UI's 10-Minute Play Festival gives undergraduates storytelling lesson


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Shakespearian and Broadway classics typically span numerous scenes and acts, and recent blockbusters such as Lincoln, Les Misérables, and Django Unchained reach nearly three hours in length. But for eight different shows premièring today in the Theater Building, the playwrights, directors, and actors have just 10 minutes to tell their stories, from comedies to romances to historical dramas.

“It’s really energizing to do a bite-size piece like this,” said UI senior Levi Smith, the playwright and director of “Wild Jacarandas.” “You have to cut right to the chase — it’s like capturing a little moment in the middle of a story.”

This series of quick plays make up the annual Ten-Minute Play Festival, which has brought life to more than 100 original plays in its 16 years of production. The 2013 festival will take place today through Feb. 17 and will première at 8 p.m. today in Theater Building Theater B.

The eight new shows were selected from 53 submissions, and they are written, directed, designed, and performed by undergraduates.

“It’s a really cool collage of talent and ideas,” said senior Emily Brink, the writer of the festival closer “Piece of Cake” and costume designer for three of the shows.

The selections cover a range of light and heavy subjects, including an absurdist piece, a poetry-type show, and period dramas — genres fairly new to the program. Natalie Vicchio, the writer of opening show “It Takes a Village,” said she was excited to see how the cast and audience would interpret her absurdist play.

“I wanted it to be vague and pique curiosity,” she said. “There’s a fine line between wanting the audience to learn more and letting them.”

Recently declared theater major Brink, who normally writes one- or two-act dramas, said she found the festival to be a “fun” opportunity to stretch her repertoire.

“This idea sort of grabbed me,” she said. “I was freaked out and amazed [to be selected], and absolutely flattered. The Ten-Minute Play Festival endures, and to be a part of that blows my mind.”

Freshman Molly Brown — who plays an early 20th-century women’s unionist in “Work Force” — said the festival is a “less intimidating” way for new and non-theater majors to enter the department.

This belief was shared by senior Ben TeBockhorst, who began his university acting career in the Ten-Minute Play Festival as a freshman. He will now make his directorial début in the program.

“This seemed like a good opportunity to give it a shot,” the “Piddlekins” director said. “It’s a lot different having to think about the whole show rather than on a character. It was a big learning experience.”

Tanner Hallenstein, who will see his work — a play focused on World War II titled “I’ll Be Seeing You” — come to life for the first time, said handing some of the story’s reins to a director, cast, and stage manager Allison Pettit has made the Ten-Minute Play Festival an eye-opening journey.

“It’s really weird doing edits when things you haven’t even thought of come before you, but it works,” he said. “It’s a fun but strange experience.”

Smith described the collaboration as a tremendous learning experience.

“I’ve gotten to see about 80 percent of my vision for my play come to life, and that’s remarkable,” he said. “The other 20 percent is what’s been developed by everyone together and is better than I could have envisioned.”

What: The 16th-annual Ten-Minute Play Festival
When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday, 2 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Theater Building Theater B
Admission: $5 for public, free with UI student IDs

Shows in this year’s festival:
• “I’d Like to Report a Poem,” written by David Freeman and directed by Sam Summer
• “I’ll Be Seeing You,” written by Tanner Hallenstein and directed by Christina Patramanis
• “In My Normal World,” written and directed by Jessie Traufler
• “It Takes a Village,” written by Natalie Vicchio and directed by Taylor Cook
• “Piddlekins,” written by Taylor Cook and directed by Ben TeBockhorst
• “A Piece of Cake,” written by Emily Brink and directed by Bryan McIntyre
• “The Workforce,” written by Erin Marshall and directed by Christina Patramanis
• “Wild Jacarandas,” written and directed by Levi Smith with lighting design by Tyler Brogla 

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