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Q&A with Provincetown Dramatic Arts’ Margaret Van Sant, Producer of The O’Neill Festival of New Works.

There’s a new theater festival in town. Fresh on the heels of September’s annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival,  a local festival has popped up bearing the moniker of the original American playwright, Eugene O’Neill. As we all know, back in 1916, Eugene O’Neill premiered his first play Bound East for Cardiff right here in Provincetown, making this place the birthplace of American Theater. This weekend, Provincetown Dramatic Arts gives us the O’Neill Festival of New Works, an event that, according to its producer, Margaret Van Sant, is intended to be an annual event that presents new works by Cape Cod playwrights, continuing the tradition that O’Neill began over a century ago right here. Although this first iteration will not include a production of an O’Neill play, that is the plan for future editions. For now, the festival begins with its main goal of celebrating the continuing theatrical community on the Cape.

Provincetown Magazine: So is this the first time the festival is happening?

Margaret Van Sant: This is the first time it’s happening. And we’re doing something different. You know, it’s not a reading and it’s not a full production. It’s modeled after some development programs in theatre where the playwrights have been working with a dramaturg for several weeks, kind of the workshop part. And I mean, really good dramaturgs. Really good dramaturgs like Len Bergman, who has been at Sundance every summer for 25 years. Really, really fantastic people–Susan Kosoff, who founded Wheelock Family Theatre, Dan Lombardo, who’s worked at WHAT for years. So they’ve been working with the playwright in refining and rewriting scripts. And then it’s going to the actors—well some of them have been having Zoom rehearsals—to put it up on its feet using  minimal blocking, and then present the reworked scripts and the performances and get audience feedback. And it’s really for the playwrights who have refined the work and to get interest for full productions.

PM: So the plays that are in this year’s festival, they’re all written by Cape Cod playwrights, but the plays themselves are diverse in theme?

MVS: Very diverse. And it’s been really successful for the playwright so far. Some of them are presenting pieces that they’ve been working on for several years and really getting the opportunity in this program to refine them and focus on the development, finding out exactly what they want to say through this work with the dramaturgs and with the directors. That’s been a real gift to them. And then we have another theater company, Helltown Players. Four of the playwrights in this festival are members of the Helltown Players [a new local production company]. And, you know, Helltown is going to focus on full productions. So this kind of development work can funnel through to hopefully some of them becoming Helltown full productions.

PM: I think it’s great to have a Eugene O’Neill festival. We already have the Tennessee Williams festival, and they are two totally different American playwrights who brought different things to the uniquely American theater.

MVS: And also, you know, that’s our legacy in Provincetown. And so many of us are here because of the connection and love of O’Neill and Williams. You know, you want to come and breathe the same air, feed off the same energy, and so many theater people are in Provincetown because of Susan Glaspell and Clifford Odets, and, you know, we can go on and on; there’s not just O’Neill and Williams. This is for playwrights. We wanted to come together to be able to show that, you know, we’re not a monument; we’re an active thriving theater community and we’re producing wonderful playwrights.

PM: So what is it that you love about theater as an art form that’s caused you to devote your life to it really?

MVS: I’m thinking. Well, I think number one is that it brings people together. Theater has two sides. You have the play, the work of the actors, and that creates a real family trying to speak to somebody about a social situation. And then the audience comes together to kind of understand themselves and each other. It really is a coming together of everybody to learn what it is to be a human being. And that, I know, sounds grand, but that’s what I love about it. People always leave the theater changed, either having had a joyous experience and they want to go out dancing and singing from a musical, or, you know, being contemplative about an understanding. And then also, the other thing is I love that Moliere quote: “All you need to do theater is a play, a plank, and a passion.” Theater can come in immediately and address a new social problem or situation. And you just need to look at El Teatro Campesino, [which came together during the Chicano and United Farm Workers movement in the 1960s]… Immediately, a small theater company can come in and talk about what they’re trying to achieve, what they’re undergoing, what they’re going through. You don’t need a big performing arts center to do theater. You just need a play, a plank, and a passion. And you know, it’s accessible
to everybody.

The O’Neill Festival of New Plays runs October 6 – 9 at various Provincetown venues and times throughout the day and evening. For a schedule, tickets, and information, visit

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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