Brevity is the soul of wit: Pomona hosts 10-minute play festival

(Selena Lopez • The Student Life)

An impending apocalypse, a chat-roulette website and an angel escaped from heaven: These vastly different topics are the premises of three of the five 10-minute plays premiering in Pomona College’s 10-Minute Play Festival on Oct. 16. The festival, part of Pomona’s Family Weekend activities, provides a showcase for the writing, directing and acting talents of the 5C community. All featured plays were written by 5C students and faculty and are student-directed and acted.

“The exciting thing,” said Teddy Rodriguez, a lecturer in the Pomona College theater and dance departments and producing director for the 10-Minute Play Festival, “is that all the writers are first time writers. So we’re just hearing really, really new voices.”

The faculty and staff playwrights whose works were selected to be staged at the festival wrote in response to last year’s competition theme: “Community and Connection in Times of Crisis.” The plays each offer a unique take on this theme, challenging the audience to think about what connection and community look like and exploring the many avenues through which they can be found. 

One play, “Happy Asteroid Day,” written by Grace T. Marca SC ’22 and directed by Licheng She PZ ’25, focuses on a family as they wait in their basement for an asteroid to strike Earth. Julia Abate SC ’24, an actor in “Happy Asteroid Day,” was drawn to the script because of the unique ways each character handles feelings of doom and fear. 

“It reminded me of how a lot of kids dealt with COVID last year … versus the way a lot of parents viewed COVID, and the generational difference,” she said. 

Another play, “Stranger Arranger” — written by Regina Famatigan SC ’21 and co-directed by Arden DeForest PO ’25 — centers on an app by the same name, similar to Omegle or Chatroulette. Two characters speak anonymously to each other through the app and begin to “kind of come to realizations about themselves and the sorts of connections that they want to make and the sorts of connections that are possible during a time that’s plagued by a pandemic,” said Rinny Williamson SC ’23, who is one of the two actors in “Stranger Arranger.” 

It speaks to the power of ordinary and fleeting interactions in isolation, as well as the freedom that comes from letting go of the pressure we put on ourselves to appear like the kind of person we wish we were. 

“Regina [Famatigan] does a really good job of showing how meaningful even just a 10-minute conversation can be,” Williamson said.

Just like a brief conversation can be extremely powerful, so can a brief play. The 10-minute format provides unique challenges and opportunities, which actors and directors alike are approaching in various ways. 

“Since it’s short, it’s just like a snapshot or a small frame of what’s happening in the larger picture.” —Phyllis Chee PO ’25

The time constraint can prompt a focus on small moments within a larger concept. 

“I think, since it’s short, it’s just like a snapshot or a small frame of what’s happening in the larger picture,” said Phyllis Chee PO ’25, who is directing a play titled “Bubonic Plague: Fear, Loathing, and Love in San Francisco,” written by Scripps music professor Hao Huang.

The limited scope of the plays can provide an opportunity to add depth to characters, especially when working with a small cast like “Stranger Arranger” does. 

“I really like short plays to work with because I feel like you can do a really deep dive into character work,” DeForest said. “I’m really interested in psychology as well, so I really like analyzing characters and kind of what their motives are, or their background, or what kind of things in their life influenced them.”

Williamson believes the time constraint forces the writer to distill the script down to the most impactful parts.

“With a one-act and really short plays, you know that the writer put every line there for a specific reason,” they said. “They probably had to cut a ton of things to get it down to 10 pages, so it’s a much more purposeful style and there’s no filler.” 

Rodriguez appreciates that the 10-minute form allows for experimentation and boldness that would be overwhelming in a full-length play, illustrated by the range of concepts and cast sizes present in the five plays that make up the festival. 

“The cool thing about the 10-minute [format] to me is that it’s a very blank canvas,” he said. “We have shows that are two people, we have a monologue, we have one that’s like 10 people.”

Since the festival is a part of Pomona’s Family Weekend, it is free and open for everyone to attend. Both actors and directors are excited to watch their hard work come to fruition and hope the audience resonates with the plays and the themes they evoke.

“From the play ‘Happy Asteroid Day,’ I want people to be able to find some level of humor in the show because even though it is dealing with this event of impending doom, I think the characters are able to, by the end of it, find some comfort in one another and are able to accept each other,” Abate said. “I hope people feel like they can laugh and feel hopeful at the end of it.”

Williamson acknowledged how long it’s been since actors and audiences could experience a performance in the same room.

“It’ll be nice to see people connecting again,” they said, “and it will be nice to see that on stage as well.”

The festival will be performed Oct. 16 at 3:30 p.m. at the Marston Quad outdoor stage at Pomona. It is free and open to all. 

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