‘The $600 Gorilla Tango Theatre Actor/Writer Thing’

A challenge: you have one week to put together a completely original 20-minute play where the actors have to be off book, fully blocked and in costume. Oh — and you’ve never met any of your teammates before now. GO!

This afternoon, thanks to an invitation from Paul Cosca of Brikenbrak Theatre Project (which is getting ready to open Neil Labute’s Bash Oct. 7), I had the honor of serving as one of three judges for a writing and acting competition at Gorilla Tango Theatre, called “The $600 Gorilla Tango Theatre Actor/Writer Thing.”

Here’s how it worked: The competition spanned three weeks. In the first week, 30 actors and 15 writers began the competition, where the writers created monologues which the actors performed that night. Those who made it through to the second round then did the same thing with duets. And in between the second and third week, those who were left split into two teams and created 20-minute plays which were performed in the finale. Winners then split cash, prizes, and the opportunity to produce their original show at Gorilla Tango.

I was a judge at the finale — along with Erica Sartini and Hannah Fenlon of Two Birds Casting. And by “judge,” I mean we were there to merely serve as tie breakers should the need arise, as the audience got to vote for their favorite play.

So: what does a 20-minute play that’s been written, directed and rehearsed in a week, with two writers and four actors who’ve never worked together before, look like?

Pretty damn impressive, I must say. I don’t know how they did it, but both efforts offered amazingly well-realized character studies with engaging plots and solid acting. The two shows were:

The Saga of Sablewood Manor: This Ain’t no Shady Glen
Writers: Lisa Farver and Benjamin Brownson
Actors: Patricia Tinsley, Paul Tinsley, Harvey Dershin and Christian Stokes
Synop: A group of eccentric elders at a retirement home hatch a haywire plan to avoid being shipped off to a new home due to a smug new owner. The audience ate it up.

Open Mic Night
Writers: Chris Conley and Kevin Sheehan
Actors: Becky Blomgren, Whitney LaMora, Rosa Sanmarchi and Lynn Royale
Synop: Quirky coworkers/performers at a club honor their late boss during open mic night, and the bitter boss is none too pleased with her half-assed memorial — a fact she lets one coworker, who happens to be able to speak to the dead, know.

Two completely different approaches to the challenge, and both equally successful. Open Mic Night was a more solidly composed piece with strong acting, where The Saga of Sablewood was a bit looser in structure and acting, but more entertaining as a whole — you wanted to spend more time with these nutty and endearing retirees. And where Mic Night, may prove a challenge in fleshing out as a full length play, Sablewood could benefit from a longer format. Loved them both.

So, which one took home the prize and a chance for a full production at Gorilla Tango? Open Mic Night. By two votes. For their efforts: $600 and hot dogs the size of newborns! (I’m not kidding about the hot dogs. They were huge.) So, our expert judging duties were not called upon (thankfully!). However, because of the tight race, Cosca announced that BOTH plays would receive full-length productions at Gorilla Tango in the near future. I can’t wait to see how they’ll turn out.

6 thoughts on “‘The $600 Gorilla Tango Theatre Actor/Writer Thing’

  1. When I started this, the third week was the one that I really wasn’t sure about. Even up till today, I had no idea what people would create in the span of a week. Isn’t it amazing what people can do when they all work together to create a great piece of theatre?

    1. Truly amazing. And when I think about what (little) I accomplished this week in comparison, it’s even more amazing! Those people have some serious talent.

  2. Both Gorilla Tango and Two Birds Casting are run by some wonderful people (Two Birds just cast a festival I’m working on, and those ladies know their stuff!) The event sounds like a blast — and I can’t wait to read your review of “Bash.” It’s a challening play that’s not up everyone’s alley, but I think you’ll enjoy it. (You liked “The Skriker”…)

    Hot Dogs the size of Newborns?! Im there.

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