New Works Festival of plays in Carnegie continues to expand reach

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Playwrights from areas as diverse as Israel, New York City and Bethel Park will be in Carnegie starting Sunday for a six-week celebration of one-act plays called the New Works Festival.

Founded 23 years ago by local actress Donna Rae, the festival, which focuses on productions and staged readings of new one-act plays, has grown from a purely local event to one that has achieved international stature.

"We want to keep growing," said Claire DeMarco of Kennedy, president of the New Works board of directors. "The festival is truly becoming international."

This year it will include a play from Tel Aviv, Israel, and one from Europe that was written by a woman serving in the U.S armed forces in Germany.

Last year, the festival received a play from New Zealand, but most come from writers who live much closer to Pittsburgh, Ms. DeMarco said.

"We had a lot of plays from New York, California and the Midwest this year, but we also will be doing several by local playwrights," she said.

The festival received a total of 250 entries, she said, and 20 of those received high marks from the selection panel.

Six were picked for staged readings and 12 will receive a full production at Off the Wall Theater on West Main Street in Carnegie.

The staged readings begin at the theater at 7 p.m. Sunday and will continue at 7 p.m. Aug. 25. Admission is free.

Full productions will begin Sept. 5 and run through Sept. 29.

Patrons can buy a festival pass for $40 to see the entire roster of 12 plays or they can buy single tickets from $12 to $15 for an evening or matinee performance of three plays.

This is the first year the festival will be held in Carnegie. It has moved from last year's location at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks.

"This is a chance to refresh the festival," Ms. DeMarco said of the new location. "It's a new, beautiful theater, a very intimate space that lends itself to our style of play, with a generally small cast."

The theater can seat about 90 patrons for each show.

"We signed a three-year-deal with Off the Wall, with an option for two more years," she said, and so far she and fellow board member Andy Coleman are pleased with the new location

"The city has been very welcoming to the festival, and that is very exciting," said Mr. Coleman of the North Side, who is an actor and will appear in two festival productions.

He will play William Shakespeare in the staged reading of "A Cricket, a Grasshopper" by Tal Rayman of Tel Aviv. On Aug. 25, Mr. Coleman will appear in the main stage production, "All Things to All People" by Kyle Zielinsky, a Bethel Park writer.

Local theater companies will each produce one play in the festival.

For example, "Dinner Theater of the Absurd" by Mike Melczak of Oakmont will be produced by McKeesport Little Theatre.

"Unveiled" by J. Thalia Cunningham of Delmar, N.Y., will be staged by the Community College of Allegheny County South Campus in West Mifflin.

For an actor, Mr. Coleman said, the festival is a huge opportunity.

"When you audition for the festival," he said, "each theater company has a chance to see your work, so even if you're not right for a part in the festival, they will keep you in mind for other productions they stage during the year."

Mr. Coleman, who handles publicity and communication work for the festival, said he is also excited about the economic benefits it generates.

"Carnegie is a very walkable, friendly town. There are a lot of places where people can have dinner or drinks before or after the shows. We want people coming to the festival to have a full and fun experience and are working with business owners to give discounts to theatergoers," he said.

Ms. Demarco began as a volunteer at the festival 12 years ago when it was on the South Side. She said she liked the idea of the festival, and that a lot of it was Pittsburgh oriented. She has been an officer on the board for six years.

"I love meeting the playwrights," she said. "They are always so excited. Sometimes our festival is the first time anyone has produced one of their plays."

On Oct. 6, a gala will be held at Cefalo's Night Club and Restaurant on Washington Avenue in Carnegie.

Anyone can buy tickets to the gala, where awards called the Donna, after founder Donna Rae, are presented. The actress played the character named Terminal Stare on "Chiller Theater," the local late-night show that was broadcast on Channel 11 from 1963 to 1983.

Awards are presented for categories such as Best Production, Best Play, Best Actor and Best Actress.

A Lifetime Achievement award is also given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to Pittsburgh theater.


Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer:


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