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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Voices of BTM XV: Steven Barkhimer

Steven Barkhimer
Odd I never thought of it. The Boston Theater Marathon is turning fifteen, and I moved to the Boston area fifteen years ago. It has somehow gone underappreciated by me that I was in the very first one!  So in a sense the Marathon and I have “grown up” here together. I was present at its birth, if not its conception, and have loved it from its glorious birth through its rambunctious infancy. And even though it has outpaced me in terms of reaching a certain maturity, my feelings for it are entirely undiminished.

But oh! I remember it as a kid – it was so lively, so exuberant, so – so impossible! And yet, there it was! Organized as intricately as a multi-pronged military invasion and running with the efficiency of a Swiss train. And all taking place, quite improbably, in the space so many of us now regard as home, the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.

An incredible scene. The hallways, the green room, the shop, the bathroom, the fire escape, all packed with actors, dressed in suits and Spandex, bathrobes, tiaras, tutus, clown shoes, scuba gear; directors giving the final notes before the cast is fired from the torpedo chute onto the stage; the indefatigable and unflappable Mark Olivere weaving deftly through the throbbing mass of coiled excitement while somehow juggling chairs, tables, barstools, bars(!), doorways, platforms, bathtubs, beds, potted plants, so that every ten minutes the stages (yes, plural -- stages!) could alchemically transform every ten minutes from bedrooms to bus stops to offices to outer space. BOTH stages packed with ready and responsive audiences hungry for the sudden, the strange, the sad, the hilarious, the profound, all of it right in their faces, too close to be safe. And every play being performed twice, once in the long narrow theatre in front, and once to a completely different audience in the more squarely squat back theatre. For hours and hours and hours. Everyone’s superpowers being used for Good. To be there was literally like being IN love.

But though the Marathon has “always” been a part of the theatrical landscape here since I arrived, I’ve not ceased to marvel someone had to be ambitious enough,  competent enough, yes, crazy enough, to bring it into being.

Kate Snodgrass has lo these many years been the architect and magician who orchestrates this enormous event, this hive of industry, this lovefest. She has so inspired this theatrical community that an army of artists perennially conspire, in a furiously dense casting-and-rehearsal period, to actually mount fifty ten-minute plays in ten consecutive hours. We’re talking hundreds of people. And that’s just the production end! Prior to the Herculean efforts of the performers, directors, stage managers, lighting and sound technicians and artists, house managers, etc., there are – of course – the playwrights!

The BPT receives hundreds of scripts to consider for the Marathon, from famous playwrights, from not-so-famous playwrights, from scores of writers who simply love to write. All of which have to be read and assessed, requiring another pool of people, and multiple reads and recommendations.  The plays must then be chosen (!) and farmed out to, or chosen by, theatre companies for production, so that the directors, actors et al can be assembled and schedules devised and props collected and wardrobe discussed so the play can be rehearsed.  

Daunting. Mind-boggling. AND – it’s all voluntary! No pay. Because the entire event…is a benefit.

Which means that all this energy and time, all this creativity and discipline is offered – yes, for exposure, for showcasing, for hearing new work, for mingling at the party – but ultimately, in an exalted but very real way, for love. Of all these varied crafts converging, of the communal event of theatre, of Kate (no sense denying it) who got the whole ball rolling and continues to roll it. Of the possibility of transforming our work, and the enjoyment of the hundreds of audience members (some of whom stay for the entire ten hours!), into a fund available to someone in a time of need. That is sublimation. That is alchemy.

--Steven Barkhimer

We hope you’ll join us tomorrow, May 12,  for Boston Theater Marathon XV (and for The Warm-Up Laps today!). Click here for tickets and event details. See you there!

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