This past week, The Ashland New Plays Festival (ANPF) had their 2023 annual Fall Festival, a celebratory week-long festival featuring public readings, talkbacks, a playwriting workshop, and more fun events. The Ashland New Plays Festival began in 1992, when a group of theatre enthusiasts came together and launched a unique collaboration among local theatres and playwrights. The objective was to present new works, giving audiences, actors, and playwrights a role in the evolution of a new play. This year, ANPF was able to present three new plays written by up and coming playwrights: Lyons Pride by Blue Beckford-Burrell, Ashland by Isabel Estelle, and A Long Time Coming by Weston Gaylord. These three playwrights were the winners of the Festival submissions put in during the 2022 season.
While all the plays were wonderful, The Siskiyou was only able to attend one play reading, that of Ashland by Isabel Estelle. Ashland takes place in the title city and surrounds a family and partner of Vim, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to end her life in three months via a physician-assisted suicide to avoid the worst parts of her sickness. The play follows Vim’s sickness and the reactions of those surrounding her: Emily and Sebastian: Vim’s two elder siblings, Wes: Vim’s partner who has only recently entered her life, and Susan: the physician who helps them along the way. This play follows a non-linear timeline in which the play begins after Vim’s death, then going back in time and follows the three months where she and her family struggles with her illness and decisions. The play ends with Wes, Vim’s partner, folding laundry like they always did for her, showing that life continues after death.
This was a wonderfully written play and it showed afterwards at the talkback where the audience got to ask questions of the playwright. The first audience question and comment was about how Estelle came to the wonderful decision to write this play in a non-linear format. Estelle answered with the fact that half of her readers liked the idea, while others did not understand how it contributed to the story. Estelle explained that she kept it non-linear because her gut told her it was the right decision, and well, she liked it.
Many other questions were about how she was able to fit humor into such a somber story, to which she told the audience that life seems to happen no matter what is happening around us. The scene in question was when Emily, Wes, and Sebastian were going to spread Vim’s ashes along Mt. Ashland, but her ashes had turned into a brick, creating a funny moment despite the bleak atmosphere. Estelle explained that a similar experience happened to her after her grandfather’s passing, resulting in her entire family cracking up despite the situation at hand. Estelle successfully was able to include many bits of humor throughout the story, making for there to not be a dry eye in the house—from crying or laughter.
This play was a wonderful experience of what it means to lose someone you love, and also move on because life goes on no matter what happens. The Siskiyou can not wait to see what plays grace the Mainstage Theater at SOU in ANPF’s Fall Festival next year!