By: Jun. 27, 2017

Imagine you've been given a deadline from 7pm Saturday to 7am Sunday to receive a genre and a prompt by email and in one day, write a short play. Now combine that with having from 8am to 8pm on Sunday for a selected director to block your show and actors to rehearse and memorize lines for your play in competition 8pm that evening.

Brianna Larson participated in an event like this in college and was inspired to helm this innovative concept. A recipient of Theatre Tampa Bay's Jeff Norton Dream Grant in 2014, she used her $500 grant to seed her vision, 4x6 Fest which challenges local artists to write and produce new short plays in 24 hours.

Now in its fourth year, the one-of-a-kind competition has consistently drawn standing-room only crowds. Brianna is especially excited to help discover new artists, the same way she was discovered. In college, she auditioned to be actor for a similar event and the roles were full. The founders encouraged her to participate as a playwright, despite having never written a play before. History was made.

"I won best play for the first play I ever wrote," she said. A love of playwriting became a passion for sharing original works with local audiences.

Despite an obstructed view by the judges' table, what I saw was pretty incredible. If the director and cast was at all stressed due to the limited rehearsal time, you could not tell during the eight performances that took over CL Space on Sunday June 25 to vie for audience and judge's favorite. Each playwright had to take the phrase "if I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I'd be rich" and place it logically into the dialogue.

Below are the eight short plays featured in the 2017 4x6 Fest, in the order of appearance:

Fairy Tale Play #1: HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Written by Betty Jane Parks and directed by Rachel Krolak. This short play told the story of fairy tale characters Angel Borths and Nicu Brouille being slowly brought back to life by the magic of Julia Rudgers reading a book. Contrasted by Julia's sadness, Angel and Nicu had the audience and I laughing with the adorable performance and use of an extraordinary prop.

Soap Opera Play #2: THE GENERAL DALLAS DAYS OF ALL THE REST OF OUR CHILDREN'S LIVES EPISODE 10,543. Written by Kara Goldberg and directed by Katie Mae Wilcox. Featuring Rick Stutzel, Gloria De Luna, and Yve Cedrez, if you've ever suffered through a soap opera episode, this trio brought it to life on stage expertly. With overdramatic pauses, ridiculous facial expressions, and the-wrong-person-drinking- the-poison storyline, they nailed the genre. Yve stole the show with her "pregnancy" and dual-personality and I literally laughed out loud when Rick woke up and it was all just a dream.

Farce Play #3: EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE. Written by Will Newkirk and directed by Dawn KidlE. Kelly Clow, Ron Regan and Nicole Haumesser revealed what happens when a completely oblivious server carelessly reveals your affair with the office redhead on the night of your anniversary dinner. This group's comedic timing was exceptional.

Film Noir Play #4: BLACK COFFEE. Written by Kevin Michael Wesson and directed by Nick Hoop. With the perfect musical notes wafting in the background, part-homage to, part-parody of film noir, saturated with cynicism, Jesse Hutson, Erica Garraffa, and Alicia Carillo made this script easy to picture in black and white on the big screen. Like dancers in a perfect sync, Erica and Alicia puffed on their cigarettes and dramatically asked their mysterious roommate about his work. My favorite part was when the intense Jesse unexpectedly turned off the music to say his lines about watching people.

Rom-Com Play #5: STARTING FROM MATCH: Written by Taryn Alexander and directed by Johnny Garde. Ryan Bernier, Mallory Steffes, and Taliana Bosio showed the audience what it is dating online in 2017. When Ryan said "I do know the difference between you're and your" and actually explained this, not only did we laugh, but educators in the audience silently applauded.

Horror Play #6: MAMA. Written by Ricardo Soltero-Brown and directed by Christen Hailey. Featuring Maddison Wise, Spencer Wise and Jordan Harner, MAMA was disturbing. The use of flashlights as the only means of lighting shining directly on the victim in the chair and the use of twin actresses accentuated the psychological creepiness of this short play.

Memoir Play #7: THE MOSCATO DIARIES. Written by Pete Zalzianik and directed by Gabe Flores. Faith Von Minden, Sam Eppes and Derrick Hutek were perfect telling the non-linear storyline of "the digital meat market" - two women sort of dating the same man and the painful (for Derrick) repercussions of such a triangle.

Historical Fiction #8: SEPTEMBER 18. Written by Lisa Vilamil and directed by Zachary Hines. Nathan Juliano, Katie Eichler, and Jessica Watzman brought to life a timely story of how 9/11 impacted not only us, but our children. When Nathan asked, "feel like flying a plane" to Jessica who is shroud in a hijab in the school principal's office, the audiences' gasp was audible. "It will just blow over" couldn't have been a more revealing, reflective and poignant line during our current time of racial and cultural divide.

After Brianna tallied the final scores of audience and of judges Joe Palmer Caridge, Peter Nason, Octavia Smith, David Warner, and Jonelle Myer, it was no surprise when SEPTEMBER 18 swept Best Playwright for Lisa Vilamil, Best Actor for Nathan Juliano and Best Play. SEPTEMBER 18 will go on to compete in Tampa Bay Theatre Festival's Short Play Competition on September 3rd.

Lisa admitted afterwards that she was worried that it was too soon and questioned whether she had the right to write about something so important to our history. "I was really shocked when I won. I was so pleased that it was so well received."

In addition, the judges awarded Dawn Kidle for Best Director of EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE and Erica Garraffa for Best Actress in BLACK COFFEE.

For Audience Choice Awards, Nicole Haumesser won Favorite Costume for a gorgeous gown in EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE; BLACK COFFEE for Best Use of a Genre; The dragon in HAPPILY EVER AFTER for Best Use of A Prop; STARTING BY MATCH for Best Use of the One Liner, and HOTTEST PERFORMER went to Ryan Bernier in STARTING FROM MATCH.

Brianna is extremely happy with the outcome of her fourth showcase and has been encouraged to do 4x6 Fest biannually.

"I was thrilled when SEPTEMBER 18, a drama with such substance won, as comedies tend to dominate," she said and added. "Check our Facebook page for information. I might be doing another 4x6 Fest in winter."

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