The Alley Theatre has been putting its resilience and ingenuity on display with its [email protected] virtual season, but there’s an extra intriguing element in that variety of digital offerings: short plays.
It’s rare that the Alley stages any shorts, mainly because their expansive stage is built for midsize to full-length performances. However, the entrance to the digital world has gradually allowed the company to tap into a new kind of production. And that might just be here to stay.
“There’s so many great short plays out there,” Artistic Director Rob Melrose tells Houstonia. “And after a long day of Zooming at work, there’s something charming about going on to watch a play that’s relatively compact.”
The idea for short plays came to the Alley’s creative team last spring, Melrose says, though figuring out how to actually film a production safely during the pandemic took a bit longer to work out. Finding the perfect mini plays to diversify its digital lineup was a comforting task, as he turned to familiar writers who had previously worked with the Alley, especially those who’d written full-length creations that didn’t make it to the stage last year.
From Isaac Gómez (What-A-Christmas!) to Chisa Hutchinson (Amerikin, which has been rescheduled for 2022), Melrose recognized that many of them had several short plays under their belt, and after skimming through several condensed pieces, the Alley settled on four of those works to finalize its 11-show roster. Gómez’s 10-minute El Chuco Town Forever, grapples with the tragedy of the 2019 Walmart massacre in El Paso, while Hutchinson’s 15-minute, mystical Choosing Love offers a twist on a psychic finding romance. And, of course, we’ve already told you all about Man. Kind. and For Steve Wozniak, on His 67th Birthday.
Since every short had a different feel and style, the Alley readied themselves for the creative challenge by experimenting with Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, making two filmed versions of the nonsensical poem—one in a style reminiscent of Grimm’s and the other with a more realistic B-horror flick edge to it—that incorporated green screens, projected backgrounds, and split screen effects. All these techniques would later be used when bringing other mini plays to life later on.
“What’s really neat is that as each play becomes available, viewers can watch and see what kind of strategy was used and how it changes from one production to another,” says Melrose.
Of course, that’s not the only neat thing about this venture into online. This medium has also pushed the Alley’s reputable name beyond the city limits and introduced its creativity to a new, wider theater audience. It’s been such a successful formula that digital plays won’t go away even as the company returns to onstage productions this fall.
Due to the supportive feedback from viewers, the company’s now working to sell virtual tickets of in-person shows. As for short works, Melrose says the company plans to continue producing these projects as digital additions.
“Everybody at the Alley misses being in the theater, hearing the laughter and watching the crowd applause all the hard work we put into our pieces,” he says, “but the great compliments we’ve been getting about these short plays have been inspiring.”
The Alley’s free, digital shorts are available now through July 4. Visit www.alleytheatre.org to watch.