It’s 1990 and the average cost of gas was $1.86, the Hubble Telescope is launched and, most importantly, it is the birth year of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. For its 25th anniversary, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival is looking towards both the past and the future as it honors past participants and looks to expand its role as an incubator for new works from around the world.
Each year the festival receives over hundreds of scripts, works that have never been produced before, from all around the world. This year, the lineup includes works from playwrights from all parts of the Unites States and even international submissions from Canada and Spain. Of the scripts selected, four of them are local playwrights.
Over the course of 25 years, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival has moved locations and experimented with content. Throughout this time, one thing has remained the same; it is a place where playwrights can work with directors to bring their work to life for the first time. I sat down with Lora Oxenreiter, Managing Director of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, who has been directing plays in the festival for 15 years. She spoke of writers adding characters to their stories and tweaking jokes because festival is the final opportunity for writers to fine tune their work before being seen by an audience for the first time.
“I think [Lora] made me rewrite five times,” said F.J. Hartland, a New Works veteran, “Best Show” four times. “I remind her of that all the time.” Hartland first submitted a script in 1995 and has participated in the festival fifteen times, winning “Best Play” four times. For Hartland, the festival acted as an introduction to the Pittsburgh theater community and an outlet to grow as a writer. “When they picked my play, it really revitalized my career and my interest in writing,” Hartland said, “I’ve worked with some wonderful directors that, through the rehearsal process, have made [my] work better.” Even now, Hartland is trying new and premiering a one person show at the festival for the first time.
For the last few years, the festival has found a home in the South Hills, specifically Carnegie and the surrounding area. “Carnegie is a very arts friendly community and they love us,” Oxenreiter said, “We are very happy here and we hope we will stay.” It is even said that at some of the events, the mayor has been spotted parking cars for patrons.
Leading up to the main event, the festival is hosting a special throwback event showcasing “Best Play” winners from over the years. These performances will be held at the Community College of Allegheny County South Campus the first two weekends of August and will provide audiences with a taste of what to expect from the Pittsburgh New Works Festival through examples of the best of the best works of the past. Also, as an added bonus, there will be free staged readings on the last two Sundays of August at 7:00 p.m.
The main festival events will kick off on September 3rd and run through September 27th, consisting of four blocks of shows. Each block consists of three one-act shows that have never been performed on stage. Audiences can expect a “mixed bag” of shows over the course of the festival and are sure to experience something fresh and exciting for any crowd.
Looking into the future, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival is far from calling it quits in continuing to evolve and provide an opportunity for writers, directors and actors to get together to bring new shows into the world. Oxenreiter spoke of expanding beyond the festival to provide a year round outlet for educational workshops and staged readings in order to further support artists in their endeavors to continue to create and contribute to the theater community. Congratulations to the Pittsburgh New works Festival, here’s to another 25.