Putting on a play is a drawn-out, complicated process. First, a producer must choose the show and fund it. Then, the director has to cast the play and create an artistic vision for the production. The actors rehearse for weeks; the technical team constructs the world of the play and the stage manager keeps the whole affair running smoothly. Finally, all of this culminates in the performance itself. This timeframe doesn’t even include the months or even years that the playwright spent on the script.
What happens when all that work is condensed into a single day?
This is the idea behind the 24 Hour Play Festival that will take place at the University of Miami in January.
Theatre professor and Jerry Herman Ring Theatre Interim Artistic Director Peter Ellenstein was the driving force behind bringing this event to campus. The festival will give students the opportunity to execute a play in only 24 hours.
“It’s one of the most creative, combustible events that I can think of,” Ellenstein said about the endeavor. “It also allows people to do things they don’t usually do and take chances.”
Ellenstein’s experience with the 24 Hour Play Festival stretches back two decades. In 1995, his friend Tina Fallon called him with the initial idea.
“I was one of the first people she called about it,” Ellenstein recounted. “She explained it to me and I said, ‘That’s, like, the worst idea I’ve ever heard.’”
However, after Ellenstein worked on the show at the New York International Fringe Festival, he changed his mind.
“I realized while doing it that it’s not about the perfection of theater; it’s about this explosive, creative event that makes you make fast and [make] hard choices and embrace your creativity in a different way,” he said. “The audience had a blast.”
UM’s festival will begin on the night of Jan. 22, when everyone involved will gather in the Ring Theatre with a prop or costume for potential inspiration. The 24 actors will then introduce themselves to the six playwrights before going home to rest for a long day ahead. The playwrights will pick their casts and then spend all night working to produce a short script with the help of faculty advisors. At 6 a.m., they will finalize their drafts and sleep off the long night.
Then, the directors, stage managers and actors will gather for breakfast and a day of rehearsals, all taking turns in the actual performance space. The 24 Hour Plays are set to be directed by theatre department faculty, but all other participants will be students. Finally, at 8 p.m., the curtain will go up. The plays will be performed to the public just one hectic day after they were first written.
“Some of it will turn out wonderful art, some of it will turn out well-intentioned disaster, and that’s all part of the fun,” Ellenstein said. “It gives you a chance to just try and be in an intensely collaborative experience. It’s an adventure that will only happen once, never again.”
Interested students can fill out applications before Dec. 4 to be considered to participate. The final performance is open to the general public.