24 Hour Plays: One Producer's Perspective (part 1)

24 Hour Plays: Sold OutAlong with Steve Carlson and Susanne Mundok, I was part of a team that produced Lancaster’s first (that we know of) 24 Hour Plays event on November 4 & 5, 2011 at The Candy Factory. The Candy Factory is a shared workspace in downtown Lancaster with a wide open floor plan and lots of great space. The planning process started in late August and continued all the way up to the big weekend. We partnered with our good friends at Creative Works of Lancaster early on in the process to assist us with recruiting participants, promotion, and ticket sales. We also did our own promotion and recruiting, along with plenty of logistics planning, preparation of materials, media interviews, and communication with prospects, participants, and sponsors. We were never completely sure that we were covering all of our bases, and little things would pop up along the way causing us to stop and say things like, “oh yeah, guess we need to be thinking about that, huh!” Our success or failure with planning would literally come down to the end when the rubber met the road.

24 Hour Plays started as a theatrical experiment in New York City during the mid-nineties. The folks who started it have since licensed the concept to theater groups around the globe. It was now Lancaster’s turn.

Here is generally how the process works. All participants gather for a welcome meeting on Friday night. This includes producers and crew, six directors, six writers, and about twenty actors. Everyone gets a chance to introduce themselves with the actors taking a couple extra minutes to share their experience or special skills. After the meeting, the directors and actors are excused for the night and the writers spend a half hour or so choosing the actors for whom they will write. Immediately following that exercise, the writers create six ten-minute plays. All actors must have a role, but no actor can perform in more than one play. By six o’clock the next morning, the scripts are completed and copied and the writers are dismissed. Directors arrive around 7 am to read the six scripts and then decide amongst themselves which one they would like to direct. Actors return around 8 am to receive their assignments, and then the teams work for the rest of the day to bring the scripts to life. Show time is that evening around 7 pm. There are plenty more details that I’m leaving out, but this should serve as an overview of how the process flows.

For the producers, our actual process started a little earlier on Friday than the welcome meeting. We spent the day collecting equipment, doing some last minute planning, and preparing the room at The Candy Factory. Jennifer Dunn, our Facilities Coordinator, directed the beginning of the space’s transformation from desks and communal work tables to a big open space ready to welcome Brian McKee, Shumaker PDT, and his stage and lighting crew around 6 pm. Brian’s team worked through the evening to build a custom stage, complete with a light rig and curtained tunnel for entrance and exits and a curtained backstage area. It was unbelievable how quickly the space started to feel like an actual theater.

24 Hour Plays: Welcome MeetingAfter completing our last minute planning preparations during the evening, we welcomed all of the participants to join us at 8 pm for the initial meeting. It was so exciting to have everyone in the room together for the first time and to put faces with many of the names and email addresses that we had seen for months on a constantly changing Google Doc spreadsheet. There were representatives from several different theater groups in the Lancaster area, and many of the participants were also just meeting each other for the first time. During the meeting, Steve and I laid out the schedule and answered questions as best as we could. It was interesting to hear the gaps in our own planning as questions were raised about all sorts of things from costuming, to process, to the “rules”. Overall, the tone of the meeting was fun, lively, and very respectful.

Following the welcome meeting, the writers moved to a small conference room where they passed around the actor’s photographs like baseball cards finally settling on the 2-5 actors for whom they would write. With that knowledge, they moved to quiet, and for the most part isolated, locations to begin working on their scripts. We finally had a chance to take a short break and get a bite to eat with Jennifer and Sean Malak, who had been shooting video throughout the evening.

Around midnight, Susanne left for the night and Steve, Jennifer, and I set up over a hundred folding chairs to round out24 Hour Plays: the Stage is Set the space. At that point it really felt like the project was rolling. We spent the next few hours providing support to the writers by printing drafts of the scripts, answering questions, and providing snack courtesy of Lemon Street Market. The writers began to slowly ascend from their isolation, strike up conversation, and assist each other with feedback and readings. This is not something that we anticipated, but it was great to see camaraderie forming within the group. By 5:30 am, all of the writers were finished, Jennifer had sneaked away for a nap, and Steve and I were sitting alone in the space with six brand new scripts in hand. We took a few deep breaths, reflected on the night and waited for Susanne, who would be returning soon to photocopy the scripts in preparation for the return of the directors!

Click here to go to part 2 of this post. Look for reflections from other participants as well.

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