From established stage authors to wannabe first-timers, playwrights from all over the region are drawn each year to create a unique ten-minute play festival called The Variations Project. Founded in 2005 by Run of the Mill Theater and continued for a time by Baltimore’s Arena Players, the Project has been curated since 2014 by Rapid Lemon Productions.
RLP is getting ready to open the 2023 version, “Variations on The End,” which will appear at the Maryland Institute College of Art next month. We caught up with a few of the show’s playwrights to talk about their experience.
How long have you been involved with the Variations Project? What initially attracted you to it?
Malik Berry: This is my second year being involved with the Variations Project. I found their flyer at the Charles, saw they welcomed plays from all kinds of writers, and thought I’d jump at it. It was a great way to get me back into writing for the stage after my one brush with it in high school.
Larry Malkus: Since 2015. “Walter’s Claw Hammer” for “Variations on Family,” I think.
Allegra Hatem: This is my first time being a part of the Variations Project! Normally the hardest part of writing for me is getting started, so having a theme that the show is centered around was a huge draw for me.
Sharon Goldner: I’ve been with Variations since 2007. The thing about Variations is that they really do care. It starts with the playwrights coming together to informally hear their play read out loud, giving the playwrights the chance for revision and do-overs. Even kids on playgrounds everywhere are jealous over Variations’ do-overs. Variations knows that it all starts with the playwright, and they never lose sight of that.
There are lots of ten-minute play festivals nowadays. How is the Variations Project different?
Tess Huth: Variations has a community feel to it that I think a lot of ten-minute play festivals don’t. The readings prior to the production especially feel like they’re bringing a close-knit group of people together. I’ve made connections with new artists and reunited with some of my favorite collaborators in those rooms. Coming to those readings and the performances feels like coming home.
Crystal Sewell: The Variations Project is careful to lean towards the integrity of the script and asks before making changes that could threaten that.
R.A. Pauli: What makes Variations unique in my experience is that submissions are not blind. Every submission gets a reading and receives feedback from other playwrights, actors, and directors. Playwrights must be present for each reading of their work. Playwrights have an opportunity to revise and resubmit for another reading and the actors who are doing the readings are simultaneously under consideration for casting in the festival. It is also unique that the Variations audiences are invited to help select the theme for the following year’s festival. I have submitted to scores of ten-minute play festivals over the years, but have yet to see any that have the combination of features the Variations Project offers.
What else have you done that Maryland audiences might have seen recently?
R.A. Pauli: In Spring of ’22, my play “‘Shrooms” was produced at Fells Point Corner Theatre, and that fall my play “Bright Creatures of the Air” appeared in “Variations on Change” by Rapid Lemon Productions.
Crystal Sewell: Besides “I Don’t Want Your Effin Pancakes,” which can be seen in this production, I have had two other plays produced in the Variations Project. I had “(Un)Veiled” produced in the 2019’s production of “Variations on Myth” and “Bud” produced in the 2021’s production of “Variations on Holidays.”
Allegra Hatem: I’ve been involved with St. Mark’s Players in D.C. a lot this past year. I played Nina in “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike,” assisted with props for “Perfect Arrangement,” and designed props for “The Color Purple.”
Joe Dennison: The Joe Show Highlandtown Gallery (art show).
Any future projects?
Jerome Alexander: I’m currently working on an episodic dramedy piece that touches on the subjects of lost love, revenge, acceptance and maturity, all centered around an unorthodox class reunion.
Malik Berry: I have a short story being printed in an upcoming anthology from A Coup of Owls Press. Aside from that, I’m working on organizing a short story collection, more plays, including a full one I’m looking to produce. It’ll be funny, strange, and thought provoking.
Allegra Hatem: Nothing lined up! I’m currently working on first drafts of two full-lengths musicals: “A Life Told Out of Order,” a non-chronological show about a young woman diagnosed with early-onset dementia (co-written with my friend Sophie Roth-Douquet), and “Perfect Match,” about a sorority girl who tries to find a liver donor on Tinder.
Sharon Goldner: I do live shows (musical & comedy) every morning in the shower, but I guess you mean shows where real people can attend. Thus far, I’ve got plays appearing in NC and San Francisco later this summer. I am also working with award-winning dramaturge Mark Bly on several of my plays.
What should audiences expect when they see this year’s production?
Larry Malkus: “Variations on The End” is a warning, a threat, a joke, and a beginning.
Jerome Alexander: The audience should expect a mix of pain, humor, preposterousness, acceptance and dissonance. The full human experience.
Tess Huth: I don’t think audiences should bring any expectations to the theater with them when they come to see the show. Because Variations is just that: varied. When I directed, there were dogs and Medusas and erotic food; this year, it could be anything. Come in with an open heart and mind so you’re ready to be surprised.
R.A. Pauli: Expect the expected to appear in totally unexpected ways! Expect to have a great evening of theater, from the beginning until…The End!
“Variations on The End” will be presented June 9 -25, 2023 as a full production of 11 world premiere ten-minute plays, directed by Jalice Ortiz-Corral. Performances will appear in the BBOX, located in the Gateway building on the corner of Mount Royal and North Avenues, 1601 W Mt Royal Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217. For more information about dates, times, and tickets, go online.
Patrons are advised that the plays in “Variations on The End” explore a wide range of topics; some of which include self-harm, suicide, and murder.