The Austin One-Minute Play Festival Is Back!

ScriptWorks presents another round of locally penned 60-second dramas – 70 staged back-to-back


(l-r): Johanna Whitmore, Dan Dalbout, Robert Newcomer, Liz Beckham, and Michael Ferstenfeld rehearse James Burnside's Post-Modern Cowboy under the direction of Director Jenny Lavery (not shown). (Photo by Jana Birchum)

It's amazing what happens in 60 seconds: 255 babies are born. A hummingbird flaps its wings 4,000 times. Oprah Winfrey makes $523. An entire play is performed. Or so it will go at the second annual Austin One-Minute Play Festival, running Aug. 17-19 at Ground Floor Theatre. Thirty-seven playwrights. Eight directors. Forty-plus actors. Seventy original one-minute plays.

The One-Minute Play Festival (1MPF) is the country's largest and longest-running short-form theatre company – boasting 24 national partnerships in 20 cities – and the list of festival alumni reads like a Who's Who of American contemporary theatre. For the second year, 1MPF is partnering with ScriptWorks, the homegrown organization dedicated to the career advancement and artistic growth of playwrights, to create an evening of original one-minute plays for Austin. The project has obvious practical benefits – proceeds from the local show support ScriptWorks programming – but it provides less tangible benefits as well, like a snapshot of our community in a brisk theatrical romp.

The festival process is simple, but ambitious: Local playwrights are given a prompt to consider the immediate world around them, and to write and submit moments that could only happen at this time and in this place, with the endgame of answering the elusive question "Who are we?" in 60 seconds or less. Participating local playwright Sarah Saltwick (whose new play Tender Rough Rough Tender opens Aug. 21 at the Off Center) calls it "an exercise in restraint and specificity." Each 60-second play is meant to suggest its surrounding world, imply a moment larger than itself. By compiling these moments, a sort-of community mind-mapping occurs, intended to generate "dialogue between the collective conscious and the individual voice."

After the plays are submitted, 1MPF founder/Producing Artistic Director Dominic D'Andrea and Associate Producer Caitlin Wees, who curate the festival, identify thematic and stylistic through lines and sort plays into "clumps." These clumps – along with ensuing challenges – are then passed along to eight directors (who meanwhile have blindly assembled casts of 6-10 actors), and the rehearsal process begins (roughly 10-15 hours for each clump). Participating director Derek Kolluri of Theatre en Bloc praises the process for requiring "greater levels of specificity and detail in pursuit of telling a story as cleanly as possible." Directors must distill moments to the critical core. Note: There is a stopwatch, and the performers run the risk of having the lights go down on the play if it runs over time. Because of this strict framework, the combined curated plays have a rhythm much like a heartbeat and take on a life of their own.

For the actors – and I can tell you this firsthand from performing in last year's 1MPF – it is a workout. Seamlessly transitioning from one character to another during a two-second blackout while navigating blink-of-an-eye set changes and shifting styles and tones is no small feat. There is no time for masturbatory self-indulgence onstage. The actors are held to the same challenge that the writers and directors face: Trim the fat.

The payoff of this challenging collaboration is threefold, at least. First, 1MPF is a smorgasbord of fast-paced original theatre with something for everyone. Many people shy away from attending live theatre because of the commitment: "I mean, two hours? Of my life? What if it sucks?" Well, the good news here is that if you don't fancy a certain play, just wait 60 seconds. You will undoubtedly discover artists whose work is compelling enough to warrant future patronage.

Second, 1MPF speaks to where we are specifically in time and space – a self-proclaimed "barometer project" that is as much social experiment as theatre. The playwrights' hyper-current commentaries, filtered through the lenses of D'Andrea, the directors, and the performers, identify Austin's strengths and weaknesses, concerns and conundrums, and the beautiful and chaotic world in which we live – and not as a bitch-fest but as a call to action. D'Andrea frequently has community dialogue sessions in the days following the festival, in which artists and non-artists alike discuss the issues and trends that bubbled to the surface.

Finally, 1MPF does something beautiful for the theatre community of Austin: It brings it together. Typically, theatre artists work on projects in communities within the community, isolated from one another in rehearsal rooms dispersed across the city. Through 1MPF, a diverse cross-section of writers, directors, and actors are given an opportunity to forge new relationships and unite through the common challenge of creating an original collaborative theatrical work. Cultivating trust and a unified voice, the One-Minute Play Festival grants Austin artists an exercise in solidarity in next to no time.


The second annual Austin One-Minute Play Festival runs Aug. 17-19, Mon.-Wed., 8pm, at Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale. For more information, visit www.scriptworks.org. Live streaming and 1MPF archives are available at www.howlround.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Scriptworks, Austin One-Minute Play Festival, Sarah Saltwick, Tender Rough Rough Tender, Derek Kolluri, Theatre en Bloc, Dominic D'Andrea, Caitlin Wees

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