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Creaking stairs. A theater that was once a church. A century of history.
Playwright Joe Hendren's first stab at writing a mystery script already has a perfectly creepy setting in the Lakeshore Players Theatre building.
But one unusual twist of Hendren's play, "Killing Time," is its compactness -- it has a mere 10 minutes to unfold.
"Killing Time" is one of 10 plays to be featured in this weekend's Sixth Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival, and the only mystery. The festival is made up primarily of comedies written by playwrights from around the country, including four from the Twin Cities.
For Hendren, this is his first whodunit, but not his first play, or his first time at the Festival.
Hendren, of Spring Lake Park, also wrote a play that was staged at the 2008 event, he acted in one last year and he has directed a production at the Festival each year.
In all, he has written a dozen plays, seven or eight of which have been performed by area theaters.
"I write for the same reasons I direct, act and draw -- I like to create. I like telling stories that haven't been told," Hendren said.
In this year's contest, the White Bear Lake community theater selected 10 plays from more than 200 scripts entered. Submissions were reviewed by a committee and read aloud without knowledge of who authored each work. Hendren's script stood out because of its genre, said Judi Kaper, chairwoman of the festival committee.
"When I read 'Killing Time,' I thought it was unusual to get a murder mystery script that tied it all up in 10 minutes. It's really very well done," she said.
18 months equals 10 minutes
Hendren said that "playing around" with the mystery's structure took him a year and a half. To keep the play brief, he reversed the traditional order of events, with a detective bursting in at the outset and announcing that he knows the murderer's identity. The play unfolds from there.
Hendren was asked to direct a Festival play again this year. Because he also submitted a script that was selected, he had the option to direct his own work, and he decided to go for it.
The Ten-Minute Festival originally was conceived as a supplement to Lakeshore Community Theatre's regular season. It has so well received that season ticket holders have requested its inclusion in the regular season package, said Managing Director Joan Elwell.
Not a 'flash' in the pan
The popularity of the 10-minute play, sometimes called "flash theater," has increased over the past decade, with several Minnesota theaters adding such festivals.
Elwell said the Lakeshore festival gives the audience a chance to see many new plays in one night. The collection of brief plays also is "an easy introduction to the theater for newbies," because it's approachable and has something for everyone, she said.
In the future, Hendren plans to continue writing scripts and to pursue publishing his plays. And he hopes to one day found a theater company based in northeast Minneapolis. He said he will likely continue working with Lakeshore, where he's also starred in three full-length productions, including two mysteries.
"There's a familiarity there," he said. "It's sort of like a little family."
Erin Adler is a Minneapolis freelance writer.