Celebrating the Future of Theater

 Celebrating the Future of Theater

Dayton Playhouse gears up for the 25th year of its theater festival.

Natasha Baker

Over 280 scripts are submitted, but only six finalists are chosen by a team of five adjudicators. It’ s one jam-packed weekend of fun for live theater fans. But don’t get me wrong—Dayton Playhouse’s FutureFest isn’t just about the numbers. It is about amazing, previously unproduced theater that has wowed audiences for 25 years. 

“No other community theater in the country is producing an event at this level,” says FF board chair (and Dayton Magazine columnist) Brian Sharp. “This year, we are pulling out all the stops.”

What is FutureFest?

For the past 25 years, the Dayton Playhouse has sponsored FutureFest, a festival of new and unproduced plays put on by a community theater run entirely by volunteers. Each year playwrights from around the world submit their latest works for a chance at not only seeing it produced onstage, but, more importantly, getting feedback from some of the industry’s top critics, producers and fellow playwrights. While most of the submitted scripts are from playwrights in the U.S., submissions over the years have also come from Brazil, Ukraine, Greece, and Iceland.

From the hundreds of scripts entered in a year, the FutureFest committee narrows down the selections to 12, which are then read by members of the Dayton theater community from Sinclair Community College, Cedarville University, Miami University and others. The readers chose six finalists to fly in for the festival and each full-length play is dramatized as either a staged reading or a full dramatization. 

Audience Participation

Audiences are invited to mingle with both the playwrights and the adjudicators, and are encouraged to share their reactions. 

“The theater audience in Dayton is so advanced,” shares Sharp. “They give the most incredible feedback. Our playwrights really appreciate it.”

Adjudicators from around the country select the best play and give the playwrights a professional critique in front of the FutureFest audience. The adjudicators and the audience provide constructive criticism on plot development, character development and how well the play translates from the page to the stage. The hope is that the critique will help the playwrights take their works to the next level.

“It’s a play lover’s dream come true, and an opportunity a playwright can’t get anywhere else,” Sharp adds.

This year’s adjudicators are some of the best known in the industry, including Peter Filichia, a 45-year veteran theater critic for the Star-Ledger and TheaterWeek; Jana Robbins, a Tony- and Drama Desk-nominated producer for the 2009 Broadway production of Ragtime; Andy Sandberg, a director, writer, actor, and, at age 25, the youngest producer to ever win a Tony Award; and Helen Sneed, a playwright, director and producer who has been affiliated with Dramatists Play Service, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre and Walt Disney Theatricals. 

According to Sneed, who is returning as an adjudicator again this year, Dayton’s theater-going community makes this festival possible.

“There is a great generosity about the festival and what Dayton and the playhouse have put together,” Sneed shares in a video about FutureFest on the Playhouse web site. “It’s the least cynical thing I get to do in American theater every year because of the spirit of the plays.”

Filicia agrees that FutureFest is a unique opportunity for playwrights and the theater community. “I would like to think that there probably is a real hunger for this all over the country, but the bottom line is only one community has made it happen.”

Future Success

Over its history, the festival has helped launched the careers of several well-known playwrights. In total, eight FutureFest plays have gone on to be published and/or produced. The most famous playwright to come out of the event is Beau Willimon, author of Faragut North.

The original script won the 2005 Dayton Playhouse FutureFest, where it was first produced to rave reviews by critics and a warm response from audiences. The play has since been turned into an Oscar-nominated screenplay. The film, The Ides of March, directed by George Clooney, was released by Sony Pictures in October 2011 and starred Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Celebrating the Past and Future

After more than 50 years, Dayton Playhouse has become a fixture in the Dayton theater community. The organization has served as home to numerous actors, playwrights, directors and producers over the years, including being the stage where Dayton native Rob Lowe made his acting debut. 

Throughout the spring and summer, the Playhouse will invest in projects to upgrade the lobby and performance space of the facility, located at the Five Rivers MetroParks Wergezyn Gardens on Siebenthaler Avenue. 

“So many great people have invested in the Playhouse over the years. We can’t wait to see their reaction to the upgraded spaces,” Sharp adds. 

This year, FutureFest will kick off with a Thursday night celebration of the 25th anniversary including performances of 10-minute scripts written by each adjudicator, a Comedy/Tragedy Art Auction and live entertainment. There are also talks of a possible publishing agreement for the winner, but nothing is settled yet. 

FutureFest 2015 is July 17-19 with the anniversary celebration happening on Thursday, July 16. Tickets are available now at thedaytonplayhouse.com.