Throughout the year, the Janesville Performing Arts Center serves as a performance space for the city’s many theater groups.

Stage One, Theatre Unlimited and Janesville Little Theatre provide entertainment that ranges from musicals to comedies and dramas.

From Jan. 18-20, all of these groups will come together for the center’s first one-act play festival.

“These groups are part of the theater all year-round,” said JPAC Executive Director Nathan Burkhart. “In this program, we’re all going to work together.”

The event will feature five one-act plays ranging from Edward Albee’s haunting “Zoo Story” to Itamar Moses’ witty “Dorothy and Alice,” the latter of which features two fictional characters who interact with each other in a nonfictional world.

Instead of casting each work individually, the directors had a cattle call—one large audition for all roles. At the end, everyone sat down to cast the plays together.

That, in itself, was an experience, Burkhart said.

“I got to see how other directors worked, how they made decisions,” he said.

Burkhart will be directing the Albee play.

“It’s one of the most famous one-acts of all time,” Burkhart said.

For a play that is only about 30 minutes long, “Zoo Story” packs in a lot of drama. Family, sex, love, death, middle-class respectability and humanity all make appearances.

There are also moments of dry humor.

Early in his career, Burkhart wrote to Albee after hearing the playwright was working on a play about identical twins. Burkhart and his brother, Alex, are identical twins, so Burkhart sent Albee a photo of the two of them.

As a result, Albee invited the brothers out East to participate in the reading of the work. Ever since, Burkhart has waited for an opportunity to direct one of Albee’s works.

Nick French will direct Stage One’s production of David Ives’ “Sure Thing,” which French describes as a “typical boy-meets-girl” story.

In the play, two characters meet at a coffee shop for a date. Every time one of them says something wrong—something the other person would find objectionable—a bell rings, and they start the sentence over.

Think of it as the movie “Groundhog Day” but condensed and more true to life. It’s funny and thought-provoking, too.

French said “Sure Thing” is a play about language and the way we present ourselves to other people. The characters in the play alter their conversation to make themselves more attractive to the other person.

It’s also a play about what would happen if we were offered a second or even third chance to say or do the right thing.

Other plays in the one-act festival include:

  • “Post-its” by Paul Dooley is a kind of realistic re-rewrite of A.R. Gurney’s play, “Love Letters.” In that play, two characters sit on stage reading letters they wrote to each other over the years. In “Post-its,” the relationship is documented in miniature, but those tiny messages can carry a significant amount of weight. “Get milk” can mean “We’re out of milk,” or it can mean “Why don’t you get off your behind and go to the grocery store once in a while?” It’s a funny, touching and true-to-life history of a relationship and marriage.
  • “Dorothy and Alice” by Itamar Moses. What happens when characters from two vastly different fictional worlds meet in this one?
  • “Ron Bobby Had Too Big a Heart” by Rolin Jones. Don’t cross the prom queen, and don’t cross your high school girlfriend. That’s all we need to say about this one.

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