Friday, February 23, 2007

ON STAGE: As in 'American Idol', the audience and judges select The Strawberry One-Act Festival winners

They're baaack! The audience, judges and wild card have spoken: Welcome to Norway's cast and crew are survivors. They have advanced from last week's round in the 12th annual Strawberry One-Act Festival to the next.

The next showdown will be staged tonight at Manhattan Island's Riant Theater. Check the schedule.

As I posted in "Kissing and Telling," Welcome to Norway (by writer-director Robin Anne Joseph) is about a woman (played by Laura Maggie Kramer) who "discovers a powerful lesson about life's destinations and how to accept it." Also acting up acting out acting again in the production will be my pal, Stephen Plaushin.

Although thespian rather than musical, the Riant Theater's competition smacks of American Idol (sans Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest, of course), but it's better. According to the Riant Theater website:

The Strawberry One-Act Festival [...] is a play competition in which the audience and the theatre's judges cast their votes to select the best play of the season. Twice a year, hundreds of plays from across the country are submitted for the competition, of which 40 are chosen to compete. Plays move from the 1st round to the semi-finals and then the finals. The playwright of the winning play receives a grant and the opportunity to have a full-length play developed by the Riant.
Van Dirk Fisher created the Strawberry One-Act Festival a dozen years ago to find and nurture best-in-class talent. I'm sure he also recognized it as a good device to garner attention and revenues for the competition's venue. The same can be said for FOX-TV's creators of American Idol (which debuted less than a decade ago).

Despite their similarities, the series' philosophies and approach differ drastically. The Strawberry Festival's producers publicize the competition at the Riant Theater as "a wonderful opportunity for the audience and the industry alike to see some of the best talent in the nation." The festival staff cherry-picks the Strawberry Festival entries and presents only the best-in-class contenders. Submissions that don't pass muster never see the lights of the Riant's stage, and consequently are never seen by the festival's audience. And the audience - although involved (they vote by ballott) - is tame and civilized.

American Idol drums up drama differently. Each season, early episodes of the hit FOX-TV reality series feature the show's talent-shopping spree and weeding-out process. Ratings are spiced by screening samplings of well-done, medium-well, and bloody-bad performances. Selected performers who make the cut are served, like raw meat, to the judges and TV viewers, whose worst remarks couldn't possibly rival Simon Cowell's notoriously cutting, sometimes vicious comments.

If the Strawberry One-Act Festival suits your palate, check it out. Two flavors are available: sit down and take out.

Admission to sit down in the theater costs $20-$25. To take out, view the productions online at the day after they are performed on the boards.

To Stevie and company: break a leg!