It started with a headline in the New York Times. Bob Barr, 88, picked up his newspaper to find an article about the closure of a fully-automated Japanese factory.
“It occurred to me, 'What would the robots think?'" Barr says.
He answers this question in a 10-minute play, “Robots,” which will premiere June 13 at Scottsdale’s Theatre Artists Studio. The play is one of eight in the seventh annual New Summer Shorts 10-minute play festival.
In it, two newly unemployed robots show signs of humanity when they can’t grasp the logic behind the factory’s economic downturn.
“The robots are obviously confused because things are changing and robots aren’t used to change,” he says.
Barr has been writing plays for nearly 70 years, drafting his first while he was stationed in China during World War II. He graduated with a master’s degree in fine arts from Yale’s drama school, and continued writing and acting while working in sales and marketing. Now retired and living in Phoenix with his high school sweetheart, Barr dedicates his time to the stage.
His works are varied — Barr’s drafted everything from these 10-minute plays to full-length plays to a musical book and lyrics — but he’s always known he wanted to write.
“It’s the only thing you can do in the theater while sitting down,” he jokes.
In addition to writing “Robots,” Barr will appear in another of the New Summer Shorts plays, “H. Davidson.” He’ll play Jerry, a man who’s not ready to accept a quiet retirement, although his wife of 60 years, Judy, is ready for it.
Debra Rich Gettleman of Scottsdale wrote “H. Davidson,” along with another play in the program, “Sweet,” which focuses on a competition to be the best.
“An event occurs that I think is funny or quirky, and it piques my interest,” she says. “I just sit down and let the characters talk to each other.”
Gettleman’s been involved with the program since it started, and she’s had at least one play in the performance each year.
Theatre Artists Studio receives about two dozen submissions annually, and a blind jury picks eight for performances, says Julie Lee at the studio. All the writers are members, she says.
The other five plays in this year’s program differ greatly. In “Barking at Butterflies,” two Spanish Water Dogs muse over their lives. “Stalking Pollyanna” features a middle-aged man who’s riding the subway with his younger boyfriend when he spots his childhood celebrity crush — Hayley Mills of “The Parent Trap” fame — and chases after her.
Two professional actors in a serious relationship contemplate living apart because of their careers in “Hats,” directed by Lee, and “The Uncertain Ones” explores a love triangle. In “Ten,” adults realize that despite their maturity, they’ll always be children around their siblings.
Despite their differences, each of the plays fits neatly into the 10-minute timeline, something that can be challenging to meet. Within 10 minutes, playwrights have to capture developed characters, a conflict, and a full beginning, middle and end, Barr says.
“It’s a tremendous challenge because it’s not a sketch,” he says. “It’s not the kind of thing you’d see on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or the old ‘Tonight Show.’ It’s a full play.”
• Julia, a junior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.