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Local playwright wins NYC play fest
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Sally Parsons
2013-04-09

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Chicago playwright Cathy Earnest garnered first place in the Take Ten Festival produced the week of March 18 in New York City. Earnest's 10-minute play, Disappearing—about two strangers who find themselves sitting on a cloud—won out over 130 entrants.

"Disappearing is my first production," stated Earnest. "It was great to be around such talented folks and see the process come together. I loved seeing my play on its feet."

In addition to receiving a cash prize, Earnest will be included by the same producers, Between Us Productions, in an evening of one-acts scheduled for presentation in New York City this coming June. Commenting on Disappearing, Co-Artistic Director Jasmine Brown said, "I loved the metaphysical talk. It was nice to have a play about a serious topic but that could also find the comic as well."

The characters in Disappearing—one a young male intern, the other an older woman—gradually disappear from their feet upward in the course of discussing what has happened to them. From the opening lines, "What the hell? Who are you?," the two grapple with increasing urgency about their dilemma.

The idea for her play came out of a weekend class Earnest took at Chicago Dramatists several years ago, where the playwrights were challenged to go home and write a 10-minute play about something they thought could not be staged.

Once she was informed Disappearing would be in the festival, Earnest had to pick a director. "I didn't know any directors in New York," she said. "The producers suggested Jaclyn Gramigna, a young film director and, when I saw her work in some film shorts, I knew I had a winner. She had some great ideas as to how to make the characters disappear. In the end she used a projection, created by Zachary Weingand, in which the light gradually went out from the bottom up, just like the play said."

Brown and her associate co-artistic director, Samantha Lee Manas, described the Take Ten Festival as different from other New York play festivals in that there are few that focus on 10-minute plays, as theirs does. "In addition," stated Manas, "a lot of our writers are from out of town," setting the festival apart.

Each play in this, the inaugural year of the festival, was guaranteed two performances, according to Brown. While the audience voted on which plays they wanted to advance to the next level, the producers tried to ensure a fair chance for each entrant. "We would change the line-up each night of who you were competing against," said Brown. Audience votes counted 75 percent toward determining the next-level contenders, while the artistic company's input counted for 25 percent.

"I always loved the immediacy of the live stage," stated Earnest. "There's a room of people—an audience —all focusing on the same thing, in the here and now. And what's on stage is happening in real time with actual people living in front of our eyes. And maybe that's especially important now, when we can pause our DVR to take a call. Not here. Not in the theater."

Earnest's full-length play Another Bone was a 2012 Finalist at the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. It recently received staged readings at Triton College in River Grove, where she has been designated the 2013 Emerging Playwright. Currently, Earnest is a Senior Network Playwright at Chicago Dramatists. She will be an artist-in-residence at the Millay Artist Colony in New York in November. Earnest is currently at work on a full-length play, Rich Like Me, that takes place during the 1890s in Chicago.


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