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Festival of Short Plays Showcases Local Playwrights

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Staging original plays is a risky proposition in the best of times, even in Vermont’s rich theatrical soil. Producers of the upcoming Ten-Fest at the Valley Players Theater in Waitsfield hope that a less-is-more approach is just the ticket. The “more” is the number of state-based bards whose work will be featured — 11 in all, some budding, others seasoned. The “less” is the length of the plays to be showcased — none running more than 10 minutes.

Taking the stage for its second summer from August 20 to 23, Ten-Fest is the brainchild of the Vermont Playwrights Circle (VPC), a loose affiliation of writers who have been meeting monthly in and around Montpelier for about five years. VPC cofounder Kim Ward is a coproducer of Ten-Fest when not working her day job at the Nature Conservancy. She explains that VPC is an effort to make a network of talent available to Vermont theater companies, not a competing entity. “It truly is a network,” she says. “We’re really trying to be accessible to people.” Membership is free, Ward notes.

While Ten-Fest is VPC’s signature event — with 16 actors and six directors also on board — in recent years, the network has connected homegrown talent with such troupes as Lost Nation Theater, Moxie Productions and the Valley Players for staged readings and shows.

According to Ten-Fest coproducer Jeanne Beckwith, who’s also an English faculty member at Norwich University, the plays in this year’s show strike a range of stylistic notes, from the comedic to the more serious. Among them are “Flakes,” from visual artist Gerard Rinaldi, which features two characters conversing in the cab of a snow plow; John Kern’s “Birthday Wishes,” about three women, strangers to each other, who meet while fulfilling their lover’s dying wish that they sing “Happy Birthday” to him at his grave site; and Beckwith’s contribution, “Pas de Deux,” which Ward will direct, in which a couple clashes over the husband’s refusal to learn to ballet dance. Beckwith’s play “The Great Mail Robbery” was performed as part of the 2009 Boston Theater Marathon.

Beckwith and Ward applaud the variety and quality of this year’s show but see Ten-Fest as being in its infancy, with the prospect of a more established event on the horizon. “It’s gaining its own momentum,” Ward says, noting that the festival’s profile may get a boost from its official participation in the Vermont Festival of the Arts (August 1-31 & September 5-6).

Beckwith’s husband and Norwich English department colleague F. Brett Cox, whose World War II-era monologue “Suspension” is also on the Ten-Fest bill, is similarly optimistic about the short play’s appeal to audiences gambling on something new. “I think, frankly, that people might be inclined to see something short,” he says. “It’s like the weather. If you don’t like it, in 10 minutes it will be over.”

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