Arts, Coronavirus, Features

Boston Playwrights’ Theatre adapts its annual marathon to maintain social distance

The Boston Theater Marathon, an annual celebration of 10-minute plays and fundraiser for the Theater Community Benevolent Fund, has become a daily virtual event for the next six weeks instead of a single, 10-hour day to showcase all 50 plays.

Actors perform in a play at the 2017 Boston Theater Marathon, an annual fundraiser showcasing 10-minute plays. The 22nd edition of the event is being hosted virtually this year, with one play performed each day on Zoom. COURTESY KALMAN ZABARSKY

For the last 22 years, the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre at Boston University has been showcasing 50 plays of 10 minutes written by New England playwrights, all performed on the same day, with proceeds benefiting the TCBF.

Darren Evans, the managing director of the BPT, said the marathon was scheduled to take place April 19, but was moved online in response to the coronavirus.

“Obviously we were not able to do that once BU shut its campus down,” Evans said. “So the team came together and we decided, ‘hey, you know, maybe we can still do something,’ still raise some money for the Benevolent Fund and for a lot of these theater companies who are having to cancel productions and they’re hurting.”

Jeffrey Petersen, the production manager and technical director of BPT, said the marathon usually raises money through ticket sales to support struggling theater artists. This year, the BPT has waived admission fees, but Petersen said the theater’s mission is especially critical during the pandemic.

“This year, it’s kind of weird because there’s not really any overhead cost. It’s really just 100 percent going towards the charity, which is great,” Petersen said. “None of the actors get paid and it’s always a volunteer effort to raise money for the fund. And the ironic thing, of course, is that the fund is needed more than ever because everyone’s out of work.”

The Theater Community Benevolent Fund began in 1997 as a way to support local artists with medical bills, and now supports many theater performers. The Boston Theater Marathon, established by Kate Snodgrass in 1999, was the “first substantial contributor to TCBF,” according to its website.

Snodgrass, the artistic director of BPT, said she believes the 10-minute play is an effective way to expose audiences to theater.

“[Ten-minute plays] are sort of like Cracker Jacks — you eat one, and then you want another one. It’s very fast. And if you don’t like one, it’s over in nine minutes,” Snodgrass said. “It’s a real audience pleaser. And then the fact that we can get 50 of them in one day, and the audience can move in and out all day long on one ticket.”

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt everyday lives, the BPT and arts institutions around the world are looking to bring art to those unable to leave their homes, Snodgrass said.

“We need it, especially at this time. It’s a scary time. Some people are very depressed to be alone. And theater is always someplace where we can go to connect to each other,” Snodgrass said. “We’re all sitting in a room together responding to the art that’s in front of us. And I think it’s important to keep that up. We can’t give up and we have to continue to connect, because that’s how we’re all going to band together.”

The marathon will show one 10-minute play each day at noon via Zoom through May 17.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Boston Playrights’ Theatre and identified the photograph as from 2019. An updated version corrects the spelling of the organization and correctly identifies the photo as from the 2017 Marathon.

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