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2012 News Releases
Longwood professor wows audiences with mini comedy plays
July 2, 2012
In the zany world of Dr. Brett Hursey's plays, the characters really are characters.
One, convinced he has a disease called "rabbititis," wears large rabbit ears, a pink nose and long whiskers. Another dresses as a ninja every time his mother-in-law comes to visit and tries to ambush her. There's also a woman who has run over a Shriner in a parade and stuffed his corpse in her closet, which would be no big deal for Chuck Norris, who always takes care of everything, she tells her husband.
The Longwood University professor's 10-minute comedies, however, are more than sketches or a series of cheap laughs. Despite their quirky characters and absurdist plots, they are portrayals of human nature—and they are making a name for Hursey in the increasingly popular genre of 10-minute plays.
Hursey's shows have been produced in five foreign countries and in more than 100 theaters across the United States – including more than 50 off/off-off-Broadway productions. The venues have ranged from Longwood's black box theater to festivals in Australia, Luxembourg and Belgium. His plays also have been produced in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Detroit, and one play was recently made into a short film.
"Brett Hursey is nationally known for his short, humorous plays; however, he is not just writing sketch comedy," said Dr. Rhonda Brock-Servais, chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Longwood, which is located in Farmville, Va. "Each play has, at its heart, a very genuine person who finds him/herself in a deeply weird situation."
Hursey has written about 20 short plays, all of which have been staged, usually as part of a festival of 10-minute shows. Most of the festivals feature between six and 10 plays by different playwrights, usually selected from 400 to 500 submissions.
"I want my plays to be more than cheap laughs. Anyone can write cheap laughs," said Hursey, associate professor of English, who teaches creative writing. "What is tougher is to write character-driven comedy so the audience is not laughing at the slapstick but at the characters. I want the audience to identify with the characters and find them funny because of their own trials. This is what made [TV shows] Seinfeld and Cheers funny. Even in 10 minutes, there can be much at stake in comedy."
Before joining the Longwood faculty in 2004, Hursey had written full-length plays and published three books of poetry and two shorter books of poetry called chapbooks. Writing drama came naturally for the former child actor.
"I wanted to get back into playwriting, but it takes a long time to write a full-length play," he said. "Not long after coming here, I saw an ad, a call, for 10-minute plays at a regional theater. I had no idea what a 10-minute play was. I started doing research on the Internet, and what I saw, I really liked. I thought 'What the heck. I'll try this.'"
Hursey's first effort, Scrambled, was accepted by a festival, which he says is rare. Maybe it was the weirdness that caught the festival judge's eye. Scrambled is about a young husband who buys a box of tampons for a woman and how his wife reacts when she finds out. The husband isn't having an affair, but it still annoys his wife, Hursey said. "A lot of my plays are romantic comedies," he added.
"I don't know where I come up with my ideas," Hursey said. "I'm just writing what I see in the real world, and I just push it a little further. I always try to have at least a moment when the play stops being absurd and moves closer to reality, because the best absurdity is simply twisted reality."
For now, he finds writing 10-minute plays the perfect creative outlet.
"I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. I'm having a good time writing these plays, which fits into my workload requirements. I would find it extremely difficult to write full-length plays. My goal this summer is to write three to four plays, if I'm lucky. I've already written two plays, Splitting Hares, about the guy with rabbititis, and Swine Flu. I'm usually not that fast; I just happened to have two good ideas. Some plays I have to drag out of me, and some seem to burst out."
Hursey is modest about his success. "I hope my material is good, but I've been fortunate with the timing. In the theater, success is often due to being in the right place at the right time."