And the Third One Was…Well, You Know

There’s never enough full-length plays and musicals in production to satisfy all of the writers and actors desperately looking for opportunities to work, and of course, the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have halted film and television production as well.  But there is one production avenue remaining which, while it won’t make anybody rich, will apparently be keeping actors and playwrights occupied until the heat death of the universe.

I speak, of course, of ten-minute play festivals.

They have become the most cost-effective way for small theaters to attract audiences, and therefore the most plentiful opportunities available to playwrights – more often than not, the only things those of us not represented by an agent can find that accept open submissions.  And that’s not counting the multitude of self-styled festivals that put these pieces up in bulk.  When you consider the sheer number of scribes all putting together portfolios of these short pieces, along with the number of houses of all sizes putting up these evenings of shorts, you can imagine the staggering variety of offerings being put up across the country.  You could find a thousand such evenings throughout the nation, each with half-a-dozen or more pieces going up, with no two evenings alike.

And yet somehow I’ve seen the same piece three times this year.

Fortunately, it’s a good one.  It’s a piece called Just Right by Megan Lohne, which imagines a meeting between Goldilocks and Baby Bear many years after their fateful encounter, after they’ve “swiped right” on Tinder.  It sounds like the sort of cute, high-concept piece that’s perhaps a tad over-familiar from plenty of festivals past, but Lohne takes the piece in surprising directions; it makes interesting and important points about trauma and forgiveness in weirdly adorable ways.  This past spring, my Tuesdays at Nine co-host and I both had pieces up in the Secret Theatre One-Act Festival in Woodside, Queens (mine was a little piece called Basic Cable Method Acting, if you remember).  The festival had eight separate programs, of six to eight pieces each; Just Right was the hit of my co-host’s program.  It was definitely the piece I was rooting for other than my co-host’s, though obviously I had to give priority to my friend in terms of who I was “rooting for.”

I found myself in the exact same conflicted situation over the summer, when my friend Jillian Blevins’ play Space Laser, in Space! was part of the Samuel French OOB Festival.  (There are so many festivals!) It was a completely different line-up from Woodside, with the exception of Just Right, which had been included in this line-up – and by chance, happened to be put in direct competition with my friend, meaning that they performed on the same night.  And then last weekend, when I directed my friend Kelsey Puttrich’s And We Lived Beneath The Waves at yet another festival in Maplewood, NJ, one of the other five plays in that line-up just so happened to be, you guessed it, Just Right.

(And yes, the third performance I saw of this was just right.  But I digress.)

There are two things I find striking about this.  One is the sheer mathematical implausibility, the ridiculous odds of this one piece happening to be in those three specific evenings of theater, given the sheer number of ten-minute plays that are floating around out there.  (I’ve got maybe half a dozen myself.) The other thing is that on each of these occasions, I saw not only the same play, but the same production.  The same two dedicated actors have been attached to this piece for maybe two years now, reviving the production each time it is accepted into a new festival.  And it begs the question – is that the only way to make this whole production model, what I half-joking call the “ten-minute-play-industrial complex,” work?  To have a cadre of (by necessity) non-union performers at the ready, able to travel to a new playhouse at a moment’s notice?

I’ll have to ask them the next time I see them.  Which should be any day now, I think.

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