Short + Sweet Manila’s fourth year is a flurry of fast-paced plays

If there’s one downside the internet age has brought us, it’s that it has shrunk our attention spans to about half of their original capacity. We expect everything to be instant. We consume our media in the time it takes us to scroll through our Twitter feeds (in other words, two minutes every hour on the hour). The thought of enjoying anything in long form — articles, books, movies, plays — requires a rethink because it is now a luxury that takes up more than our “free” time will allow us.

But as we become busier with our lives, the content we consume has also adapted to our needs. Which is not to say that it’s become an instant, watered-down version of the original. Short + Sweet Manila aims to deliver the theater experience in a concise yet packed way. Now in its fourth year, the theater festival sets a limit of 10 minutes for each play, presenting about 10 plays with varying topics and genres each night. The festival is part of a bigger brand of Short + Sweet events, which was founded by writer and director Mark Cleary in Sydney, Australia in 2002. Since then, the festival has taken place in various places around the world, including Mumbai, Singapore, Canberra, Kuala Lumpur, Newcastle, Chennai, New Delhi, Dubai, Bengalaru, Penang, Brisbane, and of course, Manila. This year’s Manila festival also has the most participating writers in the local festival’s history.

Attending the festival is quite an experience, to say the least. Although the show runs for an exhaustive two hours or so, the quick pace of the 10-minute plays can either a) entertain you throughout with quick set changes and a myriad of topics and genres, or b) tire you out to no end, leaving you overwhelmed by the same myriad of topics and genres. Either way, the format is nevertheless praise-worthy: each play has the challenge of introducing a world, its characters, its plot and premise in 10 minutes or less — the format itself is novel.

The most interesting aspect of the festival is how each playwright and director attacks their presentation. Some succeed more than others, of course: the most effective plays are those that drop you in the middle of a situation, providing context clues throughout, telling the audience how the characters got there, what they’re doing there, where they’re going next. Don’t expect a full-blown play that will spoon-feed you all the details — it’s just not the place for it. These 10-minute plays demand as much from the audience as it does from the people presenting it; watching each requires a certain sharpness and presence of mind. It’s kind of like eavesdropping on a couple of amigas gossiping about their friends’ husbands in a coffee shop — you gotta piece things together.

The lineup of short plays change every week, with three sets — Set 1, Set 2, and Wildcards. Before the start of each show, the audience is given a sheet of paper with checkboxes next to the titles of the plays to be shown that evening, so the audience can rank their favorite three plays. Expect a flurry of different stories and different ways of presenting them — just make sure you’ve got the attention span for it.

Short + Sweet Manila’s 2017 season runs until Oct. 1 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Makati. For tickets and more information, visit their Facebook page.

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