JIM BOMBICINO & BURT TEPFER
Conducted by FRED LEE
We have finally arrived at spring, bringing the birds to our feeders, the mowers to our lawns, and mystery and delight to our beloved summer playhouses.
To prepare you for the latter, I’ve come up with a very simple quiz:
What can you accomplish in ten minutes?
•Make a cup of tea or coffee; •Get dressed; •Walk the dog; •Put gas in the car; •Make a PB&J sandwich; •Discover that your mom is an Olympic medalist; •Hock your dead husband.
Okay, I’ll admit that the last two answers take a little bit of insider knowledge, the key to which is the Actors Theatre Playhouse in West Chesterfield, opening its 2019 season as it has for twelve years with their Ten Minute Play Festival.
What is the magic to this below-the-radar recurring phenomena of sell-out crowds? I recently sequestered myself with festival co-producers Jim Bombicino and Burt Tepfer to see if I could get a line on the secret of the festival's success. Here is my report.
Fred Lee: First of all, please describe just what the Festival is.
Jim Bombicino: Well, it's 7 or 8 plays, each running about ten minutes, telling a story through one or two or three characters . . .
Burt Tepfer: We had one a few years back that had six characters, but it's difficult to introduce that many in such a short span of time.
FL: Any monologues?
JB: Not this year, but we have had them in the past.
FL: And what are the plays about? Is there a festival theme each year that ties them all together?
JB: We don' restrict ourselves to a theme . . . .
BT: Which we like—the exciting thing for us, and I think for the audience, is that we never know what to expect—there are so many different directions these plays can go in . . .
JB: And we try to balance the genres, so that there's not a preponderance of, say, comedies, or dramas.
BT: This year we have, I think, three pieces you would consider comedies . . .
JB: One would be Gary Shaffer's ‘The Holy Grill’ . . .
FL: Oh, directed by Charlene Kennedy, about the couple undergoing the pre-vows interview with a priest which confirms their worst fears . . .
JB: Right, and in ‘Hocking Murray,’ which Mo Hart is directing, you have a rather commonplace pawning of jewelry which causes the pawnbroker some unusual ethical considerations.
BT: On the other side of the spectrum there's ‘Two Girls,’ a very hard-hitting play by Allie Costa about an all too common, horrifying event, and Dan McGeehan's ‘Rosebird Egress,’ which finds a small-town sheriff haunted by a cold case that's a decade old.
JB: And in-between—Mike Jerald's production of ‘Florida’ and Carrie Kidd's of ‘In Her Golden Years’ are both funny but very poignant tales of relationships we all know too well.
FL: So how do you go about selecting the plays in order to achieve this balance, and, for that matter, how do you select the directors and actors?
JB: Every year Sam [Pilo, founder and artistic director of the Theatre] publishes a notice asking for submissions. This year we received over 600 from across the continent and Europe, which was a bit more than we could handle, so we took the first 300 or so to our reading committee and winnowed that number down to about 24, and reduced by half. Then we presented these 12 to our pool of directors, see who wants to do what, and then hold open auditions for the actors.
FL: So the directors and actors involved also represent a wide spectrum of talent?
BT: Very much so. Some are very experienced and well-known in local theater; some come from western Massachusetts or beyond Keene . . .
JB: And some are taking on new roles—actors who are trying their hand at directing, or have had limited experience—they can get involved in something like this to try their hand at something new or different without committing to the huge amount of time that our normal productions demand. Plus it's a very organic process: we may have two actors in mind for a particular role but it turns out one of them would be perfect for another play that we had set aside. So it's an evolving process which makes for directors and actors who can work well together in presenting a tight and engaging short play. And to take in eight of them, all interesting in their own very unique way, all in one evening is like trying eight different kinds of chocolate truffles without having to worry about the diet.
BT: It's really the best of both worlds: Actors and directors get to spread their wings a bit with different kinds of material and become better acquainted with each other's talents and work, and then there's the festival itself, which sells out for three weekends because its such a perennial favorite of our local—and not-so-local—theater goers.
So that's the skinny.
Tickets for the festival may be reserved by calling the theater box office at 877 666 1855 and are highly recommended.
This year's Ten Minute Play Festival at the Actors Theatre Playhouse
runs nine performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm
from June 6 to June 22.
The plays in this year's festival are:
‘The Holy Grill’ by Gary Shaffer, directed by Charlene Kennedy
‘Two Girls’ by Allie Costa, directed by Wendy Almeida
‘In Her Golden Years’ by Steven Korbar and directed by Carrie Kidd
‘Talk of Birds’ by Robin Caroline, directed by Burt Tepfer
‘Rosebird Egress’ by Dan McGeehan, directed by Brenda Seitz
‘Hocking Murray’ by George Sapio and directed by Mo Hart;
‘Blind Date Aftermath’ by Tanis Galik, directed by Jim Bombicino
and ‘Florida’ by Steven Doloff and directed by Mike Jerald.
The producers have been greatly assisted by
Nancy Hamilton, stage manager,
and Squeak Stone and Susan Sanders on sound and lighting.