Eight years ago Rachael Bail, president of the McLean Drama Company, came up with a unique contest idea for local playwrights to pen a 10-minute play, with the winning entries being staged at different regional theaters in front of a who's who of theater lovers.
The success of the 10-Minute Play Contest prompted Bail to open entries to a national audience two years ago, and now writers from across the country submit work for judging. On Saturday, September 21, the McLean Drama Company will stage this year's top three finishers at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Melton Rehearsal Hall in Washington, D.C.
"The goal was to support and present new and original plays to the audiences in the Washington, D.C., area," Bail says. "We had thirty entries this year and there is a small jury who reads all the plays. The board makes the final decision."
Taking home first place this year was William Fowkes for The Brazilian Dilemma, a comedy about what happens when two people finally say they love each other but then discover that they've been harboring conflicting notions about their relationship.
"At its core, this play is about jealousy," Fowkes says. "This one lent itself to being a ten-minute piece pretty easily, because it's about a moment of transformation that occurs in about ten minutes in real time. The challenge, though, was saying and showing everything I wanted in ten minutes, which was impossible, so I've been working on an expanded, full-length version, which explores the phenomenon of jealousy in several forms and in greater depth."
A graduate of Yale University with a PhD and a master's degree from Northwestern University, Fowkes is a prolific playwright and a member of the Dramatists Guild. Three of his plays are being staged this fall. He was intrigued at the opportunity to work on something small.
"While I personally prefer working on full-length plays, a festival or contest of short works provides more playwrights the opportunity to be seen," he says. "Contests like this provide playwrights with opportunities to see their work up on its feet, which is critical to the development process. Also, if well done, a ten-minute play can give an audience an intriguing glimpse of a character or a world and whet their appetite to see more theater."
Fowkes hopes that audiences will glean from the play some fodder for discussion and perhaps some self-recognition in the dilemma faced by these characters.
Cynthia Morrison, an actress with a decade of experience producing live variety shows, in addition to being a playwright, took second with Peppered Precinct, a flash drama that presents sexual harassment within a police department. However, the offender unknowingly assists his victim in reaching justice in this case.
"Theater patrons shall witness firsthand, up close and personal, the evils that usually hide behind closed doors. An entrapment of a dominant force," Morrison says. "Sympathy for a victim attempting to deal with an extremely uncomfortable circumstance as best she can. Then finally patrons can share in celebration of the victim's justice. The rat caught in his own trap."
A graduate of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre in Florida, Morrison only recently started entering her work in competitions and was thrilled to be named as one of the winners in MDC's contest.
"This opportunity exercises creativeness. I am sure that most playwrights would agree that the feeling is very rewarding to have their work recognized in a high fashion. I absolutely agree," she says. "I had doubts about Peppered Precinct being chosen for an event due to its controversial content. I believe many contests lean more towards the comical aspects of a play due to audience demands."
Jerome Coopersmith, an experienced writer and dramatist in theater, film, and television (in fact, he wrote 34 episodes of the original Hawaii Five-0) took third place with his short play Nik & Ida, a fictional meeting between the scientific genius Nikola Tesla and the principal of a school where he has been invited to lecture.
"In the course of the meeting, Tesla encounters much of the prejudice and stupidity that has confronted him throughout his life," Coopersmith says. "The challenges in writing drama are always present. How do you convey thematic points through characters [who] are believable and entertaining? In the case of super-brevity, the challenges are even more difficult to fulfill."
A Tony Award-nominated writer for Baker Street in 1965 (losing out to Joseph Stein and Fiddler on the Roof), Coopersmith has continued to seek opportunities in the theater world.
"All new experience is good for playwrights. It adds to your knowledge of how to respond to various kinds of human behavior, and that is the essence of drama," he says. "When you can color the response with humor, emotion, and suspense you are on your way to learning the craft."
For more information, visit www.mcleandramacompany.org.