All bets were off as students performed in UM’s annual 24 Hour Plays Festival on Saturday in the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre. During the event, studnets were given only 24 hours to execute a play.
“There will be chaos, as always,” said Peter Ellenstein, artistic director of the Ring Theatre, in anticipation of the event.
The 24-hour process started around 8 p.m. on Friday, when a group of approximately 50 actors, writers, directors and technicians gathered at the Ring. The participants each brought one completely random costume of choice and one prop with no prior planning or coordination.
The creativity in props and costumes is what brings about the chaotic nature of the plays, Ellenstein said. He reminisced to a past year when one student brought in a lobster suit as his costume and took on the persona of an underground lobster wrestler; one student even brought in his accordion-playing roommate as a prop.
After the actors left, from around 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., the writers composed six 10-minute plays using the various actors, props and costumes to inspire them.
The performances covered a range of topics and genres, including a play about a divorce-bound couple rediscovering their love for each other opening for a puzzling murder-mystery in which a serial killer terminated his victims, locked in a room, one-by-one. Vibrant outfits and creative props only served to bolster the intrigue of the performances. The actresses adorned colorful, wavy dresses, and the scene was set by props such as intricately woven baskets and bottles of poison.
Throughout the process, the writers received invaluable guidance from Tarell McCraney, an acclaimed playwright and professor of theatre and civic engagement, who held a writing workshop for the writers prior to the 24 Hour Plays. “[The students] all said it was really helpful for them,” Ellenstein said.
Once the scripts were written, directors came in at approximately 7 a.m. to read what the writers had created, and each director chose a script to work on.
The actors then returned to the theater at 8 a.m. to learn which play they would be performing in. They broke up into groups and went to various rehearsal rooms around campus, where they spent 12 straight hours preparing the show.
“It’s about being as creative as you can with all kinds of obstacles in your way … seeing what you can do with the imagination and a lot of enthusiasm and endurance,” Ellenstein said.
All six performances entertained the crowds, each play seemingly outdoing its predecessor. Each performance was able to stir roaring laughs from the crowd while exploring themes of love, death and friendship.