One of the most exciting things a writer can do is push a character outside of his comfort zone.
It turns out the same is true for writers themselves.
I suppose I stepped away from the proverbial safety net the day I stopped being a dabbler and became a so-called authorpreneur. By and large, however, I write sci-fi and fantasy series. Throw in a handful of speculative short stories over the years, and my fiction fits snugly into a relatively contained space.
But as of last month, I can add “playwright” to my bio.
That’s right. I wrote a stage play.
In less than seven hours.
A little while ago, my services were solicited for something called 24-Hour Theater. It’s billed as a “race against the clock,” and the challenge is this: community members create an original play from scratch over the span of 24 hours.
That includes writing, rehearsing and performing.
Writers have nine hours after receiving a shared (but broad) theme to produce a 10-minute play. After writers email their hot-off-the-laptop scripts to the production team, directors and actors must interpret and memorize it before the curtain rises exactly one day after the kickoff.
Adhering to my “Year of Yes” mentality, I decided to give it a shot.
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. My sole goal was to avoid embarrassing myself. I’ve written scripts for marketing videos and television commercials but never for a live performance. How difficult could it be?
I was about to find out—and fast!
7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19
- The writers, directors, actors and production team gather to reveal the theme: “fall.”
- Groups are assigned lottery-style, and once writers learn who their actors are, they choose costume options from a few pre-selected possibilities.
- Both of my actors provided pajama options; deciding that it’s serendipity, I go with that.
- During a couple team-building exercises, I meet my two actors: Julie Wild and Nate Scheuers, who will also serve as director. I also take the opportunity to ask questions about their favorite roles, style, and so forth.
- Before I leave the kickoff meeting, I grab my complimentary survival kit, which contains snacks, caffeine, and even some Tylenol.
8:10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19
- I arrive home and immediately get to work, starting with the theme. Dismissing the season as too obvious, I list other definitions and expressions. “Falling temperatures,” “falling asleep,” “falling in love,” “falling star, “falling out,” etc.
- Next, I brainstorm scenarios where two people might find themselves wearing pajamas. A couple enjoying a rare lazy morning? The only two coworkers who dressed up for Pajama Day? Patients in a psych ward? Two strangers falling down a bottomless pit in some kind of Kafkaesque catastrophe?
- I latch onto an idea about two neighbors trapped in a building without heat and/or electricity. I begin outlining to see where the story takes me. I get to the end and don’t bother to map out any of the other options. This is “the one.”
9:25 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19
- My goal is to start the first draft before 9:30, which I do, albeit barely.
- The outline is broken out page by page, so I’m able to get the structure down relatively quickly.
- The only thing that slows me down is adhering to the proper playwriting format, which is foreign to me. I know I’m providing too many stage directions, but I want to remove as much guesswork as possible to make it easier for my actors.
- I think I’m moving at a pretty quick clip, but it’s already tomorrow.
2:35 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20
- I finish the script. But I can’t submit a rough draft, so I go over it again, fixing typos, cleaning up formatting, and reworking dialogue.
3:05 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20
- I know I could continue to tweak until the 5 a.m. deadline. Instead, I email in the script for my one-act play, “Fallout.”
3:?? a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20
- In the grip of a major writing high, I toss and turn in bed. I’m excited to see what the actors make of the script. I’m stuck in creative mode, but eventually my brain shuts off, and I fall asleep.
Although a couple of texts came in from my actors, by and large it was radio silence on Saturday. I spoke with a fellow writer before the performance, and she too felt a little in the dark. And maybe a little apprehensive.
Of course, we didn’t have to wait long to watch the fruits of our labor. The five plays—“TKO,” “Fallout,” “Foodie Fallout,” “Cookie Con,” and “Falling for Kitty”—all took a different approach to the theme. Comedy decidedly won the day.
I have to say I was incredibly impressed with all of the actors and directors. It just goes to show what can be accomplished when creative people are passionate and dedicated to a project.
As for my play, “Fallout,” I can’t express how delighted I was with how it turned out. Mostly, I amazed at how close the performance matched what was in my mind. And when a change was made, it was for the better.
If you’re interested in reading my script, you can download it here.
Meanwhile, I’m hoping the 24-Hour Theater will have an encore in 2019!