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The Contemporary AmericanTheater Festival – CATF: New American Plays in West Virginia

CATF’s commitment to new work centers on an annual festival of new plays by American playwrights, most often world premieres or second or third productions. Focusing on plays that deal with contemporary issues that boldly challenge and entertain audiences, its goal is to sustain an artistic process of innovation and daring, tell diverse stories, and to create a profound and ever-evolving relationship between the audience and the work.

The plays are professionally produced. CATF operates under agreements from Actors’ Equity Association, United Scenic Artists, and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Reviews and articles have appeared in a variety of media venues including the Washington Post, the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the New York Times, and various web-based media, including Playbill.com.

Shepherd University: Home of CATF

CATF is in residence on the campus of Shepherd University, a fully accredited public institution of higher education founded in 1871 that is located in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. SU offers a wide variety of distinguished degree programs and other learning opportunities to both traditional and nontraditional students. The university, which attracts students from the region, the nation, and beyond, is located in the historic and beautiful town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, just an hour and a half from Washington, DC and Baltimore.

Play-going audiences have expanded from 200 in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia to over 12,000 including, in 2007, people from 32 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and beyond. When not attending plays at the various campus venues, CATF attendees wander through the shops and fine eateries up and down Shepherdstown’s German Street and its environs. Those not commuting locally stay at one of the resorts, historic hotels, and B&Bs in the area.

The History of CATF

Founded in 1990 by producing director Ed Herendeen, CATF’s premiere season during the summer of 1991offered three productions. These were the East-Coast premiere of Accelerando by Lisa Loomer at the Frank Arts Center and two non-equity productions in the Studio Theater. At the time, CATF’s budget was about $120,000. In 1992, the festival expanded to four plays: two Equity productions in the Frank Arts Center and two non-equity productions in the Studio.

By 1995, CATF expanded its contract with Equity to include the Studio Theater, which allowed the festival to use Equity actors in all of its productions for the first time. Moving forward, CATF commissioned its first plays in 1997. Carry the Tiger to the Mountain by Cherylene Lee and Interesting Times by Preston Foerder premiered at CATF the following summer. In 1999, West Virginia Governor Cecil H. Underwood presented CATF with the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

By the Fall of 2003, five plays formerly produced by CATF had productions in New York. Compleat Female Stage Beauty, a 1999 CATF commission by Jeffrey Hatcher, was made into a 2004 film called Stage Beauty, which starred Billy Crudup and Claire Danes. Orange Flower Water by Craig Wright, a 2002 CATF world premiere, was produced at the Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre in the fall of 2003 and traveled to the Galway Arts Festival in Ireland. It opened off-Broadway on March 28, 2005.

The 2004 Season’s Homeland Security by Stuart Flack and CATF 2003 world premiere, Whores by Lee Blessing, were recently produced by Philadelphia’s InterAct Theatre Company. 2005 Season’s Sonia Flew by Melinda Lopez was produced in May, 2006, at The Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida, and and at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre and Laguna Playhouse in 2008. Sonia Flew, along with Father Jo, also produced in 2005, was produced at the Summer Play Festival in New York in 2009. The 2006 Season reading, The Pursuit of Happiness by Richard Dresser received its world premiere at Laguna Playhouse in the spring of 2007.

By this time it was clear that CATF needed more space. The Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA), which is also home to the administrative offices, was opened in January 2008, and the rehearsal studio was unveiled during the 2008 CATF Season with performances of WRECKS by Neil LaBute.

The 2008 Season featured Pig Farm by Tony Award-winning writer Greg Kotis and the world premiere of A View of the Harbor by Richard Dresser. The 2009 Season included five powerful plays: Dear Sara Jane, a world premiere by Victor Lodato; Farragut North by Beau Willimon; Fifty Words by Michael Weller; The History of Light, a world premiere by Eisa Davis; and Yankee Tavern by Steven Dietz.

Shepherd University Faculty Member Founder of CATF

Founder and producing director Ed Herendeen started the Contemporary American Theater Festival in 1991. In addition to his work as CATF producer, Herendeen’s directing credits include the following world premieres: The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa by John Olive; The Occupation by Harry Newman; Miss Golden Dreams, A Play Cycle by Joyce Carol Oates; Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffrey Hatcher; Carry the Tiger to the Mountain by Cherylene Lee; Bad Girls by Joyce Carol Oates; Octopus by Jon Klein; Psyche Was Here by Lynn Martin; What Are Tuesdays Like? by Victor Bumbalo; and Still Waters by Lynn Martin.

Herendeen’s other CATF directing credits include The Late Henry Moss by Sam Shepard; Thief River by Lee Blessing; Something in the Air, Gun-Shy, and Below the Belt, all by Richard Dresser; The Water Children by Wendy MacLeod; BAFO by Tom Strelich; Lighting up the Two-Year-Old by Benjie Aerenson; Beti the Yeti by Jon Klein; Shooting Simone by Lynne Kaufman; Alabama Rain by Heather McCutchen; Black by Joyce Carol Oates; The Swan by Elizabeth Egloff; and Jazzland by Keith Glover.

In addition to CATF, Herendeen has worked in various regional theaters including The Milwaukee Repertory, The Missouri Repertory, The Old Globe, The Lyceum Theater, and The Williamstown Theatre Festival. He has also served on the admissions committee at New Dramatists, NYC and as a panelist for the NEA.

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