Nashville playwright Matthew Carlton's original work Hanging Mary is a highlight of Barter Theatre's twelfth annual Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights (AFPP) July 6-July 13 at Barter Stage II in Abingdon, Virginia. In fact, Carlton's play will kick off the series of free readings of new plays included in the festival.
Encouraging audiences to take part in the development of new plays that will ultimately be performed for them makes AFPP truly unique, according to Nicholas Piper, director of the AFPP and new play development for Barter Theatre.
"We're helping to tell their stories, so we want them to be a part of the process," Piper explains. "This program has become a success because of the audience's involvement. More and more, theatres across the country are looking to Barter's AFPP as a place to find works that connect with their audiences."
Eight new plays have been selected to be read by Barter's professional company of actors. Admission is free, and each reading is followed by a discussion with the audience, selected panelists and Barter artists.
And the process works, Piper contends: Some of Barter's most popular plays have been developed through the AFPP including Keep on the Sunny Side: The Songs and Stories of the Original Carter Family by Douglas Pote, First Baptist of Ivy Gap by Ron Osborne and last year's The Road to Appomattox by Catherine Bush.
Later this fall two plays-both of which were read during AFPP 2011--will be given their first professional productions at Barter: The Wind Farmer by Dan O'Neill and October, Before I Was Born by Kingsport native Lori Tate Matthews.
In addition to staged readings, Barter offers a limited run of a mini-production-July 31-August 11-the Second Stage of the development process, which is essentially a full production with minimal technical elements. Catherine Bush's Walking Across Egypt, adapted from the novel by Clyde Edgerton, tells the story of Mattie Rigsbee, a woman who is always ready to help those in need. But when a stray dog shows up on her porch, 78-year-old Mattie decides she is too old to keep it and calls the pound. Little does she know that her encounter with Lamar Benfield, the dogcatcher, will send her on the journey of a lifetime.
"Because of the great success of the world-premiere of Where Trouble Sleeps-also written by Clyde Edgerton and adapted for the stage by Bush-we are all excited about the continued collaboration of these two writers," Piper adds.
On July 31, opening night of Walking Across Egypt, a special event is scheduled at 6 p.m.: Barbecue and Fixings on Porterfield Square with Nicholas Piper, director of the AFPP, Barter playwright-in-residence Catherine Bush and author Clyde Edgerton speaking on the importance of the AFPP, followed by a performance of Walking Across Egypt at Barter Stage II. Tickets are $32 for this one-day special event and include dinner and performance. Tickets are $20 for all other performances of Walking Across Egypt.
"Audience participation is vital to the AFPP process, so we invite locals and tourists alike to attend," Piper maintains. "For many playwrights, this is the first time their work is being read in front of an audience and the first time they are hearing the words spoken by the characters. All the playwrights are excited to have a reading of their work by Barter professionals, and we are happy to have the opportunity to help them develop their work."
For more information, call (276) 628-3991 or go to www.BarterTheatre.com/festival for details.
The 2012 Selected Plays for Barter's Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights:
READING #1: FRIDAY, JULY 6, 1 p.m