24-Hour Play Project presents white-hot creations

Categories: Theater

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Image courtesy Theatre Unbound
Deadlines can be good for creativity. There's nothing like an editor breathing down your neck to get a writer off the couch and to the computer, at the very least to make all the shouting and screaming stop.

Of course, some deadlines are tighter than others. For Theatre Unbound, this weekend brings their annual example of white-hot creation: The 24-Hour Play Project.

From Friday evening until the show starts Saturday, groups of playwrights, actors, and directors will team up to bring brand-new creations to the stage. In all, six short plays will be created for the event.

Theatre Unbound Artistic Director Stacey Poirier participated in the event's debut back in 2001. "It was new and exciting and a wonderful challenge for the artists," she says about the first one. "And it still is."

More than 40 artists are expected to participate in this year's edition, which will be presented at the Anne Simley Theatre at Hamline. With so many creative people, organization is key. The work is divided ahead of time, with each person assigned to be an actor, director, or playwright.

"There is only so much prep work you can do, because there is only so much time. You just have to jump in and have fun and trust that the adrenaline and creative juices will kick in," Poirier says.

Delta Giordano first participated in the program in 2003. "It sounded really exhilarating, and it was, but also pretty scary to perform after very little rehearsal. I remember that one was also in January and it was freezing when we walked from our cars to the space lugging our costumes and props. I wasn't sure what I was in for," she says.

Here's how the process works: A dozen or more playwrights are paired up. They are given their topics or suggestions. They have to incorporate five of the six topics into their play. They have from 9 p.m. Friday evening until 5 a.m. to complete their work. "Most of them finish before that and go home for a bit of sleep," Giordano says.

Poirier reads the plays, casts them from the pool of actors, and then assigns the directors. During the day, each cast gets three hours to rehearse the short play, followed by a very quick technical run through just before the performance.

The Theatre Unbound audience has some say in all of the proceedings as well. At the company's website, people voted for the six ingredients that each of the plays will incorporate. (The voting is now closed.)

Of course, lessons have been learned through the years. "The first time I organized the 24-Hour Play Project by myself, I didn't give the writers caps on their cast size, so they all wrote plays for 5 or more actors," Poirier says. "I was on the phone all the next day trying to pull people in and most of the actors involved had to take on multiple roles. It was chaotic, to say the least. Now the playwrights get a set cast number, and we have back-up artists on call."

After the performance, the entire company is thrilled with what has happened, and is ready for a break.

"It's a bit euphoric when it's over and you feel like you would like to jump right back in, but it takes a lot of leg work ahead of time to set everything up, so we are perfectly happy keeping it to once a year," Poirier says.

"As I said, it's exciting and scary. No one really knows what to expect. Some pieces have two actors, some have six. Some are hilarious, some are poignant. It can be nerve-wracking, but also very freeing--everyone is in the same boat. And you have to just go for it when you have so little time to prepare," Giordano adds. "Some people sign up to do it every year; I'm not sure if it's because of the rush they get from the event, or if it's because there's some sort of amnesia that sets in and they forget how stressful it is.  But the overall feeling is fun for us and fun for the audience."

The 24-Hour Play Project performs at 8 p.m. Saturday.

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Matthew Saxe
Matthew Saxe

I love 24-hour theater. The first production of this style that I am familiar with was at Sacred Fools Theatre in L.A. back in 1997 or so. Although in some ways it is done differently than Theatre Unbounds way, it is basically the same thing, plays written overnight, rehearsed the next day and performed that night. It has become a running show at the theatre done there every New Years Eve, Labor Day weekend, and at least one other time in the year. I've been in more than half a dozen of these shows, mostly as an actor, but in one weekend an actor the first night and writer the next. Its an absolute rush for everyone involved and watching. It truly emphasizes the immmediacy and excitement of live theater. My only question about this event is this: How does one get involved with it at Unbound and why isn't it happening a little more frequently than just once a year? What does one have to do to get put in the queue to perform in this show? The main issue I have with the MN theater scene since I moved here in Sept of 2008 after 8 years of heavy involvement in the L.A. 99-seat and under community is the lack of openess companies here seem to organize around and almost pride themselves on. This kind of theater is fun and exciting and I'm sure I'm not the only actor still new to the scene here and trying to understand how things work here who would like to get involved. The question is: How?

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