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Frantic splendor

Venti theater on a demitassa budget

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There once was a time when up-and-coming playwrights, or those who think they are on the rise anyway, had the opportunity to showcase their works at a venue that tried to present theatergoers with new works while at the same time giving playwrights a chance to see their works on a stage so they could workshop them and tweak the scripts in hopes of eventually landing a full-scale version of their shows some day.

The South Sound Playwrights Festival, which was mostly known by its original name, the Pierce County Playwrights Festival, ran for more than a decade until a few years ago. It filled a niche that no other theater program did. Its stage went dark in 2003 after the volunteer effort just ran out of steam and imploded. Too bad, it was a great community outlet for folks who wanted to try their hands at writing the next great American play. Having been a judge for that effort a few times before its demise, I would say there are a lot of people who say they write plays and very few who actually should use that moniker. There was a lot of crap out there, but I appreciated the effort every time I read a play.

Now some proven actors and playwrights have a chance to strengthen their skills through a partnership between the Northwest Playwrights Alliance and the University of Puget Sound.

This weekend will offer a Doubleshot Theatre Festival at UPS that will bring the works of some familiar names in South Sound theater circles. The list includes: Brent Hartinger, C. Rosalind Bell, Erik Hanberg, C.P. Stancich, composer Gregory Youtz, and Paul and Josephine Zmolek from Barefoot Studios. 

The festival hopes to be the first of an annual event and tests the skills of the actors, directors and writers involved by forcing them to stage 14 plays and one composition that are written, produced, and performed in just 48 hours.

The festival begins tonight with a kick-off party at UPS. Six playwrights will draw themes at random and be tasked to write 10-minute plays on whatever theme they draw. They then randomly draw directors and actors from a pool of invited artists. The playwrights write overnight and return early Friday morning with a finished script. The directors and performers must then polish the piece and perform that night back-to-back with the other plays written and rehearsed as part of the festival.

Each program of shows runs twice. Between Friday night’s two runs, new writers form new teams and get ready to produce brand-new plays for the very next day and another round of writing, rehearsing and directing to bring visions to the stage.

“The theater artists are drawn from all over the Puget Sound Region: Seattle, Olympia, and, of course, Tacoma,” says Northwest Playwrights Alliance President Brian Tyrrell. “These talented artists represent some of the best and brightest theater makers that the Northwest has to offer.”

The Doubleshot Theatre Festival runs at UPS’ Rausch Auditorium in McIntyre Hall at 1500 N. Warner St. in north Tacoma at 7 and 9 p.m. on May 18 and 19. Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for everyone else. They are available by calling 253.879.3419 or visiting the information center.

All proceeds benefit the Northwest Playwrights Alliance’s Festival of New Works. NPA also produces monthly readings of new works on the second Monday of every month.

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