The College at Brockport Department of Theatre and Music Studies produced its first 10-minute play festival 22 years ago. After receiving 500 submissions from playwrights around the world this year, the 11th biennial “Festival of Ten” will premiere 10 shows in the Tower Fine Arts Center, 180 Holley St., Brockport.
The program will run at 7:30 p.m. on March 1-2 and 7-9, as well as 2 p.m. on March 3. The matinee performance will be ASL-interpreted.
This year’s plays are “Self-Promoted” by Jessica Austgen, of Aurora, Colorado; “Playing with Fired” by Steven Hayet, of Marlboro, New Jersey; “Scissor Stars” by Douglas Scott Cathro, of District Heights, Maryland; “And Then There Were None” by Yilong Liu, of Honolulu; “Edifying Klara” by Shauna Hicks, of New York; “The Last Wish” by James Menges, of Lodi, California; “Helpline” by Chris Karmoil, of Reseda, California; “I Was Fine Until You Came in the Room” by Rich Orloff, of New York; “Present Tense” by Emily Hageman, of Denver; and “The Morning After the Fall” by John Bavoso, of Washington, D.C.
The 10-minute format is difficult. As with any play, the piece needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. With less time to develop characters, the playwright is automatically challenged, as are the actors and directors who are trying to convey the playwright’s intention.
The birth of the “Festival of Ten” stems from a similar program that Jon Jory, artistic director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville, instituted at the Humana Theatre Festival in Kentucky.
“Since it was, and is, always so difficult for new playwrights to get their works produced or even read, the 10-minute play was developed, allowing authors to have their voices heard,” said P. Gibson Ralph, department chair.
This concept spread like wildfire, especially in academic and regional theatrical settings.
“There were other 10-minute play festivals in our area, but we were the first in the region to cast such a wide net in soliciting plays,” Ralph said. “This ensured that we would get submissions from the most talented writers in the genre and, being an international solicitation, we could occasionally receive plays about how the rest of the world views various situations.”
As the “Festival of Ten” grew, it helped cement the department’s reputation with the Dramatists Guild of America, a professional organization that ensures the welfare of professional playwrights. The Guild became a resource for alternative methods of soliciting the plays.
The festival’s affiliation with the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival helped solidify its processes, such as instituting the blind reading of plays. Though individual screeners can read up to 100 plays, no group of the same three screeners read more than the same 25 plays. Ruth Childs, an associate professor in the department, chaired Region II of the KCACTF national playwriting program.
As a designer, Ralph said he enjoys looking at the 10 plays that have been selected.
“Often, there is a theme that helps unify the scenic design,” he said. “One year, it seemed that a majority of the plays had people entering or dramatically exiting through doors, so doors became the motif for my design. Another year, it was chairs.”
In a throwback to “Our Miss Brooks,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” four of this year’s plays take place in workplaces of one form or another.
Gary Musante, technical director, remembers that, in the beginning, “submissions were not blind, and some notable names entered scripts, including actor Ted Lange, of ‘Love Boat’ fame, as well as Hindi Brooks,” a TV scenarist who wrote for “The Waltons” and “Eight is Enough.” More recently, Stu Silver, screenwriter of “Throw Momma from the Train” and a writer for the TV series “Soap,” has seen one of his plays presented.
“The auditions and casting process are so different and fun,” Childs said. “Usually a director can pick and choose their cast from whoever auditioned, but with 10 directors in the casting session, these are run like a football draft. You might end up getting a first pick and a third pick amongst your cast, but everything works out for the best. It’s quite convivial in those casting sessions.”
Several playwrights will attend the final performance on March 9 and participate in a post-show discussion.
Tickets cost $17 for general admission; $12 for seniors, alumni, faculty and staff; and $9 for students. Call (585) 395-2787 or visit brockportarts.universitytickets.com for information.