Have you ever wanted to change the ending of an otherwise perfect story? Maybe there was a movie or play that would have been flawless had it not included a certain scene or character’s decision. Stories are emotional, and sometimes, as an audience, you just want to add your own input or critique.
Winona’s own Theatre du Mississippi (TdM) will give audiences a chance to participate in the creative process with its third annual “Original Shorts” playwriting competition performances, which will be held at the Masonic Theater, May 9 through May 11.
“Audiences can critique and comment,” artistic director and producer of “Original Shorts” Dan Munson said. “We love to get feedback.”
“Original Shorts” consists of four original plays written by four different local or regional playwrights. Depending on which scripts will be performed for the night, audience members will be able to watch about two hours of staged readings — meaning that the production will have no sets and the actors will be reading from scripts and will not be in full costume, and after each performance, the playwrights will be able to ask audience members three questions regarding their script.
“[Audiences] get to see [the plays] as works in progress,” Munson explained of the symbiotic style of the performances, “and the playwrights can work out the kinks and bugs through the feedback from audiences.”
Kathy Peterson, one of this year’s playwright winners from the contest, agrees. “It’s wonderful to get audience reactions,” she said. “I’ve done it before with my plays — audience feedback — and it is really helpful and fascinating.”
The winners of this year's contest vary in age, location, and gender, but are all budding local and regional playwriting talents. “Return Engagement,” written by Peterson and directed by Paul Sannerud, is about an aging actor who returns to his hometown in Wisconsin after years of living in New York. “God Always Exists Somewhere,” written by Greg Freier and directed by Rob Thomas, involves three homeless men discussing life while sitting on a park bench. “The End,” written by Winona State University student Conlan Carter and directed by Daryl Lanz, is a story about a playwright trying to get his script in front of an agent. “Fat Actress, Ugly Model, and Other Destructive Labels for Women,” written by Bella Poynton and directed by Maggy Jacqmin, is just like the title suggests, a commentary on women, body image and how it affects relationships.
“I look forward every year to hearing these scripts,” Munson said. “We really enjoy the quality of the work we see, and hopefully we can enlist some of these playwrights for our longer plays.”
“I think [the plays] will all be quite different,” Peterson said. “There is wonderful age range with the authors.”
Munson himself was one of the inaugural winners of the “Original Shorts” competition before his role on the TdM Board. Most recently, he wrote the 2013 TdM fall production, “The Drowned Man.”
This year’s playwriting competition drew about 50 individuals who submitted their own original scripts. “We wanted to keep [the competition] as open as possible,” Munson said of the lack of restrictions, stating that the only requirements were that playwrights were from the tri-state area and that their scripts were under an hour in length.
While next year’s competition does not officially begin accepting scripts until late summer or early fall, Munson hopes that people will be inspired to submit their own plays after watching “Original Shorts.”
“Just [submit your script],” he said. “Just do it; don’t be afraid.”
Performances of “Original Shorts” will be held at the Masonic Theater on Friday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, May 11, at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $5 cash at the door.