Amid the new beginnings and shake-ups in this past season's theater landscape, 62-year-old Studio Players has remained a pillar of stability. With a loyal audience base and a formula that has worked for decades, Studio is using its solid footing to serve the theater community in a new, deeper way by facilitating the production of original works.
This weekend kicks off the second year of Studio's 10-Minute Play Festival, which started five years ago in Midway's now-defunct Thoroughbred Theatre, running twice there before taking a hiatus, and being picked up by Studio last summer. Studio's 10 Minute Play Festival was preceded by a showcase of three staged readings by Kentucky playwrights and a season that included a full original production by a local playwright. All of these programs give theater artists a chance to work on new material, and audiences get a chance to see something entirely new.
The Festival features seven 10-minute plays, with a brief interval between each play for audience discussion and scene changes. A panel of five readers whittled down the 150 submissions to 15 in a blind judging process. At that point, the theater conducted readings for local theater professionals, actors and directors especially, before making the final selections.
"We end up with 15 plays, at which point we invite some actors from the community and directors and family friends to attend what we call an unstaged reading," says Jim Betts, one of the event's producers, who also directs a show this year.
"Directors are encouraged to come over two nights of readings to hear the plays," Betts says. "Once the judges pick the top seven, directors list their top three choices, and then we try very hard to match them up with their first selection."
This year's play submissions hailed from around the world, including Ireland, England, South Africa, and multiple states, including Kentucky. The winning playwrights are based in New Zealand, Canada, Washington, California, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Ranging from comedy to science fiction, psychological thrillers to drama and more, the diverse plays are produced, directed, and performed by a unique web of local theater talent. Many of them work regularly for other theaters. Director Jeremy Kisling is associate artistic director for the Lexington Children's Theatre, and director Tim X. Davis runs the theater program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
Betts himself has a "day job" running a business, and he is on the Studio board of directors. He says the festival has allowed him to carve enough time to pursue a creative aspect of theater, directing a funny, heartwarming drama.
"I thought, 'Why do I always do business things? Why don't I do some fun things?'"
Betts says the festival is appealing to local theater folks because it's easy to fit into their schedules, and it's fun to collaborate with other theater professionals who they might not get to otherwise work, or more accurately, play with.
"It's really a lot of fun, and it's relatively simple," Betts says. "An actor can do this and something else as long as long as they don't conflict."
Betts says audiences enjoy the festival's quick pace and the plays' diversity of genre and subject.
"Part of the reason it's so popular is because it's kind of like going to the buffet and saying, 'I don't like the Jell-o salad, but look over there,'" Betts says. "If something's not your liking, wait 10 minutes and you'll find something else."