PITTSFIELD — It's the fifth go-round for Barrington Stage Company's 10x10 New Play Festival, the signature event for the City of Pittsfield's 10x10 Upstreet Festival, which BSC and the city launched in 2012 under a slightly different name and have co-produced ever since.
Upstreet is a 10-day midwinter cultural blast; a showcase for the arts featuring music, dance, spoken word, art, and performance art at a variety of venues generally along the spine of the city's Upstreet Cultural District — North Street from Linden/Maplewood streets to South Street from Park Square to West/East Housatonic Street.
The idea behind 10x10, both the broader festival and BSC's New Plays Festival, Boyd said in a brief pre-rehearsal telephone interview, is to encourage people "to come out in the middle of winter and just have a good time."
Good times were hard to find in the first wave of 180 short plays that were submitted for this year's festival.
"We had more serious plays submitted than we've ever had before. I'm not sure why. I think it just reflects the times," Boyd said.
In an effort to flesh out the field and lighten the load, Boyd put out a second call for entries. It worked. Boyd says she has the balance between dark and light that she wanted for this year's program of 10 short plays, which begins performances at 7:30 tonight and runs through Feb. 28 in the St. Germain Stage at BSC's Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center on Linden Street.
The concept for the new plays festival was that it would comprise 10 plays, each of them 10 minutes in length. In fact, Boyd says, they range in running time from 6 or 7 minutes to 13.
This year's plays — which are being performed by a six-member company that includes BSC veterans Matt Neely and Peggy Pharr Wilson and newcomers Jake Keefe, Andrew May, Madison Micucci and Kelly Rae O'Donnell — run a gamut. A monologue finds a librarian in 1940 London contemplating the poetry of T.S. Eliot during a particularly terrifying blitz. In another play, a female tightrope walker tries to allay her fears before taking her first steps.
Among others, a married couple in trouble gets some unorthodox advice from a therapist; two mothers-in-law at the wedding of their children form a surprising relationship with a little help from some piña coladas; a screaming child on a red-eye flight from New York to London sparks a conversation between two strangers.
The whole affair is put together in only 10 days of rehearsal. In terms of production values, "you get what you get," said Boyd, who is sharing directing duties with BSC newcomer John Miller Stephany. Props, set pieces, costumes are pulled from BSC's vaults.
"It's a formula that has worked for us over these five years," Boyd said.
"It's all fast and furious," Wilson said in a separate telephone interview. "But it is always so exciting to do new work; to tell a whole story, develop a whole character in roughly 10 minutes and with only five hours of rehearsal for each play."
Wilson, who making her fifth consecutive 10x10 appearance, is in three of the plays, one of which, "The Still Point of the Turning World" by Emily Taplin Boyd is a monologue in which a librarian in London in 1940 contemplates the poetry of T.S. Eliot during a particularly terrifying blitz. "It's a beautiful, thoughtful piece," Wilson said.
With Boyd's play, Wilson will have done one monologue in each of the five 10x10s. "It's a great way of stretching your acting muscles," she said. "You are on that stage, telling a story by yourself for 10 minutes or so,
"And they've all been so full. This year's is no exception."
Wilson says the festival is a real ride for audiences as well.
"Think of it this way," she said. "Even if you don't like one of the plays, it's only about 10 minutes long.
What: 5th Annual 10x10 New Play Festival
Who: Barrington Stage Company and 10x10 Upstreet Festival
When: Tonight through Feb. 28 (press opening 3 p.m. Sunday). Evenings — Thursday through Saturday at 7:30. Matinees — Saturday and Sunday at 3
Where: St. Germain Stage, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
Tickets: $30, $25
How: (413) 236-8888; barringtonstageco.org
• "The Still Point of the Turning World" by Emily Taplin Bioyd: Directed by Julianne Boyd
• "Thin Air" by Tom Coash: Directed by John Miller Stephany
• "'04 — A Muse of Fire" by Andrew Dolan: Directed by Boyd
• "When Babies Fly" by Steven Korbar: Directed by Boyd
• "Dr. Kessler" by Ana Nogueira: Directed by Boyd
• "Eight Seconds" by Sean Harris Oliver: Directed by Stephany
• "Best in Class" by Ann Marie Shea: Directed by Boyd
• "Turtles and Bulldogs" by Scott Sickles: Directed by Stephany
• "The Book of Ruth" by Joseph Samuel Wright: Directed by Stephany
• "Best Lei'd Plans" by Kelly Younger: Directed by Stephany