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Drama on the quick-quick at UI play festival

BY DAN WATSON | FEBRUARY 19, 2009 7:51 AM

Imagine the hustle and bustle going on behind the curtain during a play — the stage manager barking orders, actors rapidly changing costumes, stagehands shuttling on and off the set, and all of the other teeming associated with a production.

Now imagine that times eight. Eight times the movement, eight times the number of people, and eight times the number of plays. This image will become a reality this weekend during the UI theater department’s annual 10-Minute Play Festival tonight through Feb. 22 in the Theater Building’s Theatre B. When one play finishes, there will be a two-minute break before the next show starts.

The festival, which began 12 years ago, will host the works of eight different, mostly undergraduate, playwrights and their short plays.

“All the plays work just like any full-length production,” said festival codirector Eric Burchett. “They all have a beginning, middle, and end. All introduce characters and conflict, but they have to be very efficient.”

The festival typically presents a wide range of subject matter. No subject is off-limits, and often the plot is of adult nature, he said.

“The plays are leaning toward the humorous side this year,” Burchett said. “But I have seen it all: slap-sticky stuff, film noir, horror, even abortion drama.”

This year’s festival will host its first monologue play, “Songbird,” by UI senior Elena Buzaid, and a play entirely in verse by UI junior Lauren Baker.

Baker said her play, “Triptych,” is “somewhat like slam poetry, dealing with the lives of three entwined but unsuspecting strangers.”

Preparation for the festival began in the middle of last semester. Burchett, codirector Kate Aspengren, and a small committee in the theater department received roughly 40 play drafts from various UI students.

Any UI student is welcome to submit a play, Burchett said.

“The festival is all about the students,” he said. “Nearly everyone involved is undergrad, some aren’t theater majors, and for some, it’s their first time working in a play production.”

After the committee chose eight of the 40 scripts submitted, the festival entered the casting stage. The committee looks for plays that need only a simple setting.

“We purposely look for plays that don’t have a lot of scenery,” Burchett said. “It is pretty much bare bones — there are no time machines or dinosaurs, mostly only table and chairs. It’s not a scene-change festival.”

Each playwright then chose a director for her or his piece. All held auditions for people in the Iowa City community, and this year, they cast 32 actors for the festival, said UI junior Nicole Sedivec, the festival’s stage manager.

“My job is to make sure all the cast and crew from all eight plays are at the right place at the right time,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a little crazy, but everyone involved works together really well.”


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