OFT whipping up fresh Tales

by Molly Gilmore

Olympia Family Theater’s “Tales Told in Ten” — a festival of short plays written, rehearsed and staged in 24 hours — is back. You could think of Tales, on stage Feb. 11 and 12, as a theatrical version of a cooking-show challenge. A half-dozen playwrights receive a prompt and each gets a cast, and the timer starts ticking.

A scene from “Ms. Tagavilla’s Amazing Superpower” – a “Tales Told in Ten” 2018 production

But there is no one winner at “Tales,” inspired by the Northwest Playwrights Association’s Doubleshot Festival. Instead, there are shared rewards: For audience members of all ages, there’s an evening of fresh plays with diverse casts. For the participants, there’s the thrill of the challenge and the opportunity to forge new creative connections. And for the local theater community, there are six new plays that can be produced into the future.

“One day there is nothing, and the next day there are six brand-new plays,” said storyteller and impresario Elizabeth Lord, who is curating the festival, which last happened in 2018. “It is mind-boggling. These plays can now be performed elsewhere. They will be scripts that live.”

Left to right: Luz Gaxiola and Elizabeth Lord – photo by Jordanna Averett

The festival’s playwrights include some of Olympia’s most accomplished. Bryan Willis, who helped to develop the Doubleshot Festival, makes his living as a playwright and has had work produced internationally. He’s currently at work on a screenplay of Olympia novelist Jim Lynch’s “Before the Wind.” Both actor/writer/critic Christian Carvajal and actor/singer/director/choreographer Amy Shephard have already had their work produced at the family theater. Keith Eisner won a 2017 O. Henry Award for his short story “Blue Dot.” Rounding out the lineup are actor/clown/musician Luz Gaxiola, who directed the theater’s “Nyx and the Long Night,” and Cass Manalastas, a drama therapist who’s new to the Olympia theater scene.

As curator, Lord chose the playwrights, directors — Pug Bujeaud, Jenny Heddin, Jordan Richards, Deane Shellman, Glim Siofra and Victor Velasquez — and the festival’s diverse multigenerational company of 25 actors. The theater is aiming the festival at a broad audience, too. “I’m particularly excited to see OFT’s programming, including ‘Tales Told in Ten,’ expand to include youth and adult audiences,” said Willis, a veteran of “Tales” and other overnight festivals. He said he loves “the thrill of the dramaturgical speed and pressure.”

Elizabeth Lord – photo by Jordanna Averett

“I’m excited about the compressed timeline,” Gaxiola agreed. ”My plan is to take a nap Friday afternoon and then stay up writing through the night. … I’m very lucky that I often get to collaborate on a lot of longer-term big performance projects, but there’s a different energy when it’s just you and you have to write something quickly. You have to make quick decisions and then see them through, and that kind of time pressure can spark some startling and creative choices. There’s no magic like a deadline.”

Lord, well-known as the producer and host of Lord Franzannian’s Royal Olympian Vaudeville Show, has participated in plenty of 24-hour festivals but has never before curated one. “It’s no small task as an actor to be handed a script, have a conversation, do a read-through, and then have the director say, ‘OK. I’m going to give you an hour to go memorize your lines.’

Luz Gaxiola – photo by Jordanna Averett

“Normally, an actor might take weeks to memorize their lines,” she said. “They go memorize the lines and then they come back, they rehearse in earnest, they do a technical rehearsal with lights and sound, and then before you know it, there’s an audience in the theater, and you’re performing.”

Perhaps the most exciting part of curating the festival is choosing the prompt from which the plays will spring. “It could be anything,” she said. “We could choose a classical work of art, or we could pick a song and have them interpret that song.”

She started the process by meeting with OFT artistic director Lily Raabe to talk about possibilities. “We talked about what our community needs right now in this pandemic or post-pandemic time,” Lord said. “We need community. We need reconnection. Maybe we just need a dance party.”

Tales Told in Ten

7 p.m. Feb. 11 and 3 p.m. Feb. 12

Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

$5-$35, with a limited number of free tickets available at the door


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