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Monday, March 28, 2011

SL ARTS & LITERATURE: Avatar Repertory Theater Serves Up a Virtual Feast of New Plays

In the bleak mid-winter Avatar Repertory Theater (ART) announced that they were accepting submissions of original ten minute plays to be part of their Virtual Short Play Buffet.  As the spring begins to bud, this project has also begun the next phase of its life.  That sprouting began last Friday at ART’s weekly ART Plays Around session at the Greek Archon Theater on Cookie, and will continue each week until May 13th.  Members of ART will be presenting readings 30 short plays, chosen from over 100 submissions, and the audience attending will be invited to vote on what plays they think deserve a full production.  Their votes will be added to ART Company Member’s own ballots, and a handful of the highest scoring plays will be presented in full production by ART in July. From seed to blossom! A streaming video of last Friday’s session can be viewed at

ART Company Member Lailu Loon, a real world Playwright and Director, is one of the key organizing hands in the Play Buffet.  I asked her about the process:

“We put the word out to playwright resources in real life as well as in SL. We received 113 plays. Two of the troupe read all of the plays, and judged them in a few different ways -- how they worked as plays and how they would work on SL. Mickie Nickolaidis assured Madame Thespian and I received blind submissions to read (note: “blind” means they did not know the identity of the playwrights as they read their work).  We selected 30 plays to be read as part of ART's Plays Around program on Friday nights. This would not only help ART gather new material and give actors a chance to do something unique and different, but encourage playwrights both in real life and on SL to work with ART . . . In this way, we will not only be able to produce a wonderful program in July, but perhaps develop relationships with playwrights who may have plays for future production by ART.”

Being a playwright is not easy.  Being a new playwright is even harder. A playwright needs to hear their words spoken by others to get a sense the interaction of the characters and the progression of the plot.  It is not the same as reading it silently, or editing the page.  Theater is not performed in the singular world of the playwright’s brain.  Theater is an essentially communal art form: the creation is enriched by the involvement of many, each bringing their own creative contribution to the process.  The playwright’s work is the starting point. That same collaborative spirit is behind ART’s “Performing Company” model, and it is reflected in their Virtual Short Play Buffet.

“Like many small theaters, ART seeks plays that require a no or a minimum royalty, “ said Ms. Loon, “Having recently produced a short play program in real life, a short play program seemed ideal for ART and SL. The troupe agreed. Many real life theaters can no longer afford the expense of developing and producing new work, so many quality plays simply don't get produced. ART agreed that offering a unique opportunity for playwrights in real life to at least receive a reading with the troupe, let alone a full production that utilizes the unique possibilities a virtual world has to offer, would be of mutual benefit . . . ART is committed to being on the ground floor of the new art forms that result from virtual theater and mixed reality theater.”

She continues, “. . . ART is a true ensemble in that we largely make decisions by consensus, delegating responsibilities in creative ways. Many of the troupe have extensive technical expertise so that we can truly explore the possibilities SL and the internet have to offer. We believe ourselves on the ground floor of a number of art forms that will evolve as the technology evolves.”

So the seeds were planted in the winter, as submissions were invited.  Since the scope of the invitation extended beyond the virtual world, ART provided playwrights with a Tech Sheet outlining the parameters of what is possible in a virtual presentation of a theatrical work to help inform those who might not be familiar with Second Life.  While many things about producing theater in the virtual world are easier than real life production (the lumber is a whole lot lighter for one thing), it is still not without its challenges and limitations.  The strength of the words themselves are even more essential.  Ms. Loon and fellow company member MadameThespian Underhill reviewed the stack or submitted works. Each has extensive credentials in real world theater as well as experience in virtual theater.  From 113 submitted plays they selected 30 for these readings.  Such a process can be heartbreaking: reviewing scripts that are appealing but that you know of a certainty will not necessarily “fit the bill.”  Lailu Loon corroborated that with ART’s effort:

“Many of the plays are completely inappropriate for SL, but because they were wonderful theater, we will read them at ART Plays Around. Most of directors from the troupe who will mount full productions attend Plays Around, and this, along with the audience preferences, will help them decide upon what plays we will produce. Of course the potential builds are forefront in all of our minds, along with the limitations of movement, facial expressions, etc.”

The project blooms this summer when ART presents full productions of the final five to six plays scored highest by the audience and the company.  You can be a part of this process, and hear some interesting and compelling theater in the bargain.  It’s worth it just to see the blue-plate-special of a set!  I was present for three of the four plays read last Friday night, and each was unique and thought-provoking in their own right.  I know I will be there next Friday to see what’s on the menu.  I hope you will join me. Bring a fork.

ART Plays Around is presented every Friday night at 5pm SLT in the Greek Archon Theater on Cookie.

You can find out more about Avatar Repertory Theater at

~Caledonia Skytower, Reporting
“Any ink is good ink, even if it is virtual.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS:  No!  Not Lindens, silly! Do you know about other arts & literature events in Second Life?  I can’t be everywhere on the grid at once!  Send me a notecard, or encourage the presenter to send me a note or press release.  I’ll give a shout out to the helpful tipster if their tip leads to a published article.


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