The Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center will soon open the curtain on its first act under town ownership with its Ten-Minute Play Festival, created, produced, and performed by local talent.
Paul Ellis is the planning chair of the three-day festival, which is sponsored by the Orange County Arts Council. The plays will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday, Aug. 3, in the center's upper performance space known as the Pavilion.
A two-hour workshop was held Thursday, in which participants played games to elicit stories that Ellis is using to write a play to be performed on Saturday.
The Ten-Minute Play Festival has been produced before, including at last year's Warwick Summer Arts Festival. Sarah McKay, executive director of the Orange County Arts Council, said she was stunned by the number of submissions this year.
“This is our third year and the first in which Paul Ellis has taken the lead as chair on our planning committee," she said. "And it has just blown up — 345 submissions from around the country."
Evelyn Albino is a director and also an actor in one of the pieces. She is directing six of the staged readings and was part of the selection committee.
Of the hundreds of submissions, only 23 were selected, and the 24th will be created during the festival, she said.
Ellis described how the festival will take shape from here.
“I’ve devised a series of games over the years," he said last week. "It’s games, it’s not just interviews — games to play that garner stories. And from those stories, I will write a ten-minute play that will go on Saturday night.
"This is not oral histories. I’ll take 20 peoples’ stories and make a four-person play and develop characters and a plot and an arc. Sometimes out of a story workshop, you don’t necessarily get a story, but you get a great line and you follow it to where it goes. The way I write the story theater is by looking for connections — something common — from story to story to story.”
Two rats and a therapy session
Playwright Brian Petti of Slate Hill has written plays performed at Cornerstone Theatre Arts in Goshen. He described himself as “kind of a mid-career playwright."
"I’ve been doing it since my late twenties," he said during Wednesday's rehearsals at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center. "I’ve had some successes. A 10-minute play is something new for me. I usually write full-length, so this was kind of an exercise, and I was really happy when it was picked up.”
His play for the festival is titled “A Wake."
“It’s about two women in their 40s who are old friends sitting in a funeral parlor at a wake, and they have a discussion and a couple of twists are involved about whose wake it is,” Petti said.
Callum Hill of Goshen said he liked the idea of the contest when he heard about it.
"I just started writing to see if I could get there on time, and one thing led to another," he said. "I sent it in and I won."
He said his play is about "the nature of possessions after death.”
"It's about two men in an abandoned room, not knowing (the deceased) owner very well, and talking about how he was in life and having to pack his stuff up, not knowing what was valuable, what was sentimental, and if it’s okay to throw away the sentimental because no one’s sentimental towards it anymore," he said.
Fiona Hill, Callum’s sister, will be acting in the festival.
"Callum’s more the intellectual playwright, and I’m the actor," she said. "We came into it from different sides.”
She’ll be performing in at least two different plays (but so far, not Callum’s).
“One is about two rats, and one about a therapy session,” she said. “Totally different extremes of what we’re offering here, one totally ridiculous comedy and one actually quite serious.”
Actor Raymond Aponte said he and Fiona have worked together before they worked with Ellis. He makes music videos and does acting on the side. He doesn’t know yet which plays he’ll be in.
“Paul will call me if he needs me,” he said. “I’m always one of the guys who winds up on stage because I have all the free time in the world.”
Bringing talent together
For Ellis, the excitement comes from bringing different playwrights, actors, and directors from different places who have never worked together. Four of the playwrights are from the Hudson Valley. Director Casey Morris, who lives in Beacon, comes from the Greenwood Lake Theater Company. Page Dillon, from Monroe, ho is a teaching assistant at the Tisch Summer Filmmakers Workshop.
Actor Keith Dougherty, who lives in Middletown, for many years had an entertainment company, Murder Mystery of Manhattan.
“I write and direct and perform in those scripts," he said. "So has Evelyn. She recently joined us. And I was thrilled when she asked me to be a part of this."
Dougherty plays a college admissions officer in a funny play titled “Admission Impossible,” which was rehearsed on Wednesday.
“Instead of paying to get the child into the college, it’s the other way around, so it’s a bit of a twist,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it."
He said he's never before performed at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center.
"It's an amazing space," he said.