If you're not familiar with the twenty-four-hour structure that seems to be sweeping theater and film, a bunch of artist types meet, usually in the evening, and in twenty-four hours make either a play or a film.
Crazy? Yeah, it is. I've done this one other time, and both times now I found myself quelling sheer panic, just wondering what the heck had I gotten myself into (with Hovey, it was the second time and I was thinking, You didn't learn the first time??) and how I was going to pull this off. As with anything, there's nothing like a little pressure to get the creative juices flowing.
It was a tremendously rewarding experience, and before I get into what was so rewarding, I'll throw out a few impressions.
First, I spent a few days before Friday lying awake in bed worrying. I tried to prepare myself, just to have something in my pocket, just in case, but the nature of the project pretty much makes this futile. The only thing I could think of was write a lot of action rather than dialogue so the actors's brains wouldn't explode trying to memorize a soliliquoy. (I ended up writing a rather wordy play, and the actors rose to the occasion.)
I got to the theater about twenty minutes early, and I knew one person. I was sort of sitting by myself when a woman walked in and immediately started talking to me. For maybe fifteen seconds we talked and I immediatley liked her. She was Wendy Feign, and we ultimately were paired up as playwright and director. This was a good thing, because in those fifteen seconds, I think Wendy used the word "collaborate" about five times, which was music to my ears.
Down in the theater Michael gave us the ground rules, telling us we could write whatever we wanted as long as it loosely revolved around a dinner theme. For some reason this made me nervous. I suddenly felt locked in.
Then playwright, director, and actors were matched up. We had a cast of four, and again, I had a moment of panic because for days I, for some reason, thought it would be a two-person cast. What the heck am I going to do with all these people, I wondered.
We all talked a bit, exchanged contact info, and I tried to glean as much as I could from the actors about themselves, their likes and dislikes. The one real tidbit of info I left with came from Wendy who said to me, You know, the characters don't have to be human.
That's it! I thought to myself. Wendy, you're a genius. All I needed was that one little piece of thread to unravel the whole story. I left the theater, not having a clue of what I was going to write, but that little tip was what I clung to.
By the time I hit the highway--maybe ten minutes--the scenerio was jelling in my mind. Animals, at dinner. A lion and a leopard. No, a cheetah. Yeah, there's something sexy about cheetahs.
By the time I got home it was 11:00 (I had to stop for milk for coffee because I thought this was going to be a long night) I had the name the Serengeti Supper Club for the setting and the title, A Meating of the Minds in place.
By 3:30 I had written a ten-minute play. Not a great play. But it was on paper. I emailed it to Wendy that morning, she met with the actors, I showed up around 11:00, we met some more, and for me, that was it until the show that night, which I can honestly say was very entertaining and amazing for the quality that was pulled together in twenty-four hours.
Here's what I learned:
- Stop belaboring, you can write a fairly decent ten-minute play in a few hours.
- More importantly than hearing your play, a playwright has to see the play performed. I rewrote it today based on my observations that night.
- For a play to succeed, it is important that all the artists involved are invested in the piece. It was very flattering for me that the director and the actors really liked the play, even though I knew it could be so much better. But the other artists' enthusiasm drove the project forward.
- I really question the current model of putting scripts through a number of readings. Plays need to be seen, not heard.
- Conversely, readings are important, but I think we do too many readings, and should just put more plays up, even though they're not perfect. Playwrights, who are the initial catalyst, need that. I think we'd get quality theater faster in the long run.
- I am more nervous before one of my plays is performed than I've ever been before going on stage as an actor.
The play I wrote is called A Meating of the Minds, and you can read it here.
It was directed by Wendy Feign Golden, and the cast was as follows:
Zebra: Jude Sabry
Lion: Vivian Liu-Somers
Cheetah: Marea Beeman
Human: Lou Fuoco