In the last decade, fueled by the digital revolution, the DIY, or maker, movement has seen a massive resurgence. Popular sites such as Etsy carry a multitude of homemade craftwares, while online platforms like YouTube enable storytellers to easily share their tales with the world. However, lost in all the op-eds about the resurgent maker movement is a fact so misunderstood by de Tocqueville—that the rugged individualism encapsulated by the DIY movement and the desire to form tribes are not mutually exclusive, but are in fact complementary. The maker culture in America, ever since the days of community quilting and LSD-induced music festivals, has been much more do-it-ourselves than do-it-yourself.
This do-it-ourselves ethos is the spiritual guide for what the writers, directors, actors and audience members have been doing with the Portland-based Ten Minute Play Festival for more than three years. Starting in the smaller, now-shuttered Someday Lounge, the Ten Minute Play Festival has grown into a three-night event with sprawling ticket lines looped around SE 26th Street waiting to get into the sold-out Clinton Street Theater to celebrate the power of creativity and collaboration.
If you’re unfamiliar with the format, the Ten Minute Play Festival consists of 10 separate 10-minute-long plays all housed under a familiar theme. (The theme for this upcoming playfest is sci-fi). Under these themes, the DIO playwrights take a multitude of approaches, often leaving audience members either with wide smiles on their faces or solemn thoughts to contemplate on the bike ride home.
Participants in the plays range from classically-trained actors to inspired audience members and nobody is turned away. Opportunities for participation abound, and in addition to acting, writing and directing, there’s room to do stage lighting, show production, costumes and much more. Some of the more notable contributions have come from a variety of musical acts participating in Ten Minute Play Festivals, often times providing contextual transitions from play to play that not only keep the audience’s attention but have also received some of the rowdiest applause.
The upcoming Sci-Fi Ten Minute Play Fest on November 7, 8 and 9 marks the introduction of a new Portland band: Ellington Willoughby and the Andrew Jacksons, an art rock band that until now has performed only for the furniture in their basement. Playfest (and presenting theater company Monkey With a Hat On) founder Ollie Collins turned me on to them after watching a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, saying, “I know the audience is going to be like, ‘Holy shit, who are these guys and why have they never played outside of their basement before?’”
While themes of space and ones and zeroes will be encapsulating audiences, Ellington Willoughby and the Andrew Jacksons will be telling a story within the story of the playfest by playing chunks of their audio-visual song cycle Moonflower in between each of the plays. Frontman Tim Gottgetreu (Ellington Willoughby) will supply the keyboard and soulful vocals while the supporting members (the Andrew Jacksons) lay down spacey riffs and intergalactic layers on the canvas of a laser light show. It would seem that a sci-fi themed play festival is the perfect soil for Moonflower to germinate.
Nothing could be more indicative of the Ten Minute Play Festival’s do-it-ourselves manifesto than the introduction of this new band, not as a single quartet gracing the stage, but as part of something bigger—part of a community play revolution that is not only for the community but of the community. And it is growing bigger and better every year. See you there.