One-minute Plays Offer Snapshot into the Lives of Hoosiers

KEVIN VOGEL | Arts, Etc. Editor

What kind of story could you tell in one minute? Could you make us laugh? How about cry? Could you blast a paradigm, present a life-changing idea or capture the essence of a generation?

This was the challenge put forth to 25 Indiana playwrights ahead of the first Basile Indianapolis One-Minute Play Festival this month.

The resulting works, ranging from comedic to poignant, abstract to metaphoric to shockingly real, were presented last weekend at the Phoenix Theatre.

Among the playwrights who contributed was Lauren Thorne, a Butler University theatre graduate who wrote and directed an hour-long play at Butler in December 2011.

One of her plays in this production told the story of a man’s awkward speed-dating experience, and the other was a very personal visualization of an artist giving up his artistic dreams for an unsatisfying day job.

“I wasn’t an artist. I was unemployed,” the actor said emphatically. The audience audibly sighed as the lights dimmed.

At first, the idea of a one-minute play might seem silly. But the almost 50 plays resonated powerfully with the audience.

The One-Minute Play Festival, an organization based in New York City, seeks to capture snapshots of American life on the community level through the language of theatre and coalesce those snapshots via the Internet into a panoramic that shows what it is like to live in America.

It seeks to show what we care about, what we think about and how we express ourselves.

This is a fantastic idea, and the power of these plays was palpable in the audience during the performance.

It was cathartic to see plays which addressed our real concerns. There were two or three plays which comically dealt with this year’s seemingly endless winter.

In one of these, a man makes his way across the stage toward a woman, only to be hampered by whistling actors who grabbed his legs, dragged him back and otherwise blocked him. When he finally made it to his seat next to the woman, he looked at her and said the words we in Indianapolis have said multiple times this winter: “I don’t think they plowed!”

Another play showed two women—one wearing a Butler cap—scrolling on their phones and hashing the Andrew Luck-versus-Peyton Manning debate, only to come across the news that there was a shooting on Purdue University’s campus. This reference to the very real January shooting that claimed the life of a teaching assistant packed an emotional punch, but was brushed off by the actors who turned right back to sports.

Gay marriage, I-69 construction, relationship strife, scientific existential arguments and Kevin Costner receiving fellatio were other topics taken up by the playwrights.

Individually, some plays worked better than others. The good part about having one-minute plays is that the weaker ones are over pretty quick. But weak plays were definitely the minority here.

Taken together, the plays were a fascinating look into modern Indianapolis, and I believe they would resonate with a very broad audience because of the very relatable subject matters. Having to pack a lot of depth into one minute means most of the plays were very accessible.

The producing artistic director of the One-Minute Play Festival said people who were not able to see one of the performances last weekend will be able to view a recording online at www.livestream.com/newplay.

It was not posted as of press time.

There was one glaring problem with the format of the festival. Dramatic plays, especially ones that present complicated or troubling ideas, need time to breathe. In order for the audience to digest the plays, they need a period to reflect and think about what they have seen.

In this festival, the time between plays was not more than that needed to change the set.

Therefore, plays that needed breathing room lost some of their bite, which is a real shame, because one could tell the plays were well-crafted and important.

Their impact was diluted by plays that were easier to digest, like the comedies.

That said, the idea of the One-Minute Play Festival is beautiful. It not only supports living playwrights and encourages them to write about issues that affect them and their community, but it invites the community into the dialogue as well.

By accessing videos of other performances across the United States, theatre audiences can see many different points of view about issues that are important to our city, our society and our nation.

Anyone who was not able to see the performances should take advantage of the online recording when it is posted.

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