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From Idea to Perfomance in One Day

August 6, 2014

If you haven’t read it yet, it would make sense to first read my previous post

I arrive at the Playhouse on Park Theatre a little before 8pm on Friday. It is here I will be meeting my director and my cast members. First, though, I introduce myself to Dawn Loveland, who will be running the 24 Hour Play Festival, and leading all of us through the process. I like Dawn instantly–she immediately makes me think of a younger Tina Fey (a comparison Dawn happily embraces). Each of the participants in the festival are required to bring a prop and the playwrights must include at least one prop in their plays. There are four playwrights, four directors, and twenty actors, and we each take a moment to introduce ourselves and our prop. After that, our names are literally drawn from a hat, and each playwright is randomly assigned a director, and both are randomly assigned five actors.

The theatre at Playhouse on Park.  The  photo was taken by photographer and director Kara Emily Krantz.

The theatre at Playhouse on Park. The photo was taken by photographer and director Kara Emily Krantz.

The director I will work with in an impressive young woman named Tasya Abbot. Tasya is a Theatre major from Hampshire College, focused on Shakespeare and Hamlet in particular. She is a veteran of the 24 Hour Festival–this is her third year directing. She is extremely bright but also poised in a way that no one her age has any right to be. We spend some time getting to know the cast: John Droney, Roy Donnelly, Rick Fiocco, Sabrina Herrera, and Ann Hutchinson. I like the personalities of the actors; they seem to posses that curious combination of confidence and anxiety common to all good actors. I feel very positive about who I am working with–I just need to make sure I write something worthy of their talents.

At 9pm, Tasya, John, Roy, Rick, Sabrina, and Ann all head home, and myself and the other three playwrights stay behind to write our plays. They are due at 7am. Dawn will stay with us the entire night, and will happily read our plays for feedback at any point we feel we need it. We each find a corner of the theatre and get to work while Dawn paints the stage floor! It’s going to be an industrious night for us all. I sit down and marvel at the fact I have ten hours to write a one act play that will be performed on stage 23 hours from now. For a moment, I wonder what would happen if one of us didn’t finish, and then it occurs to me: what if my play was about the fact that there wasn’t time to finish? I check with Dawn to make sure this isn’t an idea explored by a playwright at a previous festival, and she tells me two things I need to hear: one, it hasn’t been written before, and two, she loves the idea. I decide then that’s the play I am going to write.

I imagine three of the actors appearing on stage with random props, irritated and angry that they have no play to perform, and then discover to their horror that they are being watched by an audience. Just at the moment they are ready to panic, two other actors stroll on stage. They have a play, with dialogue, characters, a story…but the other actors do not. The three left out decide to create their own characters and integrate themselves into the play. So I need to script a play that gives the impression of being improvised by the actors. And it needs to be funny. At about 3:30, I show Dawn my draft. I ask her to tell me whether she thinks it works, because if it doesn’t I’ve only got three and a half hours to come up with something else. As Dawn reads, she is laughing and smiling. She tells me it works and that she really likes it. Relieved, I do a couple of more passes, title it “Unfinished” then head for home at 4am.

At 8am, Tasya, John, Roy, Rick, Sabrina, and Ann show up to begin working on the play, and I return at 12:30. Watching them work, I realize that my confidence in Tasya is well placed. She has a clear vision of what the play should be, and knows exactly how to get the actors there. It’s also clear the actors trust her, so I realize the best thing I can do is make sure I stay out of Tasya’s way. I also see that the actors are an extremely dedicated and skilled group who work hard all day through countless run-throughs and rehearsals, and then finally a full dress rehearsal. They even decide to run lines through the dinner break. I am honored to have my writing in the hands of such talented people.

Finally, at 8pm–24 hours after I met everyone for the first time–the play begins. “Unfinished” goes first and the cast absolutely nails it. They deliver the dialogue splendidly, fall easily into a rhythm, and perhaps most importantly, they seem to be having a great time. The audience responds extremely well to the play, so much so the cast has to pause a couple of times to let the laughter die down. When it’s over I am left feeling proud, exhilarated, and grateful. The other three plays are also quite good, so all in all the evening is a great success.

The 24 Hour Play Festival is exhausting, terrifying, intimidating, inspiring, invigorating, and one of the most challenging creative experiences I have ever had.

And I cannot wait to do it again.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Dennis Brezina permalink
    August 6, 2014 10:15 am

    Just a short step from taking your Improvisational Theater into the History classes you teach?

  2. August 6, 2014 12:57 pm

    It’s funny you mention that… I have been doing that for years with my kids. I give them outlines of scenarios, and they have to come up with skits that illustrate the conflict in the scenario, and then write reflections as their characters. Maybe it was karma… 🙂

  3. Kathi permalink
    August 6, 2014 4:49 pm

    I had the pleasure of attending the 24 hour play festival and your scene was fantastic!! Great one-liners. Laughter was never forced, instead was impossible to contain. Everyone involved did a terric job and I thought your cameo was perfect.

  4. August 6, 2014 5:10 pm

    Thank you for your kind words! I’m very pleased you enjoyed it.

  5. Dennis Brezina permalink
    August 6, 2014 8:36 pm

    Hi again, Kevin… Great to learn that your creative efforts were so well-received…

    My wife is reviving her “Problem-Solving Theater” for a major East Coast Behavioral Recovery Center by training “therapeutic thespians.” Time magazine once called her pioneering work a mental health version of Saturday Night Live… While my Elder Justice ramblings are aimed in part toward the beginnings of finding ways for drama to more clearly depict otherwise difficult areas of elder abuse to visualize… Meg and I are improvising 24/7 these days… LOL

  6. August 8, 2014 3:14 am

    Thanks… that sounds like a great project. I am very impressed by how innovative Meg is. I would enjoy discussing it with her some time.

  7. August 8, 2014 4:05 am

    Kevin, what a fantastic experience. I wish I could have been there to seen your play!

  8. August 8, 2014 5:50 am

    Thanks! I wish you could have, too! Bit of a commute for you, however. 🙂 If you go to my Facebook page, there are some photos documenting the process. Check them out if you get a chance.

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