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24-Hour Play Festival Has Its Roots In A Love For Theater

Playhouse On The Park's Community Plays Get One-Time Showing

By CHRISTOPHER ARNOTT

Special to CTNow

9:55 AM EDT, July 30, 2014

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The 24-Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park is nigh. Six one-act plays, each of them around 10 minutes long, are written, cast, designed, rehearsed and presented to an audience within one non-stop daylong flurry. The marathon playmaking event kicks off Friday night, Aug. 1, when the playwrights, directors and cast members meet for the first time. On Saturday, Aug. 2, at 8 p.m. the resulting plays are given the only performances they're ever likely to get.

Creating a collaborative work of art in an intensive daylong work session has been a popular pursuit for filmmakers for decades, with many competitive international competitions. But it's been a popular live-theater game for even longer, one which tends to be less about prizes and more about pleasing the audience.

"A lot of us fell in love with the theater in college, says Playhouse on Park'as co-artistic director Sean Harris. "You do crazy things there, sitting up all night writing plays for each other. It's really important for us not to forget what we love about theater in the first place."

So when Dawn Loveland, the playhouse's director of education, suggested doing a 24-hour play project, Harris immediately agreed.

Here's how it works: The playwrights arrive at the theater first, and mull over a selection of props set out by the festival's organizers. (Using these items assures that the scripts will be fresh and not thought up in advance of the 24-hour development period.) Suitably inspired, the writers get to know the actors and directors and teams are formed. The scripts are ready by morning, when they're worked and reworked, then blocked and memorized in time for the 8 p.m. show.

This exhilarating, exhausting artistic exercise doesn't just evoke youthful excitement about the immediacy and endless possibilities of live theater. It fulfills part of the Playhouse on Park mandate to "embrace and provide opportunity for professional, emerging and community artists."

Many of the Playhouse on Park mainstage shows are cast with professional actors. The 24-Hour Play Festival is open to anyone.

"Every time we do it, it's constantly new faces," Harris says. "We try to be a professional theater of the community, where professional artists are working with emerging artists. This is a perfect example of that." He mentions as performer "who'd never had a major role" who was picked to do a long monologue piece at a previous 24 Hour Festival, "and is now getting role after role after role."

The 24-hour show model is beloved by fringe festivals and late-night theaters. The Yale Cabaret in New Haven one grabbed the format as a last resort when a previously scheduled show was cancelled at the last minute, leading to a years-long tradition of 24 hour shows there. A Broadway version of the 24-hour stunt, done last year as a benefit for Urban Arts Partnership, featured Pulitzer Prize-winning writers David Lindsay-Abaire and Lynn Nottage and several "Saturday Night Live" stars among the dozens-strong acting ensemble.

Unlike a lot of 24-hour play events out there, Playhouse on Park's doesn't have a competitive element. Audiences don't vote for the best show of the evening.

"Competition would bring pressure to the process that's not needed," Harris says. Everything in our theater is about sharing art as a community. There's a sense of real pride and ownership, and it spreads to the audience as well. There is just one performance. This is the only time these pieces are going to get done. The audience is totally immersed in that."

"This is theater because you love to do it." Even if you barely have the time it takes.

>>Playhouse on Park is at 244 Park Road in West Hartford. Information: 860-523-5900 and playhouseonpark.org.