PITTSFIELD -- Demonic possession, familial estrangement, life-in-the-theater and considerably more are poised for their time in the spotlight as Barrington Stage Company's third annual 10x10 New Play Festival assumes its role as the linchpin for the 2014 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival beginning this weekend throughout the downtown area of this now bustling New England city.
Ten plays, each 10 minutes long, will be given their world premieres Sunday afternoon at 3, on the Mark St. Germain Stage in the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center on Linden Street, advance perfomances tonight at 7:30 and Saturday at 3 and 7:30. The production runs through March 2.
Returning from last year are the mini-festival's three directors: Julianne Boyd, BSC artistic director who is staging four of the plays; and BSC associate artist Christopher Innvar and WAM Theatre artistic director Kristen van Ginhoven, each assigned three of the shows.
The three assembled one chilly, snowy day last week in the company production room to regale a reporter by phone with tales of their preliminary efforts in developing the 10 plays selected out of more than 150 submitted.
"I tried to give everyone something funny, something serious, and then something a little difficult," explained Boyd, noting that each director enjoys the advantage of being able to work with the playwrights.
"The cast is amazing," said van Ginhoven. "I have everybody -- one person twice."
All but one of the actors -- three men, three women -- are familiar to BSC audiences: Emily Kunkel ("All My Sons"), Matt Neely ("The Crucible" 10x10 New Play Festivals 2012, 2013), Dina Thomas ("See How They Run"), Peggy Pharr Wilson (10x10 -- ‘12, ‘13) and Robert Zukerman ("The Crucible," 10x10 ‘12)
"The only real newcomer is John Zdrojeski, a young guy, in his early 20s, and a recent graduate of Boston University," reported Boyd.
"He's a very talented young guy," added Innvar. "He reminds me of a young Jimmy Stewart, a nice quality."
Each play has its own challenges, the three directors affirmed. Most challenging for Boyd, she said, was Lynn Rosen's "I Love You," concerning a father and son who cannot express those three little words. "The script has overlapping dialogue, which is technically difficult."
Innvar discussed the stylistic changes demanded of Thomas and Zdrojeski in an emotional scene involving marital disappointment in John Cariani's "Uh Oh." Van Ginhoven mentioned "The Prompter" by Jodi Rothe in which an actor must put on considerable makeup while on stage. Van Ginhoven also is directing an "in-house" playwright's show, "Debridement," a tale about a doctor and young woman who discover common ground, written by Megan Dieterle, Boyd's assistant and BSC's literary associate.
"And I have a dance in one of my pieces, a waltz," van Ginhoven noted with delight. The situation occurs in Scott McCarey's "Homeless Romantic," in which two vagrants meet on a city street at night, compare tales and then share a dance, which is choreographed by Christine O'Grady.
"It a great art form," declared Boyd. "Every playwright should try to write a 10-minute play - develop the characters, create the conflict, and have something of a dénouement."
Clearly, the BSC's New Play Festival throws down the gauntlet on the playwrights who must condense ideas - often sizeable ones - into mere 10-minute packages, and on actors required to leap quickly from role to role. But what about directors who must juggle three, and in Boyd's case four, dramatic pieces at once?
"It's like speed-dating, but it's speed-directing instead," suggested Boyd
Remarked van Ginhoven: "It's like a really good workout."
"It's like the winter biathlon of theater," said Innvar summarizing this rather Olympian experience.