8 reasons to see Heller Shorts (according to the cast)

Heller's annual short play festival keeps even the performers on their toes, September 8-10.


The cast of "Two Lies and a Truth?" poses backstage.

John Orsulak


One of the most unique theatrical events of the year is Heller Shorts, wherein a collection of previously unproduced short plays by local writers are brought to life onstage. Though there is usually an over-arching theme (this year's "The Dog 8 My Shorts" denoting flimsy excuses as the theme), the individual plays are all over the map as far as style and content. So, we went straight to the cast and crew to find out why this is an evening you won't want to miss.


1. It doesn't get any "fresher" than this

The structure of the production encourages shake-ups; writers cannot direct or cast their plays, and scheduling conflicts play as much a role in casting as who likes to work with whom. The result is many combinations of local talent onstage and off that might never have occurred otherwise, collaborating on unproduced work.

"It's exciting to work with this talented group of people, while putting your personal touch to a new, original work," says Andrew Nichols, who plays Rick in Daniel Hitzman's "Free Kittens." 


2. The meta-structure

To string the 8 disparate short plays together, a pair of narrators (Beka Schenck and Bryne Zuege) engage in a drama of their own to keep the evening moving. "They have their own story going on while all of the shorts are being performed," says Kia Dorsey, who directs "Two Lies and a Truth?" and plays Trish in "A Dip in the Pool" by Jenny Clyde. "The actors get 10 minutes on stage, but those narrators are there the entire time. I love watching them."


3. Plenty to love (or not)

One of the adages you'll hear from Heller staff every year is that if you don't like a play, don't worry, it'll be over in 10 minutes. Heller Shorts, like the Oklahoma weather, can be summed up in one word.

"Variety," says Pat Hobbs. "Funny, sad, tragic..." The actor who plays the Time Traveler in "Two Lies and a Truth?" says the silly tone of that play directly contrasts the much darker and more dramatic "Sedatives" by young author Quinn Blakely. 

"This year there is a very strong diversity of genres, including thrillers, sci-fi, mystery, and comedies," agrees playwright Daniel Hitzman.


4. Collaborative creativity

On a project like this, there's no room for ego, and it shows. "It's definitely a team effort," says Tabitha Littlefield, who stepped up at the last minute following a cast drop-out. "Writers, directors, and actors working together is needed for it to be successful. But everyone has been so welcoming and supportive." Ah, theater at its purest.


5. Old, familiar faces...

"My favorite thing is being with my fellow theater nerds," says Barbara Murn, who plays Mom in "Two Lies and a Truth?" by Arthur C. Williams. Alongside her in that piece you'll see Pat Hobbs, who has been active in the scene for decades, and Tabitha Littlefield, who somehow manages to be in literally everything (I'll have what she's having). The similarly ubiquitous Andy Axewell appears in two of the short plays. Frank Gallagher, local theater legend, directs "The Commemorative" by the equally venerable Susan Apker.


6. ... And new ones, too!

"We have a lot of people who haven't acted before who are doing a really great job," says Charles Walter, who is directing one play and acting in another. It would be truly terrifying as a newbie actor to perform alongside the seasoned who's-who of the rest of the cast. It's exciting to hear that the new talents can hold their own — I wonder what sort of raw energy they can bring to these already hot-out-the-over short plays?

The only way to know is to go see.


7. Watch writers up their game

Sure, you can sit alone and write in your room all day, but you can't take it to the next level until your play gets on its feet. And you, audience, get a front row seat to that Pokemon-level evolution. "It's so exciting to have your play produced," says Nick Lutke, Heller's communications director and "Kittens" actor. "Being a part of that experience for playwrights is incredibly rewarding for me."


8. Support hyperlocal theater

"Knowing that our community can produce some really excellent 8-minute scripts is amazing," says Walter.

The whole endeavor is an incredible feat of community effort, as the writers, actors, directors, stage managers, designers, and on and on are all right here in Tulsa, actively producing original work.

"My favorite thing is getting to work with new people, see original work be encouraged, see other actors push themselves to try new things," says Justin Tomlinson, who performs in "Sedatives" as Dalton. "There are so many great things about the Shorts."


Heller Shorts 2017 - the Dog 8 My Shorts

Friday, September 8 at 7:30PM
Saturday, September 9 at 7:30PM
Sunday, September 10 at 2:00PM

Nightingale Theater
1416 E 4th St.

Purchase tickets here.

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