by LIZ BYRON
What would you get if you were to mix extreme sports and traditional theatre? No need to do an experiment; Theatre Unbound has already done so, and the result is their annual event 24:00:00 Xtreme Theatre Smackdown.
A tradition since 2001, the Smackdown is a fast-paced, intense experience: a mere 24 hours before the performance, six teams of playwrights are given a list of “ingredients” (a thing, a phrase, an emotion, etc) which they must include in a script they write overnight. In the morning, directors and actors are assigned to each script, and the teams have the rest of the day to stage and rehearse a short play. At 8pm, the curtain goes up, the crowd cheers, and it’s time for a smackdown!
The resulting performances are thus a little rough around the edges, but are fueled by the excitement of the premise and the enthusiasm of the foam-finger-waving audience. There are no rules as to genre, but each piece had at least a few laughs, especially as the audience waited with anticipation to see how each story would incorporate the required object –a monocle– and phrase — “If I had only learned Norwegian!”
The Smackdown is “hosted” by the masked, spandex-clad Crushinator the Corset Buster, who dissects the action and sometimes talks the audience through slo-mo replays of particularly exciting moments. The Xtreme Cheerleaders help with the transition between pieces, and the commentators (sorry, that’s “Xtreme SmackCasters”) help narrate the action, while the “xtreme” physical challenges for the playwrights between pieces ensure the Smackdown is a non-stop ride for the audience and staff.
Now, I can tell you that I thought “FireChild” Brenda Bell Brown and “Rowdy” Rhiana Yazzie‘s piece Talking Pollyanna was particularly clever and original, and that Abby “Abigator the Dominator” Swafford and Mike “Skyscraper” Hentges‘ script for Blind Intervention was touching and insightful. I can also tell you that Tender Ursae, by Heather “Lady Hands” Meyer and Ben “Five Point Palm Exploding Pun Technique” Tallen was my favourite, for its adorableness as well as its witty integration of the “polar vortex” ingredient in the challenge. I can even tell you that I might be biased toward this show, because I love it when theatre companies play with tradition, format, and/or audience expectations. But what I can’t tell you is to expect next year; the whole point is that every year it is new again, with only the format being consistent.
As with any show comprised of a series of short plays, the Smackdown is hit-or-miss. If a particular piece isn’t to your liking, the good news is that a new story is only minutes away. If you really love a particular play, the bad news is that it will soon be over! But the Xtreme Smackdown is fast-paced fun, and a unique experience as far as theatre goes. If you like long, slow dramas, this is a show to miss. But if you want something new, or if you have a friend who turns their nose up at theatre because it’s “stuffy” or “boring” (–well, first of all, your friend is wrong), this is the show to bring them to!
So, with 2014’s Smackdown already done, I’m here to tell you that you should mark your calendars for 2015 — or better still, sign up for Theatre Unbound’s newsletter, so that you remember to catch it next year. Buy your tickets in advance — not only was the show almost sold out, but the line at the door was crawling. And you want to get a good seat to catch all the smacking-down! It’s XTREME!
24:00:00 Xtreme Theatre Smackdown by Theatre Unbound was presented on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis at 8pm. Tickets were $18-20. http://www.theatreunbound.com