Theater festival coming up

June 16, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Ed Herendeen smiles broadly as he walks through the backstage areas of the Contemporary American Theater Festival.

Shepherd College students are working alongside theater professionals from New York City with the lighting, costumes and sets in preparation for the seventh annual event, which runs from July 9 through July 27.

Since the festival started, Herendeen, 43, has seen it grow from attracting local residents to attracting theater fans from across the Mid-Atlantic region.

The growth has been spurred on by favorable reviews from newspapers in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Richmond, Va., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, he said.


About 7,000 tickets were sold in 1996, double the 1995 sales, and income rose from $32,000 to $62,000, Herendeen said.

"What's really remarkable as an artist is to see how the theater festival is having an impact not only on the cultural life but also on economic development and tourism in the region," Herendeen said.

Local motels and bed and breakfast inns are booked for the festival and restaurants are expected to be packed, he said.

But Herendeen said his goal remains the same as when the festival started - to produce contemporary American plays.

"My goal is to create the future of American theater," he said.

Part of the thrill for the performers and the audience is that the plays are original works, Herendeen said.

"I believe our success demonstrates there's a number of people willing to take the risk (of a new play)," Herendeen said.

Plays that opened at the festival have gone on to theaters off-Broadway and in Washington, he said.

This year's plays are "Lighting Up the Two-Year-Old," by Benjie Aerenson, about three men who conspire to beat the odds when a race horse is unsuccessful; "Demonology," by Kelly Stuart, about a baby formula company executive who fears acts of feminist sabotage at his plant; and "Below the Belt," by Richard Dresser, about workers for a faceless corporation stationed in a remote outpost in meaningless jobs.

Herendeen said the festival looks for plays about contemporary issues because they can provoke debate and discussion - so a college setting is ideal for them.

"Contemporary theater should be relevant," Herendeen said.

The festival also gives students a chance to learn first-hand about what he tries to teach them in the classroom. Shepherd offers a minor in theater.

Herendeen is a firm believer that students who want to become actors should also understand lighting, costume design and set-building to make them better-rounded performers.

Herendeen said teaching students other behind-the-scenes skills also gives them other job opportunities in theater if they do not get acting jobs.

"If you learn lighting, you're much more marketable and can make a better living," he said.

"It's so much practical information," said Shepherd student Joseph Martorella, 19, of Huntington, W.Va., as he took a break from hammering a set together. "It's one of the things that brought me to the school."

"Ed says all the time that theater is a collaborative art," said Katie Griggs-Steinhorn, a 17-year-old sophomore at Shepherd, after cutting boards for a stage.

The Herald-Mail Articles