The Return of 5 x 5

Shirley here.

I have to give Grace Overbeke, our new-ish (going on six months now!) Director of Marketing, full credit for encouraging the resurrection of our 5 x 5 Programming. In addition to her mad skills with Photoshop and press releases, she’s worked as a dramaturg and director in the DC area and beyond, and was willing to take on producer and directorial duties if we revived the series.

Hannah Hessel, our fantastic former Theater J Director of Programming, launched the 5 x 5 readings as a creative way for audiences to react to the shows we produce. It asks that audiences go further than just talking about the play; and actually process the work through their own artistic lens by writing a five minute play inspired by the show.

We had a great response to the call for submissions during SOMETHING YOU DID; which inspired us to program for not one, but TWO afternoons of 5 x 5 readings to go along with THE ODD COUPLE (a chance to see your own crazy roommate story on stage!).

As a follow-up to the SOMETHING YOU DID 5 x 5 readings, I’ve asked our Literary Intern Rebecca Gingrich-Jones to write about her experience from the perspective of a playwright participating in the program. Take it away Rebecca…

I recently had the pleasure of participating in another example of Theater J’s commitment to new voices and local playwrights in its “5×5: Scenes from the Revolution” staged reading. Playwrights were asked to submit a 5-minute play inspired by the 2010-2011 season opener, Something You Did by Willy Holtzman.

Having very much enjoyed grappling with the tough questions brought up in Something You Did – about the possible redemption of a 1960s American Leftist terrorist – I decided to take a stab at this short form. Even more challenging than the ubiquitous 10-minute play, writing a 5-minute play requires setting up a clear situation with sympathetic characters, developing conflict, and delivering a powerful ending, all within the space of 5 pages. To write my play, I had to choose a point of departure which related to Something You Did but which also grew out of some passion of mine that I could explore further.

I found this intersection in the lead-up to another anniversary of 9/11, in which I was disturbed by rhetoric of endless rounds of posturing, revenge, escalation and constant warfare. I wanted to write about an end to “they started it” attitudes, and to find another way to conceptualize a way out of this cycle of death. My resulting play Unforgivable shows the conflict between two women at a 9/11 memorial, and how they grapple with issues of fault, hatred, retaliation and healing – and how these are all related to the woman’s body and way of being in the world. I was honored that my play was selected, but of course started feeling nervous about sharing my brand new work with an audience, once it came to the day of the reading. I was comforted to be part of a bill of eight plays, all new works by playwrights who undoubtedly shared some of my anticipation, if not anxiety.

Watching the other playwrights’ creations, brought to life by the talented actors, was inspiring and exhilarating; I felt enriched to be part of this community. I also realized, as I do time and again at the theater, why this art form is so moving and important, and why it cannot be replaced or replicated by television or film. During the reading, I could literally feel the energy of the actors and the audience. By tuning in to this energy, I was able to gauge the response to my play, in particular, in a powerful way that is hard to describe in words. I also want to thank the audience member who turned around after my piece and told me how much she enjoyed it – a playwright rarely gets such warm, immediate feedback!

Overall, I also enjoyed how the evening coalesced as a whole, as the different plays spoke to each other, and to the original inspiration. From Renee Calarco’s comic Semper Fidelis, exploring father/daughter differences in patriotism, to Gwydion Suilebhan’s The Analyzer, about a young Israeli hacker intent on undermining the US government – and a great variety in between by Bob Bartlett, Ron Campeas, Jenet L. Dechary, Matt Bassett, and Malcolm Pelles – the plays formed an entertaining, if at times challenging, evening. What better way to explore family, friendship, ideology, and activism in today’s world, than with the supportive, friendly audience of Theater J.