Last Chance New Play Fest showcases 11 new plays
Marga Lincoln for the Independent Record
What does an artist do when her inspiration and creative passion disappear without warning?
Find out in “Tango with Torment,” a new one-act Short Cut, part of this year’s Last Chance New Play Fest.
Eleven new original productions will premiere at the Experimental Theater Cooperative Festival, which runs Friday, November 4 through Sunday, November 13 at 7 p.m. at the Helena Avenue Theater.
It is an annual grassroots event, launched in 2015, celebrating the work of local and regional playwrights. “We’re the longest-running (game) festival in the state,” said executive director Rebecca Ryland.
One of the most popular features of the New Play Fest, now in its ninth year, is the Montana Short Cuts, a series of 10-minute plays all written on the same theme.
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This year’s theme is Changed state.
Every playwright has their own creative approach to the subject.
“Tango with Torment”, written by new playwright Lily Hoelscher, a drama major at Carroll College, focuses “on an altered state of self.”
“What happens to an artist when something big happens?” Hoelscher said. “Where does our creative fire come from? It is an allegorical piece about an artist’s struggles when tragedy strikes.”
others saw Changed state as a spark for comedy.
“Bobby & Dale”, written and directed by Bruce Hall, is described as Bewitched: Spook House Shenanigan’s Baffle Bewildered Couple.
During Rebecca Ryland’s comedy “Beautiful day,” has the slogan, Oh Roe is Me! “It comes after a protest immediately after Roe was overthrown by the Supreme Court.
Ross Peter Nelsons “Nice dreams,” “is a comedy about a future … where potential screenwriters don’t write screenplays,” Nelson said. “You go in and you’re connected to an AI that’s harvesting your dreams.”
A strangely cheerful deposed King Lear wanders the moors in Steve Palmer’s comedy, “Somewhere before Act V.” Lear’s typically cheerful jester is devastated. Palmer likes to call this comedic take “King Lear the Day After.”
The synopsis of Barry Stambaugh’s drama “Pantomime” reads – Row your boat through dementia. Merrily dunk your Oreo in the Milky Way.
At Chantal Marie’s “Fanny the Fox” A vet and vet nurse are tested when a customer shows up with an unusual case.
Two other projects join the Short Cuts. The first is a full-length comedy, “Charlotte”, by Ryland, who pits senility, prejudice and sex against a stolen diamond case. “It’s inspired by real events that you can hardly believe are true,” Ryland said, “showing that truth is stranger than fiction.”
The other project, Indy One-Acts, includes three short works:
“The Rodeo Clown” (Steve Palmer, 30 min) – A man tells of his journey to becoming a rodeo artist;
“Invisible Net” (Elucidance, 30 min) – An experimental combination of dance and improvisation that explores our connections to each other; and
“The Beepis Show” (various, 15 min) – Short travel and observation videos.
Hoelscher said that getting her play “was a great validation that I can write screenplays.”
Some previous attempts at writing hadn’t gone well, and she never finished the scripts.
“I learned a lot about my writing style,” she said, beginning to think about what she would like to see in a script as an actress.
“It was a tremendous extension of my own creative journey as an artist. It was a confirmation that this is something I want to keep doing.
“I just feel very blessed to be here at this point,” she said.
And playwrights like her are one of the reasons the new playfest was created in the first place.
But it’s also an opportunity to see new works by veteran actors and playwrights like Bruce Hall, who is attending the festival this year as the writer and director of Bobby & Dale.
Hall began his acting career decades ago at Helena’s old Brewery Theater and later founded the Brewery Follies, was Artistic Director of the Virginia City Players, and has composed and directed for Broadway and Off-Broadway.
Play Fest has faced many challenges over the past few years – from lugging its theatrical equipment to different venues, to set-up and overcoming the pandemic.
That year, Ryland’s play Charlotte lost three of its eight actors in its final few weeks, but the play rebounded when Ryland took on a major role and a talented local actress, Rayna Cozzens, was recruited.
“She’s wonderful,” Ryland said, adding that Cozzens studied acting at Montana State University, where she appeared in two plays. “She’s gorgeous!”
The festival, while still recovering from the setbacks of the pandemic, has much to celebrate.
“We thought last year’s short cuts were the best quality they’ve ever had,” said Palmer, who is an associate producer of the festival with Nelson. Ryland is the executive producer.
“We’re getting more and more submissions – almost twice as many as we need,” he added.
They also had more directors than in previous years.
One reason people should watch it, Ross said, is, “There’s always something new. It’s not like you’re seeing the biggest hits of the last 400 years in theaters – it’s happening right now.”
Tickets for individual performances are $18 (adults) or $15 (students/seniors) and are available at the box office or online. $30 festival passes, which entitle holders to every performance during the festival, are also available. Tickets for the festival can be purchased online at https://buytickets.at/lcnpf. Performances are held at the Helena Avenue Theater, 1319 Helena Ave.
The festival is sponsored in part by a grant from the Montana Arts Council. Additional sponsors include Mountain View Meadows, NorthWestern Energy and Opportunity Bank of Montana.
For a list of all projects, writers and actors, and the full schedule, visit http://www.experimentaltheatrecoop.org/2022 or the Fest Guide available at the Fire Tower Coffee House.
Follow the festival on Facebook at www.facebook.com/helenaFringe.
For more information, visit ETC’s website at www.ExperimentalTheatreCoop.org.