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Ten Minute Play Slam exposes new form to Ashland

"This isn't culture," says Molly Tinsley. "This is going to be fun."

Tinsley is speaking of a Ten Minute Play Slam happening Friday and Saturday night at The Mobius in Ashland. "It's a contest inspired by poetry slams," she continues. "This is a genre that hasn't had any exposure in Ashland, but it's big in Seattle, the Bay Area, and especially in New York. It's huge. I'm on a lot of playlists on the Internet, and there's calls for ten minute plays all the time."

Some 50 playwrights submitted entries for the Ashland event, says Alan Donovan, a board member of Artwork Enterprises, which is sponsoring the event.

"We really spread the word, posted the event on various web sites, and we got submissions from as far away as Ireland and Italy. We had a committee of four people read the plays, and they selected eight. We wanted to give playwrights from the west coast first crack at it, so we prioritized to some degree. Four out of the eight are from the west coast."

The slam is intended to be fast-paced. Local actor Andy Peterson will emcee the event and act as a sort of "talking program," setting up and introducing each play as the minimal sets are changed.

"The plays adhere to a News Year's theme of resolutions, renewal, new beginnings and are mainly upbeat, leaning toward comedy," says Donovan.

Audience members won't see full productions, but rather "staged readings," says Caroline Shaffer, who directs two of the plays. "They're minimally directed. We're trying to tell the story quickly. The whole point is to have a surprise, a transition, an epiphany, some kind of a pop."

After all the plays are staged, the audience will vote on their favorite via an insert in their program. The winner will take home $50, but more importantly, the recognition of winning the contest.

"This is a great event for playwrights," says Donovan. "Playwrights don't usually get a lot of attention, and here's a chance for them to get their plays read and performed on stage. And there's a certain amount of prestige of being involved in a theater contest from Ashland. It's good for the playwrights."

Theater in Ten Minutes

But what kind of theater experience can be had in a mere ten minutes?

"This is what's big in the theater world," says Tinsley. "There are many variations on it: Fifteen-minute plays, five-minute plays, even one-page plays. All kinds of genres beneath the one-act."

Tinsley, who won the Oregon Book Award for her 2001 novel "Throwing Knives," is also a board member of Artwork and has a submission in the contest. Her Play, "Cell-Abrasion," is about two telemarketers who have a relationship entirely on their cell phones.

"One of them sells a completely unnecessary security system to an elderly woman, who buys it with her life savings," explains Tinsley. But only at the end of the call does she discover that the victim is her own grandmother in Topeka. This is her moment of crisis, and what causes her to climb over the cubicle wall and for the first time meet her boyfriend face-to-face, body-to-body."

"These kind of moments are what you're trying to encapsulate in a ten-minute play," she continues. "Forget the exposition. Forget the explanation. Forget the analysis. Get right down to the element that matters. It forces the playwright to get down to the moment."

"A ten-minute play is like a haiku," says Shaffer. "It's hyper-condensed, leaving you with a single image. It's a feeling similar to poetry. We're throwing them out, punching them out, one after another."

A New Audience

Tinsley hopes the slam format will attract new audiences to theater. "This is the age of channel-surfing and short attention spans," she continues. "Most television programs are structured in this format. Take "LA Law," for example. It's basically four or five story lines told in ten-minute blocks. It's like the skits on Saturday Night Live, too."

"I'm not judgmental," she continues. "This is a viable genre of theater. And besides, if it brings another generation into the theater, if it exposes theater to people who wouldn't otherwise come, it's a positive thing."

Artwork Enterprises is best known for its Ashland New Plays Festival, an annual Fall event that sees the premier readings of four full-length plays selected from over 200 submissions. The New Play Festival has garnered wide attention, as several of its discoveries have gone on to win prestigious awards and have gained attention in the larger theater world.

"That's a wonderful event," says Tinsley of the New Play Festival. "But it brings in the same crowd, the established theater audience. So we thought we'd branch out a bit and do the play slam, with the idea of bringing in a different audience."

The first play slam, held last year at Carpenter Hall, was a success but didn't broaden the audience as much as was hoped. "This year, we moved it away from OSF and down into the railroad district, at Mobius. We're gearing it toward a different audience, people with working lives, people who might not normally go to the theater. The regular theater crowd is welcome too, of course, but we're hoping to get much more than that."

"We want people to know that theater doesn't have to be this high-brow intellectual thing. It can just be a lot of fun."

ArtWork Enterprises' Second Ten Minute Play Slam will be held 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at The Mobius, 281 Fourth Street, Ashland. Tickets are $10, at the door only.

"Scripted," by Mark H. Levine, Los Angeles, Calif. Director: Liisa Ivary.

"Cell-Abrasion," by Molly Tinsley, Ashland. Director: Caroline Shaffer.

"In the Fall," by Doug Bedwell, Cloverdale, Ind. Director: Liisa Ivary.

"Moon Over Montana," by Dickey Nesenger, Edmonds, Wash. Director: Joe Clayton.

"Measuring Matthew," by Patrick Gabridge, Roxbury, Mass. Director: Craig Jessen.

"I Love You Virus," by Tom Grady, Fairhaven, Mass. Director: Joe Clayton.

"Sidekicks," by Mark Saunders, Portland. Director: Craig Jessen.

"Kreskin Be Damned," by Jamie Pachino, Venice, CA. Director: Caroline Shaffer.