Apr 21, 2008 - Jarad Petroske
It started in a classroom a decade ago, to become one of the most anticipated and popular events on the annual HSU performance schedule. Beginning April 24, the HSU Ten Minute Play festival celebrates its tenth birthday with this year’s slate of imaginative comedies, dramas and fantasies created and performed by HSU students.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Margaret Thomas Kelso, HSU professor in the Theatre, Film and Dance department and coordinator of the festival, who began it in 1998. “The whole festival grew out of an end-of-the-class presentation in the advanced playwriting course. It was very informal, with no sets or costumes. But it was successful, and each year we kept adding to it, and it’s grown and grown to the point where it is a major part of the season. It’s an event people look forward to.”
This year’s festival features eight new ten-minute plays running the gamut from intense drama (“Beneath the Gas,” set in a Nazi death camp, and “Daughters,” about the interrogation of a suspected terrorist) to high comedy (“Condition Blue,” in which a criminal coddles a depressed detective) and meaningful fantasy (“Mail Room Madness,” in which a contemporary Dilbert converses with his letter opener, and “To Womb It May Concern,” a dialogue between twins on the pros and cons of being born.)
Subjects include a personal relationship in crisis (“A Day in the Park”) and the search for a meaningful life (“You Are Here.”) “There are three plays in this festival that relate to current political issues,” Kelso noted, “which is kind of unusual for us.” Besides the aforementioned “Beneath the Gas” and “Daughters,” the war in Iraq is examined by the ghosts of two friends and adversaries during the Crusades who meet on a contemporary battlefield in “The King’s Crusade.”
This year’s playwrights are Jonny Barrett, Joseph Castro, Clayton Cook, Alex Costello, Mackenzie Cox, Henry Echeverria, Alex Gradine and Kevin McCaffree.
After that first presentation of ten minute plays in a classroom in 1998, this event moved from one small black-box theatre space to another. One year it also played in Eureka, at what was then the World Premiere Theatre of Playwrights in Progress. It was only in the last several years that the 10 Minute Play Festival in the Gist Hall Theatre became part of the official Theatre, Film and Dance season, ending the school year.
But it still doesn’t necessarily look like other productions on the schedule. There are costumes, but “we still keep the setting very simple,” Kelso said. “We use just a few black wood blocks because that helps to unify all the plays.”
The festival is also still an outgrowth of the Play Development Workshop, an advanced playwriting class. “The focus in that class is on the collaborative development of plays,” Kelso said, “and the festival is a natural progression of that. Actors and designers and others in the class all get the play when it is fresh they give the playwright ideas and suggestions and feedback. But that’s where it ends in terms of the class.”
“Now students of that class submit scripts for the Festival. Other students can, too—this year we have scripts from the beginning playwriting class, and one from a fiction writer in the English department who has never written a play before.”
“We get about 35 plays a year now. A committee of faculty chooses somewhere between 7 and 10. Then each of those scripts gets a director, a cast of actors, plus some costume and design support. And the collaborations continue.”
For the playwrights, the creative process doesn’t stop with the Festival production. “We really look at the audience response—what do they get and enjoy, what aren’t they getting? And playwrights rewrite after that. That’s an important part of the process.”
“While the audience is important in all play productions, it’s particularly important with new plays, because that’s how the playwrights know if what they are trying to communicate is getting across.”
Why has the festival become so popular? “It’s exciting to see what the next generation of writers and theatre people are interested in,” Kelso said.
In terms of production values and polish, the Ten Minute Play Festival is still relatively modest. “But in terms of importance, and people really anticipating it,” Kelso said, “as well as students putting a lot of energy and effort into it, it’s become a big event each year.”
The 10th annual HSU Ten Minute Play Festival plays Thursdays through Saturdays, April 24-26 and May 1-3 at 7:30 p.m. in Gist Hall Theatre on the HSU campus in Arcata. Tickets are $5 general, $3 students and seniors, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. HSU students free limited seating. Http://HSUStage.blogspot.com