I Created A Play In 24 Hours With Strangers & Things Got Weird

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
I woke up at 3 a.m. sprawled across a row of only slightly padded chairs that had spread out, becoming less and less bed-like as I slept. Vanesa was still asleep on the bed, but Matt and Alan were working, reading and revising as light unnaturally poured from the window from the McDonalds across the street. Alex had just gotten back, bringing a wolf Ty Beanie Baby, a Game of Thrones crown, and three pounds of Italian cookies. We were nine hours into the play-writing process — the curtain would go up on our production in 15 hours.
I was invited to create and stage a play in 24 hours by Matt, an actor I met through a sketch comedy show, who proved himself a true professional when he performed its second showing for an audience of four, which included the bartender. Our group of seven included five actors fresh from a two-year conservatory, another writer, and myself. At six we gathered at the Time Square Performing Arts center with the other five teams and learned what we'd have to work with to create ten minutes of compelling theater. Our mandatory props were a fur jacket that looked like it might have been stuffed in the back of a prop room since the '60s, but on closer inspection was actually a recent buy from H&M, and a red ukulele with a broken string. We had to work in an insult, and a quote, "'Tis the very witching hour of night," (which is pulled from Hamlet, not Macbeth as some of my teammates and I initially guessed).
Cut to four hours of brainstorming: We discussed the classic play within a play, possibly Shakespeare performed by middle school kids, and possibly with a drunk director. Drunkenness and actual Shakespeare seemed the most popular ways to work in a quote that involved the word: 'tis. We were pretty far into the plotting of a fairytale parody, when we realized, it was Shrek. All parties agreed the worst possible outcome for us would be waking up tomorrow and realizing we had accidentally written Shrek. We landed on an intervention scene, with an alcoholic being confronted by her two sisters, both of which had more pressing problems than she did. A free-spirited boyfriend played the ukulele while spouting Shakespeare in the corner. The coat became "the talking coat," a kind of conch shell for the high-stress confrontation. There was a pun about dogs that was cut. There was a joke about Buzzfeed that stayed.

After a little improv two actresses left, leaving us to write, and sleep on old set pieces, and walk dazedly though Time Square in the search of food beyond Italian cookies. I went home at four in the morning, and when I got back the next day at one that afternoon, pages had been cut. An ending had also been added, and one actor had become our director (in the same clothes he wore on the day before. We were shuffled from room to room, learning lines in the echoing voice lab and, for a while, exiled into the hall where we ate our lunch/dinner and thought of ways to get the Hamlet line onstage should our hippy boyfriend stumble over it. We selected the song that would open our play, (Katy Perry's "Firework"). In a flash we were backstage, rehearsing lines until the last minute and nervously playing with whatever was handy like the two mini-dodge balls.

As a writer I got to sit in the audience for the first performance at 6 p.m., which was exactly 24-hours after we had met and received the prompt. The plays were incredibly varied, one had interpretive dance and closed with an original song; another included a bear on a rampage. There were comedies and dramas and a murder-mystery. And they all somehow fit in the coat, the ukulele, and the quote.

After the second show ended actors and writers clustered around our guests as chips and water were set out. I hadn't heard a group of twenty-somethings speak so rapturously about sleep since college. We were wobbly, spacey, intensely tired. But we had created a small piece of theater in a day. It was the kind of accomplishment that allowed me to feel like I'd had an incredibly productive weekend, even when paired Sunday's Gilmore Girls marathon.

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