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Monday, January 05, 2004

Theatre Crack

That's how one regular describes the recently concluded first-round of the semi-annual 14/48: The World's Quickest Theatre Festival at Consolidated Works [Sorry, this link won't work right -- just type in "" in your browser window -- CPC]. As a participant, I tend to think of it more like "Theatre Boot Camp", but either appelation probably only gives the uninitiated the barest hint of what the event entails.

For those of you out of the loop (or out of town), it goes sort of like this: On Thursday evening, the whole crew -- seven playwrights, seven directors, about 20 actors, some musicians, designers, staff & volunteers meet for a brief orientation, at which point everyone throws a theme into a hat. The theme that gets selected will be used the following evening, and each playwright is randomly given a cast breakdown; X Men & Y Women. Then they immediately scurry off to various homes, coffee shops, smokey bars or where ever it is they do their thing, and over the course of the next 14 hours each crank out a ten-minute script based on the selected subject.

At 9:00 a.m. on Friday, each of the seven directors picks one of the playwrights out of a hat, then they "cast" the piece by pulling the names of the actors out of another set of hats (traditionally, it's actually a pair of oversized clown shoes -- one each for males and females). Once this is done, each team splits off to an area of the cavernous (and this time extremely cold) ConWorks space, where during the next 10 hours they will read, rehearse, tech, score, costume, design and finally present a fully-mounted production of the script for two paying audiences.

During the first performance, the audience has a chance to submit themes for the following evening, one of which is selected at the end of the show, at which point the playwrights again retire to their various and sundry writing dens, and the whole process repeats on Saturday.

Sounds insane, no? Well, the fact of the matter is -- it is. But, it's a feverishly creative form of insanity that has usually had remarkably strong results. By compressing an artistic process that at normal speed can often take years to get from idea to production, the entire focus of the exercise becomes about trusting ones instincts and the instincts of others to both support your choices and improve upon them. The 14/48 motto: "Always say 'Yes!'".

This is what theatre is in a nutshell; a collaborative process where everyone who participates has a share of the responsibility for the success of the project, and where everyone's input contributes to that success. And it's the way theatre should be in its most ideal form, but which all too often tends to succomb to politics and dogmatic notions about who's in charge, and whose voice is most important. In the 14/48 world, EVERYONE'S voice is equally important, necessary and vital to pulling off such a risky and audacious stunt -- and as often as not, it DOES get pulled off, quite well.

My personal experiences with 14/48, while generally positive, have nevertheless been somewhat of a mixed bag. Sometimes you get a a rather uninspired script, or a director who doesn't quite know what to do with it, or actors (including myself) who may not be quite "right" for the roles -- it's all part of the intentional randomness, and it's to be expected. This time, however, while there was certainly potential for mediocrity, both days everyone I worked with rose to the challenge, and I personally had one of the most satisfying performing experiences in a long, long time, which of course must be considered with the fact that I haven't had much time at all onstage in the last couple of years.

For actors in particular 14/48 can be a grueling experience, because just as in normal theatre, we're the ones stepping in front of the audience, and they will judge the overall quality of what they see primarily by how well they think we've done our jobs. In the end, it doesn't matter so much in their minds how well the writer, director & designers have done their jobs, even though that does naturally have a direct bearing on the final product. But, we're the ones ultimately left to sink or swim, and so we feel the pressure more keenly. And when you consider that the entire event is designed specifically around the concept of an artistic pressure-cooker, well that sense of dread and anticipation that is a normal part of the actor's psyche gets dialed up a couple of notches. And always in the back of your head is that little prayer, "please, oh please don't let me be the one who screws it up". Most people outside of our business probably find it incomprehensible, why we would want to put ourselves into that kind of situation.

But, boy when it works, it really is like no other feeling in the world. Maybe bungee-jumpers, sky-divers, test pilots or other adrenaline junkies can relate; suddenly, time compresses into what seems like a few brief seconds when it's going good. Conversely, when you forget your lines, or something unexpected happens, time seems to slow to a crawl; seconds can feel like hours. Usually in a typical 14/48 piece, both kinds of time distortion will occur, so that by the time you walk offstage after getting through your 10 or 12 minute piece, you feel completely disconnected from reality; you have no accurate perception of how much time has elapsed since you took that last deep breath, recited those last few troublesome lines to yourself before walking out into the dim lights for your turn to ride the ride.

And when things go really well, as they did for me this weekend, particularly on Saturday, it's a feeling I wouldn't trade that feeling for anything in the world.

Posted byCOMTE on 1:50 PM

1 Scurvy Dogs Have Gathered 'Round The Scuttle Butt

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