Playwright’s Forum prepares evening of short plays, tough questions

by Amy Kingsley

If you’re going to the Greensboro Playwrights’ Forum’s Evening of Short Plays, come prepared to ponder some questions:

What would the apostles talk about over a hand of Texas Hold ‘Em?

What is the ideal location to break up with someone?

What is the appeal of the silent treatment?

You have a while to work up your take on those. The Greensboro Playwrights’ Forum – which is one of the institutions that founded the Fringe Festival six years ago – doesn’t kick off its weekend performances until Thursday, Feb. 7.

The show consists of eight short plays, including “The Game” by Jini Zlatniski, which is about the apostles, “A Quiet Public Place,” the breakup piece by Tommy Trull, and “Vow of Silence” by Debra Kaufman.

It’ll be the sixth Evening of Short Plays in as many fringe festivals.

“We were doing a reading of short plays seven years ago and so were a couple of independent theater companies,” says Stephen Hyers, the director of the forum. “We started to think about how we could collaborate in a way that would benefit our company and theirs.”

Those early conversations eventually led to the first Greensboro Fringe Festival in 2003. These days, in addition to new work by area playwrights, the festival also encompasses dance, music and burlesque.

But it’s events like the Evening of Short Plays and premieres by founder Todd Fisher’s Informall Theater Company that capture the original spirit of the festival.

“For the first couple of years we did play readings,” Hyers says, “we had really edgy stuff about September eleventh and the Iraq War. This year we realized that we pulled almost all comedies. I think with all the politics going on, we decided we needed something a little lighter.”

The five other plays tackle Indian technical support, Girl Scout cookies, therapy, blonde dames and murder at a video store. If you want terrorists or soldiers, save your five dollars and spend the evening with National Public Radio.

Hyers has been with the Playwrights’ Forum since its inception in 1993. The group never drew heavily from the Triad’s colleges and universities, attracting instead a mix of retirees and professional writers, Hyers says. A handful of playwrights make the monthly drive from Raleigh and Durham to attend meetings.

“In our early days we were always just hoping someone came in with something to read,” Hyers says.

They were smaller then, and less organized. These days Hyers warns newcomers that if they don’t get to meetings early, they won’t find good seats. In fact, the forum has just about outgrown its digs at the Cultural Arts Center, where it’s been meeting every second Wednesday in a basement conference room.

Some of its members have also found success.

“One of our playwrights, his play is being translated into French,” Hyers says. “It’s something he wrote for a new play project.”

He’s talking about the North Carolina New Play Project, which is one of the ways members of the forum advance the cause of original theater.

Which is a cause it shares with the Greensboro Fringe Festival. Every year, the festival and the forum celebrate original work, and they invite the public to take a gander. Most of the time, Hyers says, the audience likes what it sees.

“That’s what is great about the evening of short plays,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll think that maybe a piece doesn’t work in the lineup, and then I’ll hear people as they are coming out talking about how it was their favorite piece. I think the works are so diverse that there’s really something to appeal to everyone.”

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