After Colonial Players recently closed a season that offered bold, horizon-broadening shows, the company is offering theatergoers even more with its new "This or That" One-Act Play Festival opening July 17 at Colonial Players Theatre on East Street.
Colonial Players volunteers have been working on the biennial short play festival since mid-April. Described as "offering something to suit everyone's taste, including comedy, drama with poignant moments, and history," this eight-day series of nine short plays includes works that range from 10 minutes long to about a half-hour.
Members of the troupe say the short play festival serves several purposes: Aspiring directors get a chance to try with help from experienced mentors; inexperienced actors audition to play undefined roles; and experienced actors welcome the opportunity to be on stage without the major time commitment demanded by a regular-season production.
It's also a treat for audiences, which get to see new works without committing much free time by sampling these one-act plays split between two alternating "slates" — "This" and "That."
The "This" slate will be performed July 17, 19, 25 and 27, while the "That" slate will be July 18, 20, 24 and 26.
The "This" slate includes David Ives' "Sure Thing," a show that explores how couples connect. Also on the ticket is Rich Orloff's "Me and My Shadow" is a comedy about former high school friends meeting after a reunion — one politely seeking another's help as revealed through inner voices.
Others are Jerry Casagrande's "Among Shrubs and Ivy," set at a rundown campground where friendship develops between two men of different generations and financial status; Brett Hursey's "Tough Cookies," an oddball comedy about a couple whose relationship is altered by a waiter; and James Wise's "Mugger in the Park," about an elderly woman who is approached by a young thug demanding her purse.
The "That" slate includes Jason Vaughan's "Queen of the Northern Monkeys," based on 1950s encounters between "Out of Africa" author Karen Blixen and decades-younger writer Eugene Walter, and Katherine Glover's "Alien Love Triangle," a sci-fi farce about two young scientists in love with their alien research partner.
Other plays are Jeff Stolzer's "Emergency Room," illustrating how the only simple part of a hospital stay is entering the emergency room door; and Rick Wade's "Foxgloves," featuring two men with a mysterious connection who are killing time at a Dulles International Airport bar as they wait for connecting flights.
The audience-friendly arrangement is split into two 45-minute halves, separated by one intermission.
A fresh take
At a recent rehearsal, festival coordinator Jennifer Dustin noted the enthusiasm coming from the dozen volunteers serving as mentors, directors, stage managers, and sound and lighting designers.
"Unlike previous years, this season all directors are new, never having directed a show before. Not only directors but all the designers — lighting, sound, props, set, costumes and even the stage manager are new to those positions, as well," Dustin said.
Although that arrangement lends fresh insight, it also could make it difficult to maintain high quality. For that reason, Dustin assigned everyone a mentor.
The Players' solicited scripts for the festival, and Dustin said more than 150 unpublished scripts from around the world arrived in response.
A vetting process narrowed those 150 down to 25, and directors then selected scripts from this group, eventually settling on nine. Eight are unpublished, and three of those eight are written by Colonial Players members. For the others, two are from Virginia authors, two from New York and one from Minneapolis.
An all-day workshop was held in April, where "experienced directors imparted their wisdom in areas of auditioning, blocking, character development and dealing with actors and techs," Dustin said.
At auditions in May, directors heard each actor read twice. The actor's stated preference for a show was the determining factor in casting, resulting in directors with happy casts.
"It's good to see shorter plays getting attention," said Rick Wade, a Colonial Players member. "More and more there are plays being produced in New York and other major venues that are 90 minutes long in one act or two 45 minute acts.
"With these evenings of new one-acts, the audience gets to see some new work, the actors get experience taking on roles for which there is no example to follow, and writers who might otherwise never get the opportunity see their work performed" get the chance to do so, Walker said. "It's hard to find a theater on the local level willing to give time, attention and resources to untried plays."
The festival is offered for $10 per "slate" or $15 for both slates if ordered in advance through the box office at 410-268-7373.