THEATER | Real originality in ten minutes flat: Bedlam Theatre’s Maren Ward on the 20 10 Fest


Of a starkly original creative bent, Maren Ward, along with her partner in mayhem, John Bueche, is at the helm of Bedlam Theatre, the Twin Cities’ premier avant garde venue—an entity that has, since only 1993, staked claim to a national reputation for quality, off-the-wall fare that flies in the face of convention and routinely skewers mainstream sacred cows like it was a field day for barbecue.

The past eight seasons have seen the sustained success of Bedlam’s annual Ten Minute Play Festival, a fine opportunity for audiences to gorge on roughly two dozen short offerings in the Bedlam Theatre mode of audacity and outrage over the course of about a week. This year the productions run a stylistic gamut from reflective drama to toy theater to lip-sync drag to a new short opera. It features the work of fledgling artists, creators and performers as well as veteran names like Aditi Kapil, Molly Van Avery, Jeffry Lusiak, Ronnell Wheeler, Carson Kreitzer and Dominic Orlando. There’s even a work devised by youth from the Cedar-Riverside community in workshops at Bedlam.

Like her counterpart, Maren Ward is quite the hands-on artistic director. At Bedlam, she creates, acts, performs, and directs. Ward’s most recent project was directing Josef Evans’s The Million Dollar Museum, commissioned as part of her 2007 Playwrights’ Center/McKnight Theater Artist Fellowship. In September 2008, she co-hosted Because We Still Live Here, creative reflections and community dialogue in the aftermath of the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities. Other directing credits with Bedlam include Unhinged!, a collaborative rumination on the old horror classics and the new horror reality, and West Bank Story, an original musical about the Cedar/Riverside neighborhood where Bedlam is located. West Bank Story was the culmination of a two-year process of interviews, storytelling sessions, and archival research that, among other accomplishments, was one of the first Twin Cities theatre works to acknowledge Minneapolis’s community of Somali immigrants and Somali-American residents. In 2009 she directed My Name is Rachel Corrie at Augsburg College. Over the past decade Ward has curated or hosted 25 Bedlam Romps, raucous cabaret parties for which she developed another concept for short attention spans, the continually well-received 5 Minute Movie. She appears in this year’s Ten Minute Play Festival, performing in Today is the Last Beautiful Day Until Tomorrow, an introspective sci-fi comedy written and directed by Molly Van Avery in collaboration with Ward.

Maren Ward took time from gearing up for the festival—which runs from April 16-25—to answer questions by e-mail.

Who judged the prospective scripts that were submitted to the festival?
We had a committee made up of Bedlam staff, artists, and past Ten Fest participants. Each play was read twice and evaluated. Then, based on the evaluations of a smaller group, we narrowed it down to about 40 and Samantha Johns and I selected the final 21 projects.

What exactly did Bedlam look for in the scripts or performance concepts?
We were looking for creative artists using the festival as an opportunity for experimentation, project development, and connection. We were drawn to projects that were unique in terms of how they approached the ten-minute time frame (electronic music piece, movement theater, lip-sync drama, ten-minute opera) or that were well-written ten-minute plays with interesting content. We typically recieve a lot of one-trick plays and heterosexual romantic comedies. We weed those out right away and look for real originality in the content of a script. We appreciate scripts or projects that are exploring an alternative or radical viewpoint.

In the directors?
In the spirit of Bedlam’s blend of professional and community art and the festival’s emphasis on that, we were looking for experienced directors to work with newer actors and in some cases first-time playwrights. And we were looking for promising young directors to match with pro playwrights. For the most part we’re looking for the right person to direct each script/project that needs a director.

Were there any scripts or performance pieces that you’d’ve liked to see done at the festival but simply didn’t have space for?
There were many we said no to that we would have said yes to if we had unlimited space. The final selection was quite difficult. We wanted to make sure that we could support all the work to the best of our ability. Someday we may expand the festival to multiple venues and producing partners in order to accommodate more of the great ideas out there.

You and John each are involved in the creation and directing of festival entries? Who did the judging for those? Or as artistic directors, did you simply green-light them?
I described the selection process. There is some green-lighting that happens with the festival in terms of Bedlam artists in an ongoing relationship with the company, including John and myself. We encourage artists who do a lot of work at Bedlam to be involved in the festival and to develop ideas and meet new artists in doing so. However, there were some Bedlam-related projects that were not selected on the basis of not being compelling enough ideas. John, who was not on the
selection committee, is directing a project created by members of CRAZY (Cedar-Riverside Art Zone for Youth), Bedlam’s neighborhood youth program, and yes, that project was green-lighted. But I’d also say that it was a very compelling proposal! I am performing in a piece created by Molly Van Avery. My participation in the project was not the basis for it being chosen for the festival, though it could have been.

How pleased have you been with the festival?
In the past I’ve been really happy with the sheer numbers of participants and the excited bustling feel. There’s always been many projects that have really stuck with me. I’m happy that the festival has been a great place for artists just moving here or looking to expand their connections to meet other folks. And that almost every year at least one play has gone on to become a bigger project. Sometimes I feel like we’ve let a few scripts and projects by that perhaps should have been edited out for disappointing content. Or a director that simply didn’t rehearse their piece enough. One year we had more than one 20-minute play. We’ve started emphasizing that time limit a lot more, nd looking hard for pieces that invent new worlds or shake it up a bit over reinforcing the status quo.

How did Tru Ruts/Free Style Theater come to be involved?
Sha Cage and e.g. bailey of Tru Ruts have been working with us this year in a number of ways, and we’ve been talking about hosting a hip-hop theater festival that they are organizing. There had been talk of it happening in April, but it was decided to move it to fall, and in that conversation up came the idea of having ten-minute pieces of works in development for the hip-hop Theater Festival in an evening presented in conjunction with 20 10 Fest.

What’s next at Bedlam?
After 20 10 Fest, Bedlam will host a three-week run of Live Action Set’s The Happy Show—a promenade-style theatrical feast of happiness, followed by a weekend run of the first production of a brand-new company, Fancy on a Can. In the music/cabaret/danceparty realm we have a new dance night with Hotpants on the third Saturday of the month, and West Bank Thursdays with Pop Wagner, Cadillac Kolstad, and the curatorial stylings of Cyn Collins. The next Bedlam Theatre production will be The Fire Show, created by the unstoppable Rah Kojis and going up in the parking lot in early June. So stay tuned.