Theatre Companies I Want to Form: 2 of 3

Click here for the beginning of this series.

2) Tiny Gems Theatre

Another event that happens in the theatre community at large is the ten-minute play festival.  It happens a lot more than the 24-hour plays does – Source Festival in DC does three separate groupings of ten-minutes each year – but once again this is something that I believe should be a regular thing, instead of a special event.

The key is that there are a f***ing metric ton of good to GREAT ten-minute (and twenty-, thirty-, forty-minute) short plays out there.  Almost every ten-minute play festival, for reasons I have never remotely understood, requires new plays.  There are dozens or hundreds of these festivals and contests every year, worldwide.  I say why not have a theatre company that mines the rich, rich history of short plays and the deep coffers of our nation’s playwrights to put on extremely high-quality, curated shows of short works?

Seriously, everything from the shorts of Beckett and Albee to the Source festival highlights of yesteryear could be fair game.  Unlike the Source festival, it would not operate as a new-play competition (there’s no need!) – it wouldn’t shun new plays, but it wouldn’t specifically solicit them.  The operating method I envision – which admittedly would be a good deal trickier than Suddenly Theatre’s – would be a continuous, rolling show, year-round, forever.  It would probably only work if it’s essentially a trunk show that can hop from available venue to venue, but it would go something like this:

The debut show would be, say, two hours of short works.  Directors would set the program (in contrast to Suddenly Theatre, which is programmed by its leadership around current events or 24-hour play themes, and focused on the playwright).  A director would submit to do a short play – could be a ten-minute by a local writer, new or old, could be a short from a writer on the other side of the country that recently got second-place in some other theatre’s ten-minute play competition, could be a classic published in one of the numerous ten-minute collections out there.  Something like 45 minutes would be the time cap.  The final program might end up consisting of four ten-minutes lasting about an hour with transitions, comprising the first act; intermission; and then a twenty-minute and a thirty-minute.  Or maybe it would be a 90-minute show of just ten-minutes; doesn’t matter as long as it’s all short works.

At the end, the audience votes, either by immediate ballot or later on the website.  The debut program runs as-is, in however many venues it’s scheduled into for, running maybe two weekends.  Then we take a break for, say, three weeks.  In that time, we tabulate the votes and determine the top x number of plays based on audience vote.  Those x plays come back, having had time for improvement and extra rehearsal (and cast changes, if necessary), in the following program #2.  The rest of the bill is filled with newly added short plays, rehearsed concurrently with the run of the first program and during the break in between.  Program #2 runs two weekends and then the process is repeated; there’s another break, new plays voted “off the island,” and a new bill for program #3.  And so on, ad infinitum.

The reason for the voting is so that – particularly as the theatre tours around, hopefully playing at different locations throughout the year – everyone who wants to can have a chance to see the standout works.  It also brings in more audience engagement and incentive to return; if you know that your favorite from program #5 is coming back for #6 along with a bunch of new plays, you can say to your friends “hey it’s got this one that I really liked and would see again!” plus it has new stuff to give you reason to come back.  It’s always a mix of the fresh and the battle-tested, to ensure both dependable quality and possibility.

Eventually a maximum number of return engagements for highly-rated works would have to be set before a play gets “retired.”  And every once in a while perhaps a longer break would be needed to gather resources.  And and and, perhaps every once in a while, a “greatest hits” show could be put on – perhaps with a longer (Helen Hayes-length?!?) run – consisting of pieces that were re-voted enough to retire.  It’d make a good capstone for a year and might very well precede a longer break between “seasons.”

I doubt that, again, once the model proves viable, it would be difficult to get quality scripts and interested directors and actors.  (One choice that would have to be made would be how much of an internal company of designers, actors, etc Tiny Gems itself should have, or whether the Theatre should essentially just be a central organizer for entirely director-prepared pieces.)  There are always tons of young & hungry directors and actors looking for work, and if the turnaround time is kept as nice and quick as it can be for short plays – say two weeks of on-your-own-rehearsal, half a week of tech, and then two weekends of performance, boom, you’re done within a month – then the more in-demand professional actors can fill the gaps between their major engagements with a quick and fun turn at Tiny Gems.  (While it would be a service for Tiny Gems to become more or less a testing/training ground for the young & hungry, it’d be nice to also make sure that the quality of work is assuredly professional-level.  A mix of recent grads and pros would serve well.)

Again, audience-oriented, mobile.  Again, a unique service.  I truly believe that it’s a crime that the wealth of short plays that are out there only turn up on rare occasions, mostly relegated to college-course performances after their one-time-only competition debut.  So it’s a service to the theatre in that way; and because the length of each show could be variable, it would be easy to stage Tiny Gems shows at unique spaces and times to give audiences “extra” theatre in their lives – Saturday at 6pm before a regular show, or 11pm afterwards, or Monday and Tuesday night out in the suburbs, five bucks and catch an hour of short plays, whatever.  It could work.

And even if the rolling-show method is unfeasible, I still think it’d be cool to have a company that does existing, high-quailty short plays in a regular season.

Come back Friday for the thrilling conclusion to this series!  Same Brett time, same Brett channel.

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One comment

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