You guys, it’s August. Even though it’s been more than a decade since I’ve had an actual summer break, this month still always manages to be as sad as one long Sunday. Not to worry too much, I’ve got good news. First, August means it’s almost September, which means that 2015-2016 theater seasons will start up soon. But more immediately, August is still festival season around here.
One final and notable entry in this year’s festival season is The Artists’ Exchange’s annual One Act Play Festival, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary. According to Theater Director Jessica Chace, this year’s lineup features 16 original works showcasing more than 30 actors, 15 playwrights and five primary directors.
Organizers had their work cut out for them this year – Jessica says that the group whittled down over 1,000 submissions to the final lineup. “It was an overwhelming amount of work, the most we’ve ever had,” she says. “It was at least three times as many as last year, with submissions from as close as Cranston to as far away as India.”
The settings, ideas and tones in the various one acts are as varied as their geographical pedigrees. Comedy, drama, romance, family fare – this festival has it all. But what unites these works, more than just the delicate ballet of prop swapping and quick changes that have to happen on the minimal sets to make such a varied lineup work on a shoestring budget, is the festival’s central theme: celebration of creativity.
“First, celebration comes in many forms,” says Jessica. “Birthdays, milestones, anniversaries, proposals, engagements. It can also mean divorce. It can also mean making the choice to better your life, as difficult as it may be. So celebration was in the back of our minds when selecting the plays.”
Celebrating creativity is central to the overall mission of the Artists’ Exchange, a space that houses multiple art studios, galleries and year-round classes in all art forms, among other things. It is a place where creativity and connection are embraced across all mediums and across all people. “As absurd as it may be, you can find a connection with someone around the corner, in an alley, at a drugstore, often when we least expect it,” Jessica says. “We should celebrate the difference in people. Our mission is about celebrating people in all walks of life and integrating everyone, because we all have unique gifts and abilities.”
Some of this creativity will help to unite the scenery for each show at the Black Box Theatre 82 & Character’s Café in Cranston. Even the pared-down number of shows would present a budgetary challenge for those in cushier situations. But after facilitating transitions in the space for the previous incarnations of the festival, resident technical guru Adam Ramsey has it down to a science. Jessica says that all artists, even actors, play a role backstage, helping to move sets and assisting with lights and music. And this year, an anonymous artist from New Bedford has donated abstract paintings that will be present across all plays in the festival. “[That in itself is] a celebration of creativity, of art. It can be interpreted however you want – that’s the whole basis of abstract art,” Jessica points out.
The selections are scheduled over two “waves” – the first on July 17, 18, 24, 25 and the second across July 31, August 1, 7 and 8. Another unifying feature of the festival is the length; each show is about 10 to 15 minutes, and acceptable for almost all audiences (Jessica says it’s rated PG-13 for some language that’s inappropriate for youngsters). This is, in part, to encourage audience members even in today’s Insta-ADD-Tweetspeak world to get out and have an interaction with live theater, even in its most bite-sized forms. “These are fresh works of art. People may not have heard of them,” she says. “[This festival] gives us an opportunity for playwrights all over the world to have their work be heard for the first time. That opportunity is really special.”
The reciprocal goodwill extended to the Exchange by those same playwrights is particularly evident in Bottom of the 9th by Minnesota native Rand Higbee, which will be playing in Wave 2, says Jessica. Originally written to be about the scribe’s home team, the Minnesota Twins, Rand gave the Exchange permission to revamp the show to be themed around the Boston Red Sox – for obvious reasons. “We’re excited about that show,” says Jessica. “Even if you don’t like baseball or sports, you can’t help but get into that Red Sox Nation feeling.”
Which is another thing about August, for you baseball fans – October’s just right around the bend.
Artists’ Exchange 10th Annual One Act Play Festival through August 8
82 Rolfe Square, Cranston