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Performing Arts

14th annual Play Festival gets a redo

Reshaping the Durango Arts Repertory Theatre and the 14th annual 10-minute Play Festival. (Judith Reynolds)
One evening, eight plays = a renewed DART

Among the many changes in motion at the Durango Arts Center since former Director Brenda Macon left earlier this spring, the annual 10-minute Play Festival is undergoing a makeover. The festival has abandoned its cumbersome two-tier time structure, monetary prizes for the top three plays and entry fees for playwrights.

“My observation of the process was that there was a huge disconnect between the readings and the actual production in October,” said Durango Arts Repertory Theatre Managing Director Monica DiBiasio. “The decision to change the format was to make better use of our time and resources, as well as evolve the festival into a celebration of each play.

“We were also asking playwrights to pay to submit work,” she said. “Having worked with many new playwrights, I found this to be unfair to the writers. We never ask an actor to pay to audition, so why would we do that to playwrights?”

If you go

WHAT: 14th annual 10-Minute Play Festival.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Durango Arts Center, 802 East Second Ave.

TICKETS: Adults $20, students $15. Available online at www.durangoarts.org.

MORE INFORMATION: Call 259-2606.

Formerly, a winter call for new short plays resulted in an elaborate monthslong sifting process. A bevy of volunteer readers sorted, sifted, argued and settled on a set of finalists. DART officials assembled local directors and actors to rehearse and mount staged readings in late spring – which were initially free. The audience voted for a popular choice award. Judges selected a grand prize winner and cash awards were given. Four months later, DAC scheduled, advertised and ticketed a fall weekend of fully staged productions of the winners.

The new streamlined scheme opens this weekend with three performances of eight fully staged plays. “The Orb,” by Philip Raymond Brown, is the only one that is by a local playwright. The others include Steven Martin, Whitney Ryan Garrity, Angele Maraj, Steven Korbar, Craig Gustafson, Tom Cavanaugh and Laurie Allen. Several playwrights span other genres with published books and screenplays. Directors include Wendy Ludgewait, Ashton Root, Primrose Bloom, Holden Grace, Ben Dukeminier, Oliver Kennedy and DiBiasio. Twenty-one local actors make up the ensemble including an abundance of drama graduates from Fort Lewis College as well as community stalwarts who have appeared in many DART productions.

“We chose to award eight playwrights a full production of their work and give them a stipend for the rights to perform their work,“ DiBiasio said. ”We received 300 submissions from all over the planet. The beauty is that we can showcase so many local actors and directors all at once. The festival is truly a celebration of fresh new work, our community of amazing talent, and the collaboration it requires to bring new plays to life.“

Short-work play festivals

Called the haiku of the American stage, 10-minute plays as a form have been around for a long time. In 1977, the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, introduced the 10-minute genre by adding an evening of eight short works. It caught on, and Humana has repeated its 10-minute festival every year.

Ten years ago, I attended my annual American Theatre Critics Conference in Louisville at Actors Theatre for its 50th anniversary season. We saw a number of new full-length American plays. We also enjoyed an evening of 10-minute works. The form is a cousin to sketch comedy and lends itself to modern, shrinking attention spans.

In the last few decades, large and small cities have launched 10-minute festivals with considerable success. Durango joined the list of forward-looking theater cities in 2000 when Dinah Swan urged the Durango Arts Center to consider the idea. A former professor of Drama at FLC, Swan had launched a 10-minute festival in Oxford, Mississippi, before returning here with her husband, Terry Swan. DAC board member Rochelle Mann, professor emerita at FLC, agreed to chair a competition. Even in 2000, 92 entries arrived from all over the country. Ever since, DAC’s festival has grown and changed except for the pandemic years.

Regionally, FUSION Theatre, a professional company in Albuquerque, will host its 18th annual short works festival next week. The company will present seven new plays inspired by the prompt: “Uninvited Guests.” Fully produced works will be presented as world premieres by seven directors and Fusion’s professional ensemble. Those who know local playwright Joyce Fontana will be delighted to learn the judges awarded her play “Sticky Notes,” the top jury prize. Fontana’s play will be featured in performances June 6 to June 9 at the Fusion Theatre.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.