Helena’s Last Chance New Play Fest, now in its sixth year, runs Nov 8-17, and features several new projects by nine Montana writers, including full-length, one-act and short plays. Performances are staged at Free Ceramics.
This grassroots theatre event celebrates the works of local and regional playwrights including Brian Massman (Helena), Craig Kenworthy (Seattle/Bozeman), Michael Donohue (Kalispell), Rachel Dean (Havre), Susan Dunlap (Butte), Ross Peter Nelson (Helena), Steven Palmer (Helena), Rebecca Ryland (Clancy), and Barry Stambaugh (Helena).
Montana Short Cuts, a program of 10-minute plays, returns to the festival with the theme, Genetically Modified. Eight different authors responded to a call sent out last March.
Their futuristic interpretations of the theme include “But That’s Not What We Ordered” by Craig Kenworthy, about made-to-order babies; “Dystopia!” by Ross Peter Nelson, in which a game-show emcee offers contestants a chance to win big prizes as the world crumbles around them; and “Genetically Modified” by Michael Donohue, where a woman faces punishment for genetic engineering.
A Taylor Swift-loving, crossword puzzle-solving bear runs afoul of the law in “I, Grizzly” by Barry Stambaugh; and a couple debates whether to remove the genetic risk of deafness for their child in “Lens” by Rebecca Ryland. “Ticked Off “ by Rachel Dean explores a future where vegetarianism has become a religion,
In “Tweaked Breed” by Steve Palmer an aging cowboy and a former stripper reminisce about the changes genetic engineering has brought to the rodeo and their own offspring; and in “VS.” Brian Massman deploys Dr. Seuss-style verse in an array of conflicts, including a cattle rancher attempting to deprogram a vegetarian.
In a one-act play by Palmer, “Showdown at Lost Creek Ranch,” the director of a reality TV series tries to maintain control of a dude ranch gone wild.
Siri intervenes in a budding romance between a convict and a magician’s assistant at the Berkeley Pit in Susan Melinda Dunlap’s full-length work, “Pitiful Beautiful Pittance.”
In Nelson’s full-length dark comedy, “Becoming Number Six,” government agents show up to inform a mother that her teenage son may be guilty of illegal hacking, only to discover the youngster has disappeared. His play has been seen in New Orleans and took second place in the Las Vegas Little Theatre New Works Competition.
Most of the actors who perform at the festival are local to Helena, and have acted at Carroll College, Grandstreet Theatre or with the Helena Theatre Company. Dunlap, author of “Pitiful Beautiful Pittances,” is bringing her troupe from Butte.
Rebecca Ryland, who serves as executive producer, founded the festival with playwright and co-producer Steve Palmer. Nelson came on board a year later, and continues to serve as a co-producer, handing publicity and promotion.
He also produces his own work – which includes two plays in this year’s festival – “which means I have to find a director and actors for any piece I’d like to present. It also means I’m running lights and sound for that show, which keeps me hopping.”
The festival, now in its sixth year, continues to attract new audiences. “Last year, for the first time, we had to turn people away,” says Nelson. Organizers hope to move to a new venue in 2020 with double the seating.
Show times vary; check the online schedule for details. Tickets are $10 per show or $25 for an all-festival pass, and available at the door or at Fire Tower Coffee.