Brevity is the soul of theater

March 1, 2009

Brevity is the soul of theater

People's Branch presents series of short, local compositions

By Fiona Soltes

You may feel like you've already seen and heard it all, but People's Branch Theatre is betting you're wrong.

Fighting the urge to bring audiences familiar entertainment, People's Branch is hosting three nights of play readings, including as many as 10 brief pieces each evening. This week's Bridgestone 10X10 Festival of Short Plays will feature works from a variety of playwrights, none of them longer than 10 minutes in length.

"We just wanted to encourage people to write," says Ross Brooks, PBT's artistic director. "New works still need to be generated. If we don't find a way to make things grow and evolve, they'll stagnate, and we don't want to see that happening. Especially with the number of really good writers in town."

People's Branch put out a call for short manuscripts, and Brooks says he was impressed by the number of entries, the varying levels of experience, and the range between comedy and drama. One night will feature works by college students, another by high schoolers, and the final will spotlight works by local adults. In addition, after each reading, the playwrights will receive feedback from local theater professionals as well as members of the audience.

Jim Reyland, who has written seven plays, two musicals and another piece he "won't talk about," submitted a couple of works for the event. Any time a playwright can hear his or her words read aloud, he says, it can only be a good thing.

"It's always exciting," says Reyland, who wrote the critically acclaimed STUFF and Shelter, as well as the still-in-progress 21 Baker Road. "It's so hard to go from the written word to actually putting on a production that people can see." Reyland and Brooks have both gathered friends for more intimate read-throughs and discussions of new works, if for no other reason than to "see where the laughs are," Reyland says.

But on this scale, it's not just about allowing the writers to receive feedback. It's also about creating a culture in which new works are openly received, promoted and celebrated.

"If we want to grow as a theater town, which I know we do, we need to provide the opportunity for people who are creating to have avenues to create. With Nashville being such a creative town, it should be a natural progression." Reyland runs Writer's Stage, a non-profit advocate of Tennessee-based playwrights, and he applauds Brooks for carrying a similar torch. Brooks intends for the festival to grow in coming years.

As for the 10-minute length of the works involved, Brooks says, the short time period encourages playwrights to be "bolder with the choices they make."

"Anything can happen in 10 minutes," he says. "Ten minutes is just enough time to tell a very small story. What's really nice is you can focus on one moment specifically, and in a very intense period of time explore one event, or one choice a character has to make. You don't have to worry so much about stringing an idea out for 45 minutes or two hours."

Reyland adds that a 10-minute reading can also be used to test how a concept holds up, and whether it might indeed be worthy of a longer work.

"This is an invitation for anybody who's ever written anything to throw it against the wall and see if it sticks," Reyland says. "That's the lifeblood of the theater community as we exist. If we don't have that, we're just doomed to recreate other people's victories over and over again."

Additional Facts


What: People's Branch Theatre presents Bridgestone 10X10 Festival of Short Plays
Where: Troutt Theater, 2100 Belmont Blvd.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. The first night features works written by college students, the second by high school students, and the third by adults.
Tickets: $10
Contact: or 495-4030