7th Annual Short Works Fest Commits to Collaboration

"Drink every time house right cackles and/or Chloe cackles from behind the curtain."


At this year's opening night of Sundown Collaborative Theatre's Short Works Fest, there was no shortage of goofy cackling and large intake of beverages due to the onslaught of jocular performances and an interactive drinking game lead by Artistic Director Chloe McDowell respectively.

Upon paying for tickets at Black Box Theatre, people are advised to grab a drink (alcoholic and not) on a donation basis and participate in an on-going list of things to drink to throughout the show. The list eventually reached the end of an originally blank, highlighter green poster McDowell held as audience members, friends and actors found comfort in shouting out their ideas coinciding with the performances they were seeing. 

Short Works Fest's mission statement outlines collaboration, exploration, individuality and innovation and the nine performances for the past Friday night harmonized back to back with emotional dance, Black Mirror plotted and comedic short plays, and some gorgeous burlesque fan dance. 

Another drink prompting statement on the list said to drink every time you see the same actors, althought it was never excessive, these performers displayed their range and enjoyment for each designated character.

One short play titled "Are You Happy Here" was laced with lighthearted language that almost made you forget it could actually just as easily be a plot to a nightmarish Black Mirror episode. In this play, Paolo is contained in a society which monitors his happiness. The society provides him everything he would need to be at his optimum happiness but he still cannot seem to be satisfied. In the end, his monitors, seeing there was nothing else they could do granted him freedom to ultimately give him the happiness he desired. Although short-lived, the creative plot and the actors commitment to their disillusioned characters and society made it a great first play to see in the night. 

One of the most cackling-inducing pieces came from "The Play is the Thing," which tells the story of Hamlet commissioning a theater company to write a play about the death of his father, King Hamlet. The theater company wittingly committing to the exact same mission statement as Sundown, showcased three hilarious reenactments of the death of the king, using piercing opera, a didgeridoo, and sheet ghosts. The classical and serious display of Hamlet played by Nolan Chapa, was a perfect match to the debauchery caused by the hilarious individuals in the acting troupe. Hands down, this one was the ultimate crowd-pleaser. 

A special shoutout also goes to "Aisle 8," where Kurt Van Zandt playing a grocery store clerk named Joe, made his theatrical debut in this hysterical and heartwarming tale. Emilia, played by Melanie Barth, lays down in the middle of aisle 8 wailing about her husband leaving her after being unfaithful, and 17-year-old Joe bears witness as he stacks cans at the end of his shift. When Emilia finds out the teen's mother has left Joe and his father who is disabled, they both come to the twist ending that his mom left them for Emilia's husband. Terrible by default, they both find peace in each other's comfort with Joe inviting Emilia over for dinner with his father. There should be a highlight reel of Barth and Van Zandt's fantastic facial expressions which made this play enjoyable and relatable because same to the public crying and same to the awkward and uncomfortable blank glares. 

There was more than plays, though, (as much as I want to go on about them (also, meta shoutout to Robert Linder in "How ya doing New York" who, with a mouth full of white Smarties, named his drug of choice as "Speed" while a cloud of white powder exited his mouth as well. It was just brilliant.)) But aside from the plays, there was also dance.

Ultimately, the incredible dancing lead to the punishment of the audience as they were to drink every time the performers did a move that your best dance self could not do. From the playful and sweet “Bless Bliss” which opened the show, to the emotion and intensity prompted by “Affliction,” the collective heart of the audience was pleased and shattered in between the plays. Then there was Dahlia Derringer's classic burlesque fan dance called "Migration" which excited and gathered audible support for her gorgeous and well-crafted use of those hot pink fans. The talent really jumped out! And she did it again as a solo dancer under her name Leah Estick.  Estick ended the night with “Fulfill,” a colorful and impassioned tribute to Dr. Linda Caldwell a dancer and faculty member of TWU who passed away this past semester.

There was a lot going on in the intimate and slightly smelly Black Box Theatre last Friday night. Considering night one only featured nine of the 16 performances, feeling the love, tenderness, community and collaboration in the room is worth buying tickets to this upcoming weekend's performances with more in store. The fest has one more weekend of performances and begins at 8 p.m. on each weekend night at the Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $12 or $10 for students and seniors. Oh - and don't forget to donate! For more info, check out the Facebook event page

Photos and header design by Tori Falcon.