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So You Think You Can Write A Play? Give Random 'Actors' Three Anonymous Pages

Courtesy Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Randomly selected actors read anonymous short plays at the Rep's Playwright Slam in August 2016.

Play-reading isn't the type of thing most audiences expect to be raucous, but that's what's likely to happen at the Kansas City Rep's Playwright Slam on Monday night, says Marissa Wolf, one of the organizers.

"We invite anyone from community and the public to come and bring a one-to-three-page script. We give them a theme, and then we'll just randomly choose a script," Wolf says. "Then we choose actors from the audience, so whoever wants to jump up and be an actor, we give them a role and they go for it."

Credit Courtesy Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Marissa Wolf, the Kansas City Rep's director of new works, co-hosts the Playwright Slam.

Wolf, the Rep's director of new works, and Nathan Louis Jackson, the company's playwright-in-residence, started doing the events in 2015.

"Nathan thought it would be a wonderful way to more deeply engage with Kansas City arts community, and invite people in the door who wouldn’t otherwise come," Wolf says, adding that it's Jackson who encourages the raucousness.

"You don’t know what’s going to happen next," Wolf says. "There's something intimate and moving about being in this room with people from the community who consider themselves artists along with those who don't consider themselves artists, in that space all creating work together. There’s something wonderfully vital about that."

Also, she says, the events tend to draw younger, more diverse crowds than the Rep's more regular audiences.

Monday's theme is "La Vie Boheme" — French for "the Bohemian life," and the title of a song from Rent, celebrating the scrappy-artist's life.

"We chose 'La Vie Boheme' because it’s January, it's gray out and cold," Wolf says. Also, because it's a complicated inauguration season, she says, "instead of going really dark, we thought we would keep it light, in celebration of the bohemian life, in celebration of creation."

Playwrights will drop their anonymous scripts at a table, and Wolf and the Rep's assistant artistic director, Chip Miller (Jackson's out of town for this installment) will select ones to read.

"We have a handful of people who consider themselves playwrights and have new play readings here or at other theaters around Kansas City, but also plenty of people who have never shared any work publicly before."

Credit Courtesy Kansas City Repertory Theatre
The Kansas City Rep's assistant artistic director, Chip Miller, co-hosts the January 2017 Playwright Slam.

Especially because it's anonymous, and because of the selection process, all of their work gets treated equally.

"We don’t read them beforehand," Wolf says. "We'll say, 'This one looks longer, let’s follow it with a short one.' The fun part is you often get really interesting, powerful, funny ones and then clunkers — and that’s fine. Every script is welcome and celebrated," she says.

Wolf says she's always struck by how different the scripts are.

"We’ve had some wildly funny plays. In August, we teamed up with the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and the theme was anything Shakespeare-inspired, and we got fantastic feminist contemporary revisions and that was really fun," she says.

"Also, you're startled to find something very dark and powerful. We've had a couple about police brutality or violence in a family. And when you only have three pages to get in there and create a scene, you can really feel the whole room quiet down and everyone sits up in their seats to listen."

Playwright Slam, 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 9 in the Donor Lounge at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's Spencer Theater, 4949 Cherry St., Kansas City, MO 64110.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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