One of my favorite summertime events each August is my visit to “BoxFest,” the annual theater festival that provides opportunities for women directors to showcase their work. The objective, of course, is to help these women find jobs – which, in years past, was difficult for females hoping to shatter this male-dominated profession. Given the low-budget and relatively risk-free environment of “BoxFest,” directors of all experience levels are encouraged to push their boundaries and stretch their comfort zones, knowing the result of their work will help build confidence and expand their skills – no matter how the audience responds to their project.
A fun wrinkle to the festival are the plays themselves: Each is an original script written by a local or national playwright, which adds to the pressure each director faces as she guides her production from start to finish. (New and untested scripts often have their own set of problems.)
While some women will rise to the challenge more successfully than others, their hard work and honest effort always result in an entertaining slate of short plays that should not be missed. And like the handful of women who blazed the trail before them, a lucky few may soon find themselves gainfully employed in their chosen professional!
This year, “BoxFest Detroit 2011” features 10 plays and the work of 10 directors, split into five “boxes” that are performed on various days and times throughout the festival. So to ensure coverage of all 10 plays, I attended the Friday night opening (Boxes 1 and 4), and John Quinn caught the remaining three boxes on Saturday afternoon.
The first box features a single one-act, “Maybe” by BoxFest Detroit Executive Director Kelly Rossi, in which four recently deceased friends find themselves in a holding tank in the afterlife. How they all got there in such short order is a mystery. Another is revealed when one woman asks the others, “Why are we even friends?” (You’ll wonder the same thing.) As both begin to unravel, the question becomes: Will the truth set them free?
Rossi’s thoughtful script, staged by Crystal Reign Brock, offers four meaty roles for women, but it also presents a major challenge for directors: How do you bring a story to life that demands only three walls, four people and an empty room? Chairs are verboten, which means a director must be creative in where she places her actresses and how she moves them about the stage. (The ability to place actors on different levels is helpful in telling a story – for a whole host of reasons.) Unfortunately, I suspect a lack of rehearsal time kept the pacing somewhat slow, the dialogue often non-conversational and the characters inconsistent or not fully fleshed out. And there were numerous times when the women seemed uncertain where they should be standing. (There was a bit of “scooching” into place going on.)
Still, Brock laid the groundwork for an engaging story that should snap, crackle and pop with a few more hours of intense rehearsal.
‘BoxFest Detroit 2011’
At The Furniture Factory, 4126 3rd St., Detroit, Friday-Saturday through Aug. 20. $10 per day or $30 festival pass. For a complete schedule: http://www.boxfestdetroit.com