Monday, August 18, 2008

24-Hour Plays

CoHo Productions
August 23, 2008


Friday evening, four writers, Phillip Meyer, Shelly Lipkin, Valory J. Lawrence, and Nick James, and 34 actors will be locked into CoHo for 24 hours. During that limited amount of time the playwrights will create and direct their randomly selected actors in an original one-act to be performed Saturday evening.


Anonymous said...

"Locked in", eh?

Anonymous said...

Does anybody else remember that Theatre Vertigo used to do the 24 hour plays? And that they did it so much better?

Anonymous said...

...I honestly don't remember Theatre Vertigo doing any good shows...

splattworks said...

Vertigo's 24-hours plays were fun; I'm sure CoHo's are as well. Especially given that the plays depend on luck, improvisation, and inspiration in the moment, it's neither productive nor fair to compare the two, and it's rather beneath the dignity of the Portland theatre community to do so.

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone talking about Theater Vertigo in the past tense? Did something happen to it?

I've seen some good shows and some not so good shows at Vertigo, just like everywhere else in town. I have seen the 24 hour play festival on several occasions (because a friend was directing or acting) at both Vertigo and Coho. While mildly amusing I'm not sure I ever saw the point to either.

Anonymous theater makes some sense because there is a tension created by the audience and actors never knowing who will enter next and there is, of course, a lot of freshness to the relationships in the play. But does the fact that a play was rushed into production in 24 hours add anything to the artistry of that production? The result is usually just sloppy theater. Does knowing the play was put together very rapidly increase my enjoyment or understanding of it?

I can see how there might be merit in the experiment for playwrights or actors, but what is an audience supposed to get from this? How does that process positively effect our experience?

I'm not trying to criticize. Even if there is only merit for the artists involved, that's some merit, and I certainly don't have to participate if I don't want to. Obviously some people enjoy it. But if somebody has an answer to the "why" of the 24 hour play festival I would really like to hear it.

Phillip M. Meyer said...

Your query into the point of the 24hr. plays is warranted. As someone who wrote for them twice, I think I might be able to offer a perspective:

I think that the key to this is that we are, yes, seeing a compressed theatrical experience. But not only that, we're witnessing what happens when artists are told that they don't have time to make new choices. Because a writer only has about six hours to write something, the writer has to turn off the inhibitors and just... go. The actors must make choices on stage and commit to them all the way; even if they may not seem relevant or right at the time.

The end result can, yes, seem sloppy. However, what you are left with when you pull away the expectation of a polished piece of theatre, is the raw creative energies that go into making a piece happen. An audience is there to see bold choices, not what is typically accepted as "good" art. (Which can often be glossy and dull) Now, if bold choices are not made then it is a writer's or an actor's fault. But if bold choices are being made and commited to, then the 24hr. plays are doing their jobs; indeed, at that point it is up to the audience to engage in the experience.

At the end of the day we are also there to witness the birth of something greater. The last 24hr. play that I wrote, "Secrets", is being expanded into a full length script. When it was performed in the 24hr. plays in August, it was bold, episodic, unresolved and failed at doing some of the things that it was trying to do. But that's only half the point. Just like in improv, gold can be achieved when you release yourself from the barriers in your mind. I found gold through the time crunch, as I did not have time to answer the logistical questions of my plot; rather, I just plowed ahead and developed as much as I could and let the process do the rest.

In the end, I think that it must be approached differently from both sides: the writer and the audience. The writer is not there to put up something polished and complete, and the audience is not there to watch something "good." Both parties are there to be witness to what happens when artists forget what they "know" and just let words and stories flow through them and see what happens.

Yes, it's an exercise. But one, I would hope, an avid theatre-goer would understand, appreciate, and enjoy.

Understand that your question is not met with rancor by me. I think that it is valid and honest. I hope I was clear.

-Phillip M. Meyer-

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Meyer.

I think I have a better understanding and what you say makes a lot of sense. I get how this should be viewed more as a workshop or creative process rather than an evening of theater judged on it's final product. Perhaps more like going to see a staged reading or and evening of improvisational theater? Going in with different expectations helps a lot. Vertigo should consider printing your letter or something like it in their lobby.

I think I sometimes have had the feeling with the 24 hour play that the process wasn't forcing the playwrights or actors to make "bold" choices but, rather, it was forcing them to make obvious choices. I often have the same experience with improvisational theater. It may just take some training, or at least more practice, to get beyond that, and some people are just going to be better at it than others I guess. But I think the artists must have to fight that urge.

I have a thought. As an audience member being asked to share in an overall process (creating this experience in a compressed time line, as you say), I wonder if it would not be more interesting to watch parts of the whole process rather than simply witnessing the final product. It's really about the process and not the product anyway, right? I suspect there is a lot more drama and excitement in the rehearsals for some of these plays than there is in the final product. I for one would think that open rehearsals would be fascinating and at least as interesting as the final performance if not more so. That seems to be where the real raw creative energies are, and that's what interests me as an audience. Just a suggestion but it might be something for Vertigo to try.

Watching actors struggle with pieces that they haven't had time to prepare properly really becomes more about the actor and their skill at dealing with the tricky situation, rather than about the story and the play itself (again, much like improv). I do understand the joys of watching a new play being born. I get the same thrill by seeing a really well prepared staged reading though (I thought the staged reading of Sometimes a Great Notion was the best piece of theater I saw last summer. Really just as good as the finished production in many ways).

So the 24 hour play may not be for me, but I do have a better understanding(and appreciation, thank you) at least from a playwright's perspective of how this could be a really valuable process in jump starting the creative juices. For that alone I'm sure it has merit and it certainly is a one of a kind experience.

Thank you for sharing your insight and best of luck with your new play.

Phillip M. Meyer said...

Funny that you should say what you did about "open rehearseals." I agree with you that the most interesting part of the 24hr. plays is the process of who it gets done. The fact that this seems, at times, self-serving is an issue that must be addressed if we are to continue with this process. (Which I believe to be far too valuable to abandon) Erin Thomas, the person who organizes these 24hr. plays for CoHo, seemed to share this sentiment. This is why she asked for a documentary crew to capture as much of the process as they could. The last process was videotaped from start to finish and through the performances. Afterwards I was interviewed as part of a panel of the writers who participated in these 24hr. plays on the whole experience. The footage is being edited and won't be ready for at least three months, so I was told. But I think that there is a lot of interesting stuff that is revealed in this documentary footage.

I do not know, as of yet, when or where this is being viewed. But it might address your idea of "open rehearsals" on a much less problematic level. I could go into great length about why I think have audiences present for rehearsals of any kind is a VERY bad idea, however, I think I'll leave that discussion up for another day.

One final thing, sir: The last six 24hr. plays were not done by Theatre Vertigo. It was CoHo Theatre. I understand the confusion, but it was CoHo Theatre. (Where is Theatre Vertigo these days, anyway?)

Thank you for choosing to have constructive discourse over this followspot thing, by the way. I hope some people can learn from you. As an actor, and a writer, I appreciate it.

-Phillip M. Meyer-

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is that no one mentioned a word about the plays that were produced that night.

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is that no one mentioned a word about the plays that were produced that night.