SHEPHERDSTOWN—It has been a tough journey the past year and a half for the annual Contemporary American Theater Festival but CATF representatives along with the community have taken on the challenges in a very different way.
The first blow to the festival was the pandemic, causing its cancelation in 2020. In order to keep things going, CATF employees created a plan featuring street parties and audio presentations of two of the new plays that would have been seen this year: “The House of the Negro Insane” and “SheepDog.”
The play presentations will be July 23 (“SheepDog”) and 30 (“The House of the Negro Insane”) at a cost of $25 per ticket at a table and $15 for a seat.
The first street party, held this past Friday, included music from the Shepherd University Jazz Quartet and other local musicians. The next will be July 16. Both are free.
The CATF’s street parties were to take place in the parking lot behind the Shepherdstown Public Library. Unfortunately, the second blow to the festival happened during the Fourth of July weekend when a car struck the back of the library, which damaged the structural integrity of the building. As a result, the library is subsequently closed for at least the next two months.
CATF organizers remained steadfast and found a way to move forward.
“Within a few days, we had meetings with the mayor and others to find a new location for the events,” said Peggy McKowen, assistant producing director for CATF. “This has definitely been challenging.”
The new location is the parking lot and grounds of Shepherd University’s Marinoff Theater. About 250 people attended Friday’s street party.
“We had a good crowd, very receptive,” McKowen said. “People were saying they were happy to get out at an event. They had the chance to engage in the talent that is part of the festival and the community.”
On Friday, chairs and tables were set up on the Marinoff’s lawn. Street fest attendees were encouraged to bring food and their own chairs, too.
On the 23 and 30, festival attendants will be provided with headphones to listen to the audio dramas performed by professional actors. After the audio dramas, the playwrights and directors will virtually participate in a discussion with the audience. A Zoom screen will be projected at the theater so the audience can see the artists during the discussions.
McKowen discussed last year’s loss of ticket sales.
“Fifty percent of our budget comes from ticket sales at the festival. A 2018 economic impact report on CATF said the festival brings in about $5.6 million,” she said.
McKowen said help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other grants have kept things going.
Concerning the move from the library to the university campus, Mayor Jim Auxer said he thought the partnership between CATF, Shepherd University and Shepherdstown “all did a great job with short notice. It would have been good to have it in town to bring some of the zest back, but the response on Friday was very positive.”
Seating for all of the street party events begins at 6 p.m. with the performances starting at 7 p.m. Beverages will be available for purchase.
Visit the festival online at CATF.org for more information about the summer events and to make reservations.
CATF will also be offering a podcast called CAFTUNMUTED, featuring the storytellers, characters and play makers who bring the stories of the festival to life. The podcast can be found on Apple and Google podcasts.