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SFA’s new play festival prepares new works for ‘the big time’

NACOGDOCHES, TEXAS—The Festival of New American Plays at Stephen F. Austin State University continues to feed new works into the mainstream of American theatre. Many of the plays, which were first developed at the SFA School of Theatre, have had continued success elsewhere.

Most recently, “Love/Sick” by John Cariani, which had a staged reading at SFA during the 2012 festival, had its world premiere at Portland Stage, Maine’s leading year-round professional theatre. Playwright Cariani recently wrote to Jack Heifner, SFA’s playwright in residence and the director of the biennial play festival, “Can’t thank you enough for all you did to help me get this play ready for the big time!”

The Portland Stage website calls “Love/Sick,” “A series of funny and sad love stories – some gone wrong and others gone right – exploring the complications of romance in the suburban jungle. From a bride-to-be whose literally cold feet are holding up her marriage, to a career-minded couple who forgot to have a baby, this world premiere production is a romantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers. A new play from Maine playwright and award-winning actor, John Cariani, author of ‘Last Gas’ and ‘Almost, Maine.’”

The Festival of New American Plays returns to SFA next year as part of the School of Theatre’s Mainstage Series and promises another great lineup of new plays, according to Heifner.

“All of the new plays in the festival are rehearsed on campus with students from the School of Theatre, and the playwrights attend the performances,” Heifner said.“ Often the writers cut, rewrite or change their works during the week of performances.”

Heifner’s own work from last year, “Hate Mail,” was presented earlier this year at the Key City Public Theatre in Port Townsend, Wash. Heifner was the guest playwright at the event. Constance Congdon’s play from the last festival, “Take Me to the River,” is slated for a production at the Denver Theatre Center in the near future.

Other works that have gone on from SFA include two plays written specifically for the New American Play Festival. Both “Drive-In Dreams” and “Swimmers” by the late James McLure were first done on the SFA campus. “Drive-In Dreams” had an off-Broadway production in New York last year. Carol Hall’s recently published collection of short plays, “The Days Are as Grass,” has four plays out of eight that started their life at the festival.

Some of Heifner’s other works that began life at SFA in staged readings have gone on to larger venues. “Lucky” was performed in Phoenix, “China Dolls” at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and “Earth to Bucky” at Bay Street Playhouse in Sag Harbor, N.Y. Two plays by David Ives, “The Green Hill” and “Bolero,” had never been presented until they were read at the 2000 festival.

Started in 1998, The Festival of New American Plays has so far presented more than 30 new works. When the festival returns to SFA in April of 2014, the weeklong celebration of theatre will feature new plays by American playwrights along with a chance to meet the writers and hear them talk about their plays.

For additional information about the play festival or other theatre productions at the university, contact the SFA School of Theatre at (936) 468-4003 or visit www.theatre.sfasu.edu.