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Unhinged Productions Mounts a Festival of New Plays, Drama-rama-thon

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Joe Angel Babb, the artistic director of Unhinged Productions, doesn't mind if the group's latest project doesn't make any money. In fact, he pretty much expects Drama-rama-thon, a festival of new plays, not to.

"I knew that this was not a moneymaking venture, this is a mission-driven thing," he tells Art Attack. "We want to support new work and we haven't done it in a while. Here we come back to that in a big way."

In a really big way, actually, since Drama-rama-thon features staged readings of ten plays over six days, including a marathon reading of all the plays on the last Saturday of the run. The plays deal with GLBT characters and issues, as do all Unhinged Productions. Some works are as short as ten minutes, others more than an hour long.

"It's risky to do new work because of the cost, and you have no way to gauge audience reaction. With just the staged readings, the cost is much lower. That allowed us to, instead of just two or three plays, to make the whole event bigger, and do ten."

Babb looked through the unsolicited scripts that had been sent to the company over the last couple of years and a call for submissions brought in more. Finally, the company had its lineup. Then it went about the business of pairing directors with scripts, casting actors and rehearsals. Altogether some 70 people are involved.

The participation of the playwrights, according to Babb, ranged from a "Do what you want" attitude to a more hands-on approach. "There were some intense debates about word choices to back-and-forth about the goal and purpose of individual scenes or characters."

One local playwright/actor participating in Drama-rama-thon is Rob Nash, who not only wrote Menagerie on a Hot Tin Streetcar: A Tennessee Williams Mashup, but is also acting in The Final Voyage of the Queen Mary.

While Babb wasn't looking for works on any particular theme, one emerged anyway. "Family is certainly something that connects all the stories. There are ones that work, ones that we long for and ones that we're trying to make."

The Final Voyage of the Queen Mary, by Joe Besecker, and When the Moon and Stars Collide, by John Cash Carpenter, are the first two plays to be performed. Final Voyage centers on runaway lovers Leonard Bernstein and Cary Grant, who are on the last sailing of the Queen Mary. Also on the ship is a young, troubled Liza Minnelli. Moon and Stars is a fantasy about a young boy who gets a magical toy box from his grandmother.

Don't wait until the marathon reading or you'll miss out. "We have a play starting every hour, so you can't see all the plays in the marathon without leaving one early or coming in late to another," says Babb. "Still, I liked the idea of a festival and putting all of the plays into one event, giving each play equal importance."

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. February 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10. The marathon reading is 1 to 10 p.m. on February 11. Frenetic Theater, 5201 Navigation. For information, visit www.comeunhinged.com or call 832-408-1971. $5 to $25.

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