After Ashland writer Ruth Wire lost $84 in a telephone scam, she became the target of another scammer who asked her to send $1,400 to redeem a $65 million prize.
"I sensed it was a scam immediately," she says. "I thought if I could write a play, it could help raise awareness. A play is fun."
Wire imagined how she could turn the tables on the scammer — and her short play "You Lucky Lady" was born.
The miniature drama is one of seven plays featured in "Moonlighting 2016," Ashland Contemporary Theatre's annual festival of short plays by local playwrights. Although the subjects range from scams to veganism to apartment-haunting ghosts, the plays culled from 35 submissions are tied together by the underlying theme of surprises.
Readings of all seven plays are at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27, at the Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, and at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 E. Nevada St., Ashland. The plays range from 8 to 15 minutes.
Tickets are $12 and are available at Paddington Station, 125 E. Main St., Ashland; Grocery Outlet, 35 E. Stewart Ave., Medford, and online at www.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org.
Playwright and novelist John Yunker says the short play format poses unique problems for authors.
"The challenge is getting the audience engaged and coming to a satisfying conclusion in a very short period of time," he says. "You don't have room to bore your audience."
His short play "Veganish" centers on a vegan woman and her non-vegan boyfriend. When they happen upon a supposedly vegan celebrity at a restaurant, the woman begins to doubt her screen idol's commitment to the lifestyle.
"If we ask our celebrities and leaders to be perfect, perhaps we're asking too much from them. She considers outing him because he's living a lie," Yunker says.
Yunker and his wife are both vegans, but Yunker said vegan activists can be so extreme they dissuade non-vegans from taking small steps, such as trying to go meatless on Mondays.
"I've lived on both sides of the philosophy, and I see both sides," he says.
Like Yunker's play, Teresa Peterson's short work "Priorities" is based on personal experience. She and her husband once house-sat for an artist friend. The friend created a long list of things for them to do in case of a fire — including which pet to save and which ones to let perish.
In "Priorities," a couple think they will have a restful time while taking care of a combination house, gallery and studio in Lake Tahoe.
"The moment they arrive, they are faced with a non-vacation situation," Peterson says.
Peterson says the short play format is especially popular in Mexico, where people love to sit for a few hours and watch almost a dozen plays. This is her first time having a play performed at the short play festival in Ashland.
"The audience will have a chance to experience a number of different ideas coming from different people. It's a great draw for an audience," she says. "This adds to the spectrum of the kinds of plays we have in Ashland. There's something for everyone."
The festival also features Mig Windows' quirky play "Special Delivery" about a young professional couple on their first date who are suddenly confronted with a baby.
Another couple — newly married — face ghosts in their apartment in Diane Nichols' "Flicker." Long-term lovers consider matrimony in Bob Valine's "I Do."
Jeannine Grizzard's "Spiritual Teachers' Life-Skills Bootcamp" explores what would happen if a spiritual guru dropped his entourage and tried to become self-sufficient.
"The festival is a wonderful opportunity for local writers to share work with the community," Yunker says. "It's an enjoyable mix of plays. I encourage everyone to go."
The plays are directed by Grizzard, Lyda Woods and Will Churchill. The actors are Grizzard, Joe Charter, Adriana Sanchez, Reece Bredl, Karen Douglas, Maria Ciamaichelo, Cory Davison and Dan Hanvey.