Giving playwrights a voice

New Voice Play Festival opens Friday night

New Voice Play Festival opens Friday night

June 25, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - For some guys, dressing up in women's clothing can be sort of, well, a drag.

But Ed Conn of Charles Town is taking it all in stride - bustle and all.

"This has been a different experience for me. It's been fun," Conn said during rehearsals.

Conn plays Mrs. Cartwell in "The Enlightenment of Mrs. Cartwell," one of four plays that make up the Old Opera House's New Voice Play Festival. The festival is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Conn calls Mrs. Cartwell a "broad" who gets bent out of shape after misinterrupting some gossip.

In order to take on his more feminine role, Conn said he's been preparing by watching a lot of "The Golden Girls" and "Designing Women."

"I'm taking Julia Sugarbaker and Suzanne (Sugarbaker, both characters in 'Designing Women'), adding everybody together for Mrs. Cartwell," Conn said.

Steven Brewer, executive director of the Old Opera House, said the New Voice Play Festival is "one of the elements of the Old Opera House that I'm most proud of."


Each year, the Old Opera House asks playwrights from across the country to submit one-act plays. Brewer said the works must be original, unproduced and unperformed.

"We like giving a voice to these playwrights (who) in some cases have never been heard of before, never had a chance to get their work staged. That's always exciting," Brewer said. "And it gives our actors (a chance) to develop the work from scratch."

This year, 65 entries were submitted. Four were selected as the winners.

Brewer said each of the one-acts runs between 15 and 20 minutes.

The Golden Curtain Award is given to Jim Gordon of East Norwalk, Conn., for "Drinks with Charlie." In this comedy, Brewer said an investment banker goes to the home of a client to get her to invest in a new venture. But the tables are turned on the banker.

The Silver Stage Award was given to Daniel Damiano of Astoria, N.Y., for "The Enlightenment of Mrs. Cartwell." The comedy takes place a century ago, when bustles were part of women's clothing.

Heather Rager of Frederick, Md., is directing "The Enlightenment of Mrs. Cartwell." Rager has been on the Old Opera stage before as an actor. This is her directorial debut with the ensemble.

Rager, who teaches theater at Linganore High School in Frederick, said getting original work is exciting.

"Usually you're doing something 100 other people have done before," she said. "It's nice that my take is the first take on it."

And personally, Rager said she's excited that she was able to do "Mrs. Cartwell."

"I was glad to do this particular work," she said. "This, for me, is kind of a lot of fun. This fits my personality."

Spotlight Awards were awarded to Joan Dunayer of Champaign, Ill., for "Objects of Value," and Carl L. Williams of Houston for "Portrait of a Mannequin."

"Objects of Value" is the only drama in the mix. The story takes place during World War II. Two Jewish women are forced to be appraisers for the Nazi regime. The pieces they appraise were confiscated from the women's Jewish neighbors. Brewer said they learn about the value of life throughout the play.

"Portrait of a Mannequin" is a comedy about a painter who starts to see success when he sells two paintings. But his wife becomes upset when she realizes that though one painting is of her, the other is of her close friend painted in the nude.

Rager said something like New Voice Play Festival, which features original work, should excite not only the director and actors, but the audience as well.

"They are the first audience to see these productions," she said.

If you go ...

WHAT: New Voice Play Festival

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Old Opera House, 204 N. George St., Charles Town, W.Va.

COST:$12 for adults, $8 for students or children

CONTACT: For tickets, call 304-725-4420 or go to

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