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Two theatre companies compete head-to-head during Salem’s Cherry Blossom Theatre Festival

The welcoming sign at Salem’s Historical Grand Theatre, beckoning to audiences and actors alike on performance day. Photo by Sam Wright

From March 8–10, 2019, the Salem Theatre Network held their third annual Cherry Blossom Theatre Festival, featuring nine workshops and three performances, two of which were part of a competition called the One Act Play Festival, held by the Oregon Community Theatre Alliance (OCTA), a branch of the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT), and use the competition to decide who will go on to the regionals, then possibly on to the nationals which is held by the AACT.

The Salem Theatre Network, consisting of thirteen member theatre companies, started the Cherry Blossom Theatre Festival only a year after it’s inception in 2016, and scheduled it to coincide with the Cherry Blossom Day and festival as well as the AACT and OCTA One Act Play Festival competitions.

“So we had a request from one of our member companies, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a city-wide theatre festival here in Salem.’” Jay Gipson-King, part-time theatre instructor at Chemeketa and founder and current president of the Salem Theatre Network stated, “…We collaborated, you know it’s a city-wide collaboration between our thirteen member companies who created an event that no one theatre company could do on it’s own with the goal of bringing the Salem theatre community together, downtown, for a three day celebration of theatre in and around Salem.

As with any production, the Cherry Blossom Theatre Festival experienced its own setbacks and surprises, with the weather being one of them.

“Fires pop up and then we put them out, But through the power of theatre magic, everything works out in the end,” said Gipson-King, “Right at this moment my concern would be snow…However, the show must go on. It cannot be rescheduled so we’re putting this on whether it snows or not. But the performances are all inside.”

The theatre festival, now on it’s third year, first started as featuring several performances compared to only holding three this year and have a large amount of workshops. The reasoning behind this sort of set up change was simple.

“The One Act fest is only an every other year event, so we didn’t have it last year…” said Gipson-King, “This year the focus was on the One Act fest, which is tied into this national competition…”

Only two out of the three performing theatres were competing this year. Verona Studio presented their production of Full Frontal Nudity by Terrence McNalley and Theatre 33 presented Into Me See, a new original by Chad Berk. The showcasing production by Gallery Theater was The Other Room by  Ariandne Blayde, and was about an autistic boy named Austin and how his mind reacts and works as shown with four other characters acting as his thought processes as he interacts with a girl named Lily.

Full Frontal Nudity had three tourists and a tourist guide in Italy visiting Michelangelo’s piece, David. Despite having a first impression of comedy and lightheartedness, the characters dive into some serious topics such as death, philosophy, and whether or not David caused traffic crashes.

Into Me See, the new original, is actually still being worked on and edited, even as it goes through it’s first performances. This is often the case with newly released play scripts and is why some versions can vary greatly from one to the next. The first performances are often a test run to see what works in the production and what doesn’t.

As for how the competition is set up, there are three adjudicators, three experts in theatre production, who are chosen to view and read all of the plays, including the showcasing performance. All of the performances have ten minutes to set up their setting, 60 minutes to perform, and 10 more minutes to deconstruct and be off the stage. They are judged on all three of the time limits and are not required to meet the maximum of said time limits, though they cannot go over.

While the adjudicators watch they will make notes and afterwards use those notes to critique each performance immediately after they are finished. These critiques are not always on what the performers did wrong or what they need to improve, although those are included. Comments and explanations of what were done correctly are also often shared.

The showcasing performance does not go through the adjudication and critiquing stage, it only goes through the time limits.

These critiques are then used to determine which performance will move forward on to regionals and which will not. The continuing performers are then welcome to use the criticism to better their performance for the next competition, and the performance that didn’t continue may still use their criticism received to better their performances in general.

No recordings of any kind of the performances are allowed, and an announcer explains the rules and regulations of the competition to the audience before each performance, including the showcase.

“ Part of the fun of the festival is that you get to watch, you get to listen to this feedback,” stated Gipson-King when asked about the critiques, “So that used to be kind of intimidating, but we’ve all seen that on TV and the dozen different talent shows that we have now, so we know what that looks like. The difference being that the feedback is helpful and thoughtful, supportive rather than just like, witty put-downs about… how bad it was.”

This year’s performance that will be continuing to regionals is Verona Studio’s Full Frontal Nudity production.

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