When asked to describe Queer Shorts, StageQ's annual festival of ultra-short plays, Tara Ayres phrases her answer a bit like the saying about Midwestern weather: If you don't like it, just wait a few minutes.
Says Ayres, the company's artistic director, "You get to see a lot of disparate stories in two hours. Even if you don't like one of the shorts, you can wait five minutes and it's over. It's a really accessible route into theater for people who may not know about theater."
Composed of 11 one-act plays told from an LGBT perspective, Queer Shorts 4 (May 28-June 6) marks the first time the highly popular show has been presented on the Bartell Theatre's larger stage, the Drury Theatre.
With the theme "It's Only Love," Queer Shorts 4 brings together plays by writers throughout North America, from Chicago and Toronto to New York and D.C. Over 200 plays were submitted for consideration. Ayres, who submitted her play about online dating to the selection committee under a pseudonym, is the only local playwright represented.
Although brevity may be the unifying factor, shortness for its own sake is not the reason StageQ member Katy Conley, who is directing a short this year, proposed the concept a few years ago.
Explains Conley, "It had a lot to do with questions being posed at the time, like, 'How do we get our lesbian, gay and straight audiences together at the same show at the same time?' and 'How do we create opportunities for new directors and actors?'"
The one-act format gives StageQ a chance to work with people who may be promising but inexperienced - and it gives those actors and directors a way to dip their toes into the pool of community theater.
"Community theater is about building community as well as doing good theater," says Ayres. "We work with people who haven't been on stage before, or perhaps not since grade school or high school. We pair them with experienced actors and directors."
Both Ayres and Conley notes that it's hard to break into acting and directing in Madison. Queer Shorts is one way to open up the playing field.
Steve Noll, a StageQ board member who is directing one of the shorts, feels this year's show offers even stronger writing. "Writing short plays is difficult," he observes. "How do you tell a compelling story in a few minutes? [This year] there's more actual storytelling.... These have a beginning, middle and end - a dramatic narrative."
The show's tone will be light and comedic, but with poignant moments as well. Says Noll, "I think anyone could go and make connections to it."