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Short play festivals allow viewers to test the limits of their taste buds. The beauty of such a theatre smorgasbord is that if a particular piece doesn't whet your palate, all you have to do is wait 10 or 15 minutes for another offering. Ultimately, even the pickiest and most discerning audience members will probably find something they like, and they may even be surprised to discover a style of theatre they haven't experienced before.
The Secret Theatre in Queens is presenting just such a bonanza this month through. Its LIC One Act Play Festival runs through April 27,, and in the spirit of radical audience engagement, viewers get to vote on which plays, directors, and actors they like the most.
Paula D'Alessandris, who is also artistic director of Mind the Gap Theatre, directs three out of this year's 22 pieces, and she discovered a love for short play festivals a few years ago when she participated in One Act Factor, Secret's early version of LIC. "I answered an ad on Playbill.com," she recalls, proving that good results can come from blind submissions.
This year she's helming the operation and personally read more than 100 submissions. Though there were a few guidelines---plays had to have six characters or fewer, plus very simple sets and technical demands---D'Alessandris tried to curate as much variety among the scripts as possible. "With festivals like these you want a balance," she says. "This form lends itself to comedy, so I try to schedule a drama or something heart-warming every evening."
There are eight other directors, and the 22 playwrights hail from California, Michigan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New York.
An assortment of content is also on tap. Seldom Is Heard by Mary Steelsmith features a veteran with an IED injury returning home to his wife. Two other shows examine the lighter sides of relationships: Nina Mansfield's The Unbearable Lightness of Greening takes on a husband who leaves his wife for a houseplant, while Janet Lawler's Netfits shows a relationship on the rocks due to arguments over a Netflix queue. Meanwhile, Shirley vs. Squirrels depicts a backyard war with fluffy rodents, and G Train Exodus, directed by D'Alessandris, portrays a woman having an existential conversation with---you guessed it---everyone's favorite inter-borough train.
At every performance, audience members receive voting ballots in their programs. After they've seen all of that evening's shows, they vote for their top two choices (in order to avoid stacked or rigged voting). Each week the shows with the most votes move on to the semi finals, 16 plays in all, which are held on April 25 and 26. That gets whittled down to 8 shows, which compete for top place on April 27, along with best director, actor, and actress.
"Afterwards there's a really nice barbecue that everyone goes to," says D'Alessandris. "Festivals like these are such a great way to meet new actors and new playwrights." Not just for the artists involved, but for audiences too.
Eliza Bent is a journalist, playwright, and performer living in Brooklyn
Photo by Paula D'Alessandris