Students crank out drama with 24-hour plays

UofCers work round the clock for frantic follies

By Jake Grubman

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Put together 43 of the University’s most theatric students for the day, and the 24-Hour Play Festival was bound to end up as a mix of loud profanity and sex jokes.

The audience witnessed only the final hour. Before that, it was a race to write, direct, memorize lines, decide on the blocking for each scene, and figure out the sound cues. The final result: six plays that are each approximately 10 minutes long and hopefully only minimally improvised.

“A lot of people kind of hate them because if you write six plays in the span of 12 hours, not all of them are going to be great,” said third-year Ethan Dubin, co-curator of the festival and actor in one of the plays. “So sometimes you tell someone that does theater ‘Oh, I do 24-hour plays,’ and they look like they’re going to vomit and pass out.”

Dubin and fourth-years Eliot Fienstra, Tamara Silverleaf, and Sara Tamler are decidedly not in that camp. The four curators have been working since the event’s first incarnation in spring quarter of last year to develop the festival each quarter, this time switching to an alley-style stage (with audience on both sides of the performance) and inviting a dramaturge to help the writers through the overnight writing process.

“We really do try to change something every time,” Dubin said. “We very much think of it as an experiment in a laboratory.”

The event started just before 7 p.m. Friday. The group packed into a classroom in Cobb for auditions, which featured short performances by each of the 19 actors. None of the actors were cut; instead, these performances introduced the actors to the writer-director teams. In one performance, third-year Will Bishop drew laughs with a dramatic reading of the festival’s schedule sheet, while second-year Claire Stone had the group in fits with her rendition of “Scrubs” by TLC in the form of a classroom lesson plan.

After an “arbitration” meeting in which the writers and directors (teamed together prior to the event) selected their casts of three or four actors, the writers received their prompts—“Missed Connections”—and hustled over to the Woodlawn Collaborative to begin their night of writing. Around 3 p.m., the dramaturge, Chloe Johnston, A.B. ‘99, helped guide a discussion of the scripts to help the writing teams smooth out their pieces.

By the time the script deadline rolled around at 6 a.m., the writers were tuning their pieces as finely as is possible at such an early hour.

“It got very silly, but in a very good, productive way,” Tamler said. “There’s a lot of creativity that comes out at five in the morning that wouldn’t come out at any other time.”

Throughout the day, the casts worked to put together their productions, with each team practicing around campus before the tech rehearsals at 4:30 p.m. and, finally, the curtains went up at 8 p.m.

The final products covered a range of topics, from ancient Rome (in Tamler and partner Chris Shea’s “The Cherry Orchard”) to the lab of a modern-day, tee-ball-player-making mad scientist (in “What Hath Science Wrought”). “The Sperm Dance Commences” provided perhaps the most difficult performing task, telling the story of conception in musical form. While the performances didn’t all line up with the script, third-year director Elle Riley-Condit pointed out one of the main challenges of the 24-Hour Play Festival.

“It’s harder than you think to replace sex jokes with the lyrics to West Side Story,” she said. “Harder than you think.”