Contemporary American Theater Festival is ‘a highlight of my summer’

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This column I wrote was published in The Spirit of Jefferson this week:

I have to admit being somewhat skeptical about theater in West Virginia when I first learned of CATF. I have lived in New York City since 2001, and New Yorkers are known for being a little snobby on certain subjects – fashion, shopping and the theater among them.

I’m not particularly fashionable nor do I like to shop, but I love the theater. I have a subscription to a theater company in the city, and I see several Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway productions every year so I didn’t really expect to see thought-provoking, heart-racing, contemporary theater in the hills of West Virginia.

I mean, I’m from the mountains of North Carolina, so I know something about folksy arts and crafts and homegrown theater – we have Unto These Hills, the story of the Cherokee and their removal via the Trail of Tears, but c’mon, West Virginia and contemporary American theater? OK, I was more than “somewhat” skeptical.

Then, I went.

My initial visit was the 2011 season, and my assumptions were immediately proven wrong — very wrong. My first play, “The Insurgents,” was like a good sermon that brings comfort to the uncomfortable and discomfort to those who are too comfortable. That first season, I only got to see two plays.

The following season, I saw three plays — “Barcelona,” “Gidion’s Knot” and “Captors,” all of them amazing. As a public schoolteacher, “Gidion’s Knot” really affected me. It was a play about the worst parent-teacher conference ever — the student has killed himself, and the mother comes looking to lay blame. Like any good theater, it left me with questions. Questions about teaching, of course, but also questions about what it means to live in a society with others.

After that, I was hooked, seeing all five plays last summer – “Modern Terrorism,” “Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah,” “Heartless,” “A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World” and “H2O.” While I can’t say as I liked all five — no one should like all the plays given the wide range at each season — I can say that they all made me think, some of them disturbed me and made me more than a little uncomfortable. That, I think, is what good theater does. And CATF does it very, very well.

Not only did I fall in love with CATF, I fell in love with Shepherdstown. I actually thought about moving to Shepherdstown after that second season! The town has everything that you could want — great theater, great restaurants, a fantastic book store, a great running store, arts and crafts, and more, all wrapped up in its lovely setting on the Potomac. I couldn’t make the move work, but coming back every year for CATF is a highlight of my summer.

To be truthful, it’s a highlight of my year. And, yes, I’m seeing all five plays again this year. So, I’ll see you at the theater  … or in the bookstore … or at Two Rivers Treads … or at Betty’s for breakfast!

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4 thoughts on “Contemporary American Theater Festival is ‘a highlight of my summer’

  1. Aria Laskin

    Dear Mr. Yount,
    I’m in 9th grade now still at SOF, it’s weird to not see any of my 6th grade teachers and now even naje is gone. I was wondering that if I sent you some of my writing if you could tell me what you think of it. I like to know what people think of it and to be honest having your mom tell you it’s good isn’t exactly the most reliable way to get feed back.
    From Aria
    P.s you were one of my favorite humanities teachers along with cricket!!!

    • Aria! How wonderful to hear from you. I’m sorry that so many people have moved on from SoF, but that’s the nature of teaching! I am going to be at SoF on October 20th, trying out a lesson in the seventh grade. I will try to come by and see you!

      You were a great writer in sixth grade! I would love to read your writing. E-mail me at alanyount@yahoo.com.

      Hope to see you soon!

      – any –

      Alan N. Yount

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