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Famous, for 15 minutes

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Recognition time: the Golden Inkwell award will be presented to the top playwright in this year's Famous for 15 Minutes festival at Daylesford Theatre (File photograph)

Now on stage at Daylesford Theatre, six captivating tales: the birth of a cult, a lawyer’s escape from reality, a gambling addiction and the lure of a racetrack, the end of a toxic relationship; a possible murder and a humble sandwich with a human in the middle. It’s all part of Famous for 15 Minutes, a playwriting festival put on by the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society. Funds raised go towards the BMDS Charitable Trust. Below, the charity explains how it helps students interested in theatrical arts – $480,000 has been awarded to date.

Q: How many years has Famous run? Is the interest just as high today as back when it began?

A:This is the 18th iteration. We unfortunately lost four cycles, mostly due to Covid but also some scheduling issues at BMDS. Suffice to say, we should be at 22 years. We had a number of new writers submitting this year and interestingly, not a single person who was a part of the “final six” last year was chosen this year. And the feedback from the reading panel was that 14 of the 18 plays received at least one vote in the system we use – best we have ever had! And yes, every year we have submissions from new and different writers. We were really encouraged by the diversity of this year’s group.

Q: Typically, what makes a good play?

A: What makes a good play … There is a “formulae” for a short play that requires a good structure and of course a good subject matter but subject matter is both personal and communal, so balance is always important. Given the rule for this competition is not longer than 15 minutes, pace is key as well. Mostly, there needs to be a conclusion. It’s kind of like a book. Would you want to read 300 pages and then hate the ending?

Q: Why was the Trust started?

A: The Trust was started to support the legacy of Kate Huntington, who unfortunately died too young and was an active member of the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society. At the request of her family, all funds donated in memory of Kate are used specifically to promote theatre among Bermuda’s youth.

Q: How are winners selected?

A: The plays are sent to the overseas reading panel, compromising three internationally renowned writers/actors/producers who then choose the final six plays. They rank the plays and then the results are combined using an algorithm to determine the top six. Once the final six plays are determined, the judge then has to decide the winning play. Remember, and this is the key element in this competition, the winner is determined solely on the script, not the performance. So Tom Coash, the judge, was required to make his selection before we announced the final six plays, and had to write that selection on a card and mail it to us.

International panel: previous Famous for 15 Minutes winner Owain Johnston, left, with judge Tom Coash (File photograph)

Q: Who is Tom Coash?

A: Tom is an American playwright, director, teacher, and former Bermuda resident. One of the original co-founders of the Famous For 15 Minutes festival, he and artist wife Julie are longtime BMDS members. Tom has won numerous playwriting awards and his plays have been produced around the world. He currently teaches scriptwriting for the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast MFA creative writing programme.

Q: He mailed the results to you? What if it didn't arrive in time/got lost? Was there a Plan B?

A: We requested photographic proof of him sending it, and it was duly received. Once we knew he had sent it, we advised the [final six], and of course the unsuccessful writers, and the fun began. I have the envelope sitting in my kitchen, where the previous one selected by Owain Johnston sat for four years [because of the pandemic]! There was no Plan B apart from having Tom deliver a substitute when he arrived in Bermuda.

Success story: Onuri Smith (File photograph)

Q: Any success stories/ past recipients that you want to highlight?

A: We don’t like to dwell on the recipients who have gone on to success – of which there have been quite a few – but if you look at 2022 as an example, with both Onuri Smith and T’aja Williams being in the local press recently, we have a good track record. And Ryan Day is now designing shows for London’s West End.

Success story: T’aja Williams’s picture was used to advertise a gala dance concert at her university (File photograph)

Q: And the shows are worth coming out to see because.....

A: The shows are worth supporting as we always have such a varied cast of both experienced and young/novice actors directed by some great local thespians and supported by a strong technical team that provides the cohesion. The plays are short, so you can experience six different stories in your evening, and you are actually getting the benefit of six world premiere plays! How awesome is that?

The Murder of Johann Schmidt by Nathaniel Butterfield, The Script by John Campbell, Jim and Helena Start a Cult by Owain Johnston and Charles Doyle, The Sandwich by Julia Pitt, More than Lovers, Less than Friends by Nasir Simmons and Inheritance by Liz Jones can all be seen Wednesday through Saturday at Daylesford Theatre starting at 8pm. Tickets are available at www.ptix.bm

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Published April 22, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 23, 2024 at 8:14 am)

Famous, for 15 minutes

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