10-Minute Play Festival sets a challenge for local theatre companies

One prop one line of dialogue 24 scant hours. Create a play.

Such is the challenge that six theatre companies will undertake as part of the 10-Minute Play Festival. The one-night-only whirlwind of fresh-as-it-comes theatre has been a staple of the High Performance Rodeo for 14 years and while it’s an audience favourite the format provides plenty of value (and some madcap fun) for the theatre companies as well.

Originally produced by Ground Zero Theatre Downstage has been at the helm of the 10-Minute Play Festival for the past four years in addition to participating themselves. They made a couple changes of course such as selecting a secret host. The theme is usually an unexpected hobby or interest of the host and helps determine the props and dialogue provided to the participants who then have 24 hours to come up with their 10-minute production.

This year Downstage Urban Curvz Theatre Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre Dirty Laundry The Shakespeare Company and Cowtown Opera are accepting the challenge. Cowtown Opera is new to the mix this year and Dirty Laundry being an improv group receives the prop and line of dialogue directly before performing.

“We attempt to maintain some of the companies while also bringing in new energy which I think is a really healthy balance for the event and for the audience” says Downstage artistic director Simon Mallett.

While the festival is limited to six companies out of the dozens that exist in Calgary it still provides an admirable showcase of independent theatre in a single night.

“It’s a great night for the audience but it’s also a really great opportunity to see what’s available in Calgary and some of the theatre companies that you might not hear about as often as the bigger companies” says Mallett.

The Shakespeare Company for example has gained audience members thanks to the festival. Other companies have turned ideas from the event into successful productions — Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre’s play (and now film) Super 8 grew from a 10-minute play to a one-act production presented by Lunchbox Theatre and Rebecca Northan’s Kung Fu Panties also started out in the mini-format.

“Within that limited time frame and forced period of creation there is a great possibility for a great idea to spark and be showcased in its baby form in the 10-Minute Play Festival and then it continues to grow and thrive from there” says Mallett.

On their own the 10-minute plays offer the audience a raw energy not always seen in a polished full-length work: “You get something that’s a little bit more impulsive and instinctual on behalf of the artists who are creating the piece.”

The theatre companies relish the challenge too. “I think it’s rare that we [theatre artists] get to go ‘Hey I have a crazy idea’ and then follow it and then it’s onstage the next night” says Mallett.

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