by SOPHIE KERMAN
As Theatre Unbound‘s Artistic Director Stacey Poirier says, “24 hour plays are the Xtreme Sport of theatre.” With that in mind, the company is presenting the 24:00:00 Xtreme Theatre Smackdown, a reincarnation of the 24-hour play project that has been a tradition for more than ten years.
To gear up for the 24-hour marathon of writing and rehearsal that will lead up to the performance of six new plays at 8:00pm on January 14, Theatre Unbound invites the public to vote for ingredients that must be included in each script. (You can weigh in on these ingredients, which range from deceptively simple props like a baseball to ridiculous stage directions such as making letters with body parts, on Theatre Unbound’s website until December 31.) But choosing the necessary ingredients is the last thing on the mind of some of the artists involved in this year’s Smackdown.
For the playwrights, who are on the clock from 9:00pm on January 13 until well before sunrise on the 14th, the challenge will be keeping their creative juices flowing through the night. Veteran 24-hour playwright Eli Effinger-Weintraub calls her strategy an “anti-strategy”:
I think about the event as little as possible beforehand. I want to minimize preconceptions about how the night might go—or how I want it to go—because I want to be up for any strange window the night might open. Other than that, coffee.
Michelle Storm, a returning participant for four years running, fuels herself on the collaborative process.
[One] thing that works is to keep talking through the writing, usually as our characters. One of us will type, and we take turns with typing. We frequently re-read and take breaks to refresh and stay inspired.
As tight as the deadlines are, both playwrights and performers feel the intense pressure. Effinger-Weintraub sees the crunch as liberating:
If I don’t have a play at the end of the night for this project, that’s it. There’s no second chance. Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, says, “From pressure springs strange and beautiful diamonds.” I believe that. With so little time, I have less chance to censor out ideas I might otherwise consider too “weird” to make it to the page. Not every play I’ve written for this event has been a masterpiece, but I don’t look at a single one and say, “We played it too safe.”
Actors face different challenges during the 12 hours of rehearsal leading up to the performance. In the words of actress Kara Greshwalk:
If you’ve ever been to a high school speech tournament, it’s THAT kind of energy: people frantically running lines, saying their monologues to a wall–that sort of thing. But she adds that this is the kind of experience that invigorates her after 12 years on Twin Cities stages: It’s like a one-day bootcamp in which you throw yourself into a show for which you don’t know the plot until you show up, what part you’ll play, or what you’ll be expected to do(!?). In every way, it’s a chance to change it up and build those acting muscles, and then unwind with a glass of wine and celebrate with your cast and crew when it’s done–just a like a regular show!
With only ten days left to vote on the ingredients, be sure and cast your ballot for what kind of material these artists will have to work with. Then we’ll just have to wait for, in Poirier’s words, the “golden victories” and “spectacular wipe-outs” that are sure to hit the stage on January 14!