See Theater in 10 Minutes at the Lake Effect Fringe Festival

Feb 14, 2014

Alistair J Watt and Beth Schaub in rehearsal for the play "Remember Me." They are performing this weekend as part of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival
Credit Erin Williams

Do you love theater, but find that your attention span wanes about ten minutes in to the first act? Then Stark Turn Players has got the solution for you. 

The group will present a selection of ten-minute plays this weekend as part of the second annual Lake Effect Fringe Festival in Grand Rapids. The plays being presented are all finalists from the company's annual playwriting contest held last fall.

The theme? “Out Of Time.” The results? All over the place, says founder and board member Mary Beth Quillin. 

"We had like three robbery - so we chose the one with the plot twist. And we had several about terminal illness, so we chose the one that was maybe least depressing," she says. Everybody has a different take on what 'out of time is,' so we tried to pick out what would work."

Alistair J. Watt, Gary E. Mitchell and Beth Schaub are starring together in the play "Remember Me," which focuses on the interaction of visiting times between two men in a mental hospital. The decor is sparse, but the acting, Mitchell says, is raw. With only ten minutes, Schab approaches sets her character's emotions on full speed. 

"It doesn't really seem like you can really build a lot of that connection or make that deep of an impact for something that's only ten minutes long - so the challenge is how do we connect with the audience in such a small space," she says.

"So some of it escalates pretty quickly. Some of the other ones just follow a nice line and then it kind of hits you with something unexpected, so I think that’s the best part about it."

That raw, avant-garde approach is exactly what Fringe is about, says Katherine Mayberry, executive director of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and a Festival organizer. All the shows are held in the Dog Story Theater, a small, black-box space.

"People who are coming to see events at the Lake Effect Fringe Festival are not necessarily going to see big elaborate sets and production in that sense, but they're going to see extremely intense acting," she says.

"The audience is right up close on the performers. It's kind of bare-bones, stripped down to 'Here are the the actors, here's the story, and you, the audience are in this close proximity to them."

If you do have more than ten minutes to spare, the festival, which runs through March 2, has several other productions to choose from.

Among them is the the historical drama "My Dearest Friend," from Gem Theatrics. The play focuses on former president John Adams holding dear to the memory of his wife Abigail, who is played by Quillin. Gary E Mitchell plays a grieving Adams:

"We are not historians exactly, but we're immersed in the timeframe and in the lives of these people. The great thing is that he's long dead, so he can't tell me that I'm screwing it up - I'm well aware of the responsibility in playing this founding father - and I try to do him justice,” he says.

And though the couple had to battle disease, war, and the small task of building a country, Mitchell says their story is much deeper than any history book would suggest.

"They had a lot of sadness in their lives - but there are humorous moments," he says. "You'll get your fill of history. It's delivered in a way that doesn't seem too much like a lecture hall. We think it's just a great night of entertainment."

The Ten-Minute plays and "My Dearest Friend" will be staged at Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids. "My Dearest Friend" will be performed February 28-March 2.