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The Contemporary American Theater Festival, a four-week summer theater festival located on the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown annually produces new American plays in rotating repertory. The festival was founded in 1991 in partnership with Shepherd by Ed Herendeen and college president Michael Riccards. It has since grown to be the largest fully professional theater in West Virginia and has won praise for its productions from playwrights such as Joyce Carol Oates, Jon Klein, and Jeffrey Hatcher.

The festival is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the leading organization of nonprofit theaters in the nation, and has a League Of Regional Theaters ‘D’ contract, allowing the festival to bring in a company of Equity actors and other theater professionals from around the country. The Contemporary American Theater Festival has seen more than 50 world premieres and has commissioned and produced 11 new American plays, many of which have moved to other regional theaters. In 1999, the festival received the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Cultural Organization for the commissioning and production of Cherylene Lee’s Carry the Tiger to the Mountain. In 2014, the festival made its Off-Broadway debut with the transfer of its production of Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons.

In addition to annually producing four to five plays, the Contemporary American Theater Festival has featured professional puppetry, dance, and music groups as well as a late-night comedy club. In 2019 alone, the festival issued more than 18,500 tickets to 6,000 patrons from 38 states and countries around the world. The New York Times has named it one of the nation’s “top theater festivals.”

Contemporary American Theater Festival website

This Article was written by James McNeel

Last Revised on August 18, 2023


Cite This Article

McNeel, James "Contemporary American Theater Festival." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 18 August 2023. Web. 22 February 2024.

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