouldn’t have its beautiful theater if it weren’t for Jim,” says Dodie Lockwood, one of three visionaries who created FutureFest in 1991. “When he came on-board, we were in an old bowling alley on East Third Street.”

Lockwood says when John Riley came up with the idea of a new play festival, she worked with him to develop the idea. Then the two proposed it to Payne, who loved it immediately. “It’s only right that this year’s Festival be dedicated to Jim Payne and that we recognize his gifts to our theater,” Lockwood says. “We are installing two new benches in his honor and a special plaque in the lobby.”

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Speert says FutureFest has its own rhythm.

“Being a part of this festival always pushes me to stay open to changing ideas about communication, to fresh ways to look at analysis, and it allows me to connect with new playwrights as well as old friends who are always intrigued by theater and support it tirelessly,” she says. " I look forward to the camaraderie, the discussions, the questions – it all feels so immediate, so positive. That’s almost addictive. And knowing that the theater lovers I’ll see are people who really want to be there and are always so welcoming, gives me hope that live theater is not only back, it’s thriving!”

HOW TO GO:

What: FutureFest, a festival of six new plays

When: Friday, July 15-Sunday, July 17

Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. In the Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark.

Tickets: Weekend passes for all six plays are priced at $100 Single tickets are t $20. To purchase tickets: http://www.daytonplayhouse.org. Some tickets may be available at the door. Due to COVID protocols, the Playhouse will not be offering meals at this year’s festival, but audience members are welcome to bring food and eat in the gardens.

Here’s a synopsis of the 2022 FutureFest plays

  • “The Wild Boar” by Daniel Damiano of Brooklyn, New York, 8 p.m. Friday, July 15. A newly retired teacher moves to a remote island, seeking nothing but solitude and serenity. However, when a boar arrives at her house one day, an unlikely relationship develops, bringing about unexpected feelings from her past.

  • “Griswold” by Angela J. Davis of Los Angeles, California, 10 a.m. Saturday, July 16. Inspired by the history behind the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that established a right to sexual privacy. Fusing magic realism, docudrama, and comedic truth, the play mines the spirit and drive of the overlooked 65-year-old woman whose actions set the Griswold case in motion.

  • “Lakshmi Counts her Arms and Legs” by Holly Hepp-Galván of Astoria, New York, 3 p.m. Saturday, July 16. Based on the true story of Lakshmi Tatma, a child born in rural India with four arms and four legs. People come from miles around to pray for the reincarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. Neurosurgeon Aakil Singh knows the child needs a life-saving operation.

  • “The Little Sisters of Littleton” by Kate Katcher of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 16. When a recent widow is caught sneaking a man out of the house in the wee hours of the morning, her man-hating sister is forced to confront the ex-husband she divorced over 30 years ago.

  • “Every Livin’ Soul” by William Cameron of Washington Pennsylvania, 10 a.m. Sunday, July 17. The Depression-era drama involves legendary bank robber “Pretty Boy Floyd,” named “Public Enemy No, 1″ by the FBI. Loosely based on a true story, it takes place in the darkest days of the Depression when a stranger finds refuge in an Ohio farmhouse.

  • “The Docent” by Donna Kaz of Blue Point, New York, 3 p.m. Sunday, July 17. “The Docent” is grounded in a lecture on the trees of Central Park given by Urban Forestry expert, Edna Gregory. During the course of the lecture, we flashback to Edna’s first encounter with her life’s work – her first job as an Urban Park Ranger in New York City in 1981.

The winning playwright will receive $1,000 at an awards ceremony at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 17. No tickets are required for this event.

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