It's a half-marathon of theatrical creativity. A sprint of skill and originality. It's 30 plays in 60 minutes in which the audience is critically involved.
It's the Short Attention Span Theatre, which will dish out another plateful the next couple of weekends, and again in May, after having opened its theatrical buffet last October, with shows also in November and January. Served up by Etcetera, Live Theatre Workshop's late-night program for less traditional theater experiments, SAST is an ongoing ensemble effort in which members challenge themselves to make theater that is new, original, topical and appealing—a very tall order.
And no, the above is not a typo. These folks deliver 30 two-minute plays, which they have written, in 60 minutes.
So who came up with such a crazy idea? The Neo-Futurists, an acting troupe in Chicago, are credited with originating the idea with their Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind concept show in 1988. According to their website, the first show was conceived and directed by Greg Allen and promised "an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes." It was to be "an emotional and intellectual roller-coaster of ideas and images ridden at breakneck speed by a participating audience." The group continues to perform in this format, as well as featuring other types of work, and the 30-in-60 concept has been adopted by groups around the world.
Angela Horchem, along with Matt Walley, oversees Etcetera. After a couple of seasons of developing and featuring their own work, which features various formats with an emphasis on physical theater, Horchem said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many who became fans voiced a desire to learn how to do what they were doing. So this season, they are focused on mentoring young talent.
"It's actually in keeping with LTW's mission of really trying to educate and grow theatrical talent in the community," Horchem said. "So we said, let's try a mentorship program this year. We accepted proposals all through the summer and selected a season based on these proposals of young theater makers who wanted to learn how to produce their own original work." She and Walley have been providing artistic and production mentorship to this season's Etcetera projects, which features not only SAST but several other productions as well.
"This particular project, SAST, started as a project that instructor Laura Lippman proposed and directed at the UA Studio Series a few years back," Horchem said. "And several of the students who were involved in that project—they were mostly freshmen and sophomores at the time— found ways to share their own voice, and they got so much help with writing and acting principles that they just really fell in love with that project. So the group of students wanting to continue that work proposed it for the Etcetera mentorship series this year."
Horchem praised this "dedicated" group, declaring, "The product they're turning out is fabulous. It's fun to be in that audience and feel the energy. And," she added, "the audience has a big role in the show."
Keyanna Khatiblou is the project director. "She's kind of the host of it—she comes out and explains, this is how it goes," Horchem said. "There are the numbers one through 30 hanging on a clothesline above the stage, and when she yells 'Curtain,' the audience yells out a number. (The audience has been given a program in which the names of the plays are listed.) So a number is called, Keyanna announces the name of the play, they set up for that play and they go." Horchem said there's a timer onstage, and cast members bake cookies, which are on view right behind the timer. If the timer runs out before the play concludes, the actors lose and the audience gets to eat the cookies. If the actors end before the timer, they get to eat the cookies. But, she admits, the cookies usually get shared anyway.
Horchem said the Short Attention Span Theatre ensemble's 10 members do many jobs, which makes them able to stretch many different creative muscles.
The group consists of writers, who also serve as sort of "outside-eye directors," as she calls them, and performers who also serve as writers and directors.
The group's members are Keyanna Khatiblou, Shelby Athouguia, Laura Bargfeld, Catherine Cosentino, Andy Gonzalez, Andrea Head, Rainey Hinrichs, Heather Meza, Elijah Renteria and Simon Ridley.
Khatiblou was a member of the original group at the university as a freshman in 2011, and she's appreciative of the chance to continue to work in a similar manner with some of the same folks. She said it's rare—and wonderful—to be given a chance to work as a group for such an extended period, calling it "a great opportunity to create original material, perform it and look back on it and say what went well, what didn't go so well, and then create an entirely new show," incorporating what they've learned. "Not only are the shows fun and creative, but our writing and performing have improved so much since we started the process," she said.
This installment, said Khatiblou, has "sort of" a Valentine's Day/ love theme, including a couple of dating scenes, a scene with a ballet, a fight choreography scene and an unconventional strip-tease, as well as those featuring other types of love, such as love of family. She said they combine more "traditional scenes, parodies, slam poetry—we all try to play to our strengths, and we try to grow our own voices; and we try to cram in as many different types of performance as we can."
Horchem said that it's "a great night of theater. And the cool thing is that if you don't like a piece, you just wait a minute and a half and you're on to something else."