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Queens Chronicle

Snippets of acts to come with play fest

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Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2013 10:30 am

Named for the small Ohio town in which its founder grew up, the Piney Fork Press Theater is bringing one installment of its inaugural play festival to Queens on June 15, spotlighting eight short plays averaging about 10 minutes apiece.

Best of all, the event is free, in keeping with the theater group’s tradition since its inception.

According to long-time Astoria resident Johnny Culver, who launched the group in 2003, “Members of the Gingerbread Players, Parkside and other theater groups got together and one thing led to another.”

Culver, a triple-threat actor-director-writer, realized “to get your play in a festival you had to pay a humongous fee. It was money after money after money. It’s a pyramid scheme.”

The festival, which kicks off in Manhattan on June 9, is a way to have plays heard without major funds.

The following week, it moves to the Queens Library Broadway branch in Long Island City.

Culver’s own entry in the festival, “Welcome Wagon,” is set, as are many of his works, in a small town, and finds a woman being interrogated by the head of a welcoming committee.

“It starts out funny and ends up sad,” Culver said.

Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich’s “Attention Shoppers,” described by Culver as “a war play” in which various widows engage in conversations with a voice that comes over a store’s public address system, is among the other plays scheduled for June 15, along with such works as “The Fact Checker” by Gabriel Davis, “Ordinary,” by Jack Feldstein, “Room 12” by Anthony Pezzula, “Scratch Off” by Scott Tobin, “God and the Book Publisher” by Joseph Passarella and “Interview Explained” by John McCaffery.

In all, this year’s festival will feature some 35 works, selected from over 100 submissions.

And Culver promises “there’s not an obscene thought in any of them.”

Culver’s interest in playwriting was cultivated when he took a class at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. His first effort was entitled, “Across the Lake,” a 10-minute play about a war being fought from opposite sides of a lake. To date, his longest play is “The Bermuda Curse,” a comedy about customer service at a publicity house, which he said runs about an hour.

All of Culver’s plays are set in the 1970s, a period he said he knows well. In total he has written, at his estimation, between 25 and 40, some as short as one minute.

Actors who perform with Piney Fork receive no financial compensation. Any expenses come out of Culver’s own pocket, he said, such as carfare for performers who belong to the professional actors’ union.

“It’s been kind of fun,” he said, about constantly having to find free spaces in which to perform. In 2012, he estimated the troupe presented an average of one show a month at different venues.

“We have a core group of people” who are regulars in the company, Culver said. “We just have a good time.”

Piney Fork festival

When: June 15, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Broadway Library, 40-20 Broadway, LIC

Tickets: Free, (631) 898-4205

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