Six short plays in one long night: a project produced out of creative chaos
SIX PLAYWRIGHTS, six directors, 24 actors, two producers, two facilitators. This is the challenge known as the 24 Play Project, which will come to Dublin’s Project Arts Centre later this month. Actors, playwrights and directors need to collaborate spontaneously and intensely to perform six short plays staged 22 hours after everyone meets for the first time. The event’s confident tagline promises “the best line-up on any stage in Ireland this year”.
The playwrights include Deirdre Kinahan, Pauline McLynn and Tom Swift, while the directors include Wayne Jordan, Annie Ryan, Alan Stanford and Willie White.
Among the actors are The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards nominees Amy Conroy, Mark O’Halloran, Rory Nolan and Dearbhla Crotty.
O’Halloran will have his acting hat on for the project, for which he is grateful. “I think the pressure is kind of off for the actors,” he says. “There’s going to be a whole gang of us, and lots of open minds coming together.”
But for writers, he says, the pressure is on, “It will be seat-of-the-pants time. Writers are always second-guessing themselves, so sometimes, when you get bounced into something, you get something very interesting.”
O’Halloran believes that for the project to succeed, the main thing is to keep an open mind. “Actors are very adaptable. It’s the writers I worry for. Actors will turn their hands to anything. Part of it will be [held together with] the adrenaline rush, but I have never done anything like this before so there will be a learning curve.”
A fundrasier for Dublin Youth Theatre, the collaboration came about when producers Eva C Scanlan and Phillip McMahon met Philip Naude, one of the original founders of 24 Hour Plays, an American company that has been doing this for 12 years. The company, which started as a one-off event, has gone on to produce its trademark plays across the US, with actors including Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Sienna Miller and Josh Hartnett taking up the challenge.
The US embassy in Dublin provided funding to bring over Naude, along with producing member Kelcie Beene, and Project Arts Centre provided its space for free. The project was born.
Scanlan explains the timeline of the process. “On Saturday night, everybody will meet at 9.30pm for a 45-minute session, introducing themselves, and between myself and [McMahon] and the two presenters coming over, we explain the process. The actors will give a little pitch about themselves in terms of any additional skills they have and the writers will start filtering that information.”
From there, the writers will pick their cast one by one until all the actors are assigned. “From 11.30pm until 6am, they’ll be writing. Everybody else gets to go home, sleep and prepare. At 6am, the producers come back in, read the scripts and set a running order. Then the directors come in and read the scripts blind, so they don’t know who wrote them, give their top three preferences, and the producers match them with a writer. They have a chat about the script, and then the cast come in at 8am.”
The actors will find out who their director is, and rehearse until 5.30pm. The plays will be performed at 7.30pm.
One of the playwrights, Gary Duggan, thinks the biggest challenge will be a very practical one. “Staying awake will be the tricky part.”
He also says that in terms of writing, a lot rests on the cast. “Knowing who you are writing for helps. I think all the writers are kind of familiar with the actors, so you can think about what you have always wanted to see a specific actor do.”
Duggan says inspiration can come from odd places. “I’ve written short pieces before in tight timeframes, and sometimes a particular line you heard someone say during the day might give you an idea to spread out into a piece. Sometimes the best inspiration is something you hear on the bus that will set you off.”
McMahon says part of his job will be to create the conditions to ensure writers can work comfortably through the night. “I’d imagine there’ll be hair being pulled out at 5am with 10 pages to go.” He recalls the Irish theatre company Semper Fi’s similar project more than a decade ago. “It’s the ultimate intense experience,” McMahon says of the project. “And it’s a great show of support for Dublin Youth Theatre when you email some of the greatest actors that we have and they’re jumping at the chance to do it.”
For the directors, “there is no safety zone”, says Annie Ryan. “The more practice you have of diving into the abyss and making it your home, the better. And this is a pretty big abyss.”
Ryan says she is very much an ensemble person and generally greets projects “with a big bag of tricks” including yoga and muscular-tension exercises, of which she may create a simplified version to engage with the cast straight away. Ryan believes that because it’s a one-off, directors may risk more than they usually do, which is a great prospect for the audience. “It will be a great adventure,” she says confidently.
An adventure, for sure; an intense experience for all involved, definitely; and for the theatre punter, a chance to see high-wire writing, acting, directing and producing held together with spontaneity and strong coffee. Or, as O’Halloran puts it, “This is creative chaos.”
The 24 Hour Play Project takes place at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, Dublin on February 19th at 7.30pm (€22/€25). See projectartscentre.ie.