January 2, 2013

by Austin Ward, Class of 2015

A proper British woman who gives relationship advice, a Romney-moon hybrid dubbed “Moon Roomney,” and the Patriarchy Incarnate—these characters and more are the most recent creations of the 24-Hour Play Festival. It’s a frenzied, caffeine-fueled event hosted by University Theater at the beginning of each quarter.

After a meet-and-greet for all of this season’s participants on Friday evening, Oct. 6, the six writers or teams of writers buckled down to produce original scripts from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday. Their task complete, they handed off their plays to the groups of directors, actors, and stagehands, who would have until 8 p.m. to rehearse, memorize lines, and assemble props and costumes. Just 24 hours after they began, it was show time.

For a behind-the-scenes look at these day-old productions, a first-year actor and a fourth-year curator recorded their thoughts and observations over the course of the festival. This is what they had to say:

Kayla Mathisen | Class of 2016
Actress in Miss Manners’s Sexy Guide to College

8:35 am 

Five minutes into casting and we've decided that our lead, a very proper elderly woman, will be played by a male actor in drag. Sounds about right.

9:17 am

Our search for a practice space leads us to a classroom in Cobb, across from an actual class that probably does not appreciate the racket we are making. 

10:15 am 

I fall asleep twice during practice. The second time, I wake up to the sight of a grind train being choreographed. “Life of the mind” indeed. 

11:13 am

We go out to brunch and conduct another read-through over English muffins and coffee. Our fellow restaurant-dwellers are impressively unfazed.

5:20 pm

While waiting for our cue-to-cue, we try to run the script in nothing but accents. This ends in hysteria. We are all more than a little tired. Austin Ward, Class of 2015

7:34 pm

It's almost show time and we are hectically trying to make our leading man look more like a leading lady.

9:58 pm

The show has ended, and we all mill about the stage and audience, giddy and tired and unabashedly proud of ourselves. It's been a whirlwind, but a fun one.

10:26 pm

My first show at UChicago was hectic, odd, and very fun. As far as introductions to University Theater, I'm aware that starting off with the 24-Hour Festival was a bit like diving straight into the deep end . . . but it was more than worth it. When do I sign up for next quarter?

Isabel Sen | Class of 2013 24-Hour
Theater Festival Curator

1:38 am

I will say this, my second festival as curator: the festival looked a lot smoother before I got behind the scenes. Like all great things, a lot of work goes into this before it even begins. Dealing with drop-outs? Making the contact sheet? Printing the scripts? Finding the dramaturg? Stuff’s rough. But good things take effort. Theater 24 is worth the effort. If I could just get my printer drivers to properly install, and the OK to be printing scripts tomorrow morning. . . .

9:36 am 

An hour and a half in and we're already out of coffee. But I'll take that as a sign that everyone was pretty much on time this morning, and you can't ask for more than that. Now everyone's got their scripts and is reading through them before scattering to squat and rehearse. Soon, first play in the space. The festival is a go. 

10:10 am 

There are pumpkin lattes in the C-Shop. Why did we move to Logan, again? 10:17 a.m.
So what are the printing costs of approximately 120 red STOP cards? Does the University have spare [emblazoned] whistle-stop whistles? I think you know where this play is going. 

11:15 am 

How did the curators get spread so thin? Well, tap out. It's off to Logan to make programs.

2:15 pm

I guess I can now put cursory knowledge of InDesign on my resume! Those look like printed programs to me. And only one typo! Not bad, not bad. And now I prepare not to leave the FXK [Francis X. Kinahan Theater] until after we close. This is what it's all about.

5:30 pm

We’re running behind on tech and the curators are getting twitchy. But I’m optimistic, if tense. Tech is when you can kind of start to identify if shows don't have it together, and they all seem to have it together. This is definitely massive credit to our SM [stage manager], Bobby Huggins ['13]. He even gave them gels in the lights! Practically aristocratic. This has all the pieces of what looks like an excellent festival.

7:20 pm

We did it. We're at warm-ups. We made it to warm-ups.

7:55 pm

SO MANY PEOPLE. Full house, full house! Am I going to forget all of the intro words when I get up on stage? Highly likely. But from here on out it's only fun. Nothing like the energy of a full house.

10:30 pm


12:50 pm, Sunday

We were twitchy and anxious and sick and spread thin, but the morning after, with all the debris of the after-party cleared away, I can confidently say that we should be proud of this festival. As "the new rule"—the theme of the festival, given our first go alone as the next generation of curators—we didn't do such a bad job. 

Final Thoughts

Nitty-gritty theater for majors and non-majors alike is what makes our theater program so great; I say this as a non-major who had only small nitty-gritty theater in high school, so maybe I’m biased. And listening to this “Patriarchy” script, in this old theater, with maybe not enough lighting instruments for this show, and last Winter Quarter’s set paint still showing through the black coated over it, I see that this is what this festival is all about: Laugh lines and smart jokes and low-key, nitty-gritty Art. This is literally why I came here.

This article originally appeared in The College.