For the second year, Heller Theatre presents Heller Shorts, an evening of eight short plays written by local playwrights. This year's theme, "keep it brief," required each of the writers to include a briefcase somewhere in his or her play.
Susan Apker, organizer of the event, said last year's inaugural affair was aimed at offering local playwrights opportunities to get their work seen on a Tulsa stage. Though actors, directors and technicians have ample opportunities to work within the community theater industry, she said, playwrights don't; only a few theaters present locally written plays.
Apker, a playwright herself, thought she might be able to remedy this problem, at least once a year, while also raising funds for Heller Theatre Council, which provides financial support to both city-owned theaters, Heller and Clark.
Apker and her selection committee received about 25 submissions of plays seeking inclusion in the shorts festival and, of those, eight were chosen.
Those chosen were:
Jumper by Michael Wright, Adventure of the Piltdown Man by Stephanie Colburn, Open by Daniel Hitzman, There's Something in the Water by Kelley Childers Friedberg, Deus Ex Icebox by Morgan Belcher, Standard Procedure by Rebekah Liston, Fools by Michael Wright and The Intervention by Kelley Childers Friedberg and Ron Friedberg.
While some of them are novice playwrights, others have been writing for years.
Michael Wright's plays have been produced in countries like Germany and Australia, and he's writing a full-length play now.
"Any chance a playwright gets to have his work done is wonderful," he said.
Both of his short plays are comedies, though one is darker than the other. Fools is about "clowns clowning around," which was the only description Wright was comfortable offering for fear of ruining the surprise ending.
Jumper is about a man who intends to commit suicide but whose plans are thwarted by a stranger.
Keep It Brief.
"I like to write stuff that's comic or dark with comic edges," Wright said. "I always think tragedy and comedy go together really well. I'm not really interested in melodramatic tragedy."
The writer's son, Eli Wright, is directing Jumper.
Apker said directors were chosen based on their strengths and experience. Since so many are directing for the first time, she tried to match them with plays they felt comfortable with.
"We were very collaborative on the decision-making," she said.
How much involvement the playwrights had with the directors and actors producing their work was up to them, she said. Wright said he tries not to control the work too much.
"I've seen each of the plays that are mine once in rehearsal and talked to the directors a little bit where I saw some issues with the actors and offered to rewrite if I needed to," he said. "In the one my son directs, one of the characters was written male but the better actor who showed up was female, and that was a great choice."
He said, in Fools, one of the actors is much younger than the character he originally wrote, and it's been interesting to see how the change has affected the script.
"I've been writing plays since the early 1980s," Wright said. "My first professional production was in '82, so I've been at it for a long time. I think that's why I don't have any issues with letting people bring what they can bring to the script. It's a collaborative art form."
In addition to the father-son arrangement with Jumper, there's another family affair happening at the festival this year. Kelley Childers Friedberg, who wrote two plays for the show, collaborated with her husband on one, The Intervention, with which he's making his directorial debut.
Each performance of last year's festival was sold out, raising $3,000 for the Heller Theatre Council. Apker said she hopes for the same positive response from the community this year.
Performances are Aug. 18-20 at 8pm and Aug. 21 at 2pm at the Henthorne Performing Arts Center, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. The performance on Friday, August 19 will include a 7pm reception for the audience to meet the playwrights and a talk-back with directors and playwrights following the performance. Admission is $10, and reservations may be made by calling 918-746-5065.
Through the looking glass
Also this weekend, Encore! Theater Arts presents Alice in Wonderland, a children's production intended to please audiences of all ages.
"Hilarious, energetic, and even completely chaotic at times," is how Mindy Barker, co-founder of Encore!, describes the troupe's staging of this classic fantasy. "You'll see Wonderland through Alice's eyes as she becomes enthralled with the amazing place, then frightened as she shrinks and grows to extraordinary heights. Later, she becomes frustrated with the quirky and sometimes not-so-nice characters, then delighted to find her way home again."
As with the book, she said, there are levels of humor that are appropriate for all ages: silly and goofy moments for kids, mature (but clean) humor for teens, intelligent humor for adults, and everything in between.
Encore! will present Alice in Wonderland in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Liddy Doenges Theatre Aug. 19 at 7:30, Aug. 20 at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Aug. 21 at 2pm. The show continues next weekend as well. Tickets and other information are available at tulsapac.com.
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