Founded in 1992 and managed by a volunteer board of directors and artistic board, Ashland New Plays Festival (ANPF) is a nonprofit organization that encourages playwrights in the creation of new works through public readings. It also offers an educational forum to the community through discussions and workshops.
ANPF's flagship festival is an international playwright competition that culminates in the reading of four new plays culled from hundreds of submissions by a cadre of volunteer readers. This unique event features professional actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the community. These readings and the discussions that follow are a rich theatrical experience for audiences, and the guest playwrights look to Ashland's sophisticated theatre-going audience for responses to their works as they evolve from the page to the stage.
At the heart of ANPF is the Reading Committee, which starts with organizational and training meetings in the fall and then reads blinded scripts through the winter and the spring. Using a scoring system, readers reduce the submissions from several hundred to around 35. At that point discussions lead to 10 to 14 semifinalists. The four winning scripts are selected by the artistic director and four theatrical directors. The ANPF Board of Directors takes it from there, planning a five-day festival in picturesque Ashland, Oregon, that draws playwrights and theatre lovers from far and wide for a week of workshops, readings, and playwright appreciation as they celebrate new works for the stage.
In 2011 more than 200 playwrights participated through submissions and at the festival.
The first few festivals were collaborations between local theater groups. As the years passed, the festival grew to draw participants from across the USA. In 2009 management of the festival was taken over by a group of volunteers from the festival's past, now working as a new organization called, simply enough, Ashland New Plays Festival.
Playwrights such as David Rambo, Jamie Pachino, Lisa Loomer, and E. M. Lewis have worked with ANPF over the years. Many of the scripts that are worked on and presented during the festival go on to broader recognition. Playwright Karen Zacharias received a Helen Hayes Award for her 1999 ANPF-winning play The Sins of Sor Juana. E. M. Lewis’s Song of Extinction (ANPF 2008) went on to full productions and won the 2009 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award as well as first prize in the 2009 EcoDrama Festival in Eugene, Oregon. Lewis also won the 2008 Francesca Primus Prize for an emerging woman playwright.