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They're Up All Night to Perform: A look at 24-Hour Theatre Festival

Junior Sam Johnson, center, plays the son of the devil in "Mother of Demons." Senior Shayla Harris and sophomore Christy Cyr play his mothers. // Photo by Christina Becker
Old Main Theatre’s lights shine over the seats where a dozen theater students write their names on pieces of paper and place them on the dark stage. Between bouts of excited chatting and laughter, names were called out into four teams, with one director and one playwright assigned to each of them. Student Theatre Productions at Western started its second 24-Hour Play Festival this year on Friday, April 17, in Old Main Theatre. As artistic director for STP, Dylan Gervais set out to organize one for the 2015 season after the event's two-year hiatus. In just 24 hours, teams of student playwrights are required to create 10-minute plays, directed by student directors and performed by student actors, Gervais said in an email. This year, the turnout of artists allowed for four plays to be written and produced with three actors in each play. Everyone involved gets to endure the entire process of creating, rehearsing and performing a play, but without the time commitment that it usually takes, Gervais said. Freshman Alynn Sobolik had directed two plays in high school and participated in the 24-Hour Play Festival for the first time. “The last two times [I directed], I had about two months to dive into the script,” Sobolik said. “I think I’m going to have a lot of limitations with this short time.” After the teams are announced, the playwrights are assigned a theme to use as inspiration for the 10-minute plays. As Gervais pulled the students’ theme suggestions out of a hat, he made it clear he had high hopes for this quarter's theme. He announced this quarter’s theme to be “Taylor Swift and wine moms.”
Right: Writer Emory Tibbetts, second from left, addresses his cast after learning the theme of the show on Friday, April 17. // Photo by Christina Becker
The group of students sitting in the front rows reacted with equal parts confusion and enthusiasm. Senior Emory Tibbetts, a new playwright for the festival, was hesitant about the theme. “It’s going to be a challenge. I’ve never written about Taylor Swift or wine moms before,” Tibbetts said. Within an hour of having their team, the playwrights are given 12 hours to write the play. The teams have exactly 24 hours to read, rehearse and prepare for the performance. The speed of the production process allows for not only an interesting array of plays, but also makes time for STP to work on other projects later on in the season and provides an opportunity for theatre students to try the 24-hour process. “I’ve haven’t done anything for this show before,” Tibbetts said. “This is something totally new.” So many productions happen on Western’s campus that sometimes there just isn't the time or the performance space to have a quick show like the 24-Hour Play Festival, Gervais said. By making the writing and production process quicker, the playwrights can receive feedback from the audience to apply to rewrites, he said. There are many professional theatre companies that produce these types of festivals, Gervais said. Twenty-four hours later, the lights that illuminated the seats the day before dim to quiet down the audience. The stage lights are switch on to introduce the playwrights and directors who worked throughout the night and rehearsed all day.
Senior Dylan Gervais drew names of writers, directors and actors to assemble groups. He also drew themes for the show that people wrote on pieces of paper from the cup. // Photo by Christina Becker
Tibbetts’ play “I am Taylor Swift,” is first and is a literal interpretation of the theme. Two girls sit at a bus stop and discussed eloquence and grace in the act of breaking up. They are interrupted by an inebriated woman who mistake one of the girls for Taylor Swift. Throughout the 10-minute play, bliss and despair are exchanged between the girl and the intoxicated woman who goes from euphoric to gloomy, and is summed up by one of her lines: “I’m wrecked, but you’re fabulous.” “[The festival] definitely makes you work within limitations,” Tibbetts said. “But you end up creating something interesting because you’re going outside your comfort zone.” Shayla Harris, a communication studies and theater student, performed as the wine mom in the second play, “Mother of Demons.” “I think it’s a wonderful way to use our skill in a quick amount of time,” Harris said. At the end of the fourth play, the curtain stays open to display the full cast and crew of the festival for a couple bows. Many of them had never done anything like it before, and for some, it was their first theatrical production. As soon as the curtain is drawn, the lights revert back to the seats. The audience mingle with the artists to give them feedback on their performances, directing and writing. As quickly as the plays had been written and rehearsed, the group of theater enthusiasts share their anticipation for the next installment of the 24-Hour Play Festival and rush through the doors of Old Main Theatre. The dust finally settles on the stage. That is, until the next festival.
Sophomores Brenna Inverson and Jaci Sherer perform in "I Am Taylor Swift" as part of the 24-Hour Play Festival. The show was written by senior Emory Tibbetts. // Photo by Christina Becker


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