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Pop Filter Hot Pick: 18 plays premiere at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival kicks off its 22nd season on Sunday, August 19th at the Father Ryan Arts Center. The Festival will continue its run, producing three new world premieres per week through September 30th, and then will culminate with an awards gala on October 7th at Rockefeller's Grille.

Eighteen new one-act plays--submitted by emerging and established writers hailing from as far afield as Finland and New Zealand--will debut during the 2012 lineup at the McKees Rocks-based venue. The unique festival brings together 18 local theatre companies to present staged readings and fully realized main stage productions during one of the country's most distinct festivals.

Founded by Donna Rae in 1990, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival is dedicated to fostering the development, writing and production of original one-act plays. The festival launched at City Theatre's Lester Hamburg Studio at City Theater, and has since been held at a variety of Pittsburgh locations, including Downtown's CAPA High School, and Open Stage in the Strip District. For the past three years, the festival has been housed at the Father Ryan Arts Center.

An annual event, the four-week festival also serves as a catalyst for bringing together the talents and resources of western Pennsylvania’s theater community with playwrights from around the globe in a series of collaborative activities. Each September, select one-act plays are produced by different theater companies during the four-weeks of the festival, and are presented to the public during seated readings and fully staged productions.

"This festival really is unique in that we are one of the few festivals that brings together eighteen different theater companies. Typically, other festivals feature a single company. The Father Ryan Arts Center is a lovely space, and we like the fact that we are bringing people into McKees Rocks," says FJ Hartland, a festival board member, and emcee for the 2012 awards ceremony. "There is a massive theater community in Pittsburgh, and the festival brings companies and actors together to meet new people and form bonds. It's a launching point for a lot of careers and creates a lot of opportunity for playwrights and actors. The actors are getting seen by eighteen different companies."

What's on stage this year?

This year, a record number of plays--175 total--were submitted from around the world, including works from England, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Pittsburgh. A panel of readers narrowed the list to the 30 top scripts which were then reviewed by the 18 participating theater companies for final selections. The first two weeks of the festival will feature seated readings, while the month of September will present fully staged productions.

"Since opening the submission process to playwrights outside of Pittsburgh, the festival has really taken off. We've been more active in promoting the festival online, and we're now reaching a much bigger audience," says Hartland. "We have writers who have never written a play before, and people who have incredible credentials."

Five of the featured playwrights are from the Pittsburgh area, and all of the actors--who participated in an intense audition process during two weeks in July--are local. Festival board member John Lane serves as the festival's director of play reading.

Plays runs the gamut of all literary genres--from farce to very serious subject matter to a one-person show--and playwrights represent a diverse range of backgrounds, ages and experiences. Scripts are submitted from seasoned veterans-- playwrights with major productions under their belts--as well as by emerging voices in the field.

Don't miss opening night on August 19th, which will feature staged readings of David Bloomquist's Everything (12 Peers Theatre), Chris Gavaler's Life on Mars (Comptra Theatre) and John Michael Duggan's Interlude (Stage Right Theatre Company).

The festival wraps up on September 30th, with fully staged productions of David Katzin's Forgotten Names (Rage of the Stage Players), James Michael Shoberg's Helping Out (McKeesport Little Theatre) and Mark Cornell's Revolution (Cup-A-Jo Productions).

The envelope please …

The Festival culminates with an awards gala on October 7th at Rockefeller's Grille in nearby Kennedy Township. Open to the public, the event starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are $35. The gala will include a dinner and the presentation of the festival's annual Donna Awards--named for its founder Donna Rae, who is known for playing the role of Terminal Stare on "Chilly Billy's" (née Bill Chardille) late night TV show, Chiller Theatre.

Eight awards, including accolades best play, best director, best production, and four acting awards, will be recognized. Also announced will be the festival's special Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes local performer and dancer, Ron Tassone. After receiving his BFA from Juilliard in New York City, Tassone went on to make his Broadway debut in Gypsy, following that up with appearances in seven additional Broadway shows, as well as stints on television and in film. Tassone served as  director of Point Park University's dance program for 10 years, and has choreographed some 25 jazz dance works at at PPU's Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Past recipients of the festival's Lifetime Achievement Award have gone to Marc Masterson, who served as City Theatre's producing director for 20 years, acclaimed actor Bingo O'Malley, and playwright and theater critic, Ted Hoover. "We have recognized many people who have given a lot to theater in Pittsburgh," says Hartland.
Are you an aspiring playwright? The festival will begin accepting plays for the 2013 season this winter, so check their website for submission details and to see videos of this summer's rehearsals.

View a complete Pittsburgh New Works Festival schedule. Tickets are $15 in advance or $17 at the door for a single ticket per performance, or $40 for a festival pass. See one or see all 18! Purchase tickets.

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