The Family Comes Together for the Boston Theater Marathon

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday May 10, 2014

The Boston Theater Marathon is Thanksgiving Day for the Boston theatre community. We are all busy with our own lives, but once a year we come together and spend the day with the family.

There are other days during the year that the theatre community comes together, like during award ceremonies, but instead of seeing one another and saying, "It's been forever. Oh, yeah, I heard that was great," on May 11, starting at noon and running until 10:00 pm, 54 New England theatre companies will get to share some of their work.

"The BTM is the great equalizer of Boston Theater. We all go on the same journey, casting, rehearsing, performing, enjoying, celebrating," says Jeffrey Mosser whose theatre company Project: Project will have only a little over 10 minutes to set up and perform a entire show.

Mosser's theatre company doesn't have the money or the reputation of theatre companies like the Huntington and the Speakeasy, but this Sunday his work will be given the same amount of time and resources as those groups. It will have an opportunity to share its vision alongside its peers, its mentors and its heroes.

"One would think that a 10-minute play takes 20 minutes to write. In fact, a 10-minute play can take weeks to write," says co-founder of the Gloucester Stage Company, Israel Horovitz, whose play "Finally" will be in the festival this year. Horovitz has been contributing a play to the Marathon every year since the event began in the 1990s.

It was earlier in that decade that the 10-minute play form took shape and became popular. Up to that time the one-act play was the standard in short form theatre, and that could last for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour and a half. It seems that people hesitated to put time limits on creative expression, and few people thought that a complete story could be expressed in such a very short time.

"A 10-minute play still requires a story worth telling," continues Horovitz, "character development, character delineation, idiosyncratic dialogue, rising and falling action, a strong clear dramatic event, and a devilishly well-observed lesson in life for its audience."

Jon Jory, producing director at the Actors Theatre of Louisville has been given credit for originating, and certainly for popularizing this short form, using it as almost an audition for the work of unsolicited playwrights who wanted to have their plays considered for the ATL's Humana Festival.

But it wasn’t just new playwrights that started writing in this genre. Well-established writers like David Mamet and Christopher Durang all gave this kind of playwriting a go.

Jory compared the 10-minute play to "a theatrical bolt of lightning" in early published collections of these works. "It doesn’t last long," he said, "but its power can stand your hair on end."

The Huntington Theatre Company is a strong supporter of the BTM, and as such they’ve donated use of the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in Boston’s South End. The event is also supported by the Boston University Center for the Humanities and by individual donations.

"The Boston Theater Marathon keeps me in touch with my Boston roots," concludes Horovitz. "I’ve always loved Boston’s size, with a theatre community small enough to get your arms around, and large enough to get its arms around each playwright, actor, director, designer."

What really makes the BTM a "family event" is that all net proceeds from the ticket sale go to the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund. Many groups contribute to charitable organizations and so many things seem to be done "for a good cause," but money that goes to the TCBF is money that will stay local and really help out the New England theatre community -- not just the professionals or the names that shine most brightly on the marquee.

The TCBF is run through Stage Source, a non-profit organization that provides leadership and services to advance the art of theater in the Greater Boston region.

Since 1997, the theater community has been coming together in this fashion to throw a parties and events like the BTM in order to raise funds to help its members when a catastrophic occurrence happens, as they do for all of us. These can be things like extreme illness, devastating acts of nature such as floods or hurricanes, or the misdeeds of other people, such as vandalism or theft.

Stefan Lanfer will be part of the BTM for the first time this year. His play "Hadron Collision Therapy" which he describes as "a meeting of marriage therapy with particle physics" is being produced by Charlestown Working Theater.

Like so many playwrights, Lanfer struggles to get his plays recognized. "The creative life is so full of thin envelopes, form emails, and long droughts of discouragement," he wrote about the experience.

"Then came... a letter from Kate Snodgrass and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre," Lanfer continued, "’Congratulations!’ (It said.) Ba-BOOM! An artist’s hair stands on end."


WHAT: Boston Theater Marathon XVI
presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
featuring 53 plays by 55 playwrights by 53 theatre companies

Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
at the Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Street, Boston

May 11 from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.

TICKETS: $25 tickets in advance and $35 tickets at the door. The all-day pass allows patrons to come and go as they please. Purchase by calling 617-933-8600 or visit


WHAT: The Warm-Up Laps and One-Minute Sprints presented in association with the Boston Center for the Arts and the Dramatists Guild of America

"Romeo Chang" by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich
Supported by SpeakEasy Stage Company
One-Minute Sprints begin at 11:50 a.m.

Reading begins at 12 p.m.

"Judith" by Julian Olf
Supported by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
One-Minute Sprints begin at 1:50 p.m.

Reading begins at 2 p.m.

"One Day Earlier" by Constance Congdon
Supported by Huntington Theatre Company
One-Minute Sprints begin at 3:50 p.m.

Reading begins at 4 p.m.

WHERE: Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Street, Boston

WHEN: May 10

TICKETS: Free and open to the public; seating is limited and based upon availability.