Know Theatre’s Tamara Winters is straightforward when asked why the Over-the-Rhine theater launched Serials! a year ago: “We wanted to give audiences a reason to keep coming back. We keep bringing it back because it’s working!”
Late last summer, Serials! featured scripts by five playwrights delivered in 15-minute installments across five alternating Monday evenings. Know, the producer of the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, envisioned that the series would bring back audiences that flock to OTR for the Fringe.
A second round of Serials!, “Thunderdome,” (this past February and March) made it more competitive: After each performance, audiences voted for favorites. Two low-voted works departed, and two new pieces were added.
On Monday, Serials! begins its third iteration. The theme is “Round House.” Five serialized tales have been conceived, but after the June 29 performance (7:30-9:30 p.m.), writers will trade places and continue a script someone else started or continued. That round-robin process repeats on July 13, Aug. 3 and 17, finishing up on Aug. 31.
“The sight of a standing-room-only audience in our Underground Bar for the kickoff of ‘Thunderdome’ last winter was thrilling,” Winters says. “On a Monday night we filled the place with enthusiastic theater lovers hungry to see brand new, untested material — and they kept coming back. There’s an audience for the new and adventurous in Cincinnati.”
The titles of the next five works are Hanging with Ben, started by John Bromels; #RoxyBalboa, launched by Andy Simpson and Alexx Rouse; In the Weeds, from Kate Fine; The Good, the Bad and the Elderly, from Robert Macke; and Fire Down Below, by Ben Dudley. Bromels’ So In Tents was popular in the “Thunderdome” series earlier this year; Dudley is the only writer who’s participated in all three series.
Bromels says Hanging with Ben begins with its central character stranded atop Carew Tower, exclaiming, “It started out like such a normal week.” What follows, Bromels says, is a flashback that begins to tell how this came about. “By starting the play at the end and then jumping back a week, I sort of planted a homing beacon for subsequent writers: Whatever you do, he has to end up here eventually.”
Dudley’s Fire Down Below is based on a short story he wrote several years ago: “A married couple wakes up in the middle of the night to discover that the floors in their McMansion have turned to lava.
She is downstairs, he’s upstairs, so they struggle to reunite in the foyer, hoping the lava is just on their floors, since their daughter is at a slumber party across the street.” Dudley says it comments on suburban superficiality.
“The couple is forced to overcome it to reunite their family,” he says. “I’ve wanted to revisit this story, and I think it’ll make for a good serial.”
Bromels, who works with a local improv troupe, thinks taking a crack at stories other writers have conceived will help him develop creatively. As does Dudley.
“Working on Serials! has been great in terms of meeting new actors,” he says. “The pool of people I work with has grown exponentially.”
Bromels envisioned his “Thunderdome” script, So In Tents, as a Web video series, but didn’t have the time or the resources to get it off the ground.
“When Serials! came along, it was the perfect way to tell the story,” Bromels says. “Without this opportunity, it would never have gone beyond an idea in my head.”
Serials! has provided new opportunities for writers and actors, says Dudley. “There’s not a ton of pressure, so we can take chances on new writers and actors,” he says. “Fifteen minutes is much more manageable for a new actor or writer and for audiences giving shows a try.”
“The Know is really the only theater in town giving local playwrights this kind of opportunity,” Bromels says. “It’s an important part of the theatrical landscape that shouldn’t be ignored. Know is committed to returning a healthy portion of performance revenues to the artists involved. That makes it a partnership between writer, director, actors, staff and producer.”
Bromels says Know is providing those resources for local writers in a welcoming atmosphere that encourages the avant-garde and isn’t as concerned about how many butts the play will put in seats.
However, he’s quick to add: “We still do need to fill seats.” Tickets are just $15 per evening.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]