Acting for the Stopwatch: Bringing One Minute Plays to Life.

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Cristina Rodriguez and Gina Martino in 925 by Tommy Butler

Working on the One minute play festival is like being responsible for a series of sonnets in a sequence as part of a cycle communally presented. I have responsibility for 10 one minute pieces which I order and direct with a cast of talented folks, which is then placed into a larger sequence with 10 other directors’ clumps of plays. Each play must be under one minute, no matter the textual length, so there is manipulation of pacing and beats to meet that time table as well as revisions by the authors if the play runs long. The lighting, sound and setting are limited or non existent. It is just actors, words, ideas and a stopwatch. This was an interested challenge both from a practical and an aesthetic perspective. 

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Mary Jacobs and Brittany Kvitko in The Imaginary Horizon By Lena Barnard Photo from InteractTheater

Iron Age is a production value heavy company. We are focused on the details of costume, set, lighting and sound from a guerrilla perspective. We love our big invasive sets and our violently distressed costumes. Editing that facet of these plays was extraordinarily challenging. I think those non actor components support the actor, relieving them of being distracted from their work by the need to establish things a bit of costume or prop could. I have learned through this festival that once established with the actor, we can ease the need for costumes. At the dress run we pulled some costume materials, focused some action.

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Chuck Beishl and Gina Martino in The Rapture by Walt Vail photo from Interact Theater

Additionally, the communication with the playwright was fascinating. Iron Age is an authoritative company. We often push playwrights, even in established scripts, to make adjustments for our aesthetic vision. This festival is a playwright driven event. As such, I felt the need to negotiate with and include the playwrights, all 8 of them, in the process where I could. I tried to match the Iron Age Theater aesthetic toward play as production with the need to represent the playwright rather than simply interpret the playwright as we wish. I have been fortunate to have a strong group of actors. I think the ensemble nature of this work was particularly beneficial to Iron Ages aesthetic. We are a company that builds a communal group. This structure is a potent community creating event.

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Bumpy’s Grave featuring Jess Brownell and a mystery actor

The multiple play mingled actor pairings particularly forced an ensemble approach. The respectful support for each scene and the commitment to my vision binding these plays into a thematic unit, is a testament to the professionalism and integrity of my team. There is the effervescent Mary Jacobs, the intensely intuitive Chuck Beishl, the the clear craftsman Brittany Kvitko, the vibrant stylist, Cristina Rodriguez, the vivacious organizer Gina Martino and the dynamic cameo lemon Jess Brownell This all happened in a very restricted rehearsal time frame.

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Chuck Beishl and Cristina Rodriguez in STUCK By SAMUEL TOLL

The one minute structure means we could do a lot of work on the plays. We spent serious time on the details of the work. I have a forceful hand In relation to text but use a light touch with the actual relationships. My work is heavy and buoyant. In the one minute framework, I had to mitigate both attributes to embrace the aesthetic of the event. It is fascinating as a director to be holding a stopwatch during runs of the plays. Watching the run for active values and then clipping those values, or playing with pacing to get the space filled beautifully evocative moment in time without losing the emotional impact. This has an interesting impact on the directorial role. Sometimes Iron Age productions have a final note shared with the actors just before curtain in a main stage production. Essentially, we say “watch your volume, keep your pace up (attack your cues) and commit.”

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Jess Bownell and Mary Jacobs in the post apocalyptic The Last Argument by Brian Grace -Duff

Essentially, we end up saying, “faster and louder.” As a result of the live stream component of The One Minute Play Festival and the focus on time, “faster, louder” is the mantra of tech and production time. These are not subtle pieces. They can be obscure and enigmatic but they must be specific and clear. With all that in mind, I have been pleased with this process. This is a style of work worth seeing. It has inspired me to revisit Fringe Wraiths. If you want to see the event and missed it or can’t get a ticket, go to http://www.howlround.tv/newplay and look at the archives for the 2nd annual One Minute Play Festival in Philadelphia. Kudos if you could read this piece in under a minute….

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