FutureFest in Dayton: One of the nation’s most-fascinating theatrical weekends is back

Event returns to Dayton Playhouse.

It’s great news for theater lovers: A hugely popular theatrical event is back.

FutureFest, the festival of new plays, returns to the Dayton Playhouse this summer with some new twists but with the format that has made the weekend such a hit with both audiences and those involved with the productions. The event is slated for July 19-21.

Now entering its 33rd year, the competition will celebrate five playwrights whose scripts were selected from more than 400 submissions. The finalists will travel to Dayton for the opportunity to see their work come to life on the Dayton Playhouse stage.

The winning playwright receives a stipend and will also have their play fully staged as part of the 2024-2025 Dayton Playhouse regular season.

Here’s why theater-goers love Future Fest:

  • The Playwrights: How often do you get a chance to sit next to playwrights and engage them in conversation? Or chat with them at intermission? Or hear them explain how they came up with the idea for their play? It’s one of the weekend highlights.
  • The New Plays: Future Fest audiences are introduced to new scripts, many that have never have previously performed.
  • The Adjudications: Professional critics are on hand to discuss each play following every performance. It’s fascinating to hear the pros analyze everything from plot to character development. They don’t talk about the acting or directing; the focus is on the script and how successfully it transfers to the stage.
  • The Setting: You may be sitting in a darkened theater, but at intermission and between shows you’ll be surrounded by the beauty of nature. The Dayton Playhouse is located in Wegerzyn Metro Park with its charming walking trails and paths and Dayton’s whimsical children’s garden.
  • The social interactions: Future Fest offers plenty of opportunities for conversation, whether you’re munching donuts, standing in line at the restroom or enjoying the opening reception or Sunday picnic dinner.

Streamlining the weekend

While these key FutureFest ingredients will remain the same, some changes are in store.

“During the pandemic, we still produced Future Fest, but it was all online,” said Tina McPhearson, who is co-chairing this year’s festival along with Debra Strauss. “We went back to our original format in 2023, but realized that the festival needed a fresh look. So, we took a year off to convene a group of theater professionals and asked for their suggestions.”

The result is a streamlined festival with two new adjudicators and five plays instead of the traditional six.

“We realized that Saturday was a very long day when we did three plays and we wanted to even out the days for the adjudicators and our audience,” McPhearson said. “We wanted to make certain that each play received enough time for adjudication and more time for Q and A from the audience.”

It was also decided to perform each script as a staged reading.

“This allows us more time to concentrate on the work of the playwrights, which is the reason we produce the festival,” McPhearson said.

Actor Jackie Randall would agree.

“Staged readings are such a cool way to present a story,” she said. “With minimal props, lights, sound cues and costumes, the audience’s focus rests uniquely on the words of the script.”

Randall is excited about appearing in the play, “The Chrysalis.”

“Playwright Joe Ricci has beautifully written the story of family, love, and moving on to the next phase of life, as messy as it can be,” she said. “The characters feel very real and relatable which is fantastic as an actor and an audience member.”

Lynn Vanderpool has acted in seven FutureFest productions over the years. Now, for the first time she will be directing. The play is “Unabashedly” by Mike Teverbaugh.

“As a director, I have a new responsibility; to keep the intentions of the playwright clear, to make sure each and every character is true to the playwright’s vision, and to set the atmosphere of each scene for my actors to play in,” Vanderpool said.

She’s been in contact with Teverbaugh via email and is looking forward to meeting him in person.

“It truly can be a collaborative process and is always a joy to celebrate the successes of their work.”

Teverbaugh of Los Angeles spent 30 years writing for television, but started writing plays around the time of the pandemic. His play entitled “Unabashedly” will kick off the FutureFest weekend. The plot centers around two people who meet in the newsroom of a major American newspaper and are inexorably drawn together.

Teverbaugh, who lives in Los Angeles, is looking forward to seeing what Vanderpool and her case will do with his script and what other bits of meaning they extract from it.

“The care and thoughtfulness with which complete strangers mount a production of something I wrote thousands of miles away is kind of inspiring,” he said.

He said it’s likely that he’ll make minor adjustments to his play after getting feedback throughout the FutureFest weekend.

Other playwrights who will be honored at Future Fest include:

  • Erik Gernand, an association professor of instruction in Radio-TV-Film at Northwestern University, who is both a playwright and filmmaker.
  • Joe Ricci of New York, who came to writing and directing as an actor and has written everything from burlesque to musicals.
  • Alexander Earl Dremann of Philadelphia who has had more than 500 of his short plays produced in cities around the world.
  • Catherine Butterfield of Santa Monica, Calif. who, during the pandemic, along with her husband, created more than 60 short films for a series entitled “Life During Lockdown.”

For the ideal FutureFest experience, you’ll want to see all five plays and immerse yourself in the festival. Tickets to individual plays are also available.

How to go

What: FutureFest, a weekend festival of new plays

When: July 19 through July 21. Plays are slated for 8 p.m. Friday night, 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton

Tickets: Weekend passes are $100 and available online now at daytonplayhouse.org. Tickets for individual plays will go on sale for $20 beginning July 8 or are available at the door one hour before each play for $23.

More info: 937-424-8477

Primary sponsor: Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority (RTA)

Here’s a rundown of the plays being presented:

Friday, July 19

  • 7:30 p.m. Opening reception
  • 8 p.m. “Unabashedly” by Mike Teverbaugh. Synopsis: Two people, with a past they had no idea they shared, meet in the newsroom of a major American newspaper and are drawn inexorably together.

Saturday, July 20

  • 2 p.m., “The Four”, by Catherine Butterfield. Synopsis: They were best friends when their children were growing up, but now one of their sons has committed a violent racial act that has attracted national attention. Can an interracial friendship sustain that kind of stress? How far do you go to protect a child whose actions you abhor?
  • 8 p.m. “The Chrysalis” by Joe Ricci. How do you say goodbye to a houseful of memories? It’s been over a year since John Sicura’s beloved wife of 45 years passed away. When his adult children come for Sunday dinner to their childhood home, John announces he is selling the house. Over an epic eight weeks of preparing the house to be sold, digging through boxes and boozy late-night talks on the roof lead to self-reflection and surprising confessions.

Sunday, July 21

  • 10 a.m. “The Cure” by Alex Dremann. Synopsis: When her twenty-four year old son wills himself to death and donates all his organs, Joan goes on a quest to understand why. Along the way, she meets five of the organ recipients who all seem to remind her of different parts of her son’s personality, but it’s not until she meets her son’s heart that she finally learns the truth.
  • 3 p.m. “The Totality of All Things” by Erik Gernand. Synopsis: Judith Benson runs a world-class high-school newspaper program in a small town in Indiana where she convinces her students to strive for truth in journalism. When an act of graphic vandalism rocks the small, quaint town where everyone used to get along, Judith goes on a mission to catch who did it.
  • Free dinner at the theater for pass holders (following play)
  • 6:30 p.m. Awards presentation

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