Lawrence is about to get its own version of an off-Broadway theater.
Starting this fall, Paul Stephen Lim and other members of the Kansas University English and theater and film departments will be presenting plays on the cheap in non-traditional spaces. The group, called the English Alternative Theatre, promises to provide a venue both for strange plays from outside the American mainstream and new scripts written by students and others in Lawrence.
"Until more scripts come in, we will be doing unusual plays or plays that don't get done very much," said Lim, who teachers playwriting. "Then we will want to focus on students' scripts."
The group, sponsored by the English department, is an outgrowth of Lim's work as a playwright and playwriting teacher in the KU creative writing program. The Philippine-born writer earned bachelor's and master's degrees from KU and is now an assistant English professor.
LIM TEACHES beginning and intermediate playwriting, and theater professor Ron Willis teaches the advanced class.
Lim said student interest in playwriting is growing fast; he's had to turn eight or nine students away each semester from his playwriting class.
"On the KU campus, it started when we began the creative writing program," he said. "Students are required to write in at least two genres. Most people go into the program to write fiction, and they wanted more choices. Not everyone was interested in poetry."
Last spring, Lim directed a short season of one-acts by students. Although Lim's plays are often free-wheeling, he said he starts his classes out following traditional play construction. That tradition includes the "three unities" plays that are set in one place, carry one plot and are set in a very concentrated time frame.
"THE BEGINNING playwriting classes are very traditional,'' he said. "I insist they keep within the three unities just so they learn the rules before they can break them. Then later on they can explore all they want."
Lim also worked for four years as a new play director at the Lawrence Community Theatre, which last spring produced staged readings of two new plays: Ric Averill's "Rough Stock" and Betty Laird's "Jasmine and the Sixth Age."
The theater has also produced plays by Lim, John Clifford and other Lawrence playwrights over the years, Lim said.
"They have been one of only a few community theaters to my knowledge to do original scripts," he said.
THE ENGLISH Alternative Theatre has a double-bill of one-act plays coming up this fall: Susan Sontag's "The Way We Live Now" and Terrence McNally's "Andre's Mother," which will be produced Nov. 29 through Dec. 2 at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.
"What we're trying to do is find an alternative space that's not used as a theater," he said. "For example, the first production will be in the Spencer Art Museum courtyard. We may also use the Lawrence Community Theatre space depending on availability."
To make the project work, Lim has spent time rounding up people who want to participate.
"Since I've been here, I've known most every official in the theater department and I've seen just about all the shows," he said. "If I find a director or an actor or a designer I'm interested in, I go and recruit them. It's more difficult to recruit directors and designers."
Later on, Lim said, EAT may perform plays by Samuel Beckett and a play about Walt Whitman by New York playwright Jonathan Ned Katz. Beyond that, Lim wants to produce new plays by KU students.