This year, I was part of a three-person writing team who wrote a 10 minute play in the space of one sleepless night.
If you’re reading this and you don’t know what 24 Hour Theater is, you’re a sucker who already missed out. (I don’t mince words). I feel sorry for you, because there is nothing more magical than walking into a theater at 9 p.m. and feeling a rush of sickening dread when you realize that you have 24 hours until you’ll be watching (or performing in) a play that doesn’t even exist yet.
Okay, that doesn’t sound as pleasant as it is.
The process is pretty simple. At 9 p.m., a group of actors come into the theater to give a one-minute audition where they talk about or act with a prop of their choosing.
Based on these auditions, the writers and directors cast the actors. I can’t tell you anything about that process because it’s top secret, but I will say it involves at least one literal fight to the death (R.I.P. Phillip) and several pints of freshly squeezed orange juice, full pulp.
The five writing teams lock themselves away for five hours and come out the next morning with five 10 minute plays. After that, the actors and directors come in to rehearse for the show that will take place at 9 p.m.
Writing for 24 Hour Theater is a great exercise for me. I’m one of those perfectionists who won’t write a line of dialogue or come up with a plotline without thinking, “Ugh, this is so old. I have to break every mold that’s been made with my brilliant wit and insight!”
With 24 Hour Theater, there’s no time for that. You’re lucky if your ideas aren’t the same as another group’s script from that same night. 24 Hour Theater isn’t about writing the best thing you’ve ever written. It’s about forcing yourself to write, because something terrible is better than nothing at all.
Around 2-3 a.m., when we had settled on an idea and were typing it up, I felt myself hit a wall. If I was working on a normal writing project, I’d put it aside for a couple of days, maybe forever, but on Saturday morning, we couldn’t do that.
We had to come up with a joke that moved the story. And you know what? It was a pretty decent joke.
Of course, what you end up with isn’t terrible. The faculty and the other writers are all there to make sure nothing TOO terrible ends up being written.
[Professor of Communication Arts] Dr. Andrew Rudd popped in our room a few times to warn us that there was another team planning to write about being in prison, so we probably should erase that from our brainstorming list.
The other writers on my team (holla to Sally Gotch and Erin Chilensky, yo!) let me know when I was being too nitpicky about our ideas.
There are two things I like more than anything else in the world: sleep and laughing. Apparently I’m willing to sacrifice the first for the second.
I spent all Friday night and Saturday morning laughing (loudly and obnoxiously, as that is unfailingly how I laugh), and then on Saturday night I got to see the magic of words I had helped to write coming out of the mouths of actual people.
Better than that, I got to hear people around me laughing at jokes that I had helped to come up with. After all the stress and sleep deprivation, I was cradled in the loving arms of an audience who was eager to see what we’d come up with in the course of a pretty insane 24 hours.
In the end, it all came together. The writing, the directing, the acting, the crew, the lights and the audience. Everyone was there, and everyone was happy. So if you’re one of those suckers who wasn’t involved, keep an eye out for 24 Hour Theater 2014. Maybe, if the professors aren’t sick and tired of hearing me laugh all night in the office next door, I’ll see you there as an alumni writer.
Taylor Hazlett is a contributing writer for The Aviso AVW.