“Festival of Ten” Steps Backwards; “Festival of Ten” Steps Forward
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone. But, given bushels of lemons, those involved in the performing arts have made gallons of lemonade.
This season, the SUNY Brockport Department of Theatre and Music Studies is producing a virtual version of Festival of Ten XII, the biennial program of ten 10-minute plays that is a favorite of those who have ever experienced it. They also decided to take a stroll down memory lane with Festival of Ten: Revisited, a series of new videos of past Festival plays, posted each week to the department’s Facebook page, which will continue through April 23.
Nearly everyone who graduated with a Brockport theatre degree in the last 25 years has been involved in the Festival in one way or another. Therefore, Professor Davida Bloom and Associate Professor Ruth Childs contacted alumni whom they thought might be good candidates to direct the plays. According to Bloom, she and Childs “narrowed the list of plays to those that had four or fewer characters. We sent the list to the directors, and they picked the plays they wanted to direct and chose their casts.”
The actors and directors mostly all attended Brockport during the 21st century. One notable exception is adjunct faculty member Michael Krickmire ’72, who directed “In a Perfect World” from Festival V in 2007 for Revisited. His memories of the Festival include harnessing the energy that comes with “working with the large number of students it takes to make the Festival successful. So many new faces have been drawn to audition for our full-length productions just by having had their first on-stage experience being in a 10-minute play.”
After a year during which even Christmas traditions took a back seat, what is the greatest tradition that transcends all versions of the Festival of Ten? Friendship. Unequivocally, friendship. Jared Lee Morgan ’13/’16, who is directing the Revisited version of “Horizons” (IX, 2015) and appearing in two other plays, feels that returning to campus — even virtually — helps him “get to know some of the younger talent in the department, while also maintaining friendships with some veterans of the program and making connections between the two.” Michael Sheehan ’08, who is appearing in “Martha’s Choice” (V, 2007) treasures his memories of being in a dressing room with “various cast and crew members, costumed for the 10 different worlds we would be presenting on stage… Many of the people in that room would go on to become my closest friends and colleagues at Brockport; some became dear friends, far beyond our time on campus.”
Once the project began, other Festival traditions and tricks came flooding back, some still pertinent. Shannon Toot ’15, who directed “bloodmatch.com” (VII, 2013) and “The Titanic Revisited,” (VI, 2009) and who will be returning to her original role in “Horizons,” (IX, 2015), recalls one particular aspect of directing Festival plays in the past: “The department invited the playwrights to see the show, to take part in a Q&A session, and to have dinner with the directors. As a director, you don’t often get to talk directly with the playwright or show them your work, so that was very special.” The department will make that happen again this year when the Playwrights Symposium takes place on May 8, via Zoom.
Sheehan, now a company manager with the Tony Award®-winning Roundabout Theatre Company, recalled that when he appeared in “Monogamy,” in the 2005 Festival, he felt that “there was a willingness by our company to meet the piece wherever it may be in its level of development. And revisiting a 10-minute play reminded me of the importance of making bold, strong choices; in such a short play, there’s little time for anything else!”
Childs, who directed “Do I Look Like Your Wife?” (VI, 2009) and “Martha’s Choice” (V, 2007), found that working on these plays helped fill the “live performing arts” void. “Directing these Zoom versions was fantastic and fed my creativity. And it was great to reconnect with the alumni.” Morgan feels that one of the “‘fortunate’ things about the pandemic is that I have been able to expand ‘where’ I have been able to do theatre.” From home, he has been involved in numerous readings that were based out of Ohio, California, and Virginia.
While these Zoom productions are one way to fill the absence of the real thing, for others, some theatrical traditions remain firmly in place. Krickmire, who has watched very few virtual productions during the past year, lamented that “Theatre is about immediate human interaction for me, not an electronic connection.”
But how did the artistic teams accommodate theatrical traditions for a Zoom-ified Revisited? Toot relays that “One of the biggest challenges was figuring out the physical actions, such as one character giving the other a coat, scarf, and ring… one of my actors didn’t have a scarf, so he used a dishtowel.”
Childs tried to remember she wasn’t directing an actual film, so thoughts of close-ups and panning wouldn’t overwhelm her. She also had to stage a fight scene between actors who were hundreds of miles apart but was more concerned with other logistics, “like remembering to hit ‘Record,’” she admitted. The Zoom aspect of the Revisited series was “a whole new ‘kettle of fish’” for Krickmire. However, he felt that “it prepared me quite well… for the play I am directing on Zoom for this year’s Festival of Ten XII.”
Indeed, the folks who populate the Department of Theatre and Music Studies are hopeful that Festival of Ten: Revisited will whet people’s appetites for Festival of Ten XII when it premieres — virtually — on May 7.
Festival of Ten: Revisited will post new, free content each Friday through April 16. The videos will run for one week. They can be found on the Department of Theatre and Music Studies or Fine Arts Series Facebook pages. Festival of Ten XII will premiere on May 7 at 7:30 pm and will run through May 14. Tickets are $10/General Audiences and $5/Students and can be purchased at the button below. A Playwrights Symposium, featuring authors of this year’s Festival plays, will take place on Saturday, May 8.