UpStage Napa Valley 2022 PlayFest

Susan French

Interview with playwright Michael Waterson

Upstage Napa Valley is calling all playwrights or aspiring playwrights for their Second Annual PlayFest.  This local playwright festival focuses on 10-minute plays, which is a genre that began in the late 1970s and has soared in popularity to become one of the most popular type of plays today.  

“Writing a full-length play is very intimidating to most writers, but a 10-minute-play is doable” says Michael Waterson, a Napa Valley playwright, actor, performer and poet who had three plays chosen for UpStage Napa Valley’s premier 2021 festival. “The 10-minute-play gives local playwrights a chance to get produced and, since these plays don’t usually involve royalties,  they are much more affordable for small theaters to perform. This short play must be complete, with a beginning, middle and end, and present deep character transformation within the limited time frame.”

UpStage has announced this year’s prompt to be “Looking for Normal…”. All scripts must be original and written for no more than four performers, with a setting in one location, and a performance length of between 10 and 20 minutes. Plays must be submitted by May 15 to  UpStage Napa Valley, P.O. Box 277 Calistoga, CA 94515. Or email: Announcement of chosen entries will be mid-June and, over the following months, the plays will be performed by UpStage actors.  

How do you write a 10-minute-play? According to Michael Waterson, “You must hit the ground running to fit in conflict, arc, and resolution is a very short time. The text is 10-15 double-spaced pages when written in the correct format for submission. There is a wealth of information on the internet. The best place to start is to enter “how to write a ten minute play” or “best 10 minute plays of 2020” or “how to format a playscript” on your browser. Many of us have had ideas for stories floating around our heads for years that we’d like to write or perhaps an event brings a new, burning idea. The 10-minute-play gives a short-commitment opportunity. If you’re a writer you are just typing the words that come from your brain.”

One of Waterson’s short plays, which UpStage Napa Valley chose for its 2021 playwright festival, is “Absolution”.  The idea for this very powerful play came from Waterson attending his 40th high school reunion in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania more than a decade ago.  A classmate shared that he had been molested, as a boy, by the parish priest after a fieldtrip.  The classmate didn’t go into detail, however that event triggered Waterson to write “Absolution”.  

“Going to confession is very psychoanalytical, so you put your trust in this person, especially if you’re a child,” explains Waterson. “Therefore, being hurt physically and mentally by a priest is extremely damaging.  Instead of blaming the perpetrator, the victim often takes responsibility and blame for what happened.”  

To view the film “Absolution”, performed by two local actors, go to the link on UpStage Napa Valley’s website  There are also other films available under the link “Video Series”.  These videos were UpStage Napa Valley’s solution to performing during the pandemic when live audiences weren’t an option. While there is no charge watching the videos, donations to UpStage are greatly appreciated. 

“Our mission is Theater from the Heart. Theater not only entertains, it can engage and heal,” says Sharie Renault, Artistic Director for Upstage Napa Valley. “Each of our plays deals with meaningful—often difficult—real-life issues and, yet, there is always a positive message within each of these stories. After each performance, there is an open discussion between the actors and the audience to bring an even deeper connection to the experience. 

“We are a volunteer community theater in our sixth year of performances. Our venue is Newton Hall of Grace Episcopal Church on Spring Street in St. Helena. We draw the majority of our actors from members of the community, as well as our playwrights for PlayFest.  This year, a university professor in Puerto Rico, Rosalina Perales, who is also on the UpStage Napa Valley script-reading committee, is having a few students write plays for our playwright festival in Spanish. Their plays will be a welcome diversity to our performances.  We hope to see you at UpStage Napa Valley!”