It’s June, the sun is shining, and NextFest is kicking off the summer festival season with its usual mix of youthful exuberance, fresh ideas and new faces. First up for me were the NextFest Shorts at Campus St. Jean.
The NextFest Shorts are performed excerpts from five plays that may or may not be in development (this part wasn’t clear to me – perhaps someone can clarify in the comment field below). Each Short is one scene and the event lasts just over an hour.
First up was Echoes of a Lost King by Leif Ingebrigtsen, which is a musical about four friend’s final game of Dungeons and Dragons. From the excerpt we are presented with in the NextFest Shorts, it looks like the game comes alive, or the friends are thrown into the game somehow. Echoes of a Lost King features catchy music and witty lyrics – even for me, not knowing anything about the game aside from what I’ve seen on The Big Bang Theory – and some really interesting movement work from a tree/monster at the beginning of the excerpt that’s part of the show.
Next we’re presented with one of the NextFest volunteers (or so it seems) who has to come on stage to make a few announcements while set changes are happening behind the drawn stage curtains. But what starts out as a regular announcement about where the bathrooms are and what to do in the event of an emergency, turns into that awkward social interaction we’ve all had where a stranger is telling you more about their personal life than they should (according to societal norms) and you both know it. And then it morphs into a beautiful moment of confession and understanding, and then it’s over. This is Louise Large’s Short OCD.
Un(known) Stories by Liam Salmon is a very NextFest-y NextFest Short. The Short features three young performers (In Arms Theatre) trying to decide what to create a play and asking those very foundational questions that audiences might not think of when they think of the creative process – can I only talk about my experiences? Am I allowed to talk about experiences others have had? Does my ethnicity matter? Should it? Will we be able to find something to create a show about that people can universally relate to? Un(known) Stories is a peak way behind the curtain to the beginnings of a collaborative creative process. It’s a fitting (or perhaps nostalgic) Short for a NextFest audience, and it will be interesting to see how (or if) In Arms Theatre develops it into a longer performance with appeal to those who perhaps haven’t had the experience of trying to produce a creative work.
The Green, Green Grass by Andrew Dool was the Short that left me the most divided as to whether I enjoyed it or not, but I think the wariness and sense of ‘what just happened?’ is the point. The sole character that was in the Short walks on stage dressed strangely and his garb, along with the question if we could all agree that we were in a pretty normal room. We do agree, and that kind of brings down the audience’s guard. It turns out that the character is a follower of Cthulhu – not the H.P. Lovecraft one, as he often reminds us – but Cthulhu the deity that has written scripture that he reads to us. I’ll let you experience the journey of The Green, Green Grass yourself, but through use of absurdist theatre-style repetition interspersed with genuine-sounding direct address monologues, I easily fell under the spell of The Green, Green Grass. I think if a full-length show were done with as much repetition as was in the Short, it would be a bit difficult for me to experience, but I definitely think Andrew Dool has a start on an interesting theatrical psychological experiment.
The NextFest 2015 Shorts closes off with Forms of Communication by Kali Wells, which is a Short about a woman whose day just seems to be getting worse as first her ex-boyfriend is there to collect his things (which she happens to have thrown out) and a Mary Kay salesperson shows up with some ulterior motives. The script is hilarious and although, at times, it comes out a little stiff, for the most part, it is very authentic and takes many very surprising twists in the short time it’s on stage.
NextFest 2015 Shorts play Sunday June 7 at 6:30, Tuesday June 9 at 9:00, and Friday June 12 at 5:00 and are a varied and fun look at experiments by this city’s young theatre artists. Tickets are $10 per show, $18 for a day pass or $40 for a festival pass and can be bought by phoning the Theatre Network box office (780.453.2440) Monday – Friday, noon – 5:00 p.m. and in-person at Campus St. Jean 1 hour before the performance. Day and festival passes can be bought online or in person through Tix on the Square.