POSTED ON AUGUST 15, 2012:
A festival of original short plays
One of the cooler things Heller Theater has been doing of late is its annual shorts festival. This year, Heller presents Heller Shorts--Waiting for Shorty. As the name implies, it's an evening of short plays -- seven, to be exact.
How short is short?
"They're supposed to run 7-15 minutes, but sometimes they run a little longer," said festival director Susan Apker.
In addition to directing the festival, Apker has a few other jobs this year. Not only did she find herself chosen as one of the playwrights, but she's also directing one of the short plays--"The Next Blue Moon" by David Blakely.
"I wanted to direct it, but I wouldn't have if someone else would have stepped up," she said. "When I sent the scripts out to people who volunteered to direct, no one stepped up to the plate and said, 'Yeah, I want to direct that.'"
So she finds herself wearing three hats -- festival director, play director, and playwright. That said, she's not asking anyone for sympathy.
"It's not a hardship. I've had great fun," she said. "I don't get to do musicals very often."
Oh, yeah. It's a musical. One of two in the festival this year. This just keeps getting more interesting, doesn't it?
"This is the first year we've done any kind of musical. One is sort of a play with music in it, but the other is really a musical. It's got four songs and the dialog in between is minimal," she said.
Heller Shorts hasn't featured musicals before, and this year finds two of the seven shows featuring musical elements.
"That's just the way it turned out," Apker said. "That's what got submitted."
While there won't be a full band or a chorus or any Peter Pan flying paraphernalia, a musical is a musical, no matter the scale.
"It's been fun and it's been a challenge," she said. "It's like one day I'm like, 'I have to be choreographer today.'"
Again, she also wrote one of the shows selected for this year's festival.
"I totally removed myself from the judging this year because I submitted a play," she said. "At this point, I haven't looked and I don't even know who else submitted other than the ones that were selected. I have mediated the judging in the past and didn't vote, but because I submitted this year, I thought maybe it wouldn't look fair. So was completely out of that part of the process."
"Basically, I'm the producer," she explained. "I put all the wheels in motion. Heller gives me the dates we can perform, and from there, I decide on dates -- when scripts need to be in by, when the judges need to decide, things like that. Then I put in place all the administrative details, like who's directing and things." On top of all that, she, as mentioned above, penned one of the pieces chosen for the festival, and directs another.
It turns out, the festival itself is a fundraiser for the Heller Council -- essentially a board of directors for the theater.
"For the most part, this is a function of the Heller council, so the Heller staff tries to keep hands-off, because it's a fundraiser for the Council," Apker said.
"The council is basically a board of directors," she continued. "We provide monetary and volunteer help for Heller and the Henthorne [where Heller shows are performed]. So if there's something that's really expensive for a show or something, they might come to us and say, 'Would you pay for this?' Or like when we went to Oklahoma Community Theatre Association festival in June, the council helped proved additional funding."
And that funding has come largely from the very big success of this festival.
"The first year, it sold out completely," Apker said. "So that's the best we could ever do." In an effort to keep audiences engaged and perhaps keep finding new audience members, directors of the festival have tried to put as many actors onstage as possible.
"In terms of the number of people involved, we've tried to cast as many people as we could," Apker said.
Casting as many people as possible is an idea that stems from the heart of the festival itself, and that revolves around giving people chances.
"Part of the function of shorts is to give not only playwrights an opportunity to see their work on stage, but also to give actors a chance to direct and have a forum to direct and learn," she said.
One might not realize that directing is a learned skill, but like so many jobs out there, you can't get hired without experience, and you can't get experience without getting hired. Heller Shorts aims to chip away at that catch-22. But that's not all the good it does for local performers.
"The other great thing about shorts is that we get a lot of people who are students or are otherwise busy," Apker said. "They just don't have the time to commit to two months' rehearsal for a show, but they will come and do shorts because it's a smaller time commitment. We get folks that we see once a year at Heller when they come out and do shorts."
These people who step out of their lives long enough to do these shows also step out of their comfort zones occasionally.
"I like directing," Apker said. "I feel like I get to be all the characters because I get to tell them what to do. But not everyone wants to do that. But we've had people step up -- even people new to theater. It's been really great to help them and watch them learn."
This sort of learning and educational focus is a great deal of what Heller does along with its partner, Clarke Theatre. But to continue, there's always that great bugaboo in the theater world, and that's lack of cash. So fundraisers like Heller Shorts are a way of life. And someone is always trying to figure a way to pull in more and more money. This year is no exception.
"One other really interesting thing about this year is that we have a program called 'Stuff Our Shorts,'" Apker said. "The audience is invited to vote with money for their favorite show. We'll have shorts hanging along the back of the risers."
There has been voting in the past, and both winners of the last two Heller Shorts Festivals have shows in the running for this year's favorite show.
"Jeffery Wetterman won the first year, and Daniel Hitzman won last year, and they both have shows in again this year," Apker said.
Heller Theatre presents the third annual Heller Shorts Festival: Waiting for Shorty, August 16-18 at 7:30pm and August 19 at 2pm at the Henthorne PAC, located at 4825 S. Quaker Ave.
Tickets are available at the door for $10, but Apker said reservations are best.
"Getting tickets at the door is easiest, but you need to make reservations in advance," she said. "We've sold out both years, so advance reservations are definitely recommended."
Said reservations can be made by calling 918-746-0565, and more information can be found at cityoftulsa.org/henthornepac.
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