Three University of Minnesota students and a buddy have put together an evening of 11 short plays, created in isolation and performed by actors at their computers. /Provided by Quarantine Bakeoff
University of Minnesota student Gus Mahoney was walking around New York a few weeks ago, having just seen one of the last performances of "The Inheritance" on Broadway, when he got the bad news that the U was closing classes through at least April 1. Immediately, he thought, "This would be an opportunity for a bake off."
There's no baking in this bake off. Mahoney was inspired by an event led by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel when she was in town two years ago for a production of her "Indecent." Her bake off asked participants -- writers and non-writers -- to create a short play in a specified period of time. To be eligible, each play had to include several key elements.
Mahoney participated and, although it was "not great," his play was chosen. Inspired by that experience, he began organizing with fellow U of M/Guthrie BFA acting students Nigel Berkeley and Willie E. Jones III, as well as playwright pal Daniel Holzman. Last week, they sent out word, expecting "100 entries at most." But they got 50 times that, from as far afield as Australia and Japan -- every continent, in fact, except Antarctica.
About half of the 5,000 would-be writers who expressed interest ended up submitting scripts, which had to be written within 32 hours and include these five elements: a bottle of hand sanitizer, a virtual duet, a light in the darkness, a moment of mass panic and an empty store or other space that would usually be full of people. For extra credit, entrants also could include a flower or some flour.
As entries poured in, the quartet of organizers realized, as Mahoney said, "There was no way we could read all those scripts." Quickly enlisting 80 theatermakers to help judge, they went through several rounds, winnowing down the entries to 10 winners.
Those are the plays -- plus an eleventh, which is about Mahoney and his fellow Bake Offers -- that will be read at 7 p.m. Wednesday, giving an opportunity for about 20 fellow BFA actors to actually act (albeit, from home and in front of their computers) and for starved theatergoers to enjoy some plays. It will be free to watch at the Quarantine Bake Off YouTube page.
That won't be the end of this particular viral phenomenon. Mahoney said they're already talking with Ithaca College and NYU students about keeping it going and they may reconvene to read more semifinal plays at the YouTube page. He's also putting together a fundraiser to cover costs and pay participating actors.
Information about how to contribute and keep up with other Quarantine Bake Off activities will be posted at the group's website.
Meanwhile, Mahoney and compadres -- who are also trying to figure out how to study acting when they're confined to their homes -- are having no trouble keeping busy.
Said Mahoney, "It's been the craziest week ever. It's like I’m one of the few people who is busier in lockdown than I am in life."