"60 pulses of storytelling is how we like to describe it," Artistic Director Dominic D'Andrea says of his One Minute Play Festival (#1MPF), making the fest sound suspiciously like theater for the ADD-addled 21st century. In actuality the #1MPF is anything but.
This year Kitchen Dog Theater will play host to the inaugural Dallas version of D'Andrea's festival, which has grown over the last few years into something of a theatrical giant. This season alone D'Andrea will program and curate versions of the event in almost twenty cities, some marking three or four year anniversaries hosting the fest.
The One-Minute Play Festival started very informally. Nine years ago D'Andrea, a playwright himself, gathered a group of friends (who were, of course, writers) in New York City for some frank and critical discussion of theater. They really wanted to discover a way to distill playwriting to its most essential. Ten-minute plays became one act plays, until eventually, the group landed on one-minute plays; the amount of time they felt allowed them to most beautifully and succinctly hone their craft to its most essential.
Numerous NYC-based writers contributed and the initial festival -a generous use of the word- was so popular, D'Andrea and team were asked to take the festival on tour.
On the tour, "we almost immediately realized the appeal of the festival is really in the civic engagement," says D'Andrea.
Instead of taking New York City playwrights, who wrote about New York City issues, D'Andrea decided the community at large would be best served by producing a unique festival in each city, engaging local playwrights who would write about issues as unique and important to their city as D'Andrea and his NYC based friends wrote about theirs.
Nine years later, it looks like he was right.
The fact that this festival falls under the aegis of theater is really just a matter of convenient designation.
"It's not about getting your play published," he tells me, by just before the Philadelphia #1MPF opening. "It's about starting a conversation." In fact, D'Andrea and his team call the #1MPF a "barometer project." In other words, the festival when taken as a whole, functions more like a mind map, a snapshot of a city in time, which actually makes D'Andrea an anthropologist of a sort, travelling the country and documenting a society's hang-ups at a certain moment in time.
"It's really about considering the world around you, your neighborhood, your community, how you see the world," he says, "and then responding to it in the here and now."
It's a brilliant, purposeful use of art as a path towards understanding ourselves. Playwrights and their plays, in this case, are just the medium through which our society's anxieties, fears and desires are communicated.
When D'Andrea proposed bringing the One-Minute Play Festival to Dallas, Tina Parker, co-artistic director at KDT says it was a no-brainer.
"We're so entrenched with new work and the local community," she says, and the festival will allow her and her team to engage with a lot more writers than they could in a typical season.
Thirty-plus writers to be exact, all 'local' in one way or another. Each invited by Parker or D'Andrea to contribute to the festival in the form of a one minute play, more or less about anything they want.
Unsurprisingly, some themes emerge.
D'Andrea's job is kind of awesome, not only does he travel the country curating theater festivals, he also learns a whole hell of a lot about the cities themselves; what's important to Philadelphia, what people in Boston - Alaska, even - are afraid of.
People in different cities have a lot of things in common, for example, "nationally big topics have been technology; how we communicate, or how we don't, because of it."
In Dallas too, he discovered several plays about communication; he also learned that around here, we're obsessed with transportation and traffic; we're collectively learning what it's like to live in a city where a good chunk of the population speaks another language and maybe a little defensive of our city and how it is perceived by those outside it.
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D'Andrea curates the plays and produces the festival with the help of several Dallas-based directors who will each be directing a grouping of playwright's 'plays' and their actors during the three nights of the festival.
As in each city D'Andrea produces, half of ticket sales will go to the production costs associated with the festival and the other will stay in the city itself. In Dallas, the money from your ticket sales will go towards paying Kitchen Dog's future writers and funding KDT's PUP Fest, which supports student playwriting.
No one really knows what to expect in Dallas' inaugural fest, except for maybe D'Andrea, but one thing D'Andrea assures me, is that everyone will experience the festival somewhat differently.
Theater for the 21st century? Maybe. More important: theater for those in the 21st century who are both curious and engaged. You're probably going to want to talk about this one when it's over.