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So serial

Heller Theatre Company has a new way for you to spend Sunday night

The Agora Event Center felt buzzy on November 12th as actors and writers anxiously studied scripts for the evening's installment of Heller Theatre Company’s Second Sunday Serials. Hostess George Romero, who dreamt of this format for years, was excited to see it come to fruition.

For the Serials, playwrights submit a short play or plays (around 10 pages, or ten minutes) each month. The best five are chosen and performed in front of an audience on the second Sunday of that month. The audience votes for their favorite, and in the following month, the top three continue their story and two new plays begin.

The plays are meant to be both connected and self-contained, so audience members can follow the storyline without having seen the previous installment. Updates are provided for continuing plays.

Romero and company keep things simple and pretty DIY, offering a low-key gateway for new writers to break into theatre.

“Anybody can tackle a ten-page play,” said Romero, “but taking on a full play can be overwhelming.”

The first play that evening, "Prairie Tales," had a “Twilight Zone” feel to its story and characters. Set in a gas station in the desert, the plot was intriguing and made me want to know what would happen next—which, I suppose, is the point. The second play, “The Heist,” written by Josh Gammon, was a humorous crime caper told from the viewpoint of bumbling, bickering criminals. This was followed by a detective noir spoof called “Jack Dickey and the Swarthy Gentlemen,” written by Quinn Blakely. All three plays were well-acted—the depiction of Montago in “Jack Dickey” was among a few shining examples.

We were given a short intermission to refill our wine glasses or grab some cereal (get it?) while the actors got ready for the last two plays.

“Take 5” by Geoffrey Yeager had a more serious tone, and it probably suffered due to this fact. It’s difficult to make an audience care deeply about a character in such a short time—and this story was overly complicated. The final play, “Whatever’s Whatever” by Justin Tomlinson, had similar problems.

Alas, the first three were chosen to carry on.

This renegade take on theatre proved to be a fun and interesting way to spend a Sunday night. Who knows, perhaps the Serials will provide us with our next Tracy Letts, or, even better, a breed of playwright we’ve never seen.

Plays must be submitted to secsunsersub@gmail.com by the first of the month. There is no submission fee, and playwrights may submit up to two scripts each month, though only one by each writer can be performed per month.

Monthly performances will be held on the second Sundays of Dec., Jan., Feb., March and May at Agora Event Center, 1402 S. Peoria Ave., #200, at 7 p.m. Plays may contain mature content and adult language. Ticket admission is $5 at the door. For more information, visit hellertheatreco.com.

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