One of the most fascinating aspects of FutureFest is the opportunity to learn from the playwrights what inspired their plays. This year provides a perfect example of the range of their subject matter.
Shanti Reinhardt of California says the character of Berenice in her play “Otis” is based on her grandmother. “I visited her in Manhattan every summer. She was quite a character and I was always fascinated by her everyday interactions with the occupants of her Upper East Side Building,” Reinherdt explains. She’s hoping audiences will appreciate “that sometimes there is a higher comic force leading the way through our human struggles and that it is possible for grief and joy to occupy the same space.”
William Cameron’s “Truth Be Told” was inspired by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and the claims of a Florida college professor that the massacre was a hoax.
“I was working on the play in August 2019 when the shootings took place at Ned Pepper’s bar in Dayton,” he recalls. “One of the nine people killed was a 25-year-old man named Nicholas Cumer. Nicholas was from my hometown of Washington, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know him and do not claim his tragedy as my own, but his death in my mother’s hometown brought the issue of gun violence close to home.”
He’s hoping, he adds, that the play triggers more than a few conversations. “The play explores the nature of objective truth and the ways in which we manipulate and distort it to serve our own ends.”
In “Tall Woman with Red Fan,” playwright Michael Sloane focuses on the art world. “I hope an audience will discover, like I did, that creating art and putting it out there — no matter what that art might be — takes a particular type of bravery,” he says. There’s a Degas quote in the play, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Cary Simowitz is interested in crafting stories that center on parent-child relationships in which the child is significantly different from his/her/their parents. He was influenced by Andrew Solomon’s book “Far from the Tree,” a 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize non-fiction winner.
“I am hoping that a hearing audience may be introduced to a culture they may know very little about, perhaps sparking further interest in learning more about the deaf community and a deaf audience may find their experience reflected back in a piece that has been carefully designed to cater primarily to them,” says Simowitz. “More subtly, I am hoping that the piece will speak to any marginalized individual who has found themselves trapped ‘between worlds’ — their culture and the dominant culture.”
The cast includes both deaf actors who live in different states, as well as local actors and interpreters.
What’s special about acting/directing a new play?
Ryan T. Shannon hadn’t heard the name James Thurber when he was cast in the role of the famous humorist in the Future Fest play “Talk of the Town” by Mike Bencivenga. When Shannon began doing research on the Columbus, Ohio native, best known for his cartoons and short stories, he realized he did know some of his work.
“If he has taught me anything, it is that we must allow ourselves to be happy, taking what life throws at us in stride and making the most out of our lives,” says Shannon. “True happiness is found when you surround yourself with the people you care about and do the things that you enjoy.”
Jamison Meyer, the director of “Shylock the First,” enjoys working on plays that are in their infancy.
“Shows at this level have fresh new ideas and allow the actors and directors to really stretch themselves as opposed to doing existing well-produced shows that we have set expectations for,” he explains. “It is also a great way to really put the playwright front and center. It’s so much fun to see what the adjudicators feel needs to be changed and what needs to be cut.”
One of this year’s adjudicators is Eleanore Speert of New York, who is returning to the festival for the 18th time.
“FutureFest has deep roots in Dayton’s love of theater, and the process of making it, and that dedication speaks to me, as a theater professional and theater lover,” says Speert.
She says Playhouse producers and audiences are always open, curious, discerning, and fun. “The input from the adjudicators and audience is steeped in appreciation for the writer’s craft, and the festival strives to be helpful to the writer in the next steps of getting their plays into theaters,” Speert adds.
The good news, says Playhouse board chair Matt Lindsay, is despite limitations this year, the Playhouse is still able to bring brand new dramatic plays to anyone in the world. “We’re hopeful these playwrights have networks of people who wouldn’t normally travel to Dayton but may buy tickets and as a result we may have a broader audience,” he says. “It’s a wonderful festival and we are wholeheartedly embracing this interesting challenge of finding new ways to do things.”
Synopsis of 2021 Future Fest Plays
“Otis” by Shanti Reinhardt, California ― When a free-spirited fashion maven who grew up on the streets of New York buys a co-op in a staid Upper Eastside building, five longtime residents discover they have more in common than just the walls that separate them.
“Truth Be Told” by William Cameron, Pennsylvania ― Kathleen Abedon’s son allegedly carried out a mass shooting before taking his own life. When a true-crime writer comes to town to interview her for a book about the crime, she tries to convince the skeptical journalist her son was framed.
“All the Oxytocin in Your Fingertips” by Cary Simowitz, Missouri ― A deaf of hearing individual, raised in a household where sign language is forbidden, secretly navigates three communities united by a belief that communication (and love) can ignite from sparks alive in your fingertips.
“Shylock the First” by Andrew R. Heinze, New Jersey ― Will Hatcher, Shakespeare’s beloved protege, has been cast to play a Jew called Shylock. Will, in love with a converso whose family remains proud of its Jewish ancestry, struggles over his character who seems more monster than man.
“Talk of the Town” by Mike Bencivenga, New York ― Adapted from James Thurber’s classic novel “The Years With Ross,” this is the story of the birth of The New Yorker magazine in the 1920s and paints a portrait of its eccentric creator and editor, Harold Ross. It also chronicles the rise of James Thurber from a small-time Ohio newspaperman to a world-famous humorist and cartoonist.
“Tall Woman with Red Fan” by Michael Sloane, California ― The great-great grandson of a revered American artist discovers a hidden work by his ancestor and wants to put it up for auction. The auction house sends a prickly art expert and her assistant to examine the painting and figure out whether it’s real.
HOW TO GO
What: Dayton Playhouse’s virtual FutureFest 2021
When: All six plays are currently available for screening and can be viewed through Sunday, July 25. Online sessions with the playwrights, judges and casts are scheduled for Friday, July 16 through Sunday, July 18. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, the festival winner will be announced online.
Tickets: Tickets to single shows are $15. A festival pass ― for access to all six productions ― is $60. Those who buy a festival pass will receive a ballot to vote for “Audience Favorite.”
More info: For more information, an online program and a schedule, visit wordpress.thedaytonplayhouse.com.