Short and Sweet Top 80 – The Festival kicks off on a high. (Theatre Review)
The Short and Sweet Theatre Festival
Sydney stages, Jan 7 to march 15.
Images by Sylvi Soe.
One has to be patient and generous with large-scale festivals forging their own imprint on a culture. Often it takes a few years for a festival to find its footing, but if it can weather its early day difficulties, then it moves into that secondary phase of riding on its own momentum. Short and Sweet is such a festival. A far cry from its early days in Sydney Australia, Short and Sweet has now expanded across the globe, as interest in the concept spreads further and the idea of the ten minute crowd pleaser expands into a creative question of what best to do with a ten minute opportunity. As Short and Sweet attracts a deeper array of talent, the plays take on more depth and take more risks. This in itself is a huge achievement, given the pattern of many festivals is to start out risky and head towards a more conservative crowd pleasing aesthetic (I’m thinking of Tropfest here) Short and Sweet, while still being a crowd pleaser, is headed for more avant guard and interesting styles incorporated into its joyful, eighty minute nights.
The first week of Short and Sweet was an excellent example of this. Two stand out plays for me, Wish and Choose represented complex approaches to the ten-minute format. With Wish, writer Bokkie Robertson chose an intense ten minute moment as the backdrop, for the visit of a film star to a terminally ill teenager. When, in the first two minutes Stephanie (Ally Morgan) declares her visit from Jack Grant (Christian Heath) to be a bad wish, the pair find life changing connection happening in the smallest period of time. Better yet, director Rebecca Wright got great performances from her small cast, which brought great life to the funny and facinating words.
With Choose, solo act Sam Jenkins (wearing an ‘Anonymous” mask in the foyer of the New Theatre before the show, ominously taking names down on a clipboard) stands at the back of the theatre and calls a name from the audience. When the participant comes forward a theater version of the video game live choice option starts, and the unwitting performer is forced to choose which route they will take in order to fulfil on the outcomes of the show. Jenkins does a wonderful job keeping the momentum high, and ensuring every choice made by his performer will result in entertaining theatre. On the night I attended, our participant, to her great surprise, had to hit her imaginary boss over the head for interrupting her work at the job factory, in what turned out to be a very funny little piece of theatre. Jenkins never loses in a beat as he controls his puppet performer, makign a very interesting statement about the power of words on the stage.
The energy of the audience is always very high at any night of the superbly run Short and Sweet festival. There is a lot going on, particularly now that the theatrical theme has spread itself to include Cabaret, Dance, Song and Bollywood. There are any number of exciting activities throughout the year, but the surprisingly small team, headed up by Pete Maliki keep everything running smoothly, theatre audiences packed and scene changes between plays swift and rather remarkably, accurate. Given the volume of plays, participants, venues and personalities they are dealing with, watching the clock work running of the festival is a little piece of poetry in itself.
But in the end, probably Short and Sweet’s biggest contribution to the Sydney theatre scene, despite the amazing opportunities for theater makers and creatives, is its unintended impact on the attendance rate for Sydney theatre. Short and Sweet teaches people, who may never go to theatre otherwise, how to enjoy and engage with theatre in the short sharp bursts novices need to get their head around the concept. We can no longer assume every child who has been through an Australian education system has been to a play, and Short and Sweet is essential for reaching out, in a light, happy casual (and yet well constructed) way to the brand new theatre audience. It’s not always the highest quality, but it is always entertaining, different and interesting, and there isn’t much of a better place to take a good friend who doesn’t understand and hasn’t expereinced the most simple joys a night at the theatre can bring.