Size matters, even in plays.
The art and craft of live theater will get distilled and condensed at the Prospect Theater Project’s Short, Ten Minute and One-Act Festival. The second annual event, which opens today and runs through July 27, will feature one each of the aforementioned-length plays all written, directed and acted by local artists. Prospect Artistic Director Jack Souza said that by showcasing short works the festival allows more people into the process.
(A short play) is like a well-written short story,” Souza said. “I find this year and last year were really kinetic. There is a lot of creative energy being focused, a lot of cracking and popping in these different directions.”
In its sophomore year, the event has been trimmed down from its more sprawling inaugural outing. Last year there were 10 pieces produced; this year there will only be three. The works will be the one-act play “A True Fairy Tale,” written and directed by Sean Trew; the 10-minute play “Reflections,” written and directed by Bryan Hurd; and the short play “Migrant Mother,” written by Ken White and directed by Laura Dickinson-Turner.
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“A True Fairy Tale” will be staged one night and “Reflections” and “Migrant Mother” will be staged together another night on back-to-back evenings in a rotating schedule through July 27.
The festival is run as a follow-up to the theater company’s Director’s Workshop. Some of the festival participants took part in the five-week workshop and their current production is the culmination of that experience.
Trew, who also participated in last year’s festival, began writing his one-act play about a month ago. The story is a farcical look at the classic hero’s journey narrative made famous by scholar Joseph Campbell.
“I wanted to do something to really challenge myself,” said Trew, who also has acted with Prospect in the past. “Every day I’d come in, work on it, pitch ideas. There is a huge theater community here and it’s cool to have people collaborate on something like this. ”
Trew’s production, the longest of the festival, has 16 actors and large, fanciful set pieces. To stage pieces like Trew’s and the rest of the works requires collaboration on all elements of production, which is part of what makes the experience so valuable, Souza said.
Volunteers who regularly work with Prospect, as well as people in the theater community from Modesto Junior College and Merced, have pitched in to help get the project off the ground.
Hurd’s piece took on an extra level of collaboration as it is adapted from the short play by fellow local playwright David Hambley, titled “Merced Reflections.” His 10-minute vignette based on Hambley’s work explores a young woman’s discovery of a mystical connection to her family’s past. Both Hurd and Hambley took part in this year’s Director’s Workshop and Souza encouraged them to direct on each other’s work.
“He said it is better if you learn to direct other pieces, not just your own stuff,” Hurd said. “There is a lot of talent here in Modesto. This is a place where people are building a community and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Dickinson-Turner is directing “Migrant Mother,” a short play about the famous Depression-era image by the same name of a impoverished field worker surrounded by her children. The photo shot by photojournalist Dorothea Lange depicts Florence Owens Thompson, who ultimately settled in Modesto after migrating from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. Over the years Thompson expressed anger over the photo, and said she regretted it. In 1983 she died and is now buried in Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson.
“(Playwright) Ken White is interested in telling stories of the history of Modesto that people might not be aware of,” Dickinson-Turner said. “The questions in the play revolve around what is art. If you take a photograph, you’re putting a frame around something and therefore it changes what people see in some way.”
Dickinson-Turner, who had originally signed on just to direct, also will appear in the play as Lange after original actress Karen Lotko shattered her wrist.
“This process extends far past the creators,” Souza said. “I want to do stuff that promotes discussion about who we are and where we are going. I want the experience to go well beyond the front door.”