The Thornton Wilder Short Play Festival

April 15, 2011

TW-Logo_2011_transparent.pngThe world's only known Thornton Wilder Short Play Festival was presented April 8-9 in Rochester, MN.

The Thornton Wilder Short Play Festival, produced by Words Players, will include 11 short Wilder plays, as well as a symposium. Tappan Wilder, Thornton Wilder's nephew and literary executor, attended.

All of this for a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who Daved Driscoll, director of Words Players, once thought of as second- or even third-tier. "I thought he was kind of a light-weight," Driscoll said.

That was six years ago when Driscoll launched the first Thornton Wilder Short Play Festival at Crossings at Carnegie Art Center in Zumbrota. Driscoll presented Wilder that first year, simply because he thought the short plays, with their simple settings, would work at Crossings.

"But as it went on," he recalled, "I had the feeling we were watching the tip of the iceberg go by. There was something really intriguing about the plays. There was something beyond the plays themselves."

The plays were intriguing enough that Words Players will have, after this year's festival, produced 36 of Wilder's short plays.

It is, literally, a unique tribute to Wilder, who is best known as the writer of "Our Town" -- there is no other festival anywhere devoted entirely to his short works. "And we've looked all over," Driscoll said. "He's one of the most produced playwrights on earth. But his short plays are rarely done at all."

Why perform Thornton Wilder's short plays?

"We started this very much with the actors in mind," Driscoll said. "These plays are great laboratories for people to get a character, and in three, five or seven minutes, they have to convey everything about that character in a short period of time."

There is a core cast of 10 actors, with 27 actors in total taking part in the plays. Ages range from 13 through middle age.

What is the challenge of presenting Wilder's short plays?

"To let people relax and see the play for what it is," Driscoll said. "People see a five-minute play and think, 'I must have missed something.' But they didn't."

By looking too hard, what they might miss is the genius of Wilder. "These are about ordinary people doing ordinary things," Driscoll said, "and in Wilder's view, that's extraordinary. I don't know that I've ever read a writer who celebrates ordinariness the way he does."

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