Portland is a Writer’s City, with the celebrated bookstore Powell’s at its heart and a long history of authors ranging from schoolroom favorite Beverly Cleary to psychedelic Ken Kesey, from gritty urban fabulist Chuck Palahniuk to science fiction doyen Ursula Le Guin. For fans of new plays there are regular events like Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival, which brings playwrights, dramaturgs, directors and other artists from around the world for a July jam, and the annual Fertile Ground New Works Festival, which provides venues throughout the city for a ten-day celebration of new plays as readings, staged readings, and a few fully-staged performances.
But outside of such festivals the resources for local playwrights are fairly thin pickings, with a notable exception being the efforts of the remarkably long-lived Portland Civic Theatre Guild. Its origins go back to 1905, when Portland Civic Theatre was founded, a community theater which for many years held a prominent place in the city before eventually closing its doors in the mid-1990s. During its long life it had sprouted a small offshoot in 1958, the Guild, dedicated to producing play readings. This group has survived the original company to this day.
Since 2013 the Guild has held the New Play Award Contest, open to Portland area playwrights. The award includes not only a reading at Fertile Ground, but a playwright’s honorarium, a paid director and actors, and all of the production work (e.g. programs, publicity, venue fees) that make a public playwrighting happen.
In addition, from October to May the Guild offers a season of eight play readings on the first Tuesday of the month. The balance has increasingly been moving more towards local playwrights (chosen from applicants to the New Play Award), with three this year featuring Oregon writers and next year’s season a four/four split.
While play readings are usually a distant second or third in most playwright’s minds to a production or workshop, the readings offered by the PCTG aren’t the result of two hours’ rehearsal and some mismatched music stands. Each show is provided with a paid director and cast, and the playwright and director are encouraged to meet as far in advance as possible to discuss the play and its presentation. (And here I speak from experience: the director of my play Bible Stories for Agnostics, being produced by the Guild this March, met me for coffee last September to discuss his initial thoughts and some casting ideas.)
For more information on the guild along with guidelines for submission to the New Play Award, go to www.portlandcivictheatreguild.org
JOHN LONGENBAUGH's plays include Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol (Dramatists), the short play collection Arcana (Dramatic Publishing), and Bible Stories for Agnostics. He's also the creator of the Victorian alternate history show BRASS, available as a podcast, stage shows and short films. More info at battlegroundproductions.org.