SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.V., and GREAT BARRINGTON, MASS.: In the visual arts, the contemporary genre known as “maker culture” explores the intersection of traditional and technology-based media. The spark of contemporary theatre-making can found at that same intersection, as two festivals this summer prove.
In West Virginia’s oldest burgh, Shepherdstown, new works by intrepid writers inundate the stages of the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) at Shepherd University, for its 24th season. And in the Berkshires, Mass Live Arts (MLA) returns for a second year to satiate a colossal cultural appetite, with MLA’s founder and artistic director Ilan Bachrach pulling together a feast of bold theatrical flavors and playful technological touches.
For three weeks, the Berkshires will host works by choreographer Faye Driscoll; playwright Sibyl Kempson (with musician Mike Iveson Jr.); and director Phil Soltanoff, one of whose two new media performances is An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk.
Monday nights are movie nights at MLA/14. Your date? The late director and playwright Reza Abdoh. Programming this year includes the screening of Abdoh’s “The Bogeyman Trilogy,” which documents three performance pieces made and filmed in the early 1990s. In another filmic venture, Nature Theater of Oklahoma is remaking Andy Warhol’s 1964 black-and-white film Empire, all eight-and-a-half hours of it. But instead of aiming a camera at the Empire State Building, as the original film did, NTO sent out postcards on which to inscribe original art, then animated the images. Empire will be one of two gallery exhibitions at the festival, the other being Andrew Schneider’s Acting Stranger, in which Schneider documents the result of an experiment in which he wrote short scenes—no exposition, no inciting incident, no denouement—and then advertised a need for participants via Craigslist.
While CATF’s offerings may not be as form-bending, three world premieres push content boundaries. In Christina Anderson’s The Ashes Under Gait City, cult behavior is seen through a technological lens and 19th-century exclusionary laws. Thomas Gibbons’s Uncanny Valley,partnered with the National New Play Network for a rolling premiere, explores neuroscience, morality and the truth (or is it the artifice?) of becoming human. And Chisa Hutchinson’s Dead and Breathing treats aging and euthanasia with an irreverent twist. Also represented at the festival are Pulitzer-winner Charles Fuller (with the Iraq vet drama One Night) and Bruce Graham (with the working-class comedy North of the Boulevard). If the conventional is a ticket to oblivion, both Mass Live Arts and CATF 14 are on track to more stimulating stations.