I Survived the 24-Hour Play Fest!

I want a t-shirt that says, “I survived the 24-Hour Play Fest”!

On Saturday, September 15, the Playwrights Center of San Francisco presented its second (but my first) 24-Hour Play Fest.  The experience was far more exhilarating and artistically satisfying than I could have imagined—and every bit as exhausting as I expected it to be.

For the playwrights, the adventure began on Friday evening about 6 pm at Theatre 250 on Mission Street when we (Vonn Scott Bair, Rachel Bublitz, Gaetana Caldwell-Smith, Modecai Cohen Ettinger, Jerome Joseph Gentes, Laylah Muran, and I) gathered to draw little slips of paper out of a hat.  By virtue of this wonderfully random process, we were each assigned actors and a director, and were collectively assigned a theme: “That’s Not True!”  We met briefly with our ensembles.  Then we went home to write a play for them.

7:45 pm on Friday: Since the sorting hat has assigned me a cast of four—three women and one man—my fancies turn to Macbeth and the witches … Scratch that, witches are overdone.  How about the witches’ “familiars”—the spirits who attend upon them, or perhaps, actually govern their actions?  Two familiars are named in the text of the Scottish play: Graymalkin and Paddock, a cat and a toad.  Google around to find a third appropriate name:  “Pyewacket.”  For variety, let’s call her a dog.  Set the scene: between life and death.  The time: the day after tomorrow.  Start writing dialogue.  “Pyewacket” rhymes with “thwack it” … If Macbeth had thwacked less and thought more, he might have lived to see tomorrow … Oh, this is fun … Write more silly lines …

And then discover, around about midnight, that my characters have no reason for being.  Why are they here?  What do they want from each other?  Why on earth did I volunteer to write a ten-minute script overnight when I am by nature a slow, deliberative, and matutinal writer?  In other circumstances, I would give the premise up as a bad idea.  But there is a 7 am deadline looming.  It’s way too late and I’m way too wired to come up with a new concept.  So I allow my characters to interrogate each other:  “What do you want from us?” they ask. And lo and behold, they answer.  The Familiars:  We want recognition.  The witches always get all the credit.  Macbeth: I want a chance for a do-over, not to make the same mistakes again.

A little before 4 am, I checked my formatting and e-mailed “The Day After Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow …” to festival producer Jennifer Roberts.  Twice.  Just to be safe.  Then I went to bed and failed to sleep.

Rehearsals were well under way when I walked in the front door of Say Media on 3rd and Townsend shortly after noon on Saturday.  (Thank you, Say Media, for loaning PCSF this fantastic rehearsal space.)  Rising from the stairwell came the clamor of seven casts rehearsing seven new plays.  I found my stalwart ensemble and settled in to watch. Their turn now to work.  My turn for the pleasure of seeing my characters come beautifully to life.

7:45 pm on Saturday:  Back at Theatre 250.  A sold-out show.  In spite of a non-functioning dimmer board, the house lights go down, the stage lights come up.  Paddock croaks.  The audience laughs.

Thanks. And thanks and ever thanks to director Amy Crumpacker and actors Riley Krull, Sarah Nowicke, Shaun Plander, and Ashley Sullivan:  you were brilliant, bold, and resolute!  And off book too.

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