Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Curiosity of 10-Minute Plays at the Phoenix Theatre

I love 10-minute plays. They're short, of course, but the good ones give us interesting characters, make a point and tell a whole story in that brief ten minutes.

For what I think is the first time, Illinois Wesleyan's two directing classes, under the tutelage of professors Scott Susong and Nancy Loitz, are presenting a slew of 10-minute plays. I counted 19 plays in all, directed by students in Susong's and Loitz's Fundamentals of Directing classes. They've split up the plays over three nights, with the first session, consisting of six plays, last night. These student-directed and student-acted pieces will continue on Thursday and Friday nights back in the cozy confines of the Phoenix Theatre, tucked underneath the Memorial Center on the IWU campus.

Last night, I think we saw the following performances:

Black Paintings (#1) by Neil Olson
Krystal Martinez, director
Male: Aaron O’Neill
Female: Kate Fitzgerald

Blue Skies by Marvin L. Cotlar
Allison Sutton, director
The Painter: Alyssa Julien
The Man: Joseph Chu

What I Learned From Grizzly Bears by Jessica Lind
Laura Martino, director
Bernadette: Rae Brattin
Husband: Jacob Krech

Blue in the Face by Kayla Cagan
Brooke Trantor, director
Andrew: Marek Zurowski
Marion: Bri Sarkcioglu

She’s Fabulous by Jack Neary
Antonio Gracias, director
Clarisse: Chantericka Tucker
Bethyl: Elaina Henderson

Black Paintings (#2) by Neil Olson
Mary Holm, director
Male: Patrick Burke
Female: Morgan Latiolais

Because I love 10-minute plays and work with them extensively every year (I chair a committee that runs an annual 10-minute play competition and festival at Heartland Theatre), I find it fascinating to see which ones stand out for other people, which ones work and why they work, and just how much the direction and performances can make of these slender scripts.

All of the plays directed by Wesleyan's directing students come from one volume, D. L. Lepidus's "The Best Ten-Minute Plays for Two Actors." It's curious we saw two versions of "Black Paintings" in the same night, but it's a dandy little play and I can understand why students would be attracted to the material, about an artist who wants back some black paintings he left with his former mentor. His ex, the daughter of that mentor, isn't willing to give them back, and that creates some snappy dialogue and a whole lot of conflict.

The other script I liked was "She's Fabulous" by Jack Neary, where two actresses sit in the audience at "Death of a Salesman," sniping at the rival who snared the role of Linda that they both coveted. It's an in-joke for actors, but well-written and a lot of fun.

It's a great idea for IWU to offer this kind of showcase for its students and give them the opportunity to see how their directing efforts pay off on stage. I'd love to see them expand it, add a playwriting class, and have the directors and actors work on plays created (and workshopped) by classmates. They can try plays for Heartland's 10-Minute Play Fest while they're at it.

For more information about the Fall 2010 Fundamentals of Directing Ten-Minute Play Festival, try their Facebook page. I'm guessing they'll be starting at 8 pm on Thursday and Friday as well, but you should get there early if you want a seat. Every seat was filled at last night's performance.

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