Fifty-nine minutes and 59 seconds is all the time NHCTF participants have to wow.
As such, actors, directors and crew members taking part in the New Hampshire Community Theatre Festival on Saturday, Sept. 7, need to make every second count.
And they do, said Chuck Emmons, a New Hampshire Community Theater Association board member who’s directing the Actorsingers’ rendition of Looks Get in the Way at the festival.
“Pieces of this nature have to be intense. It gives actors the challenges they’d like to participate in. There are very few boring one-act or short plays,” Emmons said in a phone interview.
The show he’s directing, for instance, features a woman on a date who wears an old woman mask; the actress, Katelynn Devorak, must act without showing facial expression.
The intensive nature of short, one-act plays is challenging in its own sense; the time restraint accentuates the need to move plot, to grab and keep audiences entertained, all while making a lasting impression. It forces theater members to dig deep and to be creative in designing sets.
Here, however, they’ll also be judged by professionals.
Four community theater companies are up for the challenge: Windham Actors Guild, which will perform a cutting of Godspell; Nashua’s Actorsingers, which will perform Looks Get in the Way by Doug Larson; Bedford Off Broadway, which will perform The Genuine Article by Jason Milligan; and Ghostlight Theater of New England, which will perform a selection from An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein. All the while, two adjudicators — Nancy Stone, who is the division chair of Visual and Performing Arts at Franklin Pierce, and Caroline Nesbitt, the founder of Advice to the Players — will judge the performances and decide a winner at the end.
This year’s festival occurs at the Old Bedford Town Hall, which is a bit smaller than last year’s location at the Amato Center; it’s a “non-cycle” year, which means that there’s no regional, no national competition the companies are trying to qualify for. (Every two years, the American Association of Community Theatre holds a national festival. Last year’s was in Indiana.)
But most actors, directors and producers find that this festival is still of great value during these non-cycle years. Windham Actors’ Guild, for instance, partakes in its first festival this September. WAC president and company stage manager for the show Christopher Cohen says that NHCTA provides an opportunity for guild members to meet new people and for the young community theater company to experience something more challenging.
“We’re looking forward to showcasing our talents for the rest of the state and the theater community. … It seemed like a good opportunity to meet people and to see what we could do,” Cohen said in a phone interview. “This also lets us gauge ourselves against some other companies that have been around for quite a long time.”
Most companies will choose a play that’s already at or under the maximum length, but some, like WAC, will choose to perform a cut one, as the company performed the full-length rendition of Godspell in the spring.
It’s not a bad idea to try it out during a less stressful, “non-cycle” year, said Joe Pelonzi, who directs The Genuine Article. There are many festival challenges that you might not think about.
“It’s always interesting for the groups. … You have a short amount of time to get used to the lighting, the sound, stage. You’re not only performing, but you also have to adapt to a new environment,” Pelonzi said.
Each company has just 10 minutes to set up and 10 minutes to disassemble.
For audience members, perhaps one of the nicest things about a festival like this is that you’re not locked into one show.
“Even if you don’t like the show that’s currently going on, it will come to an end relatively soon,” Emmons said, chuckling. “But they’re usually pretty interesting.”