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March 8, 2012

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By the time you read this, resistance will be futile. Chattanooga will have already been invaded by more than 4,000 actors, directors, designers, playwrights and theatre students for the 63rd Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC). Might as well join the party—and there are plenty of parties to join.

Though SETC serves as a professional opportunity to audition for actors of every age, and also offers a large range of classes and seminars for theatre folks, the five festivals, which are open to the public, are an amazing opportunity to see theatre of all kinds, right here in town. Several charge no admission, and the ones that do are a bargain. The Pulse spoke to the directors of all the festivals to get a flavor of what’s on the menu this year.

The Community Theatre Festival

Happening right at our own Chattanooga Theatre Centre, the Community Theatre Festival brings in the winners of individual contests in states covered by the SETC. Though all the participating theatres in this festival are called “community,” they are characterized by professional-level commitment from actors and directors, and the eight plays this year run the gamut from the recent Broadway offering “God of Carnage” (presented by the Tupelo Community Theatre from Mississippi) to the life-in-the-South favorite, “Dearly Departed” (presented by the Artists Collaborative Theater from Kentucky). Edgy fare comes from the West Virginia company MT Pockets Theatre, which is presenting “I Am My Own Wife,” the true story of a German transvestite who survives the Nazis.

“SETC was last here in 2004, and the area has changed since then,” says CTC Producing Artistic Director George Quick. “It’s very exciting, because you get to see what theatres are doing all over the Southeast.” The rules for doing a show in the festival are very specific, explained Festival Director Lyle Tate. “Each entry has 10 minutes to set up their playing area in a 10-by-10-ft. square, 60 minutes to perform, and 10 minutes to strike.” Participants are timed, and running long affects chances to win the competition.

“Theatres of all sizes compete in the festival. Some are very urban, some are very rural, but they all have the same passion for theatre,” says Tate. “If you can’t travel to eight different states to see theatre, it’s all here in Chattanooga—and you can’t beat the price.

Tickets are $10 for a “block” of shows, and the festival runs from 9 a.m. on March 9 to 1:30 p.m on March 10. For more information on shows and times, visit setc.org/theatre/ or theatre.first-sports.com.

Theatre by and for young people

Two separate festivals appeal to the young and the young at heart.

The 2012 High School Festival, at the Tivoli March 8 and 9, brings in high school theatre production winners from all over the region. Like the Community Theatre Festival, the 19-show line-up has huge range, from original plays to some musicals to classics. The entrants have “45 minutes from bare stage to bare stage,” says Festival Director Amy Hochinson. Although many of the participants do not go on to pursue theatre careers, some do, she says, and in any case, “It’s fun to see the kids up there. They care so much about what they do. It’s a chance for them to take their work where people have never seen it before. They work with their peers and build relationships.”

Productions this year include “Scenes from Metamorphoses” by Mississippi’s Oxford High School, “Radium Girls” by South Carolina’s Wando High School, and “How I Became A Pirate” by Tennessee’s Cordova High School. Blocks of tickets are $20; visit setc.org/theatre.

Local company Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga has an entry in SETC’s popular free Theatre for Youth Invitational Festival, March 8, in the Marriott Ballroom at the Convention Center. ETC will reprise founder Garry Lee Posey’s own “La Llorona: Three Tales,” a production based on Latino folk tales, still touring in local schools. “ ‘La Llorona’ was commissioned by the Latino Arts Project, and we revamped it for submission to the festival,” Posey says. “It’s not a typical children’s play, and appeals to a mixed audience of children and adults.”

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March 8, 2012

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