On Saturday, October 13, members of the Wheaton College community gathered in the Kresge Experimental Theater in Watson Fine Arts for the autumn production of the biannual Ten-Minute Play Festival. The festival, which is held in April and October of each year, is a collaboration between the creative Writing and theatre departments of Wheaton and is based off a prompt devised by Playwright-in-Residence Charlotte Meehan. The event is open to students regardless of major or level of experience, allowing students from a variety of backgrounds the chance to experiment with writing, acting and directing.
Ten-minute plays have long been a staple of college theater for their simplistic yet challenging format. Like a full-length production, a ten-minute play is a fully structured piece of writing containing exposition, plot, and character development that often centers around a specific issue. In essence, it contains all the elements of a two-hour play condensed into a ten-minute time frame. This presents a unique challenge for writers, who must clearly communicate their ideas in a limited span of time. Ten-minute play festivals often seek to more fully engage the audience by presenting a series of shorter works, which showcase the work of a variety of playwrights and often explore a common theme. A particularly challenging aspect of Wheaton’s Ten-Minute Play Festival are the time constraints placed on writers. An email containing a prompt is sent to students on Monday morning, and completed plays must be submitted no more than forty-eight hours later. Each play only receives one hour of rehearsal time before being performed on Saturday. As a result, both the material and the staging is comparatively raw, which is encouraged by both actors and directors. Unlike polished professional productions, perfection isn’t emphasized as much as the process of creation.
This festival’s topic was to write a play surrounding conflicting memories. Meehan acknowledged the role of the current political climate in her choice, specifically the #MeToo movement of the past year as well as the recent controversy over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. The national conversation this touched off about attitudes surrounding sexual assault has raised questions about the veracity of memory-based evidence and specifically how society responds to conflicting testimony in the public space. Wheaton students rose to the challenge, responding to the prompt in ways ranging from the humorous to the thoughtful to the sad. The young pranksters of Anna Athey’s A Tale of Two Fluffy Dresses supply a comedic element while Laurie Morency’s suspenseful Mary-Anne, about a group struggling to recall the existence of a potential middle school friend, adds a sense of mystery. Touching upon more serious topics, Chris Gardner’s Between L3 and L4 and Maya Wylie’s Memento Mori address the struggles of family members confronting a loved one’s mental illness. Catherine Nevin’s Limbo is an emotionally powerful dialogue between a mother and daughter in a hospital waiting room as they wait for the girl’s cancer-stricken sister to finish her surgery.
In a ten minute span, their emotional conversation beautifully traces the complicated history of their family as well as their devotion for the third, missing member, whose fate grows more unsure as the play progresses. Finally, a nurse enters, and the mother fears the worst, but the play concludes before it is resolved. The ending, left open, provides the element of uncertainty suggested by the prompt, but despite their common source of inspiration the seven plays presented are notably different. The wide-ranging tone and subject matter they cover showcases the unique creative approaches of Wheaton students.
Categories: Arts and Culture