By Jenny Neyman
This close to a performance, a mere few days away, those involved in a play are usually in polish mode.
Actors have had weeks to months to memorize their lines, get comfortable with their characters and are working to refine nuances of their portrayals. Directors have been carefully crafting the story line and now are down to just making subtle nudges here and there to smooth any remaining wrinkles or rough spots. Previous to that, the playwright spent months to even years composing the work, mulling over the concept, carefully considering dialogue and agonizing over drafts until the script is just right.
In the case of this Friday’s performances, however, the luxury of just right is going to be superceded by the necessity of right now. All of it — from the writing of the lines to the memorizing, rehearsing and delivering them — will be done in just one day.
It’s called 24-hour theater, a way to speed up and liven up the theater process, in this case embarked upon by the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center and the Kenai Performers.
Writers will meet at the center at 6 p.m. Friday to meet a director and actors assigned to them, then will have until 7:30 a.m. the next morning to write a script for a five- to 20-minute play based somehow on the center’s summer art and culture show, “Intersecting Journeys.” Writers will have a brief amount of time to look at the art and artifacts at the meeting Friday. They’ll either find something to be inspired by, or, by gum, they’ll be given something to be inspired by.
“There’s no opportunity for writer’s block, for sure, and choices just have to be made very quickly,” said Laura Forbes, art and exhibits director of the center.
Forbes will make copies of the scripts and present them to directors and actors at 8:30 a.m. They will only have until 7 p.m. to rehearse for a 7:30 p.m. performance.
“It’s going to be as surprising to me as it is to everyone else. What’s written and performed is going to depend on the actors and the conversations between actors and playwrights and directors,” she said.
The show came about as a partnership between the Patrons Board of the center and the Kenai Performers. The board has been working to develop more performance-based program opportunities that tie into the center’s museum collections summer art show. The Kenai Performers, which is raising money to renovate its new building, needs other spaces in the community to perform in until the new theater building is ready to be used.
“It seemed like a good opportunity for both organizations to meet their mission,” Forbes said.
Twenty-four-hour theater projects take place in Anchorage and generally are thought of as “big-city” endeavors of established theater programs. But the stripped-down, speeded up nature actually fits well with community theater, since all it takes is a handful of quick and creative writers, directors and actors.
“I think for many of the people involved it’s a way to make theater in very short period of time,” Forbes said. “Normally the theatrical process takes anywhere from four weeks to the case of the Kenai Performers’ musical last year, they started rehearsing in October for performances that started in February. That’s not a commitment everyone can make. An opportunity like this people can participate in without having to make that amount of time commitment.”
That was why Hatton Greer, a public defender in Kenai, suggested that Kenai Performers do a 24-hour project. He’s signed up to be an actor.
“I’ve seen this in Anchorage and I thought, ‘Hey, I’d really like to be involved in theater, but I’m too busy to commit to the three months or whatever,’” Greer said. “I’m looking forward to it. What’s there to be nervous about? I figure we’ll all be making fools of ourselves. Anybody coming expecting Shakespeare is probably in for a little bit of a disappointment.”
But who knows? The plays could be Shakespeare, they could be slapstick or anything in between. The thrill of not knowing is part of what attracted actor Ian McEwen to participate.
“It sounds like an interesting challenge,” McEwen said. “It’s possible I’ll get some deadly piece of theater that makes me want to freak out. It’s also possible someone will hand me a piece that has a dramatic punch I don’t expect, or something that is legitimately hilarious or offbeat enough that it’s fascinating.
“Usually when you audition for something you know what the piece is, the basic story at least. This was, ‘Yeah, I’ll do something. I have no idea what I’m doing, but let’s do it,’” he said.
McEwen is a quick memorizer, the scripts won’t be overly long, the groups will have all day to rehearse, and McEwen tends to be an over-and-over-again-until-he’s-got-it type of practicer anyway, so he isn’t too concerned about getting his lines down. And if there’s a flub here or there, well, that’s part of the thrill of live theater.
“It’s nerve-racking but I think because we’re going to be focused on it so heavily for an extended period of time in one day, that will assist in getting it burned into my mind what I have to do. But because it’s going to be a brand-new piece it allows more flexibility and give and take then you may get with a more-established work,” he said. “And there’s less time for those nerves to kick up, too.”
He likes the idea of relating the process to an art show, especially this particular one with its themes of Kenai, those who call it home and those who transition in and out of it.
“That’s what life is, our journeys crossing with other people’s journeys and the reaction we have to that and they have to us. It’s life and it’s going to be interesting to see that life translated on a stage, hopefully in an interesting way,” McEwen said.
Kim Bates, a member of the patrons board and third-grade teacher at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, signed herself and some colleagues up for the project. She and several others in the area completed a master’s degree program in arts integration into education, which involved a lot of quick-turnaround productions.
“We call it art on demand,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be. Feeding off my other colleagues gets me to do something I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I was always grateful to do it.”
She thought the project would be a fun reunion for her fellow participants in the Lesley University degree program and recruited them to undertake the writing, directing and acting as a collaborative process.
“I’ll wait until we get in there, see what everybody’s mood is like, we’ll see what those art and artifact pieces are and where we go from there,” she said. “What I learned from the Lesley program is you just have to give it a try. You’ll grow from it and learn from it and hopefully people will enjoy it. It’s the process that’s important.”
That uncertainly is part of the challenge, but also part of the fun of 24-hour theater.
“I think that’s also kind of the excitement for the audience is they know this has all happened in 24 hours and you’ve got to be kind of on the edge of your seat to see something that usually takes years and months and weeks to see it all boiled down to a day,” Forbes said.
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the center. Admission is $10. So far, confirmed playwrights are Kim Bates, Rebecca Gilman, Jenny Neyman, Dan Pascucci and Joe Rizzo. Directors are Bates, Debbie Harris, Paul Morin, Angie Nelson and Terri Zopf-Shoessler. Actors are Josh Ball, Marc Berezin, Terri Burdick, Sally Cassano, Ken Duff, Aaron Gordon, Greer, McEwen, Jamie Nelson, Conna Rawson, Charlotte Schipman-Zumbuhl and Zopf-Shoessler.