Minnesota State University theater student Alex Coe (left) wrote and stars in his short play “The Proper Steps to Crying.”

Submitted photo
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

What started as an everyday conversation turned into the basis of a short play for Alex Coe.

Instead of racking his brain for ideas, that single conversation sparked the concept for Coe’s short play, which was one of 16 winners chosen to be performed in the premiere Minnesota Shorts Play Festival Sept. 11 and Sept. 12 at the Lincoln Community Center.

“(Writing a play) takes up time and emotion,” said Coe, a theater student at Minnesota State University. “But the idea of someone reading it makes you want to write even more.”

Coe, who’s been acting since elementary school, will star in his short play, “The Proper Steps to Crying,” alongside MSU dance student Katie Drietz. But it wasn’t his acting abilities that won him a spot in the festival.

To be selected as a winning piece, plays could last no longer than 15 minutes — and that’s about where the restrictions ended. Some short play festivals specify where they want the stories to take place, or require the plays to have certain themes. Greg Abbott, founder of the Minnesota Shorts Play Festival, said he wanted to leave the competition wide open because he wanted the very best plays.

After the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis narrowed down the entries from about 50 to 16, Abbott was left with an assortment ranging from comedies to dramas to family-friendly children’s plays. The adult selections are slated for Sept. 11, while plays for all ages are reserved to be shown on Sept. 12.

“A lot of times when you have a festival, maybe (one specific) play wouldn’t be appropriate for kids 12 and under,” Abbott said.

Kids with shorter attention spans may have trouble sitting through full-length plays, but the festival offers six 10- to 15-minute plays set aside on their own day to help children get some exposure to theater without viewing adult content or losing interest in a long production.

Abbott came up with his own play for the children’s portion of the festival, titled “PC Street.” The play was inspired by how the popular television series “Sesame Street” decided to convert the Cookie Monster into a sudden fan of health food.

Long before “PC Street” had ever come to mind, Abbott penned “The Greatest Story Ever Edited” after getting hooked on playwrighting through a class. He was surprised that Northfield holds the only short play festival in Minnesota and said a venue for short plays in Mankato is important for the local playwrights. With a grant from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, Abbott was able to pay the winners for their work, something he said isn’t typical of festivals.

“With a lot of these short play festivals, you enter and you’re kind of excited if your play gets in, but you don’t get anything out of it,” he said. “I wanted to appreciate their good work, and that’s what Prairie Lakes has helped me do.”

The ability to pay winners, along with the specific all-ages day of plays, is what sets the Minnesota Shorts Play Festival apart from others. One of the family-friendly plays going to be performed will take the audience into a classroom where they’re shown the difficulties of teaching.

“I wanted to take some humorous aspects of the frustrations of teachers and put them on stage,” MSU student Paul Gansen said.

Gansen originally wrote “Professor Confessions” as more of a 30-minute one-act play, but was able to take away bits and pieces until the length would qualify for submission to the festival.

“Ultimately, in a short play, you need to find what is truly important in your script and trim out the excess,” he said.

Whether cutting down time from a longer play or starting from scratch and working up to 15 minutes, the process is no quick task. For Abbott, the initial writing comes easy. An idea hits him, he writes everything down in a hurry, and within a couple of hours the first draft of his play has come together. The next several months of revisions are what turn such a short play into a long work in progress before a final product is ready to enter a festival.

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