Seven plays in 24 hours
Seven plays in 24 hours. It's all the rage in New York theater circles and elsewhere around the globe.
And it is fast becoming a Southern Oregon tradition thanks to ArtWork Enterprises, the people who sponsor the 10-Minute Plays Festival in July and the Ashland New Plays Festival in October. This year's 247 Project will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central, Medford.
Well, that's not quite the whole picture. Audiences will see the finished play Saturday night, but what they won't see will have started 24 hours earlier.
Outgoing Ashland New Plays Festival board President Janet Rodkey called the process "high-compression theater." What audiences are in for is an evening of original theater created in the space of a single day. The seven plays will have been written the night before in the space of 11 hours. Directors, actors and musicians will have another 12 hours to turn the script into a fully produced play.
On the eve of the event, seven playwrights will gather in the Craterian lobby. This year's playwrights include Lisa Loomer (author of "Distracted"), Claudia Alick, Michael Hume, Molly Tinsley, Mitzi Miles-Kubota, Mig Windows (a recent graduate of Ashland High School), and Stacey Rose. All are local with the exception of Rose who will be coming in from North Carolina.
From a hat, the playwrights will choose the names of two to four actors, a prop and a musical instrument that will provide scoring for the play. These are the elements they will work with in creating their scripts. At 8 p.m. the night before performance, the seven playwrights will be given the signal to start writing.
Their assignment: write a script for a short 10- to 15-minute, one-act play by 7 a.m. the next morning. The Craterian will provide room for the playwrights overnight to write.
"Last year we asked each playwright to incorporate a woman's silver shoe into their work," said David Walper, AWE board member and chair of the Play Selection Committee. "It was fascinating how each of the different writers used it. It proved to be a big hit with the audience. We'll do something like that again this year, but we're not telling what."
When 7 a.m. rolls around Saturday morning, the playwrights will hand their scripts over to the directors, who have until 7 p.m. to complete rehearsals and make any necessary revisions to bring the play to the stage. Among the directors this year will be Christopher Acebo, G. Val Thomas, Janet Greek, Chris Williams, Bruce Hostetler, Peter Alzado and John Cole.
The directors will work with a cast that includes actors from Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Oregon Stage Works, Camelot Theatre Company, Southern Oregon University, Ashland High School, Oregon Conservatory of Performing Arts and other theaters.
Among the actors participating this year are Brandy Carson, Tamara Hoffman, Molly Murphy, Josh Houghton, Sarah Rutan, David Thompson, Kjerstine Anderson, Clemmie von Radics, Sam King, Juan LeBron, Tami Marston, Caroline Shaffer, Orion Bradshaw, Tasso Feldman, Dee Maaske, Eve Smyth, Cameron Knight, Drew Woods, Andy Atkinson, Cristofer Jean, Catherine Coulson, Mark Bedard, Greg Linington, Savanah Morgan, Kyle Barnes, Alex Barnes, and Gwenolyn Mulamba.
"I had a ball, even if the computer did eat our script," said Dee Maaske, who acted in the 2007 inaugural event. "There's nothing else like it between San Francisco and Seattle. I predict that this event will be sold out in the years to come."
Another interesting wrinkle is the use of the musician. Part of the directors' task will be to meet with musicians who will score the play.
"Some playwrights wrote the character into the play, others used it to add ambience," Walper said. "This is an exciting form of theatre — one never knows what to expect next."
Participating musicians this year include Eric von Radics (electric guitar), Taylor Woods (marimba), John Bach (stand up bass), Federico Behnke (electric keyboard), Sue Carney (voice/percussion combo), Craig Mesco (percussionist/drummer) and Ron Bartlett (saxophone).
The musicians are scheduled to arrive at 2 p.m. and begin creating original music, which the directors can use any way they want to. A rehearsal from 2 to 5 p.m. will introduce the music into the play.
From 5 to 7 p.m., each play will have a 15-minute tech rehearsal. At 7 p.m. the theater and stage will be cleared.
And at 8 p.m., 24 hours after the whole process began, ready or not, the curtain will go up, emcee Ray Porter will step out on the stage and it will be show time.
AWE board member Dave Hill notes that in 1995 Tina Fallon and some people from her New York theater friends scene invented the 24-hour play.
"Fallon had heard of the 24 hour comic events popular among comic book artists and writers, so she wondered if the same concept could be applied to theater," Hill said.
"The idea was to produce complete plays, from conception to full performance before a live audience, all within a single 24 hour period. The first 24-hour event took place at the off-Broadway Teatro la Tea. In 1997 it became a popular feature of the New York Fringe Festival."
From there the idea spread to theater groups throughout the continent and even across the Atlantic.
"Working all night with bursts of creativity amidst hours of despair, the playwrights discovered how much an impossible deadline can focus the mind," Hill said.
Though most AWE events are held in smaller venues, the 247 Project has a broad appeal and warrants a bigger theatre given that there is only one performance. The Craterian hosts many Broadway and other touring companies, which makes it all the more special as a venue.
"We enjoy supporting the community," explains Craterian Performances executive director Stephen McCandless, "particularly when it comes to community-oriented theatre. We're very pleased to work with ArtWork Enterprises on this special event again this year. Not surprisingly, nothing else on our calendar is quite like this!"
Incoming ArtWorks Enterprises president John Lee credited his predecessor for starting the 247 Project.
"Janet has been instrumental in giving life to AWE projects, not the least of which was her idea for a 24-hour event in January. Her energy and tireless efforts are recognized by all."
Tickets are $15 for reserved seats, $12 for seniors and $10 for students. Group discounts are available.
See www.craterian.org/onstage or call 779-3000.