by LAURA HAYES
David Guaspari has always been interested in birds. He considered himself pretty good at identifying what was around him, and living in New York, he decided to take a class at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.
One day, he had an idea — could it be possible to invent a plausible yet crazy life story of an imaginary species of bird? “That seemed like the nugget of something that could be turned into a story,” Guaspari said.
Once Guaspari had the idea, he had to figure out a way to weave it into the story. The result is a play following a man who recently published an article on the extinct bird the Adams Alpine Booby. While there is such a bird called a “booby,” Guaspari’s booby is fictional. His main character is involved in a hoax, attempting to convince people that the Adams Alpine Booby exists.
That idea became his play “A Field Guide to the Extinct Birds” — one of the four winners of Theatre du Mississippi’s (TdM) annual “Original Shorts” playwriting competition that will be performed this weekend. Guaspari said that he was delighted to find out that his play was selected as one of the plays to be performed.
This year, TdM board member Samantha Heaver is leading “Original Shorts.” She said that in the fall, the company sends out a national call for scripts, and after receiving the scripts, six people read each submission, judging them on entertainment value, character development, and writing quality. The top scripts make it to a second round of readings, and after averaging the scores, the top four win. In addition to “A Field Guide to the Extinct Birds,” the other selected plays are Stanley Toledo’s “Mountain Life,” which Heaver describes as a play about an upperclass woman who finds herself in a cafe in the mountains with a couple who claim to know Big Foot; Jim Lucason’s “The Prisoner” — a play about execution day for a prisoner; and Dan Borengasser’s “Primordial Soup,” which Heaver will be directing.
“Normally, this is not something I would choose to direct,” Heaver admitted. The play, she said, starts out dark, opening with a man who is about to die by suicide. When he doesn’t die, the man begins to talk with a voice in his garage that stops him. The voice, she explained, is a creature living in the man’s garage and the pair form a friendship.
“I feel like it’s hard to write good characters who have a believable relationship,” Heaver said. The relationship between the man and the creature, Heaver said, however, is strong — especially for a short play.
According to Peggy Sannerud, who is directing “A Field Guide to the Extinct Birds,” one of TdM’s goals is to develop new, local, and historical plays. “What we offer the audience is the chance to hear new work by playwrights they haven’t heard of or friends,” she said. Heaver added that sometimes, this is the first staged reading of the play and it can provide the playwright an opportunity to smooth out its kinks.
“Original Shorts” is a staged reading, which means that the actors typically perform with his or her script in hand with minimal props and furniture on stage. Sannerud said that part of the fun of the production is the mechanics of theater and how a show is created. Past “Original Shorts” winners have gone on to become full TdM productions.
“Original Shorts” will take place on April 22 at 7:30 p.m. and on April 23 at 2 p.m. at the Mid West Music Store on East Third Street. Tickets cost $5 at the door.