There’s nothing quite like the exhilaration of working under a deadline.
Not even a cup of coffee (or a few cups of coffee) can really compare to the focus you attain when it’s crunch time, and you have to finish that term paper, memorize those definitions, or, in this case, write and produce a play in 24 hours.
Theatre KAPOW presents the second annual 24-Hour Play Festival this weekend, Friday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m., through Saturday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m., at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry. Audiences can buy tickets for the Saturday show, a show which Matt Cahoon, one of the founding members of theatre KAPOW, calls fresh and electric.
“It’s very fresh theater — I don’t think you’ll have seen anything like it. We talk about the electricity of live theater, and I don’t think you’ll see anything so electric, because it’s only going to show once,” he said. “You see them at the peak of their game, working with instinct and having fun with what they do,” Cahoon said.
It starts on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Playwrights Tom Anastasi, Matt Davidson, Tom Dunn, Lowell Williams and the team of Kyp Pilalas and Mark Marshall will learn the festival theme, the guidelines and the list of actors for whom they’re writing parts. They draw the number of actors and the actors they’ll be working with from a hat. Then they get to writing, working into the night at reserved rooms at the Sleep Inn in Londonderry off Exit 5.
The next morning, at 8:15 a.m., the baton is handed to the director, who will use his or her interpretation of the writing to produce a show. It all has to be done by 7:30 p.m., when the curtains go up and the pressure goes on — each 10- to 15-minute show will be performed in front of a live audience. (Tickets are $10.)
Playwrights were chosen earlier this season based on writing samples, read by theatre KAPOW board members. The actors participating are a mix of people who have and have not worked with theatre KAPOW before. And the directors are volunteers, Cahoon said, several of whom participated in last year’s festival. But they’re all local theater people.
“The shows they created last year were remarkably good — the plays had a beginning, middle and end, and in most cases, you’re still able to get a glimpse into the light of these characters,” Cahoon said.
The actors are forced to absorb the character roles quickly.
“It’s funny — it makes you more efficient. Because you have such a small amount of time, the character almost evolves out of it. It forces you to define that character more swiftly and to hone,” said Joel Breen, who will be acting in this year’s event. The actor will probably read the script a dozen times within the first hour, he said.
For a writer, the time limit drives a process that normally would take months.
“It’s a pretty stressful process. Many [participants last year] cast doubts, saying it’s something they’d never be able to do, but many expressed surprise that they were able to do it so easily. ... The energy is so focused, because they have a deadline to meet,” Cahoon said.
Planning ahead is not only against the rules; with these actor, theme and play guidelines, it’s not feasible.
“You just have to show up and be ready,” said Marshall, noting that even if you have a plot idea, you’ll likely have to drop it once you hear the production guidelines, so you might as well just go in fresh.
Marshall and Pilalas have experience with this kind of event. They regularly take part in the 48-hour film festival in Manchester. They’re going all out for this festival; not only will they be up all night writing, but come morning, after they hand in their scripts, they’ll be taking roles as actors in other productions.
Handing a script over, “It’s kind of like handing your child over and hoping it goes well. It’s a chance to see your work in the eyes of someone else,” Marshall said. It’s another form of pressure for the actors, he said, knowing that the writers will be sitting in the audience, to see whether the interpretation matches their intention.
Last year, “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was interesting because there was such a diversity of plays. You could do a period piece, an interpretive piece — but the point is, it’s brand new work, so there’s really no basis of comparison,” he said.
“It’s really kind of liberating,” Breen said.
This notion of using and showcasing original work is what enticed theatre KAPOW to hold the event again.
“We really enjoy supporting original work. There are a lot of potential pitfalls, because you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s important for the company, and furthermore it’s important to support the local writing scene,” Cahoon said.