Love theater but don’t feel like dealing with the same set of characters for multiple hours? Local staging company LEAD Productions has an answer: the Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival, running Thursday, April 7, through Saturday, April 9, at White Horse Black Mountain.
Festival founder and production manager Richard Handy, along with New York Studio for Stage and Screen faculty and others with theater backgrounds, whittled over 220 submissions from across the country down to 34, all of which received the same high rating. Five directors, chosen from a group of nine applicants, then filtered them to 10 finalists, selecting their favorites without Handy’s input.
“I wanted them to want to do it and to really be inspired by the scripts. I already knew we had 34 strong scripts, so it was up to them,” Handy says. “It’s exciting and a privilege to be able to give [these writers] a voice.”
Though the 10 plays feature a variety of genres and a balance of male and female characters, Handy says the festival’s well-rounded nature is “total luck.” Offerings range from Sherry Narens’ Employee Assistance (in which the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland seeks help for his habitual lateness) to Seth Freeman’s Press Pray (about a desperate soul who seeks solace in an empty church sanctuary). The showcase also includes Asheville writer (and Xpress contributor) Kai Elijah Hamilton’s Western North Carolina-set The Sleepwalker, the only one-character story. At least half of the playwrights will be in attendance and all were consulted by the directors.
“If you’re going to fulfill the poetry of the work, if you can access the playwright, it’s essential. The objective of the work starts with them and why they had to write it, so I didn’t require — but I strongly recommended — everyone talk to the playwrights to understand their perspective,” Handy says. He adds that while the directors don’t have to follow all of the writers’ suggestions, the peek inside their minds has its advantages.
Handy estimates 85 percent of the actors in the plays are local. Dustin Whitehead, associate professor at Western Carolina University’s School of Stage and Screen, cast a few of that institution’s students. Greenville, N.C.-based director Dani Keil is incorporating performers from her city.
The festival’s inaugural year means a limited budget of $100 per play, but NYS3 also provides free studio access for rehearsals and access to all of the school’s props and stage furniture. White Horse has additionally proved valuable in providing not only a performance space but items beyond the festival’s capabilities. “It’s such an interesting beast because you have to facilitate a performance space and floor plan that works for all 10 [plays]. For us, the transitions in particular, and also how people enter the space, is part of the production,” says Handy. He calls the transitions “the 11th play.”
Along with LEAD producing each playwright’s work, each of the finalists receive a $100 prize, a video recording of his or her work’s full performance and a copy of the script that includes the production’s full cast list. Depending on how the first year goes, Handy hopes to expand the 2017 festival’s budget and continue to offer the contest annually. He says the process of reaching out to over 200 universities and numerous writing groups was immensely successful for LEAD and NYS3, as well as the local theater community.
“It’s nice to be able to bring together actors, directors and designers from different walks within the Asheville area,” Handy says. “They tend to be in certain niches on a frequent basis — they just work with the same capacity with different groups — but it’s open to everybody, so it gives everyone an opportunity to collaborate together and get to know each other.”
WHAT: Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival
WHERE: White Horse Black Mountain, 105 Montreat Road, Black Mountain, whitehorseblackmountain.com
WHEN: Thursday, April 7 to Saturday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. $20 advance/$23 at the door