The Fritz Blitz of New Plays kicked off its theatrical onslaught Thursday, featuring new plays by California playwrights at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.
The pace is swift -- 11 plays produced in the span of a month -- but it's even more feverish behind the scenes. This year, the Fritz Theatre waded through about 200 submissions, with final selections made in mid-May. Each director then had just two and a half months to pull it all together: auditions, hiring a crew, building sets, rehearsing and working through any script revisions that might be necessary.
Yet talk to Fritz Theatre artistic director Duane Daniels -- the driving force behind the annual event -- and you get the sense that he thrives under these conditions.
"When I'm sitting there for four hours with a couple of actors in some room, just working and working and working, that's my favorite thing to do," said Daniels.
In the weeks leading up to Thursday's opening of the Fritz Blitz, Daniels was in rehearsals from morning until night, nearly every day.
"I had three rehearsals today and I'll have three again tomorrow, at least four on Saturday and at least two on Sunday that I can think of," said Daniels at the time. "We just keep going and going."
Daniels directs two of the plays in the first week's lineup: "Absolutes" by San Diego playwright Craig Abernethy and "God Said Quiet" by Pema Teeter. Also featured in Week 1 are "Speed Dating 101" by Jeffrey Davis and "Invisible Bob" by Tom Horan.
Now in its 11th year, the Fritz Blitz is especially valuable for promising local playwrights; about two-thirds of this year's submissions and half of the final selections are comprised of works by San Diego authors.
But more established playwrights are also featured in the Blitz, such as Doug Field, whose full-length play "Viburnum" will run in Week 2. The Los Angeles writer is best known for his comedy "Down South," which premiered in San Diego at the Blitz two years ago. Field is "one of off-Broadway's hottest playwrights," according to Daniels.
"Typically, throughout the years, our full-length plays are the least attended," Daniels said. "I think it's because people say, well, if I can pay $16 and go see four plays, I'll do that, as opposed to $16 for one play. This year, I hope that our full-length play draws extremely well because it's an amazing script. I'm really excited about this playwright -- he's simultaneously opening in New York with an off-Broadway show," he said, referring to Field's latest comedy, "I Love Paris," about famous-for-being-famous socialite Paris Hilton.
When choosing the lineup for each week, Daniels looks for a mix of genres, appropriate length and thematically similar plays to create an engaging evening of theater.
Week 3 features two local playwrights: Blitz veteran Richard Markgraf with his latest comedy "Motel," and George Soete with his black comedy "Trust Me." You might want to leave the kids at home in the third week, as both plays are "sort of racy, maybe getting a little closer to rated R-type material," said Daniels.
The final week features four plays about turmoil in relationships: Scott McMorrow's "Puppet Therapy," San Diego-based James Caputo's "Body Shop," Ron Weaver's "Time Share," and another play by Soete, "Seventeenth Wednesday."
With single tickets at just $16, and a Fritz Blitz Pass that grants entry to every show available for $45, it's some of the most affordable and artistic theater in town, which begs the question -- just how does the Fritz do it?
The costs associated with renting out the Lyceum (home of the San Diego Repertory Theatre) are fairly expensive, said Daniels, but payroll costs are kept down since the Fritz doesn't have to pay royalties to the authors, and the actors involved are unpaid.
"It's the one time of the year we don't pay hardly anybody -- we pay mostly our technical staff, the only ones who actually get paid in the Blitz show," said Daniels. "So we're able to balance it in that way; we pay more in rent but we have less in payroll."
The Blitz is one of the Fritz Theatre's best-selling events of the year, but for Daniels the money is secondary.
"We don't try to make money, necessarily. We're a nonprofit; we don't have to make money -- we have to break even. We have to be fiscally responsible, but we don't have to turn a profit," he said. "It's good to make money, it's good to make a lot of money, but it's not really our objective."
More importantly, the event provides a venue for emerging playwrights and new theatrical visions. Since its inception, a number of plays featured at the Blitz have gone on to further successes. And Daniels expects great things from this year's lineup, as well.
"I'm really excited about the work this year, I think it's going to be better than last year -- and last year was pretty darn good."
PROGRAM: Fritz Blitz of New Plays
Organization: The Fritz Theatre
Tickets: $16 for single tickets; $45 pass gets you in to every show
Dates: Aug. 5 through 29
Show times: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.
Location: Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown
More information: (619) 233-7505, www.fritztheatre.com