On a rainy Sunday I sat down with Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) director, Lora Oxenreiter. A board member for well over a decade, Lora instantly began talking about the time commitment involved in planning a six- week long annual event, especially this time of year; the festival is just a month away, but Lora obviously loves being a part of the theater community, teaching and sharing the mission of PNWF with others. I certainly was no exception.
A well established annual Pittsburgh event, PNWF has actively worked to create a community; their relationships are a focal point of their success and span all facets of the the festival. Lora, is quite proud of the ways in which the organization builds alliances, “We are the only one we know in the world who does this- we get 18 theater companies to come in and direct”. This is where the bonds begin.
It starts with a call for submissions of one- act plays. Playwrights from all over the world proffer their plays; this year a total of 275 were received. Next the submissions are narrowed down, to just 40, through a reading process. Then 18 theater companies from the Pittsburgh region choose a play to present. From these 18 plays, 6 are produced as staged readings and the remaining dozen are produced as world premiere full stage productions. The 22 plays not chosen by a presenting company receive recognition through a reading series. This event held at the 3rd Street Gallery in Carnegie is open to the public. The readings give local actors a chance to perform in front of an audience and for the playwrights, opportunity to see life breathed into their story. Theater lovers are encouraged to attend the readings, sip wine and be introduced to new works. The reading series connects local thespians with an occasion to perform, exposes the public to the festival and gives the playwrights a chance to collect some feedback.
Carnegie Stage, the small 90 seat black- box theater in Carnegie will host the 2016 festival for the fourth year in a row. The relationship between festival and theater has grown over the years and finally spilled out into the borough of Carnegie. The mayor of Carnegie is a huge supporter of the festival and has gone so far as to park cars for attendees. This kind of rapport enhances the festival’s synergy and carries their ideology throughout the threads of both the Pittsburgh theater community and the borough of Carnegie. This kind of exposure can lead to big opportunities for playwright, producing company, theater organizer and community supporter to network. These relationships encourage stronger ties, better communication and solid professional relationships, all f which complement the mission of the PNWF. A mingling of small town with art and culture has the potential to open doors to many new patrons as well as for those involved in the festival hands- on.
When I asked Lora what is new to the series for 2016 she excitedly revealed a major corporate sponsor, FedEx Ground. This collaboration is evidence of the professional partnerships PNWF has achieved throughout their years of growth and maturity. Despite 26 years of producing and premiering one- act plays, Lora reports there are still plenty of people, and theater companies, in the area unaware of who or what PNWF is all about. Lora wants the public to know that the festival doesn’t just begin and end over the course of two weekends in September. An event of this magnitude takes round the clock efforts. She hopes, as the festival continues to grow so will the bonds of the close knit theater community she has helped to create. Lora points out, a common misconception regarding one-acts may hold people back from attending. She wants readers to understand these are complete plays with a beginning, middle and end to each, comparable to a short story.
Last, I asked Lora what is so special about PNWF, what should everyone know? Simply said, “it’s unique”.
Interested in checking out the festival this year? The event is split into 4 programs, each hosts three one- acts, ranging from 15- 40 minutes a piece.
Staged readings opened August 21 with Not About the Money by Los Angeles playwright Amy Tofte, On Golden Sands written by Mark Costello of Philadelphia, PA and Unlikely Event by Dennis Moore of Bothell, WA. The second series of readings begin August 28th with three plays produced by local theater companies Prime Stage Theater, producing Mercy Killing, Pittsburgh New Works presents We Got This! and Retro Red Theater Productions with That Time At Black Lake.
Starting September 1st and running 9/1, 9/3, 9/4, 9/9 and 9/10 Program A will debut, Deck Chairs by Bill Arnold, All Good Things written by Michael Lill of Murwillumbah, N.S.W., Australia and More Than Meets the Eye by Johnstown, PA playwright F.J. Hartland.
Program B begins 9/2 and runs 9/3, 9/8, 9/10, and 9/11. This series features The Man Who Invented Love, produced by Thoreau, NM, My Strange Journey produced by R- Act Theater Productions and Writer’s Block presented by Actors Civic Theater.
Program C offers another sequence of one- acts by two Pittsburgh based playwrights Evan Saunders and Whitney Rowland as well as Chicago’s Steven Peterson. Program C runs from 9/15, 9/17, 9/18, 9/23 and 9/24.
The final series of plays Program D, kicks off 9/16 and runs 9/17, 9/18, 9/22, 9/24 and 9/25. This set offers three plays, Brotherhood produced by The Theater Factory, Influence presented by The Heritage Players and finally Once Upon a Mattress Store produced by Stage Right Players.
“The Pittsburgh New Works Festival, Inc. is a non-profit organization with a mission of encouraging and supporting the writing and production of original one-act plays. Since its founding in 1991, PNWF has served as a collaborative organization, pooling the talents and rich resources of western Pennsylvania’s emerging theater community and playwrights from around the world in a series of creative activities” (www.pittsburghnewworks.org).
All ticket information, including weekend and series passes can be found by visiting http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/tickets/