Thursday, May 15, 2008

For the eighth year in a row, Collaboration's annual festival will deliver a fusion of arts

by Diana Bae

Sketchbook Festival is "boredom-proof," says Anthony Moseley. So for those of you who don't normally like the traditional stuffy theater you might be used to, this show could be the one for you, according to the executive artistic director and festival director of Chicago-based arts organization Collaboraction.

Starting with the opening night performance Sunday and a UR Chicago co-sponsored afterparty at Motel Bar, Collaboraction's Sketchbook Festival returns to the Steppenwolf Theatre for its eighth year in production with a collection of 14 short plays. Over the years, the festival has "evolved into a full sensory experience," Moseley says. "It's a fusion of theater, music and Web 2.0."

The Web component refers to the unique brand of audience participation that Sketchbook will employ for the first time this year. By going online to the group's website (, audience members can submit original videos, audios, sketches, writings and photographs to the festival. During performances, the submissions will be projected on floor-to-ceiling screens, making it seem "like you're immersed," Moseley says. The setup of the performances will also further encourage audience integration, as they will be seated around an octagonal setup, with performances in the middle.

The concept behind Sketchbook started "with the idea of how to make theater and the consumption of art as accessible as possible," Moseley says. Collaboraction decided to get rid of any divisions between the various branches of art and eventually merged together theater, music and the visual into one show. They started taking submissions from aspiring playwrights to get the best of the bunch and made the performances less than seven minutes to keep up the accessibility of the festival.

For people coming to see Sketchbook for the first time, Moseley says that they will find it feels like an event rather than a show. "It's built for audience enjoyment and sharing what it means to be alive," he says. The performances in their entirety are made for those who "like to consume art and has a slight touch of ADD," he says.

The shows will not be sacrificing quality for quantity, though. This year, there were 400 play submissions, 600 actor hopefuls and 100 director applicants -- which were cut down to 150 artists total, according to Mosely. The plays are all "on the highest caliber. They're top-notch," he says. In addition, because they were all written in the past few months, you get a "great feel of now," he says. "It's totally invigorating, inspiring and fun."

Sketchbook Festival opens this weekend at the Steppenwolf Merie Reskin Garage Theatre (1624 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650) and runs every Sunday through June 15;