POSTED Wed. Jun 8, 2016

Atmosphere

One Act, Six Scripts
Written by LB KOVAC
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In the darkened main stage of the Theatre at St. Claude, a crowded room silences as the curtains pull apart. A single man, dressed in dark pants and a top hat, appears holding a cup-and-ball game. As he scams another character out of their last dollar, he says, both to the character, and the audience, “Better luck next time.”

This play, along with five others, is part of 6×6: The New Play Slam. Part of the Southern Rep Theatre’s Lagniappe productions, 6×6 introduces the audience to new writers, new scripts, and new takes on old themes.

About once a month, Southern Rep Theatre releases a secret theme to local New Orleans playwrights. The writers then have one week to write a roughly ten-minute play, or a ten-page script, that somehow embodies said theme.

The playwrights are free to write their work in any style, but the play must be a maximum of ten pages long, utilize a small cast – only four actors – and consist of minimal staging and props. There is also only one act allowed; the entire arc of the story must take place in one scene.

Southern Rep Theatre’s artistic director, Aimee Hayes, then selects six scripts from the community’s submissions. Once the scripts are selected, the writers, actors, and stage directors have only a few weeks to learn lines, select costumes, stage the play, and rehearse.

This play slam levels the playing field for up-and-coming writers in the area. The theme changes every month, and being chosen – or passed-up – for staging one month has no effect on the writer’s chances of being picked the next month.

6×6 offers new playwrights a glimpse into the inner workings of the theater world. After their script is chosen, they work with area actors and directors to interpret their script into an actual play.

The play slam also gives more established playwrights a chance to experiment with their craft. Writers are given free range with their interpretation of the week’s theme, and the resulting plays can be as straight and traditional, or avant garde and experimental, as the writers want.

Local theater student and playwright Cavan Hallman says that the play slam is “like the gym for theater writers, actors, and directors.” Hallman has participated in 6×6 several times and submitted a number of his scripts. His piece, “He Hated It,” was chosen for the “Better Luck Next Time” themed 6×6.

Past themes for 6×6 have included “Lent,” “Identity Theft,” and “Secrets.” While the writing can be a challenge for playwrights, that same challenge translates into fun for the viewing audience, depending on how actors choose to interpret their roles.

Take the “Better Luck Next Time” theme. Out of the six plays, only the first one included the exact thematic phrase. Other shows went for a looser interpretation of the theme, with redemption and second chances offered to the characters.

“Full Plate,” the second play from the “Better Luck Next Time” theme, had a storyline that included child actors rehearsing in fruit costumes for their school director. The “next time” came in the form of the school director’s shot at love in the wake of his divorce.

Since the inception of 6×6, Southern Rep Theatre has staged more than fifty plays culled from hundreds of submitted scripts submitted by local playwrights, who range from professionals to students.

The Southern Rep itself is a “wandering theater” that doesn’t have a permanent space to perform plays; instead, it borrows other theaters for stage performances.

The Theatre at St. Claude has been a regular host of 6×6, but Ashe Power House Theater has also staged 6×6.

As the theater’s curtains close, Director Hayes and her team are picking the next theme. Soon, they’ll spread the word to the city’s playwrights to prepare another batch of plays.

6×6: The New Play Slam is part of the Southern Rep Theatre’s year-round production schedule. Productions happen approximately once a month at various theaters across the city. Tickets are $10 in advance, $13.50 at the door. If you missed the latest one, you might have better luck next time – which, incidentally, is June 15.

Image from Brian Sand’s playlet, Secrets, the Musical. From left to right: Kate Kuen, Desiree Bacala and Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth.

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