The next Shakespeare or Eugene O’Neill may be waiting to be discovered. The Astor Street Opry Company’s New Works Festival and annual script competition might give them their first shot at recognition. In its fourth season, this year’s festival features two original one acts and three monologues submitted by writers from across the country. It will be the first time these works have been presented on stage. For any artist, the moment his or her work is first shared with the public is the pay-off for many weeks, months or years of dreaming and dedication to craft.
“The most exciting thing is the fact that we’re a very small theater company on the West Coast, and we get a chance to expose our town, our community and our patrons to original works that come from anywhere across the country,” Judy Niland, ASOC production committee member and publicist, says. Those who enter the contest are “budding artists, budding writers, people who are actually beginning to make their mark as people who could become quite well-known down the way. We’re able to say we bring (their work) here to our town. It’s the thrill of the creative process, the fact that we’re stimulating new life, new spirit and allowing artists to get their chance to have their voices heard.”
Every April, the ASOC sends out announcements seeking submissions from around the country. This year they received 30 entries. In the past, they’ve had as many as 60 submissions. Winners this year hail from states all over the nation: Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio and in a nice twist of fate, Astoria, N.Y.
The winners each receive a small cash prize, and more importantly, they have their work produced live onstage for the first time. “For writers who’ve never had produced work before, that’s a very important step towards getting published,” Niland says.
The winning playwrights are always invited to attend the productions. Last year, two of them were able to see their pieces produced. If they are unable to make the trip, they are sent video of the show, along with their award, programs and photos.
This year’s entries are directed by Edward James, Markus Brown and Donna Wright. James, a longtime theater veteran and former artistic director of a Portland dinner theater, stepped in to help when the festival’s founder, Anne MacGregor, fell ill.
“There was a point when we had to consider canceling it because we are a pretty small operation, and when we lose one cog in our wheel, it makes us wobbly, but Edward James jumped in,” Niland says. “It was really kind. It took a lot of his time. Markus Brown also jumped in to help him, so if it weren’t for those two guys, we wouldn’t have had a show this year.”
Sponsored by the Astoria Cooperative, with contributions from Steve Forrester and Brenda Penner, this year’s festival features family friendly comedy and drama. Audiences will see new and familiar faces onstage. There will also be a raffle and no-host bar. “It’s going to be a nice mix for an evening’s entertainment,” Niland says.
Shows are Friday and Saturday evenings through Feb.16, with one Sunday matinee on Feb.10. Seating is limited, so be sure to make your reservations now and be one of the first to see these new works.