Working Title: The Unexpected Routine

Will Leschber gives us his second article in an on-going series of comparisons between local theater and the endless horizon of the film world.

One free evening last week, I had the chance to catch one of the many running shows in this years SF Fringe festival. Beforehand I asked the opinions of friends in the Bay Area Theatre scene in an effort to find a show of quality. This was my local equivalent of checking Rotten Tomatoes. Neither of these methods is by any means fool-proof but they do usually provide a general gauge of quality that can help point one in the right direction. I settled on “Serving Bait to Rich People”, a one woman show about a bartender in a high-end sushi restaurant.

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While very entertaining with quite the charismatic performer, this Fringe Festival entry by Alexa Fitzpatrick was more stand-up comedy than a traditional play. Here was a challenge. Since there were no theatrical design aspects, this unexpected routine made for a hard comparison when attempting to dissect at how the tools of the Theatre stack up against the tools of Film.

The story elements could easily be drawn upon for comparison but is that enough? Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film Waitress might make a great juxtaposition. 2005’s Waiting… starring Ryan Reynolds may well work if we were to draw upon the comedy instead of highlighting the romantic entanglements. Then again since this is a stand-up comedy story why not talk about last year’s Sleepwalk with Me that focuses all about the process of an up and coming stand up comedian, Mike Birbiglia. All of these films are worth checking out but in the end none of them seemed exactly right for a side by side assessment. However, this presented an opportunity to take step back and look at a different aspect of what made the evening a unique theatrical experience: short form theatre.

The prevalence of short form theatre in the Bay Area may not seem quite the unique thing, but ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a short play and when was the last time you saw a short film in the theatre? We are graced with a number of short form play festivals here: The SF Fringe Festival, Bay Area One Act Festival, The San Francisco Olympians Festival, Pint Size Plays to name of few. All of these showcase short plays in part or in full. These can be premium in and out experiences. They don’t waste time. They showcase a lot of talent. And if you don’t care for the piece, it’ll be over soon. The access to short form film, on the other hand, is entirely different. A theatrically released short film is quite a rare thing. You get the occasional Pixar short that is released to the masses but mostly wide release short films are relegated to the arena of animation tacked on to a larger full length feature.

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Short film is simultaneously harder to see and easier. Viewing one on the big screen is uncommon but one can find a myriad of them online. But then does that change the film watching experience into something else if we can only access what we are watching at home on a computer screen? I think it does.

Watching theatre live is intrinsic to the experience. Similarly, something is lost when you take film out of its natural environment. I’m not saying that there is no place for film outside of a movie theatre. Obviously films need a life outside the big screen. But I am saying that viewing film outside of a movie theatre alters the experience. I think it a shame that it’s so hard to find short film in theatres. Every year creative teams win Oscars for making a live action or animated shorts but who is ever able see these things? The Oscar Nominated Short Films are normally bundled together during Oscar season and released in a limited theatrical engagement. It’s a wonderful change of pace to see high quality short film on the big screen. I recommend it.

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In the business of film, the main-stream market for this is almost non-existent. No one makes money off short film so they are left to the internet. Just like in short form theatre, short films can be a brilliant experience. Take a chance, seek them out.

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One comment on “Working Title: The Unexpected Routine

  1. Well, yes, an hour of theater is shorter than a two-hour film, but it’s got a hell of a lot more dialogue!

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