Four years ago this month I participated in something amazing: a 24 hour theater project. I was conscripted by my friends and organizers of the event, Dan Varas and Dana Harris, both of whom I had performed with in The Laramie Project the year before. 24 Hour Theater was established as a fundraiser for the Westside Players Theater in Pocatello, ID. At the time Westside Players Theater needed a new roof, and each subsequent year funding from the project has gone to other refurbishment needs. Now the project has been going four years strong. Last week in fact was the fourth annual.
For me though, back in 2012, the night began early. Around 8 pm, local donors and press stopped by for a soft launch of the event. It was also where actors, directors, and writers were chosen. The six writers and six directors and a handful of performers per team were divvied up and assigned categories, such as science fiction, drama, mystery, etc., as well as being given a few other hints and requirements (hints included things like cactus, bedroom farce, or apocalypse). The energy was uncertain and hopeful, excited and determined. Six one-act plays would be devised and executed by 8 pm the next night. At 10 pm the clock started and writers were sequestered and given until 6 am to finish their work. From there it was up to the directors and the actors to finish out the plays. I was only along for the ride as a writing advisor.
It was my job to periodically check in with the writers, read through, talk through, and offer suggestions on how best to accomplish their tasks. For the most part, it went rather smoothly. Each writer had their own spark and intention with each play. I do remember one of my charges took things in a direction I wasn’t comfortable with–a description of witches performing some rather allegedly erotic and violent rituals. I didn’t want to stifle his creativity but at the same time we were hoping to fundraise–not create our own Sinead O’Connor. Altering that particular writer’s course I left to Dan Varas' control.
The night itself felt like a TV family, probably best described as an episode of Roseanne. There were people coming and going at all times, so many different personalities and ages, people being praised or scolded. Laughing or fighting. I’ll never forget exploring the hauntingly morbid basement of the Westside Theater for set decorations. Behind the spiders, the menagerie of sets and props were a backdrop of past and future stories.
Around 3 am I watched the cult classic film, Drowning Mona, pausing sometimes to go check in with the writers. My job was easy. All I had to do was stay up all night with friends, make new ones, tell people what they were doing wrong - a hobby of mine and something even encouraged in this case. Once the writing was complete by 6 am, and while the actors and directors took over, I went home and slept for a few hours.
Those 24 hours were a whirlpool and washed up on the shore were six distinct performances born out of passion and exhaustion. I have had the extreme fortune to have some very talented people in my life, and 24 hour theater was a perfect example of this. From conceptualization to execution, it was such a rewarding experience to be a part of. I had hoped to return this year and play again, but other priorities took precedence: the launch of BACKWORDS Press took up a ton of my time and creative energies this year, so the 24-hour theater project had to wait. Hopefully next year I’ll get my chance to not only advise but to write as well. I never thought of adding the title of “performed playwright” to my bucket list until seeing so many others accomplishing it. Now it’s high on my list and with a great production such as 24 hour, it seems an achievable goal. With the help of a 4 am coffee drip i.v. of course.
If you’re in the Pocatello, Idaho area be sure and check out a performance at Westside Players. I can personally say that they put on great work every year.