Marilyn Monroe, Meet Cutes and More at Scriptwriters/Houston's 10x10 Play Festival

Devin Barnes and Leslie A. Barrera in The Fortune Teller by Mike LaGrone, featured during Scriptwriters/Houston's 2023 10x10 Play Festival.
Devin Barnes and Leslie A. Barrera in The Fortune Teller by Mike LaGrone, featured during Scriptwriters/Houston's 2023 10x10 Play Festival. Photo by Leslie Barrera
Game-fixing gone wrong, a radio that just may predict the future, and a meet-cute at a colonoscopy clinic. You can find a story about each, and much more, within the 10 plays selected for the 31st Annual Scriptwriters/Houston 10x10 Ten Minute Play Festival, to be held this weekend at Theatre Suburbia.

In traditional 10x10 format, each night of the three-night festival will feature ten 10-minute plays, each a world premiere.

“We only put the best work that we can on stage, and we want it to be the same in terms of production value, in terms of acting level, in terms of the set and visual cues,” says playwright and director Leslie Barrera, the vice president of Scriptwriters/Houston and the festival’s artistic director. “We can have a high-quality production whether it’s 10 minutes, whether it’s 120 minutes, whether it’s 90 minutes.”

Scriptwriters/Houston is dedicated to assisting writers in gaining professional development, gaining inside knowledge and networking with industry professionals, and the organization’s 10x10 festival, dating back to 1985, is one of the oldest 10x10 festivals in town.

But more than that, it exclusively showcases original works from local playwrights, helmed by local directors and performed by local casts. It’s an important distinction, as Barrera says many people believe it is necessary to head out east or go out west to find success as a writer, and it’s simply not true.

“We have so many talented writers and actors and directors, there’s really no need to go elsewhere,” says Barrera. “We have an amazing wealth of local talent and showcasing that and celebrating that is what Scriptwriters is all about.”

Each of the 10-minute plays selected was determined by a panel of evaluators to be the strongest of the submissions, based on criteria such as creativity, originality and entertainment value. But when asked what’s the secret to writing a good 10-minute play, Barrera has a simple answer.

“It’s got to be a strong character story, because it can be an amazing set on stage, it can have amazing light design, but if those characters are not completely three dimensional and real to the audience then you’re just having someone stand on stage and read lines,” says Barrera. “The characters completely carry it into reality.”

According to Barrera, all of the scripts selected for the festival “have really fleshed out characters” that you will “end up rooting for,” such as the characters in Mike LaGrone’s “feel-good, lift-your-spirits piece” The Fortune Teller, which Barrera is acting in and directing.

In The Fortune Teller, the manager of an amusement park approaches the park’s fortune teller about the less-than-happy fortunes she’s been giving out. It’s an encounter that allows them to connect in an unexpected way.

“They forge a friendship that goes beyond ‘I’m the manager, you’re the vendor, I collect the rent and you keep people in our fair so they’ll buy hotdogs,’” says Barrera. “By the end of the show, we realize that these two characters have really developed and grown from the two people we see in the beginning, who are very much separate individuals, into this amusement park family.”

And whether you favor comedy or drama, Barrera adds that there will be something for everyone in the audience.

Hijinks will ensue in playwright Jean Ciampi’s “hilarious” Speed Dating 75, about a 75-year-old man who trying speed dating in his quest to find love. Though the women he meets are, as Barrera politely says, “just not his style at all,” the owner of the restaurant hosting the event realizes she just may be the perfect person for him.

“It’s actually very sweet and very funny,” says Barrera.

Or, if you prefer historical fiction, a couple of pieces feature some famous names, such as Marilyn Monroe, who appears in Stephen Stewart’s Cursum Perficio, and Rosemary Clooney, who works with an up-and-coming jazz singer in Fernando Dovalina’s Come In From the Rain, which will close the second act of the festival.

“We see [these] familiar characters, but in a very different way, in a very creative and fun way,” says Barrera. “We see them as new characters and not necessarily the people they were in life.”

And, if a particular story or genre isn’t to your taste, Barrera says not to worry “because there’s going to be another one in the next ten minutes.”

“It’s like unwrapping a present for each of the plays,” says Barrera. “In ten minutes, you’re going to get another present.”

The Scriptwriters/Houston 2023 10x10 Play Festival is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. August 24-26 at Theatre Suburbia, 5201 Mitchelldale. For more information, visit $20-$35.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.