Actors from left are Sam Scherrer, Steve Kiedrowski and Steph Trypuc rehearsing “Watched Pot,” one of the plays in Theatre du Mississippi’s seventh annual Original Shorts performance.
by BEN MCLEOD
This weekend will be the very first chance to see four short plays produced by Winona’s own Theatre du Mississippi (TdM) in its seventh annual Original Shorts performances. The plays were written by Winonans who took part in a six-month playwriting workshop offered through TdM led by Judy Myers, professor of theater at St. Mary’s University. Mike Speck will premier the short plays “Regula” and “Watched Pot,” both directed by Jerry Goodwin, and Tony Opelt will present “Twenty-Year Apology” and “Cashing In,” directed by TdM Artistic Director Julie Heukeshoven and Mike Speck, respectively. Heukeshoven described the piece that she is directing, “Twenty-Year Apology.” “It’s a comedy with a few serious moments. A man comes home to visit his parents and the mom has an ‘interesting request.’” The group involved is reluctant to provide spoilers about the plays, so Heukeshoven is cagey about details. “’Cashing In’ is about friendship, or relationships,” she said thoughtfully. “’Watched Pot’ is about a small-town pot dealer, making connections with people. ‘Regula’ is about the choice between religion and music,” Heukeshoven explained, although she was wary of trying to sum up each script in a single line.
The plays on display are short enough to fit four into one evening, and are not full productions, but “stage readings,” without full sets and costumes. Jerry Goodwin, Drama Club director at the Winona Middle School, explained the difference. “A few pieces [of props and stage dressing] will be easier for the actors to do their job, but honestly, it violates the concept of a stage reading. It’s just bare bones on stage.” “It’s kind of a hybrid performance,” explained Heukeshoven. “They’re still holding scripts. We only have light blocking so it’s not just sitting at a table, but it’s super light; chairs, some costumes that suggest the characters rather than define them.”
The original idea was to have a theme to tie the plays together, but they each cover different ground. Heukeshoven explained that originally, each writer was going to start with a specific writing prompt, but that idea fell away over the course of the development of the scripts. While the four plays were composed over the course of the six-month writing workshop, it can be difficult to really know how a scene will work until it’s read aloud by other people. “I haven’t written a play for more than a decade,” confessed Mike Speck, “and I’m grateful for the chance to get these two plays up in front of people and see what the response is.”
A stage reading can be compared to hearing early versions of a song, before the musicians go into a studio and add on all the additional production and frills. The playwrights can observe how their work translates onto the stage, and how their words sound coming out of other mouths. Whether either playwright intends on taking their work further remains to be seen. “One of the pieces I’m [directing] I would love to do as a full piece,” said Goodwin. “I know Tony will be looking over his scripts,” added Heukeshoven, “to get them in better shape after the read-throughs, just to make some edits.” Sometimes the editing never ends. There is always one more phrase to tweak.
The cast for the shows contains some faces that will be familiar to the Winona theater scene, and some new additions. The cast wasn’t picked from the Theatre du Mississippi ensemble. “We had an audition, and we had some new people come out which is really exciting,” said Heukeshoven.
The Theatre du Mississippi will present their Original Shorts at the Burke Music House (rear entrance) on Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m. Admission is $5; cash only.