Plays to ‘pop-up’ overnight at THT as playwrights, actors face a deadline

MIDDLEBURY — The term “pop-up” was once confined to describing three-dimensional artwork in storybooks. It’s now being applied to spontaneous gatherings that bring attention to products, causes or activities — such as pop-up stores or concerts.
Well, the folks at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater have decided to bring the pop-up craze to the stage. Specifically, THT officials have invited six playwrights to each write a script that will be brought to life this Saturday, April 12, with the help of six directors and a troupe of local actors.
The creative — some might even say sadistic — twist: The six 10-minute “Pop-Up Plays” must be written, rehearsed and be ready for presentation within a 24-hour period.
“I want it to be a sort of revolution of creativity,” said THT Operations Manager Haley Rice, who is spearheading Pop-Up Plays. “I loved the concept of bringing all these creative people together … (and) putting them in this pressure cooker to see what happens.”
It’s a challenge that resonated with the creative and talented folks who were invited to take a dip in THT’s pop-up pool. The writers that Rice recruited include the Addison Independent’s own Jessie Raymond; Kevin Commins, a local screenwriter; and Susan Weiss, a novelist based in Burlington. Also featured are three Vermont playwrights: Chris Caswell, Macarthur Stine and Marianne DiMascio.
Raymond said writing a pop-up play will offer her a new creative outlet beyond the popular “Around the Bend” column she writes for the Independent.
“As a writer, I’m looking forward to the challenge of creating something totally new on a limited timeline,” she said. “But as a person who typically goes to bed at 9:30 p.m., I’m terrified that I will wake up Saturday morning with a keyboard indentation across my cheek and only one page written.
“I’m not sure what would prompt (THT Executive Director) Doug (Anderson) to ask me to come on board as a playwright, given that I’ve never written a play; either he’s a creative genius or he’s trying to ruin my life,” she added. “We’ll find out Saturday night. I just want to come up with something entertaining that the actors can have fun with and the audience will enjoy.”
Once written, the plays will be handed off to the directors to interpret and stage with the help of 18 mostly local actors affiliated with such groups as Middlebury Actors Workshop and the Middlebury Community Players. Middlebury College students will also be part of the group.
The Pop-Up directors have a long list of credits. Doug Anderson is also artistic director of the Opera Company of Middlebury; Melissa Lourie is artistic director of Middlebury Actors Workshop; Susan Palmer will be directing at Vermont Stage this spring; Wendi Stein is founder, producer and co-director of Theatre Kavanah; New York and  Vermont actor and director Cyrus Moore; and Lindsay Pontius is a former member of Shakespeare and Company and currently Town Hall Theater’s education director.
No one has any idea what the shows will turn out to be.
“We could end up with a comedy about three hitmen, or a romance between singing waiters, or it could be about Vladimir Putin’s dog … or all of the above,” Rice said. “It’s all up for grabs. The short time period is an in-your-face deadline that fires up the imagination and provokes creative action. It should feel a little like watching NASCAR, but funnier.”
The writers involved in the pop-up plays will gather on Friday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the THT. They will select objects that will randomly determine which of the 18 thespians will act in their plays. The playwrights will also each get an envelope containing a “curveball” that could affect their respective submissions, which will be due by 7 a.m. on Saturday, April 12.
Rice said she will not assign themes to the playwrights, but is expecting some chuckles.
“Most of the people we’ve selected are funny, so hopefully, they’ll go in that direction,” Rice said.
After playwrights have burned the midnight oil penning their 10-minute works, the directors and actors will engage in some frenzied rehearsals to ensure all six plays are staged promptly that evening, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Pontius, one of the directors, is looking forward to Saturday. She’ll enjoy the mystery aspect of the assignment until then.
“I’m really excited,” Pontius said of the assignment. “I think it will be a great thing for the theater community. It will get people together who don’t usually work together.”
All of those involved in the pop-up plays are volunteering their talents. Proceeds from the Saturday show ($10 per ticket) will benefit the THT. The audience will be viewing something unique and fleeting.
 “We’ll end up with six world premiers that you’ll never see again,” Rice said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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