Handing a director the script you’ve labored over for 12 hours isn’t quite like giving up a child, 24 Hour Play Festival veteran Mark Marshall said, but it’s kind of like giving up a kitten.
But that’s what playwrights have to do at the third annual 24 Hour Play Festival, produced again by New Hampshire’s theatre KAPOW. The festival based at Pinkerton Academy’s Stockbridge Theatre involves a combination of seven playwrights, six directors and 22 actors who, within a single day, will write, direct and produce six 10- to 15-minute plays.
The festival’s setup will be the same as in years past: the playwrights (Steven Bergman, Lynne Guimond Sabean, Kelly Smith, Scott Tobin, Donald Tongue and the team of Kyp Pilalas and Marshall) meet up Friday night to learn the theme of the festival. They receive a list of guidelines and, through a draw of the hat, their directors and actors. They have all night to come up with a 10- to 15-minute, one-act play. The next morning, the scripts they wrote will be distributed to the actors and directors (Tom Anastasi, Katelyn Devorak, Aaron Foss, Shawn Rourke, Deb Shaw and Wanda Strukus) to rehearse before the staging on Saturday night.
In its third year, actors, directors and playwrights showed so much interest in the 24-hour challenge that theatre KAPOW! founders Matt and Carey Cahoon decided to add one more play to the festival.
“We ended up having to turn away playwrights and directors and actors. … People have heard about it through word of mouth. … It’s super high-stress because you’re working on the ultimate deadline, but that’s all you’re doing. It’s a way to just focus and do what you love for a day,” said Carey Cahoon.
During the festival, Carey Cahoon will manage the stage while her husband, Matt, will be the tech guy. Each play can contain costumes, props (though what those are is dependent on what theatre KAPOW! has in stock), but Carey Cahoon says there’s less emphasis on the bells and whistles.
“We try to do costumes as people need them. … Hopefully nobody writes a play about Victorian England … but we don’t throw up a whole set. The point is to get right down to the story, the character, the dialogue, those elements,” Carey Cahoon said.
There’s little time for much else.
“There’s no time for drama — everybody is working together, and that’s what makes it fun. I always lose lots of hair,” Carey Cahoon said.
This challenge is what attracts writing team Marshall and Pilalas. The only writing duo within the festival, they thrive in timed creative endeavors; they’re also 48-Hour Film Festival veterans.
“Usually when we write a script, we’re writing it for someone else to direct. ... You don’t want to tell the director what to do on the script, aside from the essential,” Marshall said. “You need to leave some room for interpretation.”
The pair say that much of a playwright’s success has to do with his response to a prompt. (Last year’s was “dream.” The year before it was “home.”)
“Within the first 10 minutes, you respond in one of two ways. You’re either like, ‘Oh my God, I have this great idea,” or you have crickets in the brain for hours,” Marshall said. “You might think that it’d be nice with a simple prompt because you can branch off anywhere, but there are so many places you can get lost very quickly.”
It’s amazing, said Joe Pelonzi, a festival alum who’s returning as an actor, what people can do in 24 hours.
“It’s really good quality theater. You wouldn’t think it’s possible, but it really is,” Pelonzi said. “You get this thrill of completing something, and it all happens in 24 hours.”
And many of these plays may lead lives beyond those 24 hours.
“Some of the plays that have come out of these, playwrights have taken to other festivals or workshops. … I got an email from one of the playwrights from last year who used the script three times since. … It’s really blossomed into this great opportunity for lots of people,” Carey Cahoon said.