SHEPHERDSTOWN — The long-awaited 30th season of the Contemporary American Theater Festival finally came to close this past weekend. And, as the curtains to the season’s six diverse plays came to a metaphorical close, so too did the closure come to the other events in the festival’s calendar, which were all themed around at least one of the plays.
While some of the supplemental events were paid for by attendees, the majority of them were offered, free to the public, thanks to a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council and Marion Park Lewis Foundation.
“Thank you all for being here. We’ll see you in the theater next year!” said CATF Producing Artistic Director Peggy McKowen, as she finished moderating the final Lecture Series event, held in the Shipley Recital Hall on Saturday afternoon.
While some of the Lecture Series events were in the form of lectures, other events in the series more closely resembled panel discussions. While Saturday morning’s weekly CATF In Context in CCAII, “Antarctica. Is it disappearing? featured the same main speaker as Saturday afternoon’s Lecture Series, “Observing the Regional and Global Environment,” Endowed University of Alabama at Birmingham Professor of Polar and Marine Biology James McClintock was one of two panelists to speak on Saturday afternoon, as he collaboratively answered questions about “Ushuaia Blue” with the play’s writer, Caridad Svich. The combination of the two passionate environmentalists best served the audience, whose questions at the end of the event tended toward the extremes of needing answers either from particularly scientific or particularly artistic points-of-view.
While answering from differing perspectives, the two panelists also shared a unique ability to understand each other — largely due to their work together on the play, which McClintock first emailed Svich with the suggestion of writing, based upon his own observations of the glacial melt in Antarctica.
“The sky is special in Antarctica,” McClintock said, “And so is the ice. Ice is so un-white! Ice is blues and turquoises and azures, and as it goes down through the water below, an iceberg — you see all these different colors reflecting off of it.
“I think a lot of people come back from visiting Antarctica, and they can’t believe how much color they’ve seen!” McClintock said, encouraging attendees to go on expeditions to Antarctica, which are carefully regulated and give back financially to caring for the environment down there. “They think of Antarctica as black-and-white, and it’s not.”
Another final event was being held on July 26 in the Marinoff Theater — the last staged reading of a new play, which this time, interestingly enough, featured two of the actresses also playing roles in “Ushuaia Blue”: Kelley Rae O’Donnell, who played “Sarah” and read the part in the staged reading of “Patsy,” and Tina Stafford, who played “piper” and read the part in the staged reading of “Wanda.” Joining them in the cast of the staged reading of Daryl Lisa Fazio’s “Mountain Mamas” was Richard Cooper, reading the part of “Earl,” and Sarah Millard, reading the part of “Livy.” Director Suzanne Richard and Stage Manager Kate Kilbane masterfully helped the actors bring the story of a modern West Virginia coal mining family to life in one day’s time.
“I ask a lot of actors,” Fazio said, in a question-and-answer session, following the reading. “I ask them to be vulnerable and go to scary places, and show their innermost squishy-soft, underneath parts that they don’t want people to see. It’s always miraculous to watch that happen, when actors will give of themselves so freely and openly. And it’s a gift to all of us, because it heals us, when we’re watching it and we see ourselves.”
According to Fazio, the research behind “Mountain Mamas” was inspired by a question that came to her mind one day.
“One day, out of no where the question came to me, ‘Do women mine coal?’” Fazio said. “That was the beginning.”
Fazio then began researching for more information, among which she found the basis for much of the play’s inspiration — two books containing the conversations of two different female anthropologists with female coal miners across the United States, from the 1970s and 1980s.
“I Googled it, and I found the most incredible photos of women — these saucy women, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and in mining helmets. I found books about these women’s experiences, and I was captivated,” Fazio said. “I knew this story had to be on stage!”
Some of the plays featured in CATF’s staged readings series will end up featured in future CATF seasons, while others were simply end up being refined through the process, before moving on for potential production potential at other theaters.