Daniel Morgan Shelley has been acting professionally for five years. The Julliard graduate, who came to town earlier this week to begin rehearsals for the Contemporary American Theater Festival, admits it took him a little time to get his footing in the world of theater.
But, he said, this is what he lives for interacting with the audience, other cast members and the crew. Shelley feels its his role as a storyteller to keep live theater enduring.
"I feel like I'm part of a very long tradition of storytelling that has gone back a long time," he said. "People go to the theater to have an experience."
The Contemporary American Theater Festival company, board members and staff and locals enjoy a picnic on the Frank Center lawn Monday evening. The CATF Board organized the welcoming function for the Season 21 company. (Chronicle photo by Tricia Fulks)
And it is experiences that CATF Producing Director Ed Herendeen hope the cast and crew create for themselves and the audience this summer as they embark on the Season 21.
Monday CATF staff and board members as well as many locals welcome this year's cast, crew and playwrights with a picnic on the Frank Center lawn to kick off rehearsals for this season's festival.
Herendeen gave remarks, noting that it is the story that bring people in.
"We believe that the stage is absolutely essential viewing for anyone interested in ideas and the power of story," he said. "Ideas are powerful, but stories are more powerful."
He added, "'Tell me a story' still comprises four of the most powerful words in the English. Stories have forever been cultural threads. They help make sense of our world."
And this year, all of these stories, the newest plays in American theater, will be told in Shepherdstown, Herendeen said, the oldest town in West Virginia.
"The power of place has everything to do with the success of the Contemporary American Theater Festival," he said.
The shows that will kick of Season 21 include Tracy Thurber's play "The Insurgents," in which CATF received a donation to commission. Shelley will play the part of Nat Turner in this play. Others include Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet's "Race," which has already appeared on Broadway, and Sam Shepard's play, "Ages of the Moon," which premiered in Ireland before CATF bought the rights.
Tracy Thorne is a playwright new to CATF, but her play, "We Are Here," will be directed by CATF veteran Lucie Tiberghien, in her fifth season with the festival.
Thorne recruited long-time friend and film and television actress Tamara Tunie to play the part of Vera. Tunie said she had hoped to one day be in Thorne's play, and as a Broadway producer, she also appreciates CATF's mission.
"It is my desire to see as many American playwrights produced on the Broadway stage as I can," she said.
Tunie said it is obvious the CATF board and Herendeen are engaged and committed to the playwrights and what they do.
Kyle Bradstreet can attest to that.
Bradstreet's show, "From Prague," the fifth show the the rotating repertoire, will have its world premiere at this year's festival. Herendeen will direct. Bradstreet, who has produced various one-acts off Broadway, written "Alcohol." and "Honor Thy Mother," did readings in his Brooklyn apartment before CATF bought the rights to it.
"Working in the room with (Ed) is absolutely incredible," Bradstreet said. "He's so responsive of the playwright. He wants to work side-by-side with the playwright and make sure we have the same vision."
For the month of June, until the festival kicks off July 8, the actors will be in rehearsals on Shepherd University's campus while the crew prepares the sets and costumes.
"Over the next two months," Herendeen told the company Monday night, "we have been granted the privilege to make theater and make believe."