BWW Features: Art from Chaos at the CTC's 24-HOUR PLAY FESTIVAL
The 24-Hour Play Festival is an annual tradition at South Kingstown's Contemporary Theatre Company, where for 9 years, 6 plays are written, cast, staged, teched, and put in front of a live audience in a 24 hour span. I tagged along with one of the productions during this year's festival on January 11th, 2014, to see how it's done.
I've already hit snooze once, and if I hit it again, I'm definitely not going to make it to the 7am first meeting between Writers and Directors. I hit Dunkin' Donuts, and it strikes me that for artists, 5:39 AM is an ungodly hour. It's the "Tree falls in a forest" hour: none of us are awake to see it, therefore there's no proof it exists. For these folks at Dunkin', though, it's part of their daily life.
On the dot. I swore I'd be late. I arrive at Phil's Restaurant in Wakefield, a wood-paneled breakfast joint a short walk away from the CTC's newish space in downtown Wakefield. The room is full of directors and writers: you can tell which is which by how awake they are. The writers have been working since before midnight the night before, feverishly turning out as engaging a script as they could in the 6-7 hours they had before directors reported. Maggie Cady, the CTC's Communications Director and this festival's Production Manager, is having the directors choose prompts out of a hat. The Directors will have to incorporate these prompts into the play, no matter how nonsensical they are. The playwrights had to do the same the night before.
I'm sitting with the production team I'll be observing. The playwright is Andy Hoover, a current resident of Brooklyn and an accomplished playwright who's been produced multiple times by the CTC. The director is Rae Mancini, recently of the CTC's production of Assassins and steady face of the RI theatre scene. Andy starts discussing the play he wrote, entitled "The Governor Will Now Answer Questions Regarding Iowa's Surrender to the Alien Forces." It's a "nesting doll" format, he says: a play within a play within a play.
Andy is very energetic for this time of morning.
He discusses some of the problems with the play: transitions could be difficult, and we need extras.
The first words out of Rae's mouth are "fantastic" and "kismet." She works press conferences in her day, job, so staging one should be no problem. She introduces her prompts: we have to have a jam band on stage, and we have to make the audience do something important. A couple of suggestions are made, including having the audience ask questions during the presser and having the audience choose an ending.
They're already reading the script. A waitress asks us if we want anything. Rae declines, pointing at her Poland Spring; Andy politely requests coffee. So do I.
"It's probably bad to have your protagonist appear this late in the play," admits Andy with a smile. It's fine, though, they'll solve it in casting.
Stage directions in the script ask for the "coolest special effect we can muster" for the entrance of the Alien Overlord. Suggestions are fired.
"We need lights."
"Or a Jam Band!"
"I brought lots of scarves! I knew we could use pashmina."
I find myself laughing at this script, at an hour when I have no business laughing. It dawns on me: this is a smart, funny script. A one-act I would personally be very excited to act in. Transition problems aside, these jokes will land. It's like a particularly zany episode of "Futurama."
The script is long, the plot a bit difficult to follow, and the transitions will no doubt be a problem, but this is as good a script as you could possibly hope for; especially as it started from nothing 8 hours earlier.
We've got 10 minutes left before actors begin arriving at the South Kingstown high school for auditions. The Director and playwright discuss casting choices and role importance. They've got their favorites, it's just a matter of how the draft goes. After auditioning, the actors are chosen like a fantasy football draft. Director 1, randomly chosen, selects an actor, then Director 2, then 3 - when Director 6's turn comes up, he or she gets to choose twice, and snakes the draft back up towards number 1.