Radically intensive

September 2019

It’s a radical idea - ten playwrights, ten plays, ten minutes each. But then again, in theatre, radical is the name of the game.

“It’s a ‘streak of theatrical lightning’,” says writer and organizer Cathi Winslow. “Not just a scene from a longer play or a comedy sketch, but a short, complete work with a beginning, middle, and end. 10-minute plays are a great way for new playwrights to learn dramatic structure, and for seasoned playwrights to experiment with structure and themes. But also, they’re fun for the audience because of their brevity and speed.”

And as one who regularly enjoys the yearly 10x10 Showcase, I can tell you that they really are fun to watch! The plays invariably run the gamut of theatrical styles, from slapstick comedy to thought-provoking drama to biting social commentary to hauntingly beautiful introspection. The art form first came to Thunder Bay as the “10 By 10 Playwrights’ Showcase”, a community theatre project that ran from December 2012 to April 2014. It was a grassroots effort by members of several local theatre companies to encourage playwriting. In 2014, the remaining founders of “10 By 10” passed the leadership on to Elemental Productions, an artist collective of three women (Sheena Albanese, Jelena Psenicnik, and Cathi Winslow) with complementary professional backgrounds in playwriting, acting, directing, and stage managing. Rebranded as the ‘10x10 Play Intensive’, the nonprofit year-round theatre venture has continued to expand and evolve. As 10x10 grows, however, so does the complexity and logistics of running ten separate yet connected projects simultaneously.

“Because we welcome such a large number of artists (playwrights, directors, actors, and technicians), it’s an exciting opportunity to build friendships and professional networking,” says Winslow. “In 2016, we expanded our lead team to include Jessica Krasnichuk and Nicholas Palinka, who infused the project with new energy and a greater variety of professional theatre skills. We also expanded the showcase to include two performances in 2016, and added a third in 2018 and 2019. Every performance has played to sold-out audiences.”
Thunder Bay has a wide and broad stage community, from professional organizations to improv, from melodrama to community theatre, and it seems in many ways, 10x10 has bridged them or brought them together. Winslow agrees.

“10x10 has become well-known for our collaborative approach to engaging both emerging and established artists,” she says, “This exploration between audience and actors begins in the development stage with the artists behind the scenes. We offer year-round professional development that is accessible to everyone (financially and physically) and, with a relatively short-term commitment for actors (who rehearse for a month or less), it’s not too difficult for artists from various theatre groups to work together on this project.”

With ten playwrights, ten scripts, ten directors, ten stage managers, and countless actors and behind the scenes professionals, there are bound to be challenges when creativity collides with practicality, or when an actor or director takes a playwright’s vision in a different direction. There’s the rub, says Hamlet, but we know it sometimes takes friction to light a fire.

“It’s a huge pleasure to see a playwright take a risk in revision and see it pay off in the rehearsal room,” says Winslow, “To watch a new director connect with one more experienced, one who helps them ask the best questions; to see actors on stage hold the audience rapt while they watch a story unfold for the very first time; to hear an audience member excited to see how much talent exists right in our own city.”

The talent is undeniable. These successes have led several of the Showcase playwrights to submit their work in places outside of Thunder Bay, and some of the plays have gone on to be performed nationally and internationally, from Southern Ontario to England and Finland. This is an exciting result of 10x10, because all the plays are new, original work from Northwestern Ontario playwrights, bringing regional talent into the spotlight on a much wider scale.

“The local theatre community celebrates and supports this,” says Winslow,

“And I meet so many people in Toronto who are enthused about what's happening in the theatre scene in Thunder Bay.”

With Thunder Bay’s evolving arts and culture scene, I’m convinced that’s about to change. Theatre is a way to come together and build community, to explore values and to create experience, and to find a place to imaginatively address differences and disagreements in a safe, engaged environment.

“Every year, people tell us how much they appreciate the opportunity to see or participate in our show. It’s an honour for us to create this safe space and to give artists a chance to learn, grow, make mistakes, and sometimes shine.”

And shine, they do! To hear exciting new works-in-progress, check out their new project, Act Up, with readings open to the public beginning in November 2019. For a fun, behind-the-scenes glimpse at what it’s like to be a part of a Showcase play, follow their Instagram: 10x10tbay. To learn more about 10x10 (including details on the 2020 10x10 Showcase), check our their website www.10x10tbay.ca, their Facebook page: 10x10TBay, or email them at 10x10tbay@gmail.com.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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