Opera Theatre

ARTS: Opera House festival lets audience vote on plays | News

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New is the operative word for the 22nd “New Voice Play Festival” at the Old Opera House Theatre Company and Arts Centre in Charles Town. Audiences have the opportunity to vote on their favorite play from the four that are being performed for the first time.

Playwrights from all over the country submit their works, which are judged “blind.” 

“The judges have no idea who the playwrights are,” said Steve Brewer, the Old Opera House’s manager and artistic director. “This year we had 50 submissions. The eight judges are all people who have been associated with the Old Opera House.”

The one-act plays are performed each day of the festival. Two plays are presented at first, then there’s an intermission, followed by the second two plays. The plays have a time limit of 10 minutes to no more than 40 minutes. The audience then votes at the end of all four performances. 

The work voted Best of the Festival receives the Golden Curtain with a cash award of $250; second place is the Silver Stage with a $100 cash award; and next comes the Spotlight Award (that has up to two winners) for $50. The judges decided beforehand on five plays that received Honorable Mention and a Certificate of Merit. These plays are not performed at the festival.

This year’s works are “A Safe Place” by Mike Byham of Southlake Texas; “It’s Only Fitting” by Jennifer Hart of Fredericksburg, Virginia; “Friday Afternoon Bridge Club” by Lloyd “L.D” Potter of Rapid City, South Dakota; and finally “Snip, Snip” by Charlie Perkins of Charles Town, the only local entry in the group this year.

Plays are received from all over the country from September until March. Brewer reported that the cash award is not the main objective for those who participate. “For these playwrights, the fact that their plays are being presented in front of a live audience means more than the award,” he said. “Even with multiple festivals like this across the country, the market is highly competitive and so many plays go unseen.” 

Perkins, the only local playwright whose work is part of the festival, agreed. “It’s great that the Old Opera House is giving its support to new playwrights. It’s vital that we get our voices heard,” he said. 

Perkins said he has always loved the theatre. He has performed in productions at the Old Opera House since 2004. He received his first award from New Voice in 2014 for his play “No Small Parts,” getting an Honorable Mention. He went on to earn the Golden Curtain Award (first place) in 2019 for “Yard Sale.”

“I kept trying and finally climbed the mountain,” he said. He added he has always had writing as a hobby.

In his current New Voice play, “Snip, Snip,” Perkins said he has written about “not nice” characters for the first time. The main character decides to have a vasectomy without telling his wife who suddenly decides she wants to have a baby. 

“He lies and she lies because she cheats on him. They are reprehensible,” Perkins said. “I was always told to write what you know. We all tell white lies. To make a play in this case, you take the white lies and blow them up.”

Perkins and his wife Kelly Pannill-Perkins have lived in Charles Town for four years. He works for the Virginia Department of Education as an inspector of children’s care centers and day care homes.

Audiences decide which one-act play is the best at the “New Voice Play Festival” at the Old Opera House Theatre Company and Arts Centre. Four plays are performed June 17, 18 and 19. Shows on Friday and Saturday start at 8 p.m. The Sunday matinee is at 2:30 p.m.

For tickets, go to the website at oldoperahouse.org or call the box office at 304-725-4420. Mask wearing for patrons will be optional.

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