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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Pull Fest provides little windows into strange worlds and eccentric characters

Now in its fifth year, the Pull 10 Minute Play Festival returns with seven ten-minute plays, over three nights in March.

In this Q&A we find out more about this year’s Pull Festival from co-artistic directors Kayvon Kelly and Pippa Mackie.

Q[/dropcap]Where did the idea for Pull Festival come from?

Five years ago we were interested in producing something, and building a name for Sum Theatre in Vancouver. We have focused on producing one off, wild and fun party/plays. For example: Art/Fight, where we pit four artists of all kinds against each other on a stage and force them to create a piece of work in one hour, under one theme. We want our shows to be entertaining and fun.

Having always had a great interest in the ten minute play as a platform for new writing and riskier story telling, we decided to embark on a small festival of ten minute pieces with a focus on new and local writers and talent. Putting on a showcase of several ten minute plays enabled us to give opportunity to many new writers, and showcase a large cast of emerging talent in Vancouver. The format also gave us the chance to stage the stories and ideas that may not have evolved to full length productions otherwise. It is a great template for experimentation, for writers, directors and actors alike.

At the beginning the festival was intended to be a one off experience; an experiment in producing. We only put it on for two nights, and had little to no money or resources. The event was a massive success, selling out both nights and the response from audiences and participants was so immense that we knew we had something. Many people approached us that first year wanting to be involved in coming years, and we knew we had to do it again. Now in our fifth year, we have grown in reputation and resources.

Q[/dropcap]You refer to the festival as the “Youtube of theatre” – why?

The term “Youtube of theatre” came from the short form packaging of each piece, in conjunction with the wide range of subject matter explored in one night. Often we have said, if you don’t care for one of the pieces you are seeing, don’t worry because in just a few minutes something completely different is about to start. It reflects the browsing, and tangential quality of exploring online content on Youtube or other video platforms. We intentionally do not impose a theme or mandate to the plays we produce, and strive to have a wide variation on style and subject matter.

Q[/dropcap]What is it about “ten minute plays” that excite you?

A ten minute play is a great place to start as a writer. It’s a jumping off point, like the short story is to the novel. But, it is also incredibly liberating. Creatively we can dive into an idea or world with out the constraints of fulfilling the demands of a full length piece. In it’s very nature it lends to experimentation and risk, without the constraints of justifying a larger frame work. They are little windows into strange worlds and eccentric characters, they are also able to be deeply moving and touching in a very direct way. I think of the effectiveness of the first ten or so minutes of the Pixar film UP, which achieved more in that short time than many feature length films.

Q[/dropcap]How do you choose the plays that make it to the stage?

We go through a very rigorous selection process, with often 4-5 individuals contributing to the curation of the festival. We accept submissions from a wide range of sources, such as Craigslist, PTC newsletters, and word of mouth. We look for plays that are creative, unusual and most importantly have a focus on text and character.

Q[/dropcap]How many didn’t make it? Were there any that you sorry you weren’t able to find space?

Every year there are a great deal of plays that we cannot find room for, and many we wish could. But, it comes down to a balance for the festival as a whole, and a majority agreement from the curation panel. The number of plays submitted each year varies, but without question there are always more plays that we cannot produce versus those we do.

Q[/dropcap]This is the first year Sum Theatre has partnered with Speakeasy Theatre – what has this new partnership meant to the festival?
Without hesitation teaming up with Speakeasy Theatre has been an incredibly positive and massive leap forward for the festival. With our combined skill sets we have been able to expand our resources for the artists, and elevate the general experience for our audiences. We have never been so organized. By having our two companies putting a combined effort forward we have been able to take what was once a spread thin workload, into a well oiled producing machine. At a recent producers meeting, we had to laugh at the vast differences this year to years past; such as not needing to clean garbage out of our venues before showtime, having real lights instead of the flashlights that at times have been hand operated to illuminate our stage, or asking our acting company to wait “backstage” in alleyways or rooms without roofs…in the rain.

That said we love our grass roots, and even with all the hurdles we have faced what has always been true is the absolute fun we have, and the strong sense of an ensemble working together to make this festival happen. Every year the festival belongs to every individual who is involved, and we know they feel that way every year. My favourite quote about the festival came from Jenn Stewert, who has been our stage manager and general “makes this thing happen” every year, said “It’s like Mom and Dad left the keys to the theatre with us, and went out of town.” It’s a party, and we have had such a great response from audiences who don’t normally go to the theatre.

Q[/dropcap]Are there any real success stories from previous festivals?

We have seen actors go on to garner work from there exposure through our festival. As well as our writers have had plays optioned for screenplays. Many writers after having had the opportunity to test their concept out in the ten minute form have gone on to expand their plays to full length pieces.

Q[/dropcap]Are there any plays this year that you are particularly excited about?

I think it is fair to say we are excited for all our plays this year, it never fails that we are consistently amazed and surprised by the evolution of each piece from page to stage. It is an exciting process to watch these stories grow from submission to production.

The 2016 Pull Festival runs March 24-26 at Studio 1398 on Granville Island. Visit https:/ for tickets and information.

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