Silverthorne shifts to online format for ‘tiny’ play festival

  • “People Will Talk” by Scott Mullen was part of the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival that Silverthorne Theater Co. offered online over the weekend. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • “Raghead” by Tom Coash was part of the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival that Silverthorne Theater Co. offered online over the weekend. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • “Second Look” by Nick Malakhow was part of the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival that Silverthorne Theater Co. offered online over the weekend. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • “Webster’s Bitch” by Jacqueline Bircher was part of the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival that Silverthorne Theater Co. offered online over the weekend. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • “A Gift” by Joshua Prouser was part of the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival that Silverthorne Theater Co. offered online over the weekend. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • “Indelible” by John Bavoso was part of the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival that Silverthorne Theater Co. offered online over the weekend. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Silverthorne Theater Co. Executive Director Lucinda Kidder. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/18/2021 8:41:23 AM

Twelve actors, two directors and 16 playwrights were about to begin rehearsals for Silverthorne Theater Co.’s Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival in March of 2020 when the pandemic hit, stopping them and the festival in their tracks — but not for long.

Silverthorne Executive Director Lucinda Kidder said the project had been “a long time in the making” and was finally ready to go, so everyone involved did not want to let it fizzle out. They talked about options and decided on one — to transform each 10-minute play into screenplays, film them and show them virtually instead of live on stage.

“The COVID-19 pandemic hit and on March 14, the door slammed shut on live performance throughout the state and beyond,” Kidder said.

Originally, the tiny plays, supported by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, were going to be performed over the course of two or three weekends at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield.

“We held auditions,” Kidder said. “We had had the first read-through last March just before everything shut down. We were stunned and froze for a short while, not knowing what to do, but then we rallied and figured it out.”

The theater company’s technical director, John Iverson, was able to film each short piece in outdoor locations — though a couple of indoor scenes were filmed at The LAVA Center in Greenfield — with small casts and the weather cooperating. While there were some four-person plays, many were two-person plays. Actors came from across New England and beyond, though some are local.

“We pivoted our operations to meet our ‘new reality,’” Kidder said. “The final product, these short films, in many ways have benefited from the audience experience possible in this medium.”

Kidder said more than 20 people — actors, directors, technicians and significant others — stuck with the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival for almost a year leading up to this past weekend’s presentation. She recounted how actors put up with “iffy weather, heat and bugs” during outside shoots, while directors had to “re-imagine” the plays and playwrights, without hesitation, agreed to allow Silverthorne to use their material as best it could.

“We had more than 300 submissions from as far away as New Zealand,” she said. “We ended up with 15 that we showed over the weekend.”

Kidder said many of the plays were filmed outdoors in November and December of 2020, so even though some days were sunny and looked like it could be spring or summer, actors had to endure much colder temperatures in lighter clothing.

“They really pushed through,” Iverson said.

Locations included the top of the municipal parking garage on Olive Street in Greenfield, near the Second Congregational Church on Bank Row, Greenfield Community College and Smith College in Northampton.

“Actors were all masked until the cameras started rolling,” Kidder said of the COVID-19 health safety precautions taken. “Everyone was very careful. And happily, we got more sophisticated about filming as time went on.”

Kidder said she doesn’t know when Silverthorne will go back to live, on-stage performances, but hopes it will be by the end of summer. She said whatever happens, the theater company now knows how to adjust; how to film a play and present it virtually.

“Bottom line is we had fun and hope the audience enjoyed watching the films online,” she said.

Just a few of the plays/films included one about dementia, another about a woman who brings a cellphone to yoga class and it keeps ringing, one about someone who makes a pact with the devil and another about a man who is considering suicide. Viewers were able to vote for their favorites, which Silverthorne showed again on Sunday.

“It was such a different experience for all of us,” Iverson said. “The actors had to work without an audience. I had to learn how to film and then edit it. It was interesting.”

Still, as an actor, Iverson said he felt there was less pressure because actors didn’t have to get it right the first time; it could be re-filmed if need be.

“It was unlike a performance on stage where the actor has to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse to get it exactly right,” he said. “I started with 500 gigabytes worth of video files and both shows ended up at 25, so that was a lot of editing. There’s a lot that people didn’t see in the finished products.”

Iverson said he started using one camera and soon decided to go with two. He had to learn how to film, and what angles to shoot.

“Learning how to edit was the hardest part,” he said. “But I know how to do it now, so if we ever have to do this again, we’re ready.”

Iverson said what everyone seems to miss is the immediate feedback from a live audience. He said being on stage is an “amazing feeling” if it’s done right.

“It’s not something you get with film or videos,” he said. “But like the rest of the world, I imagine theater is going to have to do some changing, so it might be something we use more of after this.”

Iverson said watching oneself on film is hard to do because most actors are very critical of their own performances.

“That’s my own perspective, but I know other actors who feel the same way,” he said. “When they get to watch themselves, they’re saying or thinking, ‘I should have done it this way.’

“These actors gave good performances all weekend,” he continued. “It was a real pleasure to work with all of them.”

Iverson said one thing is for sure: whether on stage or film, the Short & Sweet (tiny) New Play Festival this past weekend was “tons of fun.”

For more information about Silverthorne Theater Co., visit silverthornetheater.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


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