What happens in Dayton does not stay in Dayton!

Future Fest: Six new plays in 48 hours

By Jacqui Theobald


Photo: Richard Young during rehearsal for “The One with Olives”; photo credit: Andrew Thompson

 “New plays are hard,” longtime Future Fest adjudicator New Yorker Helen Sneed said, insightfully as usual, because now she has her own script hovering in the wings of an off-Broadway fall debut. “It makes me even more in awe of what Dayton Playhouse has been able to accomplish with Future Fest. It’s absolutely unique in the country.”For more than 20 years, Future Fest, its organizers and supporters have held a yearly competition for playwrights. Some 200-300 national submissions are received annually, each read at least three times by a reading committee, then narrowed to 12 plays. A second committee selects the winning six. Finalists will be brought to Dayton to see their play performed before an eager audience and critiqued by five theatre professionals – the adjudicators.

Three of the plays – Friday and Saturday nights’ and Sunday afternoon’s – are fully staged, meaning memorized and performed on a complete set, with props, costumes, lights and sound. Three are staged readings, scripts in hand, without sets and complex movement. All have been in rehearsal for over a month, carefully directed. The staged readings are Saturday and Sunday morning at 10 a.m. and Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

Saul Caplan, well known actor/director in Dayton theater circles said, “Directing for Future Fest is fun! There’s no road map until we establish it. We impact the future, the rewrites of the plays are affected by what’s done, seen and said here.”

One Future Fest winner hit the big time when George Clooney acquired Beau Willamon’s “Farragut North” after its off-Broadway run, and subsequently made a film, “The Ides of March,” that won several Golden Globe awards. Other plays have been published and enjoyed regional success.

Each of the six productions is followed by the playwright taking a seat on stage, along with cast and director. He – this year’s winners are all male – tells a little about his inspiration and problems. Each adjudicator discusses one critical aspect of script development:

1.Theme/Dramatic concept/Style/Language

2. Story/Plot

3. Character development/Dialogue

4. Page to stage

5. Next stage

Now, Dayton speaks. Audience members pop questions, mostly thoughtful and insightful, to the author or the adjudicators. This exchange is often most helpful in the further development of a script.

“The remarkable thing about Dayton is how nice everyone is to us,” another New Yorker and 20-year veteran, adjudicator David Finkle observed. “I write about plays and productions, theatre all over the world, but in Dayton we get to know and talk with the audience. It’s heartwarming.”

“Future Fest is the least cynical thing I do all year,” said Helen Sneed, who has been coming for some 20 years. “It gets better, more sophisticated in good ways. The New York stage could not function without the kind of experience and training ground provided here.”

According to the rules, the actors and directors are not to be judged or to influence the scores.  But the overall high quality of the productions, which is reflected by the interpretations, is often acknowledged in the adjudicators’ stage comments. They recognize good stuff when they see it.

At the conclusion of the Sunday performance, critiques and discussion, the adjudicators hustle away to do their job. This is the procedure for the ultimate selection. Six weeks or so before Future Fest, the adjudicators receive the final scripts, just in time to give each a thoughtful reading. The written scripts are worth 40 percent of the total score. However, as Helen Sneed put it in our recent phone conversation, “A play is meant to be seen and heard by a responsive audience more than it’s meant to be read. Over the years, the Dayton audience has become more and more sophisticated, ready to embrace the new, celebrate life. They are so different from New Yorkers.”

While the judges wrestle with that other 60 percent, based on what they have seen on the Dayton Playhouse stage, the hardy audience gets to rank their own choices, later compiled and announced as “Audience Choice.” It is not easy.



Think of the original challenge facing the 15 or so people with varied points of view, educators, a minister, business people, attorneys, actors, directors: playgoers – all theater lovers, all giving total attention to the task. As former English teacher Margaret Baird said, “I read only a play a day in the winter and can’t read anything else. Play reading is like nothing else.” The committee meets weekly to seriously discuss and defend choices made. Baird and the other first readers each consider 60 to 80 plays. It takes months – a serious responsibility.


Every good play needs to have a focus, opposing points of view, emotion, interaction and connections. This year’s finalists seem to be well-traveled, with varied interests and numerous prizes and heavy-weight credentials, having won other theatre awards. They live, and often teach, all over the country, as well as internationally.

“A Position of Relative Importance” by Hal Porden, Directed by Debra Kent, Friday, July 26, 8 p.m. Fully staged

The conflict in this play comes early when the job-seeking character Frank Truman finds someone is using the same name as a pen name and blogging odd things, opinions that cause potential employers to decide Truman is not hirable. Eventually he finds his nemesis and tries to get him to use another name. He finally gets an interview despite some catch-22 kinds of challenges. It’s comedy with a surprise ending.

Borden earned a Master’s in screenwriting from UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.  This is his first play. He is a trademark lawyer in Philadelphia.

“Veils” by Tom Coash, Directed by Fran Pesch, Saturday, July 27, 10 a.m. Staged reading

When “Veils” was selected, no one could have predicted that Egypt would dominate this summer’s news. This two-character play is set in Cairo at American University with women of differing needs and conflicting goals. Intisar is a veiled African American looking for the acceptance she couldn’t find in the States, and Samar is her Egyptian roommate who does not wear a veil and is focused on women’s rights. There’s increasing tension when the university bans veils on campus, fear when the first Tahir Square riots erupt and the cultural divide plays out between the two.

Coash lives in New Haven, Conn., now, but from 1996 to 2000 lived and taught playwriting at Cairo’s American University. In a phone interview from Bermuda, he talked about how kind and friendly they found the Egyptian people. “Veils” began as a one-act and was produced in the UAE: “I sat in the audience amidst veiled women and later asked why they wore the veil. It can be style, or religion, sometimes even a Christian’s choice.”

“The One with Olives” by Sam Havens, Directed by Nancy Campbell, Saturday, July 27, 3 p.m. Staged reading

A young artist and an older established artist/teacher discuss technique and meaning and those big issues of truth and creativity. Plenty of clash there. Add family pressures, money, finding one’s artistic voice; some discussed flippantly and some soul searching serious. How does an idealistic young painter learn to “play the game”? Can the older woman answer the question or is she still questing?

Havens, a Future Fest finalist in 2012 (“Curves”), lives in Houston where he’s Professor Emeritus at University of St. Thomas, teaches playwriting and screenwriting and paints. 

“On the Road to Kingdom Come” by M.J. Feely, Directed by Saul Caplan, Saturday, July 27, 8 p.m. Fully staged

Vietnam! After four combat tours, unable to acknowledge post-traumatic stress disorder and the need for treatment, thinking about his military father’s mindset, Col. Corcoran – rigidly upright and proud – has to deal with an earnest psychiatrist and his realistic wife. No question about conflicts here or issues relevant today.

Feely was born and raised in Dayton and has gotten to “come home” in 2006 as a finalist (“Bookends”), the 20009 winner (“Night and Fog”) and in 2011 a finalist (“Roosevelt’s Ghost”). His work has been produced nationwide and recognized with other major awards.

“St. Paulie’s Delight” by J. Joseph Cox, Directed by Kathy Mola, Sunday, July 28, 10 a.m. Staged reading

We read those court decisions approving gay marriage, but we seldom know the backstory for people it affects. Gay couples rush to get married, right? Well maybe for some there is conflicted thinking about that. Add a mysterious aunt’s death, some shaken dreams and find a few problems and comedic situations as it heads to a surprise conclusion.

Cox lives in Chicago, writing plays and making films. His full-length drama “Thirst” was premiered in Chicago and is in pre-production for a film adaptation of his one-act play “A Very Busy Man.” 

“The King’s Face” by Steven Young, Directed by Geoff Burkman, Sunday, July 28, 3 p.m. Fully staged 

If he lives, Prince Harry of Monmouth will be in line for the throne of England if his father Henry IV is victorious at the 1403 Battle of Shrewsbury. An arrow has lodged in Harry’s cheek, gashing deep, resting at the base of his skull and soon becomes infected. The surgeon who could save him is in prison, a coin counterfeiter. Is it a conflict of justice to let him out to save the future Henry V? How does the prince feel about the procedure? The two characters parry, somehow connecting in a mutual father/son need as they face adversity.

Young has won several playwriting competitions, adapted classics and studied novel writing in London. In a phone interview he shared his passion for history and fascination with the medical notes of the 15th century doctor. The device he invented to remove the arrow became significant in military medicine. “I think the issues of the wounded warrior, leadership, spies and terrorism all have an intriguing universality,” Young said.


They are multi-talented, multi-tasked, articulate and singularly positive about Dayton and Future Fest.

David Finkle sees the general greying of audiences everywhere. In a phone interview he mused, “We need more young people in those seats. It’s easy for kids to love the stage when they’ve been in a play. Education and exposure is absolutely necessary if we are to maintain the live stage. There must be pockets of talent as rich as Dayton’s all over the country, but what Future Fest does is unique.”

Robert Koon was a Future Fest finalist in 2002 (“Dust of the Road”). He is an experienced adjudicator and has a list of writing credits and awards. He serves as Resident Playwright and company dramaturg at Chicago Dramatists and teaches playwriting on the university level.

Faye Sholiton won FF in 1997 (“The Interview”), published by Speert Publishing and performed regionally often. She continues to write prize-winning scripts, write about theater and teach playwriting, even on cruise ships.

Helen Sneed, the ultimate experienced New York theatre professional grew up is Texas, went to Tulane and has been an admirer of FF some 20 years. She’s still working on her new play “Fix me, Jesus” As to playwriting, “I have even more respect for playwrights, all the work, re-writing it takes.”

Elanore Speert, also a long time FF judge, accomplished professinal playwright, prize-winner, is president of a self-publishing service just for playwrights. She’s Buyer for the Drama Bookshop.


The audience is called back into the theater. The playwrights sit nervously, prepared to put on a properly good sport face. That last bit of adrenaline seems to evaporate. The announcement is simple, almost anticlimactic; there are cheers, applause. The whole process, the brainchild of John Riley and Dodie Lockwood will soon resume. New script submissions start in August. It is the beginning of the yearlong effort to prepare for Future Fest 2014.


Future Fest 2013 takes place Friday, July 26, through Sunday, July 28, at The Dayton Playhouse at Wegerzyn Gardens, 1301 E. Siebenthaler. For more information regarding times and tickets, call 937.424.8477 or visit daytonplayhouse.com/index.php/futurefest.


Reach DCP freelance writer Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com. 


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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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