Hungry for some fresh theater? The folks at Pavement Group, in collaboration with 20 high school students from Steppenwolf's Young Adult Council, are cooking up the fourth annual Amuse Bouche project—a sampler platter of five 15-minute plays.

In preparation, the students collaborated with Pavement Group artists to create a list of 10 literary "ingredients" that are delivered to five hand-picked playwrights commissioned to create short plays in a 24-hour period. Five directors then rehearse with an assigned cast and the menu of piping-hot plays is presented for three nights. In keeping with the culinary theme, an actual amuse bouche—a bite-sized appetizer—is prepared and served prior to the five courses of bite-sized (15-minute) plays.

The partnership between Pavement Group and Steppenwolf dates back to 2006, when three Steppenwolf apprentices and a Steppenwolf lighting designer discovered a mutual interest in making unconventional theater and formed Pavement Group, which incorporated in 2007. For the Amuse Bouche project—now in its fourth year—students observe the play-making process from beginning to end and have the option of applying to participate additionally in such roles as assistant directing, lighting design and cast—as well as brainstorming the plays' basic element requirements.

"They are very smart kids!" said Pavement Group producing director Mary Krupka, 30. "In the character brainstorming, we were expecting things about Miley Cyrus, but these students were writing about Rock Hudson and Philip Glass."

All featured directors and cast members are local artists, but Pavement Group conducted a nationwide search to select playwrights. "We do make a conscious effort to make sure that as many voices are represented as possible, whether that's race, gender, sexual orientation, lifestyle," Krupka said. "The demographic in Chicago is all over the place, so we were looking for folks who would be able to speak to the Chicago community at large." Here's a look:

 

Amuse Bouche

Go: 7:30 p.m. April 14-16 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Tickets: $10. 773-598-9279; pavementgroup.org

The test kitchen: In March, students discussed basic literary elements—dialogue, action, setting, characters, theme—and created their own 3-5 minute plays and discussed which "ingredients" worked well to make a strong play. Based on their experiences, they brainstormed a list of 10 ingredients that each of the Amuse Bouche playwrights must include in their scripts.

The ingredients: While this year's recipe is still under wraps, ingredients in past years have included "something descends," "there is an impostor," "a mythical figure must be utilized," "someone has a Mary Poppins bag (a bag that contains everything)" and "a song from the '90s shall be sung."

The kitchen timer: On Thursday, the playwrights are emailed an ingredients list, director info and cast names and headshots. Playwrights send their 15-minute, 2,000-words-or-less play to their assigned director by noon Friday. The directors work with their casts Saturday and each group has a one-hour tech rehearsal Sunday. The plays debut Monday night and run Tuesday and Wednesday, too.

The pairings: New York playwright Bixby Elliot (in 2012, Pavement Group produced his play, "Girl You Know It's True," about a male playwright who creates a female alter ego during the Milli Vanilli scandal) with director Laura Lapidus of Pavement Group

Brooklyn playwright Dominic Finocchiaro (his quirky horror-comedy "Complex"—about serial killings in an urban high-rise—premiered as one of four featured plays selected from 200 submissions at Portland's 2013 Just Add Water festival) with director Sara Sawicki of Buzz22

Colorado-based playwright Idris Goodwin (the Chicago native's coming-of-age drama about three Midwestern hip-hop artists, "How We Got On," premiered at the Actors Theater of Louisville's 2012 Humana Festival and is being remounted across the country) with director Kaiser Ahmed of Jackalope Theatre Company

Minneapolis playwright Cory Hinkle (Jackalope Theatre Company's production of his drama, "The Killing of Michael X"—in which a grieving teenage girl seeks revenge for her missing brother's prescription drug addiction—is onstage through Sunday at Broadway Armory Park) with director Tyrone Phillips of Definition Theatre Company

Los Angeles playwright Janine Nabers (her drama, "Annie Bosh is Missing," about a mixed-race young woman's post-rehab struggles, debuted in 2013 as part of Steppenwolf's First Look series) with director Leah Karpel of Pavement Group. 

 

Julia Borcherts is a RedEye special contributor.