From script to stage in 24 hours: A ‘wild, caffeine-fueled adventure’
Asawari Sodhi ’15, The Daily Princetonian
Asawari Sodhi ’15, The Daily Princetonian
Rebekah Shoemake ’17, Blake Edwards ’15, and Michaela Milgrom ’16 on stage in “It’s a Pitbullful Life.”

On Friday evening, Oct. 11, Theatre Intime began its annual 24-Hour Play Festival: a comic, much-loved tradition that challenges students to write, rehearse, and stage several short plays in the course of a day. This year, PAW went behind the scenes to see how it works.

11:30 p.m.: It’s all in the script “You are a brave, brave group,” says project director John Fairchild ’15 as he greets his writers, actors, and directors. The first task falls to the writers, who receive their prompts at midnight and have until 8 a.m. to complete their scripts. Drumrolls and laughter welcome them to the stage of Hamilton Murray Theater, where they pull slips of paper out of a hat and read them aloud. 

The prompts range from open-ended (“Can you trust your first impression?”) to ridiculously detailed (“Reporter nails pronunciation of Hawaiian woman’s very long last name”). The goal for each writer: Incorporate seven prompts into his or her play. 

Strategies? “Pull up the prompts on my computer and stare at them,” says Andrew Hanna ’16. David Drew ’14 says that after participating last year, he learned that it was best to write a lot quickly, then get some sleep. Energy is still high when the actors and directors leave the room, and within minutes hurried tapping on keyboards is the only sound to be heard.

9 a.m.: Casting call “My writer’s asleep; I can’t compliment him!” moans one director, who has just finished reading the script and describes it as “brilliant.” The writer is, in fact, dozing in a chair nearby. Now that directors have arrived to take over casting and run rehearsals, the playwrights are free to sleep until the evening’s performance. 

Actors mingle over coffee and bagels until they are called in for their auditions, which consist of performing a short, emotionally charged monologue that they had been given 10 minutes before. The directors then confer over whom they will select.

“I was a little scared when I realized I would be playing a woman who, for most of the play, thinks she’s a cat,” says Margaret Wright ’17. Each play has just two or three actors, and the rest of the day will require close collaborative work.

5:45 p.m.: Things start to gel As directors meet with tech assistants, actors wander through the theater, trying on costumes and reciting their lines. One couple is choreographing a dance onstage. A soldier wields her toy gun. 

Were eight hours of rehearsal enough? Chris Littlewood ’16 is realistic but calm. “I start with two monologues, which I don’t know yet,” he says. “But I don’t go on until 9.”

8 p.m.: Showtime! The day’s work has produced five 15- to 30-minute plays that are staged for friends and families, many of whom are on campus for Freshman Families Weekend. The first play, “It’s a Pitbullful Life,” has the audience roaring with laughter as animals turn into angels and a meat-eater learns a lesson. Others are more heartfelt: Characters question their sexuality and try to heal relationships. 

Though the cast is concerned about the reaction of older audience members to the unguarded humor, Fairchild receives only positive comments. 

“I think we communicated well what 24-Hour really is — a wild, caffeine-fueled adventure — and the audience responded,” Fairchild says. “They were in it with us.”