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10-minute plays festival wins exceptional cultural event award

The Newmarket National 10 Minute Play Festival is now accepting submissions from emerging and established playwrights. The top 24 will be presented at the 2019 event, with first, second and third place prizes awarded

The list of things you can do in 10 minutes runs the gamut from unloading the dishwasher, poaching eggs and watching the sun set to cleaning the clutter from your car.

But taking in a live theatre performance? You bet. Think of it like fast food that will actually nourish your cultural cravings.

The Newmarket National 10 Minute Play Festival launched in 2017 to showcase the distinctly regional works of emerging and established Canadian playwrights from across the country and the world. And, yes, the 10-minute play format is meant to offer busy theatre-goers a rich experience in a short amount of time.

“It’s kind of how you feel about a poem as opposed to a novel,” festival artistic and executive director Michael Halfin said.  “A poem can give you as much as reading 500 pages of a novel when you get to the end.”

The idea for the festival was born not long after Halfin retired from his career as a dramatic arts teacher and coordinator of Huron Heights Secondary School’s regional arts program. In addition to working in the education field, Halfin worked as a journalist and theatre critic in community newspapers, and is co-author of a theatre text book, Rattling the Stage.

Not one to take long walks in the woods upon retirement, Halfin was inspired by the creative force short-play festivals had become in the United States and wanted to put his program-building skills to good use on Canadian soil.

The Town of Newmarket has supported the festival since its inception in 2017, when it ran over two days and the Newmarket Main Street BIA has been the title sponsor during the festival's two seasons. Both festival seasons expanded to include Festilicious, where ticket-holders receive discounts from a vast majority of downtown restaurants, cafes and retail shops.

Just this month, the Newmarket National 10 Minute Play Festival was recognized with an honourable mention as one of Canada’s exceptional cultural events, which was presented to the Town of Newmarket for its support at the Creative City Summit 2018.

“I can’t say enough about this award,” Halfin said. “We’re thrilled to be recognized for providing a national platform for artists from across the country and grateful to the Town of Newmarket for sharing in our vision.”

The festival, which takes place July 22 to 28, 2019, at the Old Town Hall, will feature 24 plays grouped into four themed pods of six 10-minute plays for a show about 70 to 75 minutes in length that can tackle any number of subjects. Last year, for instance, some of the plays dealt with the Me Too movement, queer theatre, the diversity of who we are, sexuality, and other modern issues, said Halfin.

“We program shows that are family-friendly, as well as pods for experienced theatre-goers who want more challenging material,” he said. “Everyone has the opportunity to choose a pod to suit their tastes. One pod is like a gateway, another is Mirvish-style, for example. The plays are organized around a theme, that way people get a full serving of theatre when they come.”

Play selection is, indeed, a contest. There are cash prizes for first, second and third, in addition to honorariums that playwrights receive for the right to produce their work. The plays are adjudicated blind by the festival’s directing team. Over the past two years, play submissions came not only from every province, but from Beijing, Ireland, Mexico, Tasmania, and many U.S. states. The top three plays receive cash awards.

Directors and actors also apply for the chance to be involved. Directors usually direct up to four plays and actors usually appear in two to three of the 24 productions. There are also roles for production staff, which the festival recruits on an regular basis.

The festival is a Canadian Actors' Equity production under the festival policy, and employs professional actors and emerging theatre artists who are recent graduates of theatre schools.

“We give production people and young actors who are coming out of theatre schools the opportunity to work with industry veterans, people who’ve been on the stage for 35 to 40 years, so there’s a mentoring that goes on,” said Halfin.

If long, drawn-out subplots are not your speed, then this may be the festival experience for you. In addition, you’ll be able to choose the additional festival activities that most interest you, such as playwright readings, TIFF-style talk-backs with actors and directors, and take in an art exhibition put on by the Newmarket Group of Artists, in partnership with the festival.

For more information on deadlines to submit a play, to direct, act or work in a production role, visit the Newmarket National 10 Minute Play Festival website here.

Festival essentials:

  • When: July 22 to 28, 2019
  • Where: Old Town Hall, 460 Botsford St., Newmarket
  • What: 3rd annual Newmarket National 10 Minute Play Festival
  • Why: Be the first to see original plays from winning playwrights, directed and acted by professional talent
  • Cost: $20, taxes incl., for one pod consisting of six 10-minute plays
  • Getting there: Accessible by public transit within the GTA


Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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