Denton Community Theatre’s new play festival is evolving — a sign of the small event’s health and the need for support among emerging and established playwrights, festival volunteers said.
“Our prize money is the best in the country,” said festival coordinator and Denton Community Theatre outreach director Julie Brinker. “I think that’s saying something.”
Method & Madness Playwriting Festival marches into its third year, offering cash prizes to the top five one-act plays submitted and one distinguished award that notes the writer without a cash award. The winning play, Paladora, earned a $2,000 prize. The fifth-place winner, received a $200 prize.
“The festival has really started to evolve,” Brinker said. “In the beginning, the festival was oriented around mental health. Last year, that was the theme, too. When we started talking about this year’s festival, we thought it was time to go for a broader idea.”
Denton singer and director Mandy Rausch joined Brinker to share coordinating duties. Rausch said most theater speaks to themes that almost always touch on mental and emotional experiences.
“We think that moving in this direction will broaden our submissions and really create even more interest among playwrights,” she said. “And if we keep the scope to the human condition, that keeps the eligible submissions pretty high. It’s more inclusive.”
The playwriting festival group came out of the quiet but busy Denton Play Readers, a group of theater buffs — some of whom are writers — who meet monthly to read plays aloud. The play readers are part of Denton Community Theatre’s outreach program, but Rausch said it is a different group than the company play reading committee, a volunteer group that selects the Denton Community Theatre main stage and PointBank Black Box theater seasons.
Brinker said a participant in the Denton Play Readers approached the company about a new play festival. When Brinker and company officials agreed it would be possible to fit a small festival into the season, the participant volunteered to fund the festival. That backer wishes to remain anonymous, Brinker said.
“My play readers came in [to the Campus Theatre] on three Saturdays to adjudicate the submissions,” Brinker said.
Method & Madness isn’t the same kind of festival as the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, an annual 10-day event presented by Water Tower Theatre in Addison. That festival conducts workshops and presents two weeks of fully produced dance concerts, plays, musicals and theatrical experimentation.
Method & Madness is a two-day event starting Friday and ending late Saturday night, and selected winning one-acts get a minimally staged presentation.
“What thrilled us was the response of the mental health professionals,” Brinker said. “And they’re still involved. They’ll be on the panel. They’ve been really great, and really interested and involved with the festival.”
Mike Barrow, the managing director of Denton Community Theatre, said the festival is part of the company’s purpose.
“I think a partial answer to why this is important is in our mission statement,” he said. “We’re obligated to educate. It’s kind of the part of our mission statement that’s easy for us to drift away from. The festival puts us back at that educational part of our mission.”
Method & Madness is much more bare-bones and a little more academic than festivals that bring companies from all over the world to one city for a bonanza of complete productions. Yet there is an audience for Method & Madness.
“This festival shows people about their learning process,” Barrow said, referring to the process directorial teams and performers go through to stage a play or a musical. “It shows people a part of the process you normally don’t get to see — the table reading, the staged reading.”
Texas Woman’s University graduate student Jo’Von Wright is stage managing the festival. She and Tashina Richardson, an actress, director and board member of Denton’s Sundown Collaborative Theatre, are leading a staged reading of Dreck.
“I’m telling my cast to think of this as a pitch,” Wright said. “I’m going to have music stands and people moving around on the stage. It’s not a full production by any means, but I didn’t want people to watch actors sitting at a table, either.”
Winning playwrights said they were attracted to Method & Madness because of the cash prize and the chance to get their work in front of producers and performers.
Dallas playwright, sketch and dramaturgical writer Steven Young was a finalist in the 2012 festival with The Night We Bombed Lincoln Towing.
“I found the topic to be compelling, and I like to have my work performed locally,” he said.
Young is best known in Denton for his play Night Witches, produced by the Texas Woman’s University theater program. His submission, Under the Overpass, is a drama about a near-fatal car crash involving a homeless pedestrian. It’s also about the collision of thorny American issues: race, economics, fear and power.
He said he came to playwriting gradually.
“I began as an actor wanting to make a difference in the world and was drawn by the emotional power of what was being debated onstage,” Young said. “I eventually wanted to frame the statement that was being debated and became a director. The final phase was the desire to create the debate, and I became a writer.”
Pitman, N.J., playwright Walt Vail, 86, said he can’t recall how he learned about Method & Madness. Vail is the author of more than 80 plays, with 25 of them produced over the years.
“I was interested in the [Method & Madness] contest because I have a one-act play that needs producing,” Vail said.
His absurd comedy, Hero Worship, is about a woman-shy man named Jimmy. In his 30s and without much dating experience, falls hard for Gerontia. When he introduces her to his old friend and hero, Mark, Jimmy learns that Gerontia is much older than he. In fact, she’s his first-grade teacher and one of his earliest crushes.
Hero Worship is a bit of an experiment for Vail.
“I’ve also been produced in New Orleans, Washington state, Toronto, Greensboro, N.C., Alexandria, Va., and other places,” Vail said. “Most of these are full-length, two-act plays. Most of these are dramas.
METHOD & MADNESS PLAYWRIGHTING FESTIVAL
What: Denton Community Theatre presents a weekend of new theater by emerging and established playwrights.
When: 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday
Where: PointBank Black Box Theare, 318 E. Hickory St.
Details: Tickets cost $15 each for Friday and Saturday night performances and receptions; or $25 for an all-festival pass. Saturday morning and afternoon events are free. For tickets, call 940-382-1915 or visit the box office at the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St.
METHOD & MADNESS WINNERS
First place: Paladora by Dan McGeehan of Tulsa, Okla.
Second place: Waiting for Ruthie by Joan Anderson and Dorothy Sanders of Fort Worth
Carrollton Springs Prize, third place: Under the Overpass by Steven Young of Dallas
Cigar Frogs Prize, fourth place: Harold After by Adam Seidel of Chicago
Gratitude Prize, fifth place: Hero Worship by Walt Vail of Pitman, N.J.
Mary Blanton Creson Award for Creativity: Dreck by Drew Davis of Martinez, Ga.
7 p.m. — Staged readings of Hero Worship by Walt Vail, directed by Mandy Rausch; Harold After by Adam Seidel, directed by Johnny Williams; Under the Overpass by Steven Young, directed by Melissa Karol
10 p.m. — Meet-and-greet reception with writers, directors and attending playwrights
10 a.m. — “The Method in Madness,” a panel discussion with playwrights Steven Young, Elle Vernee, Brad McEntire and Laura Lundgren Smith, moderated by festival coordinator Mandy Rausch
Noon — “Giving the Script a Voice,” a staged reading of Dreck by Drew Davis, directed by Jo’Von Wright, followed by a talk-back session
3 p.m. — “Putting the Madness in Action,” a workshop on staged readings, led by Mandy Rausch and Tashina Richardson
7 p.m. — Staged readings of Waiting for Ruthie by Joan Anderson and Dorothy Sanders, directed by Carol Howdeshell; and Paladora by Dan McGeehan, directed by Tashina Richardson.
8:30 p.m. — Awards presentation, including Audience Choice Award and closing Chocolate Extravaganza Reception