Summer fests heating up circuit

New Mysteries, Asian-American fests debuting

With the Tony Awards hullabaloo winding down, legiters are free to turn their attention to the annual round of summer fests.

Add two more to the list.

One new entry is founded on the idea that it’s a mystery why the mystery play has all but disappeared from Broadway and the West End. Former Rialto producer Zev Buffman is on the case.

Buffman, now prexy and CEO of RiverPark Center in Owensboro, Ky., has organized the first ambitious installment of what he hopes will be an annual showcase of new mystery plays and screenplays.

“In the last eight or 10 years, only a few new mysteries have been attempted on the big stages like the West End and Broadway,” he says. “The style has almost disappeared, while mystery novels are selling like hotcakes, and 40% of television is the ‘CSIs’ and ‘Law & Orders.’ ”

The Discovering New Mysteries fest, set to run June 12-17 in Owensboro, presents fully staged productions of six new plays, along with six presentations of new screenplays in the style of radio plays. Works, culled from more than 1,000 open submissions, include a couple of well-known authors, such as Ed McBain, prolific scribe of the 87th precinct novels, and William Link, the creator of TV mysteries “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote.”

The fest has attracted the participation of such notables as scribes Sue Grafton (“A is for Alibi”), Ira Levin (“Deathtrap”) and John Jakes (“North and South”) and agent Samuel “Biff” Liff, all members of the executive committee that helped select the fest’s lineup. Auds will vote, “American Idol”-style, on the standouts, a few of which receive cash prizes.

Budgeted at $1 million, the multivenue event gets a hefty chunk of its funding from the state of Kentucky as well as both the county and the city of Owensboro, according to Buffman, whose Broadway producing credits include the original production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and the revival of “The Little Foxes” that starred Elizabeth Taylor.

Thinking big, Buffman hopes the fest’s new mysteries can have future lives on legit stages — and adds that the radio-play readings of screenplays could also live on as content for satellite radio.

“We’re broadening the horizon of product for a future market,” he says.

Meanwhile, in Gotham, the first National Asian-American Theater Fest, running June 11-24, will showcase more than 25 Asian-American companies from around the country presenting 140 total performances of 35 shows in 14 different venues.

Total funding: $350,000.

But while the event may be low-budget, the organizers — including New York troupes Ma-Yi Theater Company, Pan Asian Rep and the National Asian American Theater Company — are hoping the exposure will be priceless.

Festival planners aim to make the fest a biannual event — alternating with a national conference for Asian-American legit producers — with each incarnation hosted by a different city. Part of the goal is to open up the talent pool to opportunities outside New York and L.A., on the university and regional circuit.

“I don’t have to tell you we’re underserved,” says Jorge Ortoll, exec director of Ma-Yi, summing up the situation for Asian-American thesps, helmers and designers. “You know all the bitching,” he adds good-naturedly.

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