An example of community theater that facilitates the power of people to imagine and create new realities and communities for themselves is alive and well in Burnsville. Since its founding in 1998, The Chameleon Theatre Circle has served artists and audiences South of the River by staging nearly 70 plays and musicals, many of them original scripts by contemporary playwrights.
The company's work has been recognized over the years by numerous awards at state, regional, and national levels of community theater festivals, including the biennial MACT•Fest, sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres. Chameleon also gained broader visibility when its 2000 production of "Hair" was featured in a PBS broadcast.
As it takes up residence in the new, Burnsville Performing Arts Center, the Chameleon will look to extend its horizons further when it opens its 12th season, Sept. 18, with "Paper Dolls" by Timothy Braatz, playwright in residence.
In addition to a Playwrights In Residence program – Braatz and Rick Raasch currently hold the positions – the theater cultivates and nurtures new work through its annual contests. This year, more than 300 playwrights from around the world made submissions to the 10th Annual New Play Contest.
Following a multi-panel process that started last October, eight plays were selected to receive concert-style readings in the Annual New Play Festival, held at the Burnsville center's Black Box Theatre, Aug. 29. The plays were selected based on Full Length, One Act, and 10 Minute categories.
Full Length Category:
"Ponzi on Sunday," by Jon Steinhagen, Brookfield, Illinois. In August 1920, famed financial advisor and guru C. W. Barron invites immigrant Charles Ponzi to his office for a “pleasant chat” after newspaper editorials suggest Ponzi's quick rise to wealth is based on fraud. A cat and mouse game follows between two men who want everything but will admit to nothing.
One Act Category
"Cue," by M. Thomas Cooper, Portland, Oregon. Four Hamlet characters – modern 1970s, classical, female interpreted, and German avant garde – find themselves together backstage waiting for a cue.
"Merry-Go-Round," by Sam Wallin, Vancouver, Washington. A circular play of interlocking scenes and the story of people pushed beyond their means, sacrificing the long term for the short. Pimps, prostitutes, hit men, office workers, CEO's, politicians and robots all play a role in this exploration of society on the edge.
10 Minute Category
"Old/Bored/Trouble/Dead," by John Allison, Ewing, New Jersey. Many parents have had a conversation with a teenager who refuses to appreciate loving care. Janine finds herself alone with her grandmother, who finds a way to actually engage Janine in such a conversation.
"Have Your Cake," by Sara Ilyse Jacobson, Washington, D. C. Lily, a 20-something woman, wakes up in bed with Caleb and Max, her two 20-something roommates.
"Good God Enters Flossing," by J. Stephen Brantley, New York, New York. It's a normal morning for Josh, Dinsmore, and Billy until the Ark of the Covenant appears in their living room. What sort of message is God sending, and why would He choose a trio of trendy Brooklyn queers to spread the word?
"The Winner is...," by Arash Karami, Irvine, California. After Stalin receives a letter saying that for the second consecutive year Hitler has outdone him and won the Best Dictator Award, Stalin's assistant and masseuse help him to absorb the assault on his fragile ego and brainstorm new and better strategies to win the next year’s award.
Submission by Playwright In Residence:
"Cossacks Under Water," by Timothy Braatz, Laguna Beach, California. Three stories come together onstage: Dmitri and Tolstoy's 19th century Cossacks; four 21st century Iowans in a town flooded with water and outsiders; and Lynn, looking back at her “journey” as she prepared to stage “The Cossacks.”
Each play generated a variety of informed discussions and insightful observations from dozens of audience members who arrived and departed throughout the day.
"As far as what this play was about ["Cossacks"], I really didn't care very much," said one observer. "I just really watched these characters interact."
Another attendee said the premise of "Good God Enters Flossing," in the 10 Minute category, was "really interesting – and now I want the whole play."
Of the four readings I attended, only one clunked, and that so badly that I wondered how it had survived the juries. "The Winner Is..." was poorly written from a lousy premise and featured pedantic preaching. Nor was it funny. No one should waste money giving it a full production.
In prior years, the Chameleon has produced seven scripts that have emerged from previous contests. Tickets for the six plays in the 2009-2010 season are available at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center box office, 12600 Nicollet Avenue, just north of Burnsville Parkway. You also can get them from Ticketmaster, but why would you?
The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council provided funding for the festival.