What is it? Ten short plays written, produced, and performed by students of the College of Charleston’s theater department. We liked last year’s Under the Lights, but the success of this sequel depends on the quality of its writing and the performances of its actors. Judging by CofC’s strong theater offerings of late, this show’s a safe bet.

Why see it? These shorts are long on quality if the awards they’ve already won are any indication. According to theater prof Franklin Ashley, one is a finalist at the Kennedy Center’s American College 10-minute play competition; three others were staged in the regional competition. Others have won local playwriting prizes. These are stories told by disparate voices with completely unfettered imaginations.

Who should go? Spendthrifts seeking lots of bang for their buck — these tickets work out to be, at most, $1.50 per play. Budding writers will enjoy the experimental nature of some of the shorts, as the student scribes discover how much story they can pack into
10 minutes.

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $12-15 • 1 hour 30 min. • May 27,28, June 2,3 at 8 p.m. • Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. • (888) 374-2656

CofC playwrights aim for the soul of wit: Not all plays fit a perfect two-act length

There are smaller stories to tell. Slice-of-life glimpses, amusing vignettes, or preludes to something greater. For Under the Lights, the College of Charleston’s student playwrights only have 10 minutes to spin a yarn with a beginning, middle, and end. Ten such microtales have made the cut.

Proving how much can be packed into 10 minutes, the plays run the spectrum of drama and comedy, from tense situations to absurd humor. But as theater professor Franklin Ashley explains, characters have a transformational arc, and there’s a requisite epiphany or revelation in each piece.

“It’s a night of amazing student-written worlds,” says producer Sierra Garland, herself a theater performance junior, “all developed and acted by student talent. In particular, it’s about the potential they have.”

Their aptitude is nurtured in Ashley’s classes and his Playwrights Tonight series, which showcases students’ plays in readings. But by producing the 10 minuters for Joe Public, the writers face the rare, exhilarating prospect of hearing their words spoken by actors and seeing their characters on stage.

And the plays are populated by a host of different people, from the sad to the seedy, the cold-blooded to the cockeyed, and they feature talented young actors like Jessica Colie McClellan, who played the lead in The Arabian Nights, Elizabeth Bays from Quilters, and Meredith Potter, who also appears during Piccolo in Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief.

Henry Riggs, of sketch comedy group Maximum Brain Squad, was another finalist with It’s Not Delivery, a piece packed with bizarre humor about inept gangsters who have captured the wrong person. Writer/director Noah Smith’s The Gambler’s Bounty concerns two assassins and a detective facing off against each other. Many twists ensue.

The plays will be produced with stock props and a student-sized budget, prompting the audience to concentrate on the writing and acting.

“It’s all about the magic of the words and the interaction with the audience,” Ashley says. “Compared to film, theater in general is more proactive. It demands the engagement of the imagination to fill in the cracks.”

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