30 readers pick plays for festival

In the first week of February, Chris Moore received 30 plays in his e-mail inbox. All of them were written by students.

Over the next two and a half weeks, Moore and a team of 29 other readers helped pick the 14 plays that will be performed at the annual Playwrights Festival starting tomorrow.

Moore, the festival’s producer, loves to talk to his students about the rigorous play selection process.

“When I took over the festival, I wanted to make sure it was as fair as possible,” Moore said. “There are other festivals where a creative director has some say. I don’t do that.”

Instead, Moore relies on a computerized voting system that gives every reader an equal vote and spits out a ranking of the plays. Moore then will pick plays in order from the ranked list until he has filled about two hours and fifteen minutes at each of the two performance venues, although part of the time is reserved for performances by the Scene Monkeys, a student improvisational comedy group.

Plays are given to the readers, the majority of whom are professional writers, actors, producers or script readers, only after they have been stripped of the author’s name, age and previous writing experience.

This year, 26 of the readers read every play, and the remaining four each read one of two groupings of 15 plays. Readers were asked to rank the plays from 1 to 30, as well as from 1 to 15 within each group.

Moore worked with math and computer science teacher Paula Evans and performing arts producer Ruth Chobanu to create a computerize system to rank the plays, he said.

In order to decide how many plays would be chosen, Moore had to estimate each play’s length. He generally assumes a play will take the same number of minutes to perform as it has pages.

Based on the estimates, Moore will start picking plays from the ranked list until the timeslots at both venues are full.

“There’s no way it could be any fairer,” he said.

Having read all of the plays several times helps Moore in casting. This year, 105 students auditioned and were cast. To audition, actors performed a monologue before a panel of directors who lobby for actors to fill roles in their play.

Though an unusually large number of plays were selected this year, the number of submissions is down from 57 last year, Moore said.