24 Hour Theatre

This is a post I had been intending to write over a week ago but, of course, this being March Madness, I just haven’t had time or energy. As a result, there is now a backlog of posts that I would like to put up (hopefully) in the next few days. Here’s the first one:

It’s March, the busiest month of my academic year. We have school plays and parent conferences and grade 5 exhibition and on top of all that, the regular theatre and (sometimes) social stuff I do as normal filler between work and home but this month just adds to the pile of “stuff” to do.

There are four Saturdays in March. Two of them were taken up with full-day rehearsals (10am-4pm) for the high school play. Plus rehearsals almost every night of the week from 3:30-6pm for the entire month. Two days of grade 5 exhibition – one going until 8pm, a play reading on a Friday evening, a play rehearsal on a Wednesday evening (after school rehearsal until 6) and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. So when I find myself with one weekend, right in the middle of all this chaos, one glorious Saturday/Sunday that somehow slipped under the radar and had nothing booked, did I clean my house? No. Do groceries? No. Laundry? Nope. Catch up on sleep? YES! Just kidding, I didn’t. I decided to engage in a round of 24 Hour Theatre. And yes, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

24 Hour Theatre is pretty common in the acting world amongst college students, theatre summer campers and even professional drama groups. The basic concept is to write, direct and perform a play in the span of 24 hours. The most common way this is done is on Day 1, starting at 8pm, the writers begin writing their short (very short) plays. The plays must be completed by 8am the morning of Day 2, at which point the directors come in, read the plays and decide on who is doing which one. Then at 9am, the actors come in to work with the directors. Groups then have from 9am-8pm to block, rehearse and memorize the plays before the audience arrives at 8pm to watch the show. Plays normally last about 15 minutes each and there is an understanding between actors and audience that these plays were created within a very short amount of time so Pulitzer Prize winners they are not, but always a fun little night of entertainment (not to mention these short plays often spark a jumping off point for writers to carry on with a particular theme, or a safe place for new writers to try their hand).

There is also a second format in which plays are written as a collaborative effort by the writer, director and actors all together (like a workshop) for the full 24 hours, but this is less common.

Anyway, it has been years since I participated in 24 Hour Theatre. Years. So, back in November, when I found myself, after one of our last performances of White Out, sitting at the wine bar next door to the theatre with my friend Stephen and our new friend Shaun (an exchange student from Singapore here for one year) talking about 24 Hour Theatre, I thought it was all theoretical, right? Yeah we could do this with the theatre group here, in theory. Shaun had been working the bar at that night’s performance and had started talking about the concept. Stephen had never heard of it before so we carried on the conversation next door at D-Vino’s. At the end of the evening, Shaun asked if we would be interested in trying this out with the theatre group and we both said sure, why not? (I can’t speak for Stephen but my thought process was somewhere along the lines of “This is probably never going to happen but hey, good luck to you, kid.”)

Then, when Shaun contacted us in early January, asking about people we thought might be interested in the experience I, for one, passed on some names, still thinking it was probably unlikely to come to fruition. And when he emailed me again in mid February asking me (as Secretary to the Committee at that point) to send out a call for those interested, I still thought, this is probably not going to work. More fool me.

That’s how I found myself participating in 24 Hour Theatre on my one weekend off. Finding people had been difficult for Shaun; most members had never heard of this before. But a few brave souls agreed to give it a try and I threw my hat in because he needed one more person for it to work. In the end, we had 8 people – 2 writers, 2 directors and 4 actors – the absolute minimum (normally you have about 5 writers, 5 directors and 10-15 actors).

We met on Saturday night at 8pm at Shaun’s house. We were instructed to bring something that meant something to us and take a few minutes to talk about that object to the group. This is to help spark ideas for the writers (for larger groups, where this can take a lot of time, often each person is instead asked to provide a “theme”. All themes are thrown into a hat and one is drawn out – for example “bicycles”. Then, every play that is written must incorporate that theme).

After an hour, everyone broke up. The actors and directors headed home for a good night’s sleep and the writers started writing. In the morning we met at the theatre at 8am (I’m lucky, the theatre is a six minute walk from my house, so I didn’t have to get up too early on a Sunday morning). Myself and the other director, Kristina, chose our plays and actors (actors came with the plays, as the writers were writing with specific people in mind) and went our separate ways to work with what we had.

This is where things deviated from the norm a bit. Because we are not college students (except Shaun) or at theatre camp, or a professional acting troupe – we are normal, working people – we did not perform on the night of Day 2, as would normally be the case. We finished rehearsing on Sunday and then met up the following evening (Monday – Day 3) to perform for a small but appreciative crowd.

There were hiccups along the way, of course, but everything worked out and the audience responded very positively, asking many questions, after the performance, about the process and wondering if we would do this again before the summer, so more could be involved (possibly June). It was a tiring weekend, but definitely worth while. Even if it meant no clean clothes and picking up food on my way home from work each night, for another (busy) week.

PS. I recently discovered that the Zurich Film Festival do a similar thing every year where they announce a theme and hold a 48-hour filmmaking contest. That could be cool to try some day.

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