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From 650 submissions, Heartland Theatre's 20th anniversary fest puts on 8 plays in 80 minutes

 Four salmon-tinted arm chairs line a baby blue wall in an empty room. Text above the chairs reads "The Waiting Room." A wall clock reading 2:10pm is above the text.
Heartland Theatre Company
The 20th anniversary theme for Heartland Theatre's 10-Minute Play Festival also is a reference to the pandemic that sent performing arts organizations home to wait. Shows run June 2-24.

You might think Heartland Theatre’s annual 10-minute Play Festival is easy compared to the full-scale, evening-length productions it stages each year. But Heartland artistic director Rhys Lovell says to think again.

“There’s extensive planning that begins months in advance,” Lovell said in an interview with WGLT.

For 20 years, Heartland Theatre Company has presented an early-summer suite of bite-sized plays. Applicants adhere to just four rules: Each play must be 10 minutes long, in English, with a maximum of four characters. And it must stick to the theme — in this case, “The Waiting Room.”

 Two people look intently at each other, holding permanent markers. Between them is an easel with a poster reading "Babies by Design" and a cartoon-like drawing of an infant.
Jesse Folks
Heartland Theatre Company
William Boersma's "This Baby" is one of eight winners of the 2023 10-Minute Play Festival.

This year’s contest yielded a record-breaking 650 submissions. Every year, a committee reads every application and whittles the list down to 40 or 50 semi-finalists. From those, a second-tier committee selects eight winners. An international pool of applicants in 2023 yielded winning plays from across the United States, plus Australia and Canada.

Closest to Bloomington-Normal is playwright William Boersma of Skokie. Nods to the theme include literal waiting rooms, like the ones in hospitals and police stations, as well as existential ones; one play, for example, tackles purgatory. Boersma plans to attend the festival to see his play, "This Baby," about a perfectionistic couple seeking to design a boutique, custom-made baby.

“The 10-minute Play Festival is a great gateway for new and emerging artists,” Lovell said. “We’ve had quite a few plays that have gone on to be published in 10-minute play anthologies. Some of them, especially the writers that come and see them on their feet, get a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t work, and they’ll go back to the drawing board. They’ll make edits and sometimes those 10-minute plays turn into full length plays. It’s really gratifying.”

The 2023 Ten-minute Play Festival opens with a pay-what-you-can preview on June 1. Performances run three weekends, June 2-24, at Heartland Theatre, 1110 Douglas St., Normal. Tickets are $7-$17 at heartlandtheatre.org.

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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