Stage & Dance

10-minute play festival returns to Lexington

Christopher Rose and Daniel Morgan in How About Cannons? a 10-minute play by David Vazdauskas, directed by Jenny Christian.
Christopher Rose and Daniel Morgan in How About Cannons? a 10-minute play by David Vazdauskas, directed by Jenny Christian.

Experts say even ten minutes of exercise is better than none at all. But could the same be true of theater? For organizers of this weekend's 10-Minute Play Festival at Studio Players, the answer is yes.

"It's kind of like the difference between a short story and a novel," says Jim Betts, who was first inspired to bring a 10-minute play festival to the region after taking a playwriting course at the University of Kentucky.

"Each play is a whole tale," Betts says of the seven featured plays. "What's nice about the format is that if you don't like one of the segments, just wait ten minutes."

Betts tapped Bob Singleton, a longtime actor, director, and producer to co-produce the Midway 10-Minute Play Festival in 2009 and 2010.

After two promising seasons marked by increased attendance and a high number of play submissions, the festival suddenly lost its venue when The Thoroughbred Theater in Midway closed in 2011 because of financial problems.

Without a home, the festival went dark.

But Betts and Singleton didn't give up, routinely scouting other possible venues and organizations who might want to remount the event.

This year, they found a willing partner in Studio Players, where both Betts and Singleton are on the board of directors. The 61-year-old community theater had just enough space on its calendar to slip the festival in between the close of its summer musical and the opening of its new season. Studio Players veterans Ellen Hellard and Rob Maddox joined the festival leadership team as producers this season, along with Betts and Singleton.

Singleton says the short format of the festival offers unique benefits for the community.

For one, it is a cultural marker of an invigorated arts community.

"Almost every city has a 10-minute play festival," says Singleton, "We should too."

Singleton is quick to point out that Lexington is just 90 miles away from one of the most famous and celebrated 10-minute play festivals in the world: the annual 10-minute play event at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

"There is so much writing talent here, as well as talented actors, directors, and designers. We have all of the tools to make it a success," Singleton says.

Speaking of the talent pool, another boon to the festival is that organizers have created it to be a kind of de-facto all-star night of theater, tapping directors from different theaters, who in turn cast actors from all parts of the theater community.

"I like throwing a big party," says Betts.

"When we first began we were unaffiliated with any theater group and we had no restrictions," Betts says. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could tie the theater community together?'"

Most of the cast and crew are longtime theater veterans who collectively represent more than 358 years of theater experience on more than 1380 productions combined.

Before a tech rehearsal, the Carriage House Theatre was filled with a who's who of Central Kentucky theater. Actor and director Tonda Leah Fields, known for directing comedies at Studio and other theaters, was sitting in a dark row of the theater. A couple of Lexington Children's Theatre folks arrived with a bench for their scene, directed by Jeremy Kisling, who just closed LCT's summer family musical. And amid all of the tech activity that includes sweeping floors and checking lights, a young boy was being fitted for a test run of a jet pack by Actors Guild of Lexington artistic director Eric Seale.

"It's not about 'this' theater, or 'that' theater. It's about Theater," Singleton wrote in an email. "We have so much talent that chooses to call Lexington home, so many theaters that do strong and diverse work. It's important for us to make this a Lexington Theater event, and we want it to grow into a destination event that showcases yet another area of Lexington (and Kentucky's) strength, talent and beauty."

In the future, organizers hope to expand and "tweak" the festival so that it continues to improve, such as reserving one of the seven winning spots for a Kentucky writer.

This year, organizers reviewed 150 submissions in a selection process that involved five initial readers who narrowed the selections down to 15. At that point, live readings by professional actors helped to narrow down the selection to the final seven.

"The featured plays usually include a single storyline leading to a surprise ending," says Betts. "So you're left laughing or weeping or whatever but it's a pretty quick hit. It's different than going and seeing an evening of theater, even though it's an evening of theater."