The sweetest of showcases

Short+Sweet, Brisbane Heats

Brisbane Powerhouse

July 14 – 23

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As August descends upon us, ready or not, so does a range of varied Brisbane theatre offerings. And there are few festivals as diverse as Short+Sweet, the finals of which will take place at the Brisbane Powerhouse later in the month, once representatives are all decided from the Gold Coast heats in the coming weeks.

So what makes Short+Sweet so special and deserving of the moniker of ‘biggest little play festival in the world’? Well, you don’t get more unique than shows of 10 minutes duration. From outrageous comedy to gritty drama to sultry song, the festival provides a tasting platter of snippet shows. And over the two theatre and two cabaret heats at Brisbane Powerhouse over recent weeks, variety has most definitely defined the banquet of shows.

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Making it to the finals are works from each strand chosen by anonymous industry judges and also those voted as the People’s Choice by audiences members encouraged to engage in the selection process by nominating their favourite work. Audience members obviously appreciated the comedy on offer with People’s Choices for Strand One (Theatre) including “The Housemate Hunt” (a skit that showed a duo’s journey to find a new housemate from a range of character applicants, including a memorable hippy) alongside the Judge’s Choice of “The Persistence of Men on Me”, a dark but comic exploration of the emotions of a protagonist played by an attituded Nicholas Prior as he engaged with the online chat world of a Grindr et al as a gay man.

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Strand Three (Theatre) similarly saw the sassy “Can I Get an Amen” emerge as People’s Choice. Written and performed by Kaitlyn Rogers the hilarious show offered loads of laughs, some Whoopi Goldberg wisdom and even an interpretive dance to a familiar TV tune… definitely not your normal night out, especially given the Judge’s Choice for the Strand, “Boys Taste Better with Nutella’ which saw Aggy (Caitlin Hill) lamenting being stuck in a loop where her only joy is her secret soul mate, Nutella, which she lavished her body.

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Strand Two (Cabaret) began with the Judge’s Choice, “A Dark and Stormy Night”, featuring a film noiresque tell of a woman (Asabi Goodman) seeking the help of a well-known sleuth (James Bovill) to find her missing lover, and ended with “There’s Something About Mary(s)” with its share by Cassie George of the trials of love, loss and the responsibilities of being a queen in waiting to the gay community of fellow musical theatreists.

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Strand Four (Cabaret) saw “50 Shades of Curious” take out the people’s choice and “The Gospel According to Matthew” be named as Judge’s Choice. Both works showcased talented performers. “The Gospel According to Matthew” writer and performer Matthew Semple delivered the part stand up, part spoken work, part satirical song show with a touch of Tim Minchin to its political take. While “Fifty Shades of Curious” performer Katelyn Ryan’s voice soared like Megan Hilty’s as she naughtily sang of the attraction and intimidation of “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

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Of similar high quality was the cabaret work of Cienda McNamara in her “Natural Born Spinster” assurance of not being bothered by her life choices and Cassandra Croucher’s reworking of her sold out Anywhere Festival Theatre show “Retail Therapy”.

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And just to make things interesting, more traditional cabaret works were balanced by shows such as David Massingham’s “Cradle Me in Your Arms”, which featured audience involvement to the extreme as a mortally wounded battlefield soldier faced the prospect of a lonely death with request that someone cradles him in their arms.

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The theatre strands, too, shared a range of quality works, including William Pyke and Jack Braddy’s “Carpet Burn” showing audiences an extreme case of when auditions go bad and “Lunch Break” which saw enthusiastic but nuanced performances from Casey McCollow, Madi Kennedy-Tucker and Levi Wilcox as young children naively exploring and discussing big ‘adult’ issues.

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Not only does the festival offer a range of shows, sure to cater in some way to unique audience interests, but it also allows opportunity to showcase the talents of local artists and producers. Although theatre shows like “Good Soldier” offered serious interludes to the comic-rich content, overall the nights of the Brisbane heats were full of fun (Cabaret even saw some clothes come off in “Good Intent”). And like last year, the final is sure to sell out soon so do yourself a favour and book your tickets now.

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Held annually in over a dozen locations around the world, the festival has already helped launch the careers of countless theatre professionals, giving audiences the additional opportunity to experience seeing a show develop from its infancy. The high quality of so many shows may have made decisions difficult, but simultaneously serves to ensure a quality collection of works on offer as part of the final, with Gold Coast Strand winners still to come.

Short, sweet and set to showcase

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After over a month of heats in front of sometimes sold-out audiences, the lineup for the Short+Sweet Gala Finals at the Brisbane Powerhouse later this month has been decided. And what a varied bunch of shows it is, which isn’t entirely surprising, given the eclectic nature of each of the four theatre and three cabaret rounds that have taken place in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. With dark stories and complex pieces to make you think, moments to tear you heart out and plenty of laughs aloud, the festival, which began in Sydney but has since expanded across Australia and internationally, really is the best little play festival in the world, unique not only because of its format of 10 minute shows but the creative opportunities it provides to emerging and established artists. (Dead Puppet Society first formed for the Short+Sweet Festival in 2009 and after taking out Best Overall Production, the company has flourished and are now staging national tours such as the recently-wrapped Argus).

In the parody work “How To Write A Ten Minute Play” a snarky coach presents advice to his two assistance on what to do and not to do when crafting a ten minute work such as would be entered in Short+Sweet; zombies, speed dating and time travel were all funnily identified as clichés…. funnily because all three featured across the strands, often in more than one piece. Indeed despite the assortment of shows, there have been some clear common themes to this year’s lineups.  Relationships have featured strongly, as has social media… in combination too, with Tinder taking a central place in many narratives.

Shows have taken form in all types of genres from the riotous comedy of an 80s-style aerobic workout with excitable Liechtenstein instructors in finalist contender “Workout Wunderbar” to serious contemplation of the intimacy of terror in “In Kabul” and more than one show with Film Noire sensibilities, because “once you go noire, you don’t go back” we were told in “The Maltese Walter”. To see shows playing with genre and convention certainly has added interest and creation of points of difference through metatheatre moments and fourth wall breaks. But ultimately the strands have been about entertainment and the majority of shows have had much to offer in this regard, with some of the funniest of comedy coming from the strangest of circumstances, such as a hilarious meeting of the Gary’s Club, gatecrashed by a Frank in the Gala Final Wildcard Addition, “Gary?” There has even been audience participation courtesy of the interactive choose-your-own adventure game show “The Customer is Always Right” in which the audience makes decisions for the characters on stage.

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However, ultimately, in the theatre rounds, it has been the smaller, quieter shows that have left the most lingering of impressions despite their minor casts. “The Truth about Mum and Dad” saw two siblings’ shared coffee turning into outrageous contemplation of what their parents may be doing, while “Awkward” featured solo artist Alex Budden telling the tale of 15 year old Ned’s response to unexpected news about his father and it is fitting perhaps that both will be featuring in the Gala Final event.

As theatre’s younger musical sister, cabaret has also offered audiences a range of experiences from traditional jazz Judy and Ella fare, bold burlesque, a musical mashup of Disney villains and some cheeky hand puppetry in “Roxie Swarovski”, to clap along traditional experiences like “Bulgarian Folk Songs” and the chance to see some sexy, scaly songsters in “Dancing with Dinosaurs” from the creators of the hit show “Public Toilets, Private Words”.

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However, again often it has been the traditional conversational style cabaret works that have stood out. Rachel Rai’s “Manxious” was a well-structured and engaging work of lament over a man who may not be the texting type, but still could be the marrying type. And with the addition of ukulele, how can you really go wrong? Similarly, “The Confession”, written and performed by Emily Vascotto was richly composed and well-balanced in its story of a girl next door’s search for her fairytale love, with  Vascotto’s appropriately-animated performance shining brightly with cabaret sparkle and strong vocal delivery. And with both of these featuring amongst the Gala finals line-up, the competition is looking strong.

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The task of selecting the best and most popular works from a line-up of over 60 shows is no easy feat, which is why power is handed over to the audiences who vote for their favourites in each round. Although this sometimes means the show with the greatest audience support base comes out of top, the result is an absolutely eclectic mix guaranteed to provide audiences with their own favourites. And regardless of what they might be, those in attendance will surely never see a night out at the casino the same way again thanks to Lachlan Stuart’s “The Longest Five Minutes”. But don’t just take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Given that last year’s Sydney Winner “Dirty Sexy Politics” has recently had its premiere season at the Queensland Cabaret Festival, it may well be your chance to say ‘I saw them way back when…”

Behold the bite-sized banquet

Short+Sweet Festival

Brisbane Powerhouse – July 9 – 18

The Arts Centre Gold Coast – July 30 – August 8

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There is a special kind of feeling that proceeds a festival program’s launch, when there is excitement in anticipation of exact show content, mixed with hope that preferred shows don’t clash. The great thing about the Short+Sweet Festival is that it is scheduling makes it possible to see everything the program has to offer, especially given that each show has precisely only ten minutes to present its performance to the audience. And if Short + Sweet shows offer bite sized tasters of theatre and cabaret, the sum total is sure to be quite the banquet.

This biggest little play festival in the world, now in its seventh year, offers a unique program of over 60 performances and over 250 artists presenting theatre, cabaret, and comedy as participants work towards gaining the coveted Festival titles, including Best Overall Production, Best Actor, Best Cabaret Artist and Audience Choice.

With so many shows, there is bound to be something for everyone with diverse scripts ranging from witty satire to heartbreaking drama, all within a ten minute timeframe, from some passionate local performers. As a platform for the development of new, original work and showcase of artists’ talents, there is immense value to Short+Sweet as a provider of some of exciting and interesting theatre, because it is all too easy to keep within the comfort of the mainstream theatre culture.

Tickets are now available for the festival, which runs from 9th to 18th July at the Brisbane Powerhouse and 30th July to 8th August at The Arts Centre Gold Coast. If good things come in small packages, then this year’s Short+Sweet promises a multitude of affordable goodness. And if last year’s shows are any indication, it is definitely worth a visit, because a lot can happen in ten minutes.

The Brisbane theatre you have when you aren’t having more theatre

The Short+Sweet Festival

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

August 28 – 30

When a night begins with a show called “Crossbow Cat”, featuring a vengeful feline stuck in a clothes airer, you know things are going to get interesting. And what an eclectic night of works the final theatre round of Short+Sweet had to offer. From the politics of Facebook friending in “Tagged” and the ‘Welcome to Logan’ Ikea-set weirdness of “The Catalogue Life”, to solemn sharing of rape recollections in “Afterwards” and a  married couple duologue regarding the reality of a prostate cancer diagnosis in “Jim”, the eight works on show presented a range of moods, offering something for everyone. And thanks to Elise Greig’s “Flood”, delivered as monologue by a woman navigating her way home through the closed roads of an underwater Brisbane, before a slideshow of 2011 flood images, there were themes with which everyone could identify.

Coming out on top of Strand Six was Sampson Smith’s “The Runaways”, a madcap account of oddball orphanarium triplets, Isabella, Eric and Gerard who believe themselves to be the offspring of David Bowie. A similarly chaotic tale ensured in the very funny “The Literary Monogamist”, a fellow crowd favourite best summed up as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and vampires and Start Trek and Jesus.

The weeks of over 50 ten minute Short+Sweet performances on both the Gold Coast and in Brisbane have shown what talent and commitment exist amid the local theatre scene. To see for yourself who is best at keeping things short and sweet, book now for the Gala finals at Brisbane Powerhouse on September 28, before it’s too late! As Festival Director Nathan Sibthorpe put it, you may be riddled with regret if you don’t.

The Brisbane theatre you have when you aren’t having theatre

The Short+Sweet Festival

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

August 21 – 23

The Short+Sweet Festival moved to the Brisbane Powerhouse this week, where ten Theatre entrants performed to an enthusiastic audience of family and friends (gathering by the over the top laugher and screaming as applause garnered by some pieces).

From the opening act “To Write My Epitaph” the story of Edgar Allen (just Edgar Allen, no Poe)’s life and work, told in verse, to the final frivolity of “Orgasma and the Intergalactic Sky Cock”, a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” meets “Spaceballs” (with a touch of “Alice in Wonderland”) farce, the eclectic nature of Short+Sweet’s first Brisbane Theatre Strand was clear. There was even some drag c/o Orgasma herself and also the Virgin Mary in “Being Jesus”, which sees Mary, Jesus, God, Judas and Satan gathering for a birthday celebration with Jerry Springer style results.

Indeed, the Strand Four plays certainly offered something for everyone, including ensemble and monologue pieces. Even the monologues offered audiences a range of realisations, from the frenetic chaos of “Captain Everything” to the funny fly on the wall musing of Edmund Hilary in “The Rise of Sir Edmund”, which shares the explorer’s frustration with that whining hippy, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and search for the perfect synonyms to describe the white of his Everest views.

A clear and deserved audience favourite (and one of the two works selected to play in repeat performance at the Gala Finals at the Brisbane Powerhouse at the end of September) was the comedy “Bitches”, about two warring dog show owners and their prize-winning bitches, played to canine comic perfection by Bonnie Mullins and Xanthe Jones, including some ad-libbed reactions to a mobile phone audience interruption (#whatiswrongwithpeople). Joining it, from this strand will be “Going Viral”, a topical look at what can go wrong when well-intentioned parents attempt to take charge of their daughter’s online self ahead of her Facebook eligible 13th birthday.

While clearly it is difficult for some audience members to stay focussed for even these shortest of timeframes, the ten minutes, bite-sized running times are more than just a novelty, adding to the festival’s unique appeal; if a show is not your thing, you only have to wait it out for a short time until another in underway. And with another strand yet to show next week, there is certainly a lot from which to choose, the largest number the festival has ever seen and testament to the strength and dynamism of Brisbane’s thriving independent theatre scene.

The Gold Coast theatre you have when you aren’t having theatre

The Short+Sweet Festival

Arts Centre Gold Coast

August 9 – 17

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When it comes to theatre fiestas, Short+Sweet is the biggest little play festival in the world. Now in its 13th year, the festival features a series of 10 minutes plays, for those who prefer their theatre bite-sized. And it kicked off at The Arts Centre Gold Coast last week with a range of plays and cabaret shows (as part of this year’s additional expansion to included cabaret acts to complement the theatre strands).

The Gold Coasts’ Theatre Strand Two represented and eclectic mix of shows: from an ensemble detective tale to a reflective monologue of ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ type paranoia. Indeed, with themes ranging from the harrowing experience of abduction in “Triple Zero” to the comic exploration of the morning after awkwardness in “Morning Glory”, there was certainly something for all palettes. And credit must go to all the committed performers, particularly those of “Climate Change” and Underground Productions’ “Merry Fecking Christmas” for their impressive comic characterisations, the latter complete with credible Irish accents.

As the ‘winning’ production, “Morning Glory” will play in repeat performance at the Gala Finals at the Brisbane Powerhouse at the end of September. To see what shows might be joining it, check out the Brisbane strands playing at the Brisbane Powerhouse over coming weeks.

As a platform for the development of new, original work and showcase of artists’ talents, there is immense value to Short+Sweet as a provider of some of the exciting and interesting theatre, because it is all  too easy to keep within the comfort of the mainstream theatre culture.

If variety is the spice of life, then you won’t get much zestier than Short+Sweet As the theatre you have when you aren’t having theatre (now with added cabaret) it is bound to please, because a lot can happen in only ten minutes.