Cedar City's Neil Simon Theatre Festival Loses Its Name Amidst New Play Contest Controversy

Cedar City's Neil Simon Theatre Festival Loses Its Name Amidst New Play Contest Controversy

Just last week, Sean P. Means of The Salt Lake Tribune published an update about the fate of SimonFest, formerly The Neil Simon Festival, which just underwent a name change and rebranding. SimonFest also holds a New Play Contest each year, a chance for a new playwright to get their work produced. With that contest comes an entry fee of $150.

This change came after Howard Sherman of the Arts Integrity Initiative wrote an article in late January pointing out that charging these "exorbitant fees for contest entrants and free labor by actors don't add up a professional experience. It ends up costing the artists to be involved, even as audiences pay in order to see that work."

Since then, the Neil Simon Festival had to undergo a name change, in part due to the Neil Simon estate's response after reading Sherman's piece on the festival.

"I found [Sherman's] argument rather narrow-minded," festival founder Richard Bugg told The Salt Lake Tribune. "He has kind of a socialist attitude, that free enterprise shouldn't be part of the arts." In defense of the fee, Bugg explained to the Tribune that the funds are used to cover the cost to have every entry read and fully critiqued. "We want to make sure they got good feedback, to make them a better playwright," says Bugg.

In a statement made to BroadwayWorld, Howard Sherman responds to the comments made by Bugg.

Rather than addressing the fact that his company is engaging in a practice that is far outside the professionally accepted parameters for play submissions to theatres or for competitive play contests, Richard Bugg has instead chosen to divert attention by ascribing political and economic motivations to my January essay."

"It appears that he seeks to diminish my points by distracting readers of the Salt Lake Tribune from the legitimate issue about which I raised concerns by deploying buzzwords, as well as irrelevant and unfounded assumptions, concerning the basis for my advocacy."

"It is unfortunate that SimonFest has lost the name rights and literary rights to Neil Simon's work. That was never the intent of my writing. However, that is a matter solely between Mr. Bugg and the Simon estate. I am not and have never been party to any of those discussions.

I stand by my original thesis, which is that no playwright should have to pay - or should pay - $150 to enter a play competition.

For more information about SimonFest Theatre Co., visit: https://www.simonfest.org

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