24-hr theater fest pushes playwrights

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Spiders, cauldrons and Ouija boards. Oh my! There are two months until Halloween, but you wouldn’t know that from the haunting vibes in Corner Playhouse this past Saturday.

“We had a theme this year: double, double, toil and trouble,” director and professor Cat Gleason says. “This is probably the spookiest 23:59 we’ve ever had.”

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, inspiring the theater department season. Graduate Theater Organization president Natalie McCabe says they chose the line from Macbeth “double, double, toil and trouble” because of the phrase’s prominence and the variety of interpretations it presents.

The Graduate Theater Organization held their seventh-annual 23:59 Play Festival 8 p.m. Aug. 29. The night before the performances, five student playwrights and guest playwright Meg Phillips Crespy were each given a secret line to work into a 10-minute play. The scripts had to be finished by 7:30 a.m. the following morning at which point the directors and actors had until 8 p.m. at night pull the play together.

“We get the script at 7:45 a.m. and we run inside and start looking at it,” Gleason says. “I have to look around the table at the actors, some of which I have never met before, and say ‘I’m looking at this list of characters, how about you do this and you do this.’ We got lucky and everything I said the first time totally worked so we didn’t have to recast.”

Gleason directed the play called “Mac Fly,” which was a mash-up between Macbeth and the Back to the Future movies.

“We had a grand time today, but it required a lot of props, a lot of movement and a lot of unison speaking so it was probably a bit more work than I was expecting,” Gleason says.

One problem the directors faced was the limited time to refine the plays.

“It’s a little tricky because a lot of work that I normally do as a director is pre-work, which is something you can’t really do when you only have 24 hours,” director and doctoral student Lainie Vansant says. “I have a sound cue based on an actor and a light cue based on an actor and so that relies on the actor being able to do it, and the technician realizing they missed that spot and they need to sneak that cue in.”

Although the restrictive time to prepare for the plays leads to last minute searches for props and possible forgotten lines, McCabe believes this is what makes the show’s format special.

“(The time crunch) lends to the excitement and the energy because there’s always the chance of imminent failure but I think it also enhances creativity … and you are more willing to take risks,” McCabe says.

Students from all different grades and backgrounds participate in 23:59. This was sophomore Jessica Reid’s second time participating in the event. This year, she plays a man-eating spider in “Mac Fly.”

“This entire festival is the most crazy fun thing that you could do because nobody cares if you mess up, Reid says. “Everybody is there to have a great time and just be a complete goof. I think the day leading up to it was so much fun and so much hard work, but so worth it.”

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