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Meeting of Theatrical Minds

National Theater Conference comes to George Mason June 9-11.

Shaping the future of live theater will be center stage at George Mason University in the upcoming days.

“Audiences have so many options for entertainment these days,” said Heather McDonald, co-artistic director of the Mason Theater of the First Amendment (TFA). “But, live theater dazzles in ways that a solitary event such as watching television or interacting with a computer screen or watching a YouTube video cannot. Theater, what the audience sees and hears, is a wonderful communal event, not done in isolation.”

McDonald and Kevin Murray, the longtime TFA managing director are two of the keys planners for a national conference, Playwrights in Mind, A National Conversation sponsored by the Dramatists Guild of America in partnership with George Mason. The conference meets June 9-11, at the George Mason Inn Conference Center.

McDonald, the conference is essential and timely. “Since there has been a shift in how audiences are being entertained, now it is not just the printed page and Broadway that tell stories,” she said.

For Murray, the conference gives Fairfax County the opportunity to be spotlighted on the national theater scene. Also, the conference is geared to helping and serving playwrights. “The public can attend and listen to some of this country’s foremost theater minds and great playwrights of our time take on the future of theater, and the public can hear it first-hand,” Murray said,

Expected presenters at the conference include Tony-Award Winning playwright Edward Albee, Pulitzer Prize Winning Marsha Norman, Tony Award Nominee and Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Durang, Oscar and Grammy Award winning Stephen Schwartz, MacArthur Genius Award and Pulitzer recipient Suzan Lori-Parks.

The opening keynote will be given by Molly Smith the artistic director of Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage for the past 11 years. “There is nothing like the live theater experience to carry an audience away,” Smith said. “Each night a new story is created between the audience and actors. It’s the ultimate interactive engagement. Real human beings telling the story through their own bodies, hearts and minds.”

Gary Garrison, executive director, Creative Affairs of the Dramatists Guild, said that “theater is essential to the culture of our country ... a live performance has a way of involving an audience to stimulate thought, to provoke actions, to engage in emotional discourse that film, television and the internet simply don’t.” The Dramatists Guild is the professional association of playwrights, composers, lyrists and librettists with over 6,000 members.

Why is a national theater conference at Mason? The environment will be “away from chaos … and George Mason has the extraordinary Theater of the First Amendment, a theatre company devoted to the development of new plays,” said Garrison. “What a perfect situation for a national organization.”