Contemporary American Theater Festival announces new play commission

OUR SHEPHERDSTOWN by Jeffrey Lieber, based on Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN

Shepherdstown, WV, Dec. 05, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Shepherdstown, W.Va: The Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, nationally known for developing and producing new plays, announces its twelfth play commission, Our Shepherdstown. Based on the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder, Our Shepherdstown captures the unique and vibrant personality of historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and its people.

“We are so honored to call Shepherdstown our home. This town and its residents have been instrumental in developing CATF’s new play experience. Shepherdstown is the artistic home for many theater-makers from across the country,” CATF’s Artistic Director Peggy McKowen states.

“New play commissions reflect contemporary society. And what better way to celebrate and reflect on our community than to create a play about the community?”

Jeffrey Lieber, the playwright of Our Shepherdstown, first came to Shepherdstown in the summer of 2023 as a CATF company member. Lieber wrote Fever Dreams (of Animals on the Verge of Extinction), which performed at the Shepherdstown Opera House as part of CATF’s July season. His summer in Shepherdstown inspired the contemporary adaptation.

“After rehearsals for Fever Dreams, I’d walk about town. At night, with fireflies everywhere, the sound of the train in the distance, and the reverent silence of the various graveyards, I kept thinking that Shepherdstown is the real-life embodiment of Grover’s Corners from Thornton Wilder’s beloved classic Our Town.”

Since October of this year, Lieber has been interviewing Shepherdstown leaders and residents to gain insight into the town.

Lieber calls the new play “a love letter to Shepherdstown.”

On Friday, December 8 at 6:30 p.m., CATF will celebrate the commission with a benefit that supports the Festival’s upcoming season. The benefit will include reading an excerpt of Our Shepherdstown by professional actors and area residents with a potluck dinner to follow. The benefit will take place at Christ Reformed Church in Shepherdstown, which was donated to CATF by the congregation earlier this year.

In addition to the developmental reading, CATF is hosting a free event on Saturday, December 9 at 2 p.m. at the church. Lieber and McKowen will discuss the importance of creating new plays and read a portion of the script. Afterward, attendees are encouraged to share their Shepherdstown story with Lieber to help him continue to write Our Shepherdstown.

“It’s critical that Jeff speak to and hear from as many Shepherdstown residents and visitors as possible. That will give him an even deeper, fuller understanding of this amazing town,” McKowen shares. “We invite everyone to hear from Jeff and share their Shepherdstown story.

“We’re also going to livestream the discussion with Jeff on December 9. We’ll be able to talk to people online and get their stories, too,” McKowen continues.

Our Shepherdstown is supported by the Marellen J. Aherne New Play Commissioning Fund. Our Shepherdstown is the first play supported by the fund.

“CATF is dedicated to producing the plays that we commission. This isn’t true everywhere. This December, we will share a bit of the script's first act. Our Shepherdstown will continue to be developed throughout the year, and we’ll perform the world premiere next December,” states McKowen.

Tickets to the Our Shepherdstown benefit on December 8 at 6:30 p.m. are $125. Tickets to the discussion with playwright Jeffrey Lieber on December 9 at 2 p.m. are free. Reservations for both events can be made by contacting CATF’s Director of Development, Vicki Willman, at 681-240-4044 or by visiting CATF online at


Peggy McKowen Headshot Jeffrey Lieber Headshot

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