18 September 2015

Short + sweet + oh so worth it

Nothing sparks creativity so much than constraint. Take the Japanese haiku, where in 17 syllables and only three lines, an evocative picture is painted. Or the epitaph (pardon the gloomy example), in which a human being’s lifetime is commemorated in a slab of rock. For something more modern, there’s this online thing called Twitter, whose 140-character limit brings out the aphorist in us.

In the domain of performing arts, we have Short + Sweet, a global festival featuring 10-minute plays. Its vision, to put it shortly and sweetly, is: “A more creative world ten minutes at a time.” Founded in Sydney, Australia over a decade ago, Short + Sweet serves as a platform for emerging and established artists — from actors to writers and directors — to test, showcase and develop their skills and materials.

Performances of selected entries during the festival run are judged by a panel of experts along with the theater audience. Winners are rewarded with cash and industry prizes on the Gala and Final Awards Night.

Short+Sweet premiered in the Philippines last year at the University of the Philippines – Diliman and it returns this September with a new home in Samsung Hall at SM Aura, Taguig. I was lucky enough to have my fill of the festival by catching the opening week main show.

The plays were short, yes, but sweet? I would say so, in their own radical ways. Subject matters were diverse — from finding one’s life purpose to pulling off a heist; story treatments went from the funny to the philosophical; and the genres ranged from drama to black comedy.

A clear standout was A Good Deed for Mr. Stinky, directed by Karl Jinco and written by Judith Duncan. A call center professional finds herself dead in a car crash and couldn’t quite get to the other side until she meets a hobo, whom it turns out she has a lot in common with. A Good Deed was tightly-written, adhering closely to the conventions of story-telling. Because set within their milieu, viewers instantly identified with the characters and their situations, chuckling at pop culture -related one-liners, which were delivered to move the dialogue forward and not merely to elicit laughter. Where it soared, though, was the on-point delivery of the two actors, who genuinely gave their material justice.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said of the other plays, wherein the tentative, oftentimes awkward stage acting took away from the gravity of the script. That said, not one entry (out of the eight featured that night) was anything less than engaging.

Another memorable piece was Rachel Welch’s and Bunny Cadag’s Keeping Annabelle, where we saw two young siblings get caught up in an abduction role playing game, doing and saying things that a captive and captor do and say, including the harsh swear words. Us the audience were also held captive in our seats wondering if the kids were still in the realm of imagination or not. “Will they cause pain to each other?” we thought, all along hoping that neither of them would be hurt or was capable of harm.

And that’s a major achievement of Short + Sweet — making its viewers feel and think. The writers, directors and actors may have grown in the process but the theater-goers are also given the means to deepen their appreciation for the art form. Asked to judge and rank the entries they’ve seen, they are forced to consider the merits of each play and form a cohesive opinion on why one play works and another fails.

Never mistake Short + Sweet as theater for the attention-challenged. Watch it if you want to be moved, if you want something different, or if you want an introduction to performing arts. Not if you want to pass time. As it has done in Australia, I hope the festival creates in this country more and better story-tellers.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

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