MANKATO — Now in its fifth year, the Minnesota Shorts Play Festival continues to grow.
The brainchild of North Mankato playwright Greg Abbott and a committed group of area theater enthusiasts, the festival drew 50 submissions its first year. The next year, 100 submissions. Last year, 400 submissions. This year nearly topped 500.
"Last year, we were blown away," Abbott said. "This year, we got even more. ... It's amazing. We didn't anticipate growing this fast."
Abbott attributes the growth to a broader lack of such opportunities statewide. Often, he said, play festivals include only local submissions, charge entry fees for scripts or force playwrights to write to a specific theme or scene.
But Mankato's festival, he said, places no such restraints on participants.
Even when last year's pool was tilted decidedly in favor of national playwrights — seven out of eight submissions were from non-Minnesota playwrights — Abbott decided to make a slight change to the format. Instead of disallowing out-of-state submissions altogether to preserve the festival's original missions, Abbott instead designated one night for Minnesota plays and another for national plays.
This year, the two-day, 16-play festival — which will be held Sept. 5-6 in the theater at Mankato West High School — will be divided into a Thursday night showcase of Minnesota playwrights and a Friday lineup comprised of out-of-state playwrights.
"We've been more open to accepting scripts," Abbott said. "We don't want to impose any limits."
The net result is a delightfully varied and robust performance lineup that serves as a showcase for established talent as well as a proving ground for budding professionals.
Morgan LeClaire is a senior in Minnesota State University's Department of Theatre and Dance. Though she's performed several times as an actress at MSU, she had yet been given a chance to make her public directorial debut.