12-minute celebrations at the 2012 Islands Playwrights Festival

“Six and Counting

Writing plays is the cheapest form of therapy there is, according to Greg Sutherland.

He should know because he’s written at least six plays in the last seven years.

“When you’re writing and trying to process thoughts, feelings and emotions sometimes you don’t fully understand them until they’re on paper,” Sutherland said. “It’s a way to access those feelings.”

His play “the edge of the map”  about the video game, Kinect, working as a catalyst for life-changing decisions in a relationship, is one of six plays selected out of 13 entries for the upcoming 2012 Islands Playwrights Festival running at various times from Feb. 3 – 18 at the Gubleman Theatre.

And all the shows are 12 minutes locally written, directed and performed.

This year, selected plays share the theme of “Celebrations.” and will be performed with a simple set of two chairs, one bookcase, a table and small couch to emphasize the scripts rather than the stage, said Jane Maxwell Campbell, the festival’s coordinator.

The up close and personal plays are connected through the broad theme of celebration, but Maxwell Campbell said the diversity of different topics is what makes the festival wonderful, that and the lightness.

“We could all use a celebration as we make our way through the dark winter and deep snow,” said Maxwell Campbell.”It’s nice to have a comedy.”

Maxwell Campbell added that she doesn’t see any disadvantages to the sparse set, but it provides an extra challenge to the actors and writers — one that they have taken in stride.

Rather then defining it as an advantage, Sutherland calls the set and time limitations an exercise, “it’s like giving us a sandbox and telling us to create a sandcastle in the sand, the set is the perimeter, the edge of the sandbox.”

Writing a 12-minute musical was a challenge for Jan Zurcher, but it was easier than the writing of a 10-minute show, which was her task last year.

“Now we have two extra minutes,” Jan Zurcher said with a laugh about writing her original play “Love (At First Sight) Takes Time.”

The piece is a play within a play set in the 1920s and features three songs. She estimates that it took about four weeks to write.

Jan Zurcher and her husband, Jim Zurcher,  wrote one of the songs, and then she decided to build a play around it.

They’re used to collaborating after producing several children’s books, and creating a children’s puppet show that ran on Canadian television. Since moving to San Juan they have performed the puppet show at local venues like the library.

As a veteran writer she said that there are more similarities between writing a song and writing a play then what people might assume.

“Song lyrics should have a story and have a messenger to tell the story,” said Jan Zurcher. “They have the same structure needed to pull everything together.”

This year’s musical “Love (At First Sight) Takes Time” will also be Jim Zurcher’s directing debut. He worked on his wife’s play last year with Ed Wilson to learn the art of directing.

He is also the author of a play, which will be performed during the festival. “For Heaven’s Sake,” which follows the main characters’ arrival for his entrance into heaven and his discovery of something much different than what he imagined.

Over the last month, Jim and Jan Zurcher have been running rehearsals for the upcoming show. Jan Zurcher comes with guitar in hand as she will be accompanying the singers in the play she wrote.

When the play hits the stage, she said she hopes people will enjoy it and “walk out humming the songs.”

Sutherland takes a back seat during rehearsals, only attending one to make small tweaks if the dialogue doesn’t sound quite right.

“I have tons of faith in Doug Schirmer, we really understand each other, there’s no question of trust,” Sutherland said.

Then he attends the opening night, a show during the middle of the run and closing night.

“It’s really fun to see what everyone has been creating in their sandbox,” he said. “It’s fascinating the quality and quantity of writers on the island.”


Here’s a look at other plays featured in the festival:

— “The Island Empty Nest Party” by Mike Buettell follows three women as they contemplate and plan an empty nest party to follow the departure of their children for college.

— “Six and Counting” by Carol Hooper explores how a birthday celebration becomes a sweet battle of wits and humor set in a happy family environment.

— “Pennies from Heaven” by Patricia Hansen begs the question — is it a dream or reality when a woman receives a message from her deceased mother that could change the daughter’s life.


For more info visit, www.sjctheatre.org.