Xperimental Theatre creates 24-hour production

The annual event drew the largest crowd in its four-year history at the University.

Tom Moran

When you’re flying by the seat of your pants, plan B is always a good option.

Beginning with nothing, more than 75 members of The Xperimental Theatre wrote, rehearsed and performed six one-act plays in 24 hours this past weekend in the Rarig Center.

The event began at 8 p.m. Friday with 10 writers and X Theatre board members in a fifth-floor room. Each of the six teams of writers had 12 hours to produce a 15-minute, one-act play. They couldn’t leave until the script was complete.

Before beginning, each team was told how many actors would be in each performance, ranging from six to 13, and nothing else. The writers were given an item for inspiration, such as an old camera.

The 24 hours of improvisation began at 8:08 p.m. when the teams sat down to discuss their work and begin writing. Many of the writers said they felt nervous and overwhelmed because they had no experience writing these types of performances before.

Writers Anna Kunin, a first-year student, and her partner Deepta Holalkere, sat in a loveseat discussing their items and how they could relate to them.

Christopher Kehoe, a theatre arts senior and fellow writer, sat kitty-corner in the cubicle area trying to decipher his book that was written in Czech.

Kehoe said he wanted to understand his item because it would provide inspiration for his writing. “Mighty oaks grow from small acorns,” he said.

Keith Hovis, a journalism junior, said he avoided frustration by committing to a decision and getting to work quickly. Things would become more difficult, however, for Hovis – unbeknownst to him he was beginning a much longer workday than expected.

The writing and editing process lasted 10 hours, until around 6 a.m.

Kunin said the writers spent the last hours of the night sitting in a circle. “We were all thinking ‘Why are we still up?’ ” she said.

Six directors arrived at 8 a.m. to review a script with each team of writers. Kehoe said his meeting was frantic, and afterward it felt surreal walking out of the building.

The actors arrived to the basement of the building at 9 a.m. and were randomly assigned to groups.

Neat circles formed in the basement – a giant cube opening that descends into the center of the first floor with adjoining hallways.

An eerie silence engulfed the basement room as the directors met in the middle to receive last-minute advice from X Theatre board members. They warned directors to expect the unexpected and to use all the creativity they could.

One such forewarned event occurred early: of the 56 actors participating, 18 were absent. The directors would have to make do.

After the meeting – 10 and half hours before the show was slated to begin – teams dispersed to their rooms throughout the basement; board members glanced toward the entrance.

Moments later the noise of six different groups rehearsing filled the basement, a mixture of shouts, screams, bangs and laughter.

Lunch came at noon and the basement filled quickly.

The actors in director Noah Rios’ group said it was the first opportunity they had to truly meet each other.

Rios said teambuilding was important in and out of rehearsals. He said chemistry is vital to performing plays that rely on improvisation and having fun with one another.

Three hours after he returned home, and one hour of sleep later, Hovis returned to Rarig to fill in for a missing actor in the play he wrote just hours earlier. An hour later, he admitted the lack of sleep was starting to get to him.

Performances began to become polished and memorization became important by 2 p.m., as groups each got one chance to rehearse in the theatre they would perform in shortly, the Stole Thrust Theatre.

Actress Anna Hickey, a theater arts sophomore, was in the central basement room trying to memorize her lines. She said she normally has about a month to memorize and rehearse a performance.

Even though she hadn’t known her fellow actors very well at the beginning of the day, Hickey said she already felt close to them.

“Anytime you work extensively with someone, you get closer,” she said. “I just kissed a girl in there (her group’s room); I just fought with them.”

Some groups began to break at 6 p.m. to relax and get dinner. The noises of rehearsal, however, still erupted in the basement.

Some groups continued to rehearse until as close as 30 minutes before show time.

Before the show, the cast of director Jenna Lory’s play said they weren’t nervous. They said the 24 Hour Theatre was all about having fun and improvisation. As long as they enjoyed themselves, the performance would be entertaining, they said.

Hovis, who had been in Rarig for 21 out of 24 possible hours, said he was extremely tired and was “out of it” before he performed, but as soon as he got on stage he felt wired.

He said he appreciated watching his script evolve throughout the day as he, the director, designer and cast collaborated.

“It was still my writing, but it became an ensemble work,” he said.

The fourth-annual 24 Hour Theatre began at 8 p.m. Saturday to the largest audience the Xperimental Theatre has ever received.

After the event, managing director Jasmine Rush, a theater arts junior, said the 24-hour process taught people to go with their original ideas and not second-guess themselves.

She said she felt euphoria after being in Rarig the entire 24 hours, only leaving to pick up pizza.

“The support, turnout, the audience, the product, the process – this is what the X is all about,” she said.