Monday, July 25, 2011

report from Carrboro: Best of 10x10 (is great) (thanks, audience)

I got to see performances of the Best of 10x10 on both Saturday and Sunday and am grateful that I could come here.  (Thanks to ArtsCenter for travel and lodging!)  They've put together what may be one of the best evenings of ten-minute plays I've seen.  If you follow which writers get their work done in short play festivals, you wouldn't be surprised, because the writers included: Mike Folie, Mark Harvey Levine, Babs Linsday, Matt Casarino, Chris Lockheardt, and Doug Reed--all of whom have work that appears regularly across the country.  (It's almost impossible to find a short play festival without a play by Mark Harvey in it.)

The plays tended to be comedies (Matt's play, Green Eggs and Mamet, made me weep with laughter), which made me a little nervous about my play, Ship of Fools, which is an odd drama drama/puzzle about two women stuck in a lifeboat, who entertain each other by pretending to be other people (spoiler: the boat sinks in the end).  Sometimes an audience gets up so much momentum for laughing and having a good time, that they don't have patience for a short play which requires a bit of untangling during the short time it's on stage.

Both nights I saw the play, the audience was large--the venue holds 350, and it was sold out Saturday and close to sold out Sunday at 3pm.  I repeat--they sold probably close to 300 tickets for a 3pm Sunday show of ten-minute plays.)  They were definitely having a good time, thanks to good scripts and very strong performances.  I was worried my play might get swept away.

But it didn't.  (huge relief)  For a couple reasons:  First--strong performances.  The two actresses Jillian Holmquist and Jenny Wales, completely committed to the play and the game they were playing, and gave us a sense of what they were doing, despite only having a bare stage with two chairs.

Also, the sound/music design and performance helped channel the audience momentum and shifted the mood.  Nathan Logan, who designed the music/sound, also performed live on stage during the scene shifts throughout the entire performance--singing and playing electric guitar and keyboard.  I love having live music on stage, and he really knew how to be an unobtrusive presence during the plays (he was onstage the whole time), and then could really play during the shifts to get the audience where it needed to go.  For the lead in to Ship of Fools, he sang a haunting a cappella version of "Sailing" which was initially written and performed by the Sutherland Brothers in 1972--you can listen to it here--and made famous by Rod Stewart.  It worked perfectly.  (Nathan's version of it is still stuck in my head.)

The last factor was the audience itself.  The ArtsCenter 10x10 audience was incredibly engaged.  They were lively and there to have fun, but it was also clear that they loved being there (this wasn't attended out of obligation), they had a relationship with the theatre and the performers, and they wanted to pay attention.  As a playwright, I go to productions for lots of reasons (for fun, to see scripts in production, see good performances, to be moved, tickled, etc.), and one of those reasons is to be with audiences.  They vary as much, night-to-night, as performances.  Maybe more.  I think about audiences a lot--what makes them tick, how they will respond.  As a playwright, maybe I'm a bit of a conniseur of audiences.  I'm always looking for the right match between text, performance, and audience.  That's where the magic of theatre really comes together.

Here at 10x10, they have a kick-ass audience, and it was a treat to be part of it for two nights.

After the show, I talked to several people who said they loved Ship of Fools, and especially that it was a play that made them work, and that it moved them emotionally.  That's pretty much exactly what I wanted.  Very nice.

Thanks to Jeri Lynn Schulke, artistic director, for putting the evening together, to Lyden Harris for starting the festival and keeping it going for so long, to both Lynden and Emily Ranii, for producing my plays at 10x10 in the past.  They've really got a good thing going here.  And thanks to my director, Jerry Davis, and the entire production team for putting together a great show.

Here's a (somewhat blurry, sorry) photo of the audience waiting for the Best of Ten by Ten to start (and there's Nathan getting ready to play guitar).

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