The Second Annual PlayGround Film Festival bears the fruit of the cross-pollination of Bay filmmakers and playwrights. A film festival with its roots in play writing, the festival showcases the evolutionary process from seed to stage to screen. PlayGround provides creative nurturance and collaboration from inception through development. But the process is also one of elimination. The six films in the film festival are the result of natural selection.
Each of films in the festival -- which runs through May 25 -- started life as a short play developed and produced by PlayGround, the Berkeley-based theater company dedicated to nurturing new playwrights. The festival's six short films were adapted from plays previously selected for the Best of PlayGround theater showcase. Each of these plays started life in PlayGround's Monday Night reading series. And even before this, each script started life as a writer's prompt; Monday Night PlayGrounds are structured around a different theme each month.
PlayGround has been cultivating the works of early-career playwrights since 1994. Through its Monday Night staged readings, 650 original short plays have been developed. PlayGround alumni have gone on to stage their works at the Humana Festival, Sundance Festival, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Aurora Theatre's Global Age Project, and N.Y. International Fringe Festival, among others.
Last year, artistic director Jim Kleinman and the company decided to mix some fresh talent into the gene pool by coaxing collaboration between playwrights and filmmakers. By providing an opportunity for film directors to team up with theater writers, the festival encourages partnerships that result in cross-bred outcomes.
"So many films get made that are good in every respect, they may have great production values, but if the script isn't there, the film wont be first-rate," said Amy Harrison, who adapted Kirk Shimano's play Miss Finknagle Succumbs to Chaos for the current film festival. "It's really all about the quality of the script. With these playwrights, the battle is won."
One innovative component of the festival's film screenings is that each film is followed by a short documentary about the playwright. Each playwright speaks of the theme or "prompt" that inspired his or her play.
In yet another layer of PlayGround's multiple levels of collaboration and inter-disciplinary cross-pollination, PlayGround partners in discussions with Berkeley's Mathematical Sciences Research Institute to inspire the popular "Math Night" theme. Mathematicians discuss concepts with PlayGround's pool of playwrights and five days later, the writers produce plays based on these talks. Several of the films in this year's festival have their origin stories in these one-night stands with math nerds.
For instance, Kirk Shimano used a discussion of Patterns of Chaos as the foundation for Miss Finknagle Succumbs To Chaos. But the dynamic film, a teen-view missing persons mystery with a repressed librarian at its comedic core, has more in common with comic books, after-school specials and rom-coms than with mathematical theory. Harrison said she doesn't really understand chaos theory, but she did email Shimano over and over again to find out his precise interpretation of the word "duh."
In the documentary following Bruce Coughran's Undone, writer Diane Sampson explains that her play -- about parental ties, the limits of attachment and mental illness -- had its genesis in the concept of the "unknot" an aspect of knot theory.
Other stand-out plays in the festival are distant descendants of their writers' prompts. Playwright Geetha Reddy said she used the theme "State of the Union," as a very loose prompt for Obit, her compelling short play about an aging father and his adult daughter coming to terms with death, debilitation, and memory. Sean Owens' clever play Climax, was prompted from the theme "On the Verge," but it really takes its inspiration from Noel Coward's witty banter.
The film festival overlaps with the Best of Playground 17 theater festival, which opens this week. Both festivals represent the final rounds in what amounts to the Bay Area's most rigorous (or only) game of Survivor –- the playwright's edition.
The PlayGround Film Festival runs through May 25, 2013. The Best of PlayGround 17 runs through May 26, 2013. For tickets and more information go to playground-sf.org.