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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

Playing with words

Located at 312 S. Washington St. are the offices of a Bloomington theater company founded 22 years ago in 1980 by two IU Masters of Fine Arts students Tom Moseman and Jimmie Leonard. The two founded the continually financially troubled arts organizations so there would be another venue for local artists to perform as well as have their work performed. \nThe mission of the Bloomington Playwrights Project, according to their Web site, is "dedicated to the furthering of new original plays and theatre." This mission statement fulfills a two-fold purpose; it allows beginning playwrights an opportunity to have their scripts produced, which is something that a small minority of writers can ever do successfully. And it provides the not-for-profit arts organization with a cheap way of getting material to the stage. \nThe organization performs original works largely generated from beginning playwrights and obtained through play reading contests. It is, of course, much cheaper to get scripts from talented locals than to pay Bobbs-Merrill or Samuel French the royalties.\nThe original scripts become the mainstage shows the BPP mounts seven times a year.\nIn addition to these main stage shows, the BPP also shows strong traces of being an experimental theater company with its "Dark Alley Series." The "Dark Alley Series," was founded during the 2001-2002 season by former Artistic Director Richard Ford. These short plays run no more than an hour, and play close to 35 minutes after the main stage show on the billing ends. \nIt's almost like movies in the days of the studio system. You go to the theater, see a little show of some kind and then watch a main attraction. \n"The 'Dark Alley Series' offers theater that cannot be done elsewhere due to its short length and its content," Dark Alley Series Producer Rick Fonte said. "Very few places in the U.S. feature new plays like the BPP does. Even fewer feature new plays of a short length, and I'm sure even fewer of questionable decency -- the IU community has really embraced the edgy shows we've been able to include in the series."\nFollowing Ford's leaving the BPP to pursue other interests, current Artistic Director Richard Perez came to Bloomington with a B.A. in theater from Hunter College in New York City and has an M.F.A. in performance from Arizona State University. Perez has also worked at The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. His acting experience includes being a former apprentice at the Actor's Theatre of Louisville where Perez appeared in the Humana Festival's world premiere of Arthur Kopit's "The Road to Nirvana" with Julianne Moore. Perez's "Secret Things" was chosen as a participant in the Director's Project at New York's Lincoln Center this summer.\nAnother sideline of the BPP's is its Cabaret Nouveau Series created by current Marketing Director Candace Decker. Cabaret Nouveau runs year round with eight different selections created by local artists. The cabaret is a mix of traditional cabarets with songs and stories, with other less orthodox original one-person shows, usually focused on the star's life. Two Cabaret's have been performed so far this season. The most recent being by IU M.F.A. student Carmen Meyers called "Hot, Wet, Fun" based off the actors life issues including marriage.\n"I created the Cabaret Nouveau Series because before moving to Bloomington I worked as an actress/cabaret singer in Chicago and Washington D.C. I had just completed a program called the NY Cabaret Symposium as a fellow where I worked with National and International cabaret artists," Decker said. "It was a life changing experience for me personally and as an artist. I found I was able to create, write, perform my own show, and I was perfectly cast as me. It was very empowering."\nWhile the Cabaret has a faithful following, its days may be numbered.\nDecker may soon be leaving. Her husband Steve is a third year M.F.A. student, and if work can't be found in Bloomington, the two will have to pull up stakes, Sonja Johnson, volunteer director of development for the BPP, said.\nWhile producing and staging plays is the main mission of the BPP, Johnson said no theater company can survive without additional means of income beyond ticket sales. The BPP has educational programs including a School of Dramatic Arts, or SODA as its called, a mini-play festival in March of 2003, and a Youth Theatre Ensemble.\nSODA is "Classes for kids ages 8 to 80," according to BPP's Web site.\nSODA classes are offered to anyone from the age of 8 to 80, and include instruction in playwriting, acting, directing, technical theater, musical theater, storytelling and can even cater to the class clown. There's a class on clowning. \nJohnson calls SODA the BPP's most significant program.\n"They introduce theater to people of all ages. It begins to build an audience of the futureā€¦as well as theater artists of the future," Johnson said.\nThe Mini-Play Festival is a program where area school age children can write and submit a script to a judging panel of artists. The winners can then have their plays produced.\nIn June, Shakespeare is performed, and in July, a musical is produced as part of the Youth Theatre Ensemble. This is one of the rare times the BPP does non-original work, and it is designed to give exposure of classical theater to children.\nRevived for the 2003 season is the organization's Diversity Play Festival in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. held January 20. This is the only program that is free of charge to the public, Johnson said. The festival's message is "That people really are different from one another in significant ways, but they also are profoundly similar in their search for happiness, meaningfulness, love, acceptance, shelter, nourishment and so on," Johnson said.\nWhile the BPP is an operation whose mission is devoted to the bettering of the Bloomington area, it does garner national attention with its annual Reva Shiner Full Length Play Contest. Every year the Reva Shiner contest rewards an unproduced full-length play with a cash prize and a full production as part of the theater's season. \nThe contest is advertised in several venues devoted to playwriting including the "The Dramatist's Sourcebook," which is published every two years. \nDoug Bedwell, the BPP's literary manager, said the contest is also given space in the "The Dramatists Guild Resource Directory." \n"This is a handbook published annually by the Dramatists Guild, and is only available to members of the Guild," Bedwell said. "The Dramatists Guild is an organization of and for professional playwrights, the closest thing we have to a union." \nSubmissions have come from Alaska to Hawaii.\nThe BPP obtains its funding through ticket sales as well as grants from corporations and state and federal agencies including the Indiana Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and operates on a yearly budget of between $130,000 and $150,000.\nFor information about the BPP's education/outreach programs such as SODA, or for ticketing information, call (812) 334-1188.

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