24 hours of play
In the quarterly festival Theater, student thespians create and perform plays within a day.
In the past, I’ve directed a group of poachers on roller skates. I’ve written a noir play about a real estate agent who lost his pen. I’ve rapped two verses of Fergie’s masterpiece “Fergalicious” in front of a crowd of people. And none of that was atypical at UChicago’s quarterly Theater festivals. During the first week of the quarter, students meet at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Reynold’s Club Francis X. Kinahan Theater to introduce themselves. The introductions—which can comprise anything from one student singing to another fitting her body through a coat hanger (I’ve seen it)—help the writers craft their characters. The students will spend the next 24 hours, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, writing, designing, directing, and rehearsing six one-act plays. It all culminates in a Saturday night performance of all six plays. The curators, a group of students who organize the festival, decide based on applications who is directing, acting, writing, and designing. Before the festival starts, they pick a theme, and sometimes also even choose words and phrases that the playwrights must incorporate into their scripts. When I wrote for the festival, I was given a cardboard box, and the curators told me that it needed to be integral to my storyline. At 8 p.m. on Friday, the curators take the writers to a secret location near campus, where the playwriting will continue through the night. They come stocked with caffeine, sugar, and energy food, taking breaks only for sporadic dance parties and script feedback sessions. The next morning at 9 a.m., the directors, designers, and actors meet for a community breakfast and a read-through, and then each artistic team separates to rehearse throughout the day. This fall was my fifth time participating in Theater, and my second time directing. I’ve also acted. Because it's possible to take part in the festival within one 12-hour block, it’s a great way for the uninitiated to try theater without having to invest a serious amount of time. Sasha Ayvazov, a fourth-year curator who has been participating in Theater since his first quarter on campus, explains, “Theater demands not your skill and talent, but your passion and commitment, and it evens the playing field enough to be the ultimate introduction to theater and the theater community on campus.” The play I directed this fall was called Escape from Horse Camp. The protagonist tries to break free from a summer camp haunted by creepy horse lovers and a horse ghost named $tarfire. Horses and ghosts were themes in this quarter’s festival, which led to plays with titles like If Everyone Was an Animal, Would You Think That Was Funny, Audience? The plays are silly, bawdy, and often absurd, but that’s part of the experience. “Theater is not just low stakes; it’s no stakes. No one expects a good play to come out of a 12-hour sleep-deprived, caffeine-driven writing session. No one expects special effects, a beautiful set, or inspired choreography from a 10-hour rehearsal process, or that the actors even know their lines for a show that didn’t exist until that morning,” Ayvazov says, “That’s exactly why the plays are so good, the directing and design so inspired, and the improvisation so on point. With the complete lack of expectation comes the freedom to disregard convention and create the kind of theater you want to watch.”