MIDWAY — Bob Singleton didn't think directing a 10-minute play would be a very big deal.
"I thought we'd have a few weeks of rehearsal and do about everything we could do with it," Singleton says. "But it came time for the show, and I still could have worked on it a few more weeks and found new things."
When producer Jim Betts arranged the first Midway Festival of 10-Minute Plays in 2009, it was a new adventure for everyone — artists and audience alike.
Heading into the second edition, this weekend and next at Thoroughbred Community Theatre in Midway, the artists are feeling much more confident. One thing that gave them confidence was the growing audiences every night at the inaugural festival.
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"I could see people say, 'It's a bunch of 10-minute plays. What am I going to see here?'" Singleton says. "But then they come out saying, 'Man, that must have been challenging to write, and it was really fulfilling.'"
The 10-minute play is a native Kentucky form of theater, having been introduced by director Jon Jory at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Like last year, all seven plays being produced in Midway are world premieres, culled from more than 150 entries from around the world.
Having presented the festival once, Betts and Singleton say they were able to refine the event, starting with the selection process.
It started with a panel of five judges: Sullivan Canaday White, a Central Kentucky native and a frequent area director who now teaches at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.; Singletary Center for the Arts director Michael Grice; School for the Creative and Performing Arts drama teacher Paul Thomas; theater patron and Kentucky Theatre Association board member Bill Forsythe; and University of Kentucky playwrighting instructor Herman Daniel Farrell III. They each read 30 plays, naming their top four scripts.
Then, Singleton held readings of the top 20 with local actors over two nights to narrow the list to the final seven.
"That was really important because sometimes something can read great and then it's so-so onstage," Singleton says. "And then there have been times I read a script and thought, 'Why would anyone do this?' but onstage it looked great."
With seven plays selected, Singleton and Betts set out to get an all-star group of Lexington-area directors. In addition to Thomas, they include Actors Guild of Lexington's Eric Seale, Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Tim X Davis, Lexington Children's Theatre's Jeremy Kisling, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School's Evan Bergman, frequent Studio Players director Tonda Leah Fields, and The Woodford Theatre's Beth Kirchner.
"Jim had this idea that he wanted this to be a show of the best of theater talent in the region," Singleton says.
The 10-minute play might seem like a slight form of theater compared to a full-length two-hour show, but Singleton and Betts say it doesn't have to be.
"If you can grab someone from the start and hold their attention for 10 minutes, you can have a hell of an impact," Singleton says. "It's the kind of thing where if you have a 45-minute drive home, a 10-minute play can keep you talking all the way home, the same as a full-length play."