Circus extravaganzas have long been theater's eccentric, mustachioed cousin—glitterized spectacles for audiences packing peanuts over opera specs. Monkey With a Hat On puts performance back under the big top with a circus-themed Ten Minute Play Festival this weekend. Because, "let's face it, Portland is one big circus," said Ollie Collins, who founded the fest in 2011. True to tradition, some Portland playwrights keep it light with "a comical, screwball, kids-show style whodunnit for adults" in The Curious Case of the Lion Tamer's Missing Head and in Travis Abel's Together, a conjoined-twin love story. But even bawdy Jim Rose fans couldn't resist waxing cerebral: Clowns rejoin the normals, a bearded lady searches for moral support, and, in Cirque du Tomber, a wounded trapeze artist faces an existential free-fall.
Collins wants his Monkey to serve up a variety of shows, cheap just like the rings of a big top. Hence a fiver for 10 plays from 10 playwrights, each 10 minutes long, in an extravaganza of fake beards and beasts. Though, naturally, this circus has near-vegan sensibilities. We asked the playwrights 10 questions, and according to this somewhat official WW poll: eight of 10 playwrights agree that shows with live animals are cruel and should stick to exploiting humans.
WW: What impressive thing can you do in under 10 minutes?
Stefani Varney (Going Home): Eat a dozen doughnuts…not proud of it, just sayin'.
What animals should circuses have?
Jacques Von Lunen (Clown Posse): We need more hamster numbers.
What important thing is missing from most circuses?
Travis Abels (Together): Doors for the dressing rooms. As a toddler, I peeked through a flap to the lion tamer's room and will never be the same.
What circus staple (i.e., bearded woman, trapeze artist, elephant trainer) would you be?
John Bacone (The Curious Case of the Lion Tamer's Missing Head): Trapeze artist—I think I would be good at painting the trapezes. Ian Waite: Ringmaster, as I already have the mustache.
Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros. or Jim Rose Circus?
Ariel Jaime (Stop Motion): RuPaul's Drag Race.
If you did a sideshow act, what act would it be?
Chris Rentzel (The Freak Within): The human spatula. Sam Richmann: Flip cup.
There are a lot of superstitions in circus (stepping in elephant poop, whistling under the big top, wearing green). Do you have any?
Kari Smit (Bearded Ladylike): No theatrical superstitions, but I used to hold my breath when crossing bridges, which I had to stop when I moved to Portland, where we cross several bridges every day.
Best circus snack?
Tanner Padbury (Going Home): Roasted peanuts, duh.
What aspect of Portland is like a circus?
Ravyn Jazper-Hawke (Cirque du Tomber): Bearded ladies, inexplicable unicycles and a sense of self-entitlement (she says lovingly).
Can you summarize your play in 10 words?
Ginger Clark (C.R.S.—Clown Re-Integration Services): Clowns attempting to reintegrate into "normal society" while failing hilariously.
SEE IT: The Ten Minute Play Festival is at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 238‑5588. 7 pm Friday-Sunday, March 27-29. $5.