FARGO — Adam Pankow had planned things differently for the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theater’s Ten-Minute Play Festival.
The artistic director of FMCT, his vision was to host a night of short productions during the summer at the theater’s main stage.
But, as it has often happened, 2020 had other plans.
Right at the end of 2019, the theatrical company was forced to leave its home due to structural issues. This March, the coronavirus pandemic came and made any theatrical shows that much harder to produce.
Pankow didn’t lose hope, and instead the FMCT’s first short play festival will be spread out over the next eight weeks online.
“It gives us an in on making art in this challenging time,” Pankow says.
The first play, “Let’s Make a Deal,” debuted Friday, Oct. 2. A new play will be posted every Friday on FMCT’s website, www.fmct.org.
The idea of celebrating 10-minute productions was suggested by Kevin Kennedy, theater director at Fargo South High School.
“I really liked the idea. We don’t have a lot of original works done for FMCT and this was a good way to make that happen,” Pankow says.
He put the word out that he was looking for submissions that would be easy to produce and with from two to five actors, something technically minimal and material that could reach a large audience. Also, with the coronavirus in mind, something that would allow for social distancing on stage, so nothing too intimate, like kissing.
He received 148 scripts.
“I would have been happy with 12 submissions. It was overwhelming in the best possible way,” he says.
He read all of the titles, then passed along the best 50 to a committee for consideration. Some were topical and timely, addressing issues of racism or life in the time of COVID-19. New Yorker William Ivor Fowkes’ comic take on the latter, “Virtual First Date,” was one of nine scripts selected for production.
Pankow says he wanted one local playwright to be included but was delighted when two were selected. Fargoan Jason Cossette’s “Let’s Make a Deal” opened the fest last Friday. Pankow says having a local writer was nice because it allowed the cast and crew to ask questions directly as the title was being prepped. Authors outside the area will be consulted through Zoom calls.
Cossette says he couldn’t offer much insight — this was his first stage play and even his first foray into the theater.
“Whenever there was a chance to write sketches, our group of friends relished that,” Cossette says. “This seemed pretty low stakes. If they liked it, they did it and if not they don’t. It’s pretty humbling that it was selected.”
“Let’s Make a Deal” follows a man into his afterlife and as he’s trying to find answers and instead finds his guide is trying to manage the experience.
Pankow directed Cossette’s play, which was filmed last Tuesday at FMCT’s Studio 6, where all of the other productions are workshopped and filmed.
Fellow Fargoan Ariel Wethern’s “Distilled” will start streaming on Nov. 6, directed by C.C. Manstrom.
All of the plays have different directors, and only a few actors appear in more than one production.
Pankow says getting as many people involved as want to be was another goal of the festival.
“People have been craving the opportunity to do this in a safe manner,” he says.
“It’s such a cool opportunity that FMCT is giving writers in town. I’m so excited,” says Wethern, another first-time playwright.
As excited as she is, she’s also a bit nervous to see her first foray into the theater produced.
“I’ll probably watch it alone, under the cover of darkness,” she says.
It’s a feeling she shares with Cossette.
“I’m probably too insecure to have a viewing party. I’d probably be crawling under my skin uncomfortably,” he says.
Pankow says the recorded show itself isn’t the whole product, as the work going into it was just as important.
“It’s about staying ourselves active and keeping FMCT in people’s thoughts,” he says. “It’s easy to lose focus, but this allows us to engage our community and keep creating theater.
How to watch
What: Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre's Ten-Minute Play Festival
When: New plays will be posted online every Friday through Nov. 20; plays will stay up into December
Cost: Festival passes are $25, or a $40 VIP pass gives access to all plays and includes a FMCT insulated tumbler; individual plays will be available on demand for $5 each
Info: Visit www.fmct.org or call 701-235-6778
Oct. 2: “Let’s Make a Deal” by Jason Cossette (Fargo); directed by Adam Pankow
Oct. 9: “Hotel Rewards” by Stephen Murray (Minneapolis); directed by Lee Klocke
Oct. 16: “Roughing It” by Judy Klass (Nashville, Tenn.); directed by Jacob Dybwad
Oct. 23: “The Bees” by Ryan Armstrong (Aurora, Colo.); directed by James Fornes
Oct. 30: “Lift” by Heidi Kraay (Boise, Idaho); directed by Dawn Gunderson
Nov. 6: “Distilled” by Ariel Wethern (Fargo); directed by C.C. Manstrom
Nov. 13: “Deadman’s Curves” by Dan O’Day (Northridge, Calif.); directed by James DeBrito
Nov. 20: “Choices” by James McLindon (Northhampton, Mass.); directed by Lori Koenig
Release TBD: “Virtual First Date” by William Ivor Fowkes (New York, N.Y.); directed by Brenna Lahren