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January 31, 2002

School of Drama planning 10-minute play festival

Next week the School of Drama is inviting people to see eight plays for the price of one. How can they make such an offer? By presenting 10-minute plays — brief gems of dramatic writing that take you through a complete story in less time than most people spend on a coffee break.


Never heard of a 10-minute play? It’s a form popularized by Actors Theatre of Louisville, which has been producing them at its Humana Festival of New Plays for years. Now that ATL’s former director, Jon Jory, is a professor in the School of Drama, it’s no surprise that the school has decided to launch a 10-minute play festival.


“It allows us to address a perennial problem, which is the constant balance we have to strike between directing students who need to work with graduate actors and graduate actors needing to work with more experienced directors,” said Drama School Director Sarah Nash Gates. “With the 10-minute plays, a graduate actor can work with a student director in one play and a faculty director in another.”


Faculty member Mark Jenkins is directing five of the plays and coordinating the festival as a whole. Three graduate directors are each directing one of the remaining plays. And 11 actors from the Professional Actor Training Program take on multiple roles to form the casts of all the plays.


“It’s really a fail-safe evening of theater,” Jenkins says. “If you don’t like one of the plays, wait 10 minutes and it’ll be over and another one will start.”


Ten-minute plays are established enough as a format that there are actually collections of them available for purchase. It was out of these collections that Jenkins chose the plays to be presented. He says their themes and approaches vary widely, from comedy to fantasy to drama.


Only one of the playwrights, William Mastrosimone (Extremities, Shivaree) is well known generally, but one of them is well known in the drama school. James Fitzmorris, a doctoral student in theory and criticism, is the author of Le Chat Noir, which tells the story of one couple’s relationship.


“Mark (Jenkins) knew I’d had some of my plays produced elsewhere, so he asked me to submit some scripts for consideration,” Fitzmorris says. “My 10-minute plays are pretty wild and imaginative, though, and Mark didn’t think they fit in with the others he’d chosen.”


So Fitzmorris read the other plays and wrote something for the occasion, though not exactly from scratch. He has two “big” plays on his computer, he explains, that will never be produced. He’s continually adding to them, trying things out, and from time to time mining them for material he can use elsewhere.


“There was some good stuff in one of them about relationships, so I took that and reworked it into this play,” Fitzmorris says.


Le Chat Noir contains scenes of a couple’s first date and their breakup, but Fitzmorris has added a twist. We see the beginning of the first date, which suddenly segues into the breakup, followed by the rest of the first date.


“So we see the excitement of the beginning, but also how the ground is laid for the end,” Fitzmorris explains.


Fitzmorris has an MFA in playwriting and dramaturgy, and has been writing plays for 12 years. “I started out as a painter, but then I realized most of my drawings told a story and I gravitated more and more to dramatizing my stories,” he says.


But though he’s here while the festival’s other playwrights are not, Fitzmorris has not gotten involved in his play’s production. Playwrights, he says, should butt out. “You don’t want to become a second director, or the nervous Nellie squirming in the fourth row and interfering with the actors’ process.”


The actors have had quite a process for the festival. They’re rehearsing different plays from one night to the next and each is performing two or three roles. But according to Jenkins, they love it.


“When you do one full-length production, some people get big roles and some don’t,” he says. “In the play festival, everyone gets a meaty role, and they also get the chance to show different sides of themselves in different plays.”


The other plays in the festival include:


The Intervention by Anne Washburn. A group of people unravel while waiting to have an intervention with one of their friends who has an unrevealed problem.


Going Nowhere Apace by Glenn Merzer. A loutish man makes attempts to hit on women in a satire on health clubs.


Sin Eater by Don Nigro. Based on a Gaelic ancient tradition that says when somebody dies their body is dealt with by a sin eater, this is a retro-necro love story.


Eating Out by Marcia Dixcy. Three women struggle with various kinds of eating disorders.


Lynnette has Beautiful Skin by Jane Anderson. Three young people deal with the frustrations of small-town living.


Precipice by William Mastrosimone. A group of climbers face being lost on a mountain.


Marred Bliss by Mark O’Donnell. Couples find out what happens to pre-matrimonial bliss when the subconscious seeps up through the cracks in this farcical play based on slips of the tongue.


The 10-minute play festival runs Feb. 10–24 at the Penthouse Theatre. Tickets are available at the Arts Ticket Office, 4001 University Way N.E., 206-543-4880.