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Fifth annual St. John’s Short Play Festival begins Thursday

A rehearsal of the shadow puppet play, :The Kraken," written by Darren Ivany. The live drive-in performance will happen today as part of the St. John's Short Play Festival. - Submitted photo
A rehearsal of the shadow puppet play, "The Kraken," written by Darren Ivany. The live drive-in performance will happen today as part of the St. John's Short Play Festival. - Submitted photo

Production of mostly locally written plays will be streamed on YouTube

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

As the sun goes down Thursday night, shadowy figures lurking behind the Arts and Administration Building at Memorial University will emerge and have their silhouettes blasted onto the wall by bright lights.

As people watch from their cars, the figures will tell their stories, as they are moved around on sticks by a group of actors performing in the fifth annual St. John’s Short Play Festival.

Darren Ivany is one of the puppet masters behind this spooky but lighthearted, live drive-in offering. He is the writer of the shadow puppet play called “The Kraken,” as well as the co-writer of another play called “The Brass Button Man.”

“We’re all manipulating these beautiful shadow puppets that have all been 3-D printed, and they're actually designed based off the coastlines of Newfoundland,” Ivany said.

The puppets will then be projected onto the wall, and spectators in the parked cars will hear the audio through their car radio.

Darren Ivany is the playwright behind the shadow puppet play Darren Ivany is the playwright behind the shadow puppet play "The Kraken," which will be performed to a drive-in audience today as part of the fifth annual St. John's Short Play Festival. Bright lights will project puppets controlled by actors onto the wall behind the Arts and Administration building at Memorial University in St. John's. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Ivany has been involved with the festival as a participant since it began in 2016. He says this year, despite the restrictions, the festival is still providing the opportunity for new artists to showcase their work.

“I’ve been so fortunate because I don’t think I would have the opportunities like I do now, if it wasn’t for getting those short plays in front of an audience and allowing people to see that different side of myself,” Ivany said. “I had only done acting and when I started writing, (the festival) was my way in.”

Now, 30-year-old Ivany writes for a living, including plays for various festivals.

The other 17 plays won’t be live, but broadcast on the St. John’s Shorts YouTube channel. The festival, like many others, has had to innovate to account for restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chair of the board for the festival this year is Elizabeth Hicks. The first year of the festival, Hicks was there only as an audience member, but she has participated every year since.

“The short play festival was definitely a great way for me to immerse myself in the St. John’s art scene,” she said.

The origin of the festival traces back to a Facebook group where local actors were discussing how inaccessible producing a play can be for those on a small budget, Hicks says.

“It really spawned out of the idea that there wasn’t enough theatre happening in the city, especially theatre that was accessible in the sense of cheaper ticket prices, a variety of different types of material, but also for theatre artists, it wasn’t too much of an investment,” Hicks said. “That’s something that we’ve definitely tried to carry forward.”

Most years, plays would be produced for a small fee that the artist would be able to recoup through ticket sales at the LSPU Hall.

Stef Curran and Elizabeth Hicks performing as part of the sketch comedy troupe - Submitted
Stef Curran and Elizabeth Hicks performing as part of the sketch comedy troupe - Submitted

“About a $200 investment, basically, to make sure the venue could be rented, that all the expenses could be paid,” she said. “The revenue from the tickets would be split equally among the participants.”

This year, other than Ivany’s drive-in play, the performances are free for the public to view online.

“Typically, at the LSPU hall, there would be these two spots, one at 7 p.m. and one at 9:30 p.m., and there would be three plays in each slot, and you’d get a ticket for one or the other, or both,” Hicks said. “We tried to carry that over into this year’s online format, just to maintain a little bit of consistency from previous years.”

This year also includes a matinee feature for younger audiences at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The vast majority of plays, as in previous years, are written by local playwrights.

To find out more or to see the schedule, visit http://www.shortplaystjohns.ca/.

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