There are few things worse in theater than sitting through a long, bad play. Thankfully, at Philadelphia’s first-ever One Minute Play Festival—which runs for three performances only, starting Monday—that’s a circumstance in which local stage lovers will not find themselves.
Presented jointly by Philadelphia’s InterAct Theatre Company and the New York-based One-Minute Play Festival (OMPF), the inaugural gathering features more than 70 new mini-plays. Penning the 60-second dramas are nearly 50 playwrights, all of whom hail from the Philadelphia region. Many are little-known playwrights emerging though the festival, while some of the city’s top dramatists— including Jacqueline Goldfinger, Seth Rozin and multiple Barrymore Award-winner Michael Hollinger—are also participating. More than 30 local actors are involved, along with eight area directors.
OMPF has, with others, staged similar festivals in a number of American cities to great success. Far more than just a three-day event, the Philly fest is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between InterAct and OMPF intended to foster support for the city’s dramatists. All are invited to participate and encouraged to write about anything holding their interest. The plays are then grouped into “clumps” based on their themes or subject matter. Each clump of plays is assigned a director, who’s in charge of casting. In all, there are nine clumps in the OMPF, with themes including gentrification, race, life and death, and the city of Philadelphia itself. Acclaimed director Seth Reichgott is directing nine plays that all revolve around the topic of food. Six actors—three men and three women—will perform in them, scenes which, Reichgott says, range in tone from “broad comedy to a more bittersweet sort of feel.”
Although the plays are meant to be entertaining, OMPF has far loftier goals than simply presenting a lively evening of theater. According to Dominic D’Andrea, OMPF’s founder and artistic director, the company has spent an entire year meeting with Philadelphia-area playwrights to discuss what it means to be making art in this city at this period. OMPF has hosted a series of “community and consensus-building workshop sessions with local artists,” D’Andrea told PW, “to create an exchange of ideas, dialogue and understanding with a goal of potentially inspiring new collaborations among local artists.” Goldfinger says those workshop discussions led to the creation of The Foundry, a playwright support organization. “We were losing promising playwriting students to other cities after college graduation because there is very little support for Philadelphia’s emerging playwrights,” she notes. The Foundry is intended to provide emerging Philly playwrights with “the opportunity to develop their craft while also giving them insight into the business of theater.” It wouldn’t exist, she adds, “without OMPF’s commitment to being a conversation starter and problem solver in local communities.”
Unlike many short play festivals, D’Andrea says the only rule is that each play could not exceed one minute in length. “Our playmaking process is actively working with the idea of building up to a minute, as opposed to the cramming of content into a minute. We ask writers for find a core: a word, image, idea, and build up from there. When a one-minute play is good, it can suggest a world that is much wider than its tiny frame. When they are rushed, they can get botched, and we (the audience) disconnect and become aware of the time.”
Rozin, InterAct’s artistic director and a successful playwright with two works in the festival, says InterAct was interested in partnering with OMPF “because we have a vested interest in advancing the climate for new plays and playwrights in Philly. And while I’ll admit to having had my own questions about the artistic value of a one-minute play, I have been completely won over by Dominic’s approach to the event. OMPF is really about galvanizing a city’s playwriting community and about capturing something unique in a city’s cultural moment. And at worst, if a play isn’t to your liking, you only have another 45 seconds to endure before moving on.”
Mon., July 29-Wed., July 31. 8pm. $20. Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom St. interacttheatre.org