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"Grandma" Wins "Best of the Fest" in Burnsville

"Grandma's Little Helper," a play by Kris Bauske, was the chosen favorite at Chameleon Theatre Circle's 12th annual New Play Festival.

A Floridian playwright took top honors at this year’s New Play Festival, an event sponsored by the Chameleon Theatre Circle. Kris Bauske’s comedy, “Grandma’s Little Helper,” was voted “Best of the Fest.”

The comedy concerns Grandma Betty, an elderly woman who takes in a runaway off the street. Betty’s loved ones initially assume that the girl is a certified home health aid. Complications ensue when one family member does a criminal background check on the girl.

Though the show was packed with plenty of laughs, the topic is one that strikes close to the heart for many in the audience.

“I’ve been through a family shift like that,” said Bauske, who hails from Ocoee, FL. “It’s a struggle all families go through.”

Bauske said she admired the reading of her work, the and Chameleon’s ambitious festival.

“It was just lovely. I was surprised to see a suburban theater company with such a beautiful facility,” Bauske said. “And that (Chameleon is) running this sort of competition speaks volumes. It’s very easy to do stalwarts like ‘A Christmas Carol.’ It’s risky to do what they do.”

Andrew Troth, president of Chameleon, echoed her words.

“Our mission is to keep theater alive, thriving and innovative rather than performing the standards that people expect,” Troth said. “We do that by encouraging playwrights to create new shows that are relevant to today’s issues.”

Bauske’s play had plenty of competition. This year Chameleon received 300 entries for the festival from all over the country. Troth said they usually get a contingent of applicants from abroad as well. Chameleon then submits the scripts to a contingent of volunteer readers, who vet the plays in three rounds. The finalists are chosen by consensus of all the readers.

“We do it blind. We have no idea who wrote the plays or where they’re from until the end,” Troth said. “It’s always a surprise.”

The only strict requirement is that the plays must be original works that have not yet been produced. Those selected receive a small cash prize.

Once the readers have chosen, the company assigns each winning play to a volunteer director. Once a cast has been established, the director has two or three rehearsal before the final reading at the festival.

This year’s festival consisted of three full-length plays, two one-acts, and two 10-minute pieces. Attendance at the festival doubled over last year, Troth said: About 105 to 110 people attended through the course of the day on Saturday, yielding about 20 votes for "Best of the Festival."

The runner up for “Best of” was “Noir(ish)” by Evan Guilford-Blake.

Saturday may not be “Grandma’s” last turn on the stage at the BPAC. Bauske said she’d spoken with Chameleon about putting up a full performance of the play during the 2012 to 2013 season.

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