Keeping it Short+Sweet

The 2020 Short+Sweet Theatre Festival season curtain call. Photo: Jim Crew.

The Sentinel spoke with Short+Sweet festival director Nick Hardcastle about theatre, Aussie talent and bite-sized entertainment.

Billed as ‘the biggest little play festival in the world’, the Short+Sweet Festival began in Sydney in 2002 with a handful of new, very brief plays and a lot of creative energy. Since then, founder Mark Cleary has extended the Short+Sweet concept to a variety of entertainment genres, and to cities all over the globe. It was the Short+Sweet Festival in Los Angeles where Australian actor/producer/director Nick Hardcastle first got involved and which ultimately led to him becoming festival director of the 2021 season. 

Hardcastle may be familiar as a performer due to his roles in Australian and overseas television shows (Home and Away), films (Liquid Bridge, 12 Pound Balls) and on stage, including the role of Adam/Felicia in the original production of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert: The Musical. 

Yet, he has just spent 13 years overseas, much of it getting behind projects that champion Australian talent. 

“That was definitely not my intention,” explains Hardcastle. “But when the devastating bushfires and floods of 2009 happened, an expat cohort of artists got together and produced West End’s Sunday Best at the Palace Theatre.”

Nick Hardcastle. Photo: Tony Duran.

The special Red Cross bushfire relief concert in the UK managed to raise over £40,000. From there, Hardcastle launched an Australian expat talent showcase in conjunction with the Australian High Commission and the Australian British Chamber of Commerce, which he ran for eight years. Then he obtained a Green Card through the US lottery system and moved to Los Angeles where he continued to promote Aussies abroad. When Short+Sweet launched in Hollywood, Hardcastle was among the first batch of directors. Three years later he joined the festival in an executive capacity. 

“By year four when I did get involved, we were able to expand and really elevate the program,” says Hardcastle. That expansion included adding Latinx and LGBTQI+ programs and a combined short film festival. 

“We were programming six days and nights a week. We had an incredibly diverse not just line up of artists but also audience. And throughout our theatre program we were sold out every single night for six weeks.”

The pandemic finally brought Hardcastle back home to Oz where he has assumed the helm of the Sydney Short+Sweet Theatre Festival.  

Susie Meets Her Match, Short + Sweet 2020 season. Photo: Jim Crew.

One of his first initiatives has been to help put together a Diversity and Inclusion Committee to engage creators and artists from across a broad spectrum of communities. 

“This festival has a place for you and your stories. You’re wanted and you’re needed here,” says Hardcastle.  

All the Short+Sweet festivals are competitions, with performances happening in heats and audience votes determining the finalists and winners. 

Apart from being loads of fun, and the chance to win a prize, getting involved in Short+Sweet has many benefits for emerging creatives. It has helped springboard careers and projects onto bigger things.  

Fault Lines, Short+Sweet 2020 season. Photo: Jim Crew.

“It’s a great opportunity for development, it’s a great opportunity for collaboration and networking, but it’s also just a great chance to get your story up on stage.”

For audiences, Short+Sweet is like a thespian degustation – like canapés and cupcakes of theatre. Each 10-minute play has a narrative arc; a fully formed idea. The styles and subject matter are varied and the standard of writing is very high – particularly this year. 

“Because of the pandemic we’ve had a lot of people writing and it’s turned up some great work and, thankfully, it’s not going to be 160 plays about Covid. People have had time to pause and reflect and dig deep … and Sydney gets to be the first festival in the world to present them,” explains Hardcastle.

Last year, the season was interrupted midstream, so this year, plays from the first five weeks of 2020 will be performed at the beginning of the 2021 season, with prizes still being awarded. 

Survey Honey, Short + Sweet 2020 season. Photo: Jim Crew.

The 2021 season comprises 10 weeks but will run over 14 weeks due to theatre scheduling. During the breaks in competition, the festival plans to hold free professional development programs. 

This year will also see a Covid-safe, environmentally-friendly festival. Audience voting will be done electronically via patrons’ own smartphones or using tablets provided by staff. No more paper, pens and boxes!

The deadline for script and director submissions has been extended to March 31.  

“We especially want to hear from directors,” says Hardcastle, “people who potentially want to take one of these great scripts and put them on the stage … and I want people from all walks of life. Anyone who’s even thinking about it just please apply to direct. Because we have some incredible works that have been cultivated over the last 12 months but we need people to helm them.”

To get involved, email nick.hardcastle@shortandsweet.org

The 2021 Sydney Short+Sweet Festival runs from Monday, 10 May to Sunday, 22 August at the Tom Mann Theatre, 136 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills. Visit www.shortandsweet.org for further info.