Have you heard of the 24 Hour Plays? It's a simple concept that is ridiculously complex to pull off. Every year, a big group of actors, playwrights, and directors volunteer a single day -- 24 full hours -- in which they create a night full of original theatre. It started in 1995 as a group of young theatre-makers who set out toput on a show where, as founder Tina Fallon
explains, "opening night and closing night could be at the same time, so our friends would actually show up".
Nearly two decades later, the 24 Hour Plays has grown into a huge annual fundraiser, drawing some of the biggest names in the world of entertainment: Jennifer Aniston
, Kevin Spacey
, Brooke Shields
, Sarah Silverman
, Gloria Estefan
, Demi Moore
, and Sam Rockwell
are recent participants. Raising $400,000 or more is commonplace now. Every year it gets bigger, and every year it seems closer to impossible that the entire night of theatre was conceived, created, designed, rehearsed and performed in a single day.
In 2007, Tina & friends put on what they called a "trial run" of a new twist on the concept: could composers, lyricists, musicians, and choreographers be added into the mix without adding any time to the clock? The trial run proved that it was possible, and the 24 Hour Musicals was officially born.
I got to attend the second ever official 24 Hour Musicals opening (and closing) night. It took place at the Gramercy Theatre on a winter night in 2009. Participants that year included Cheyenne Jackson
, Mandy Gonzalez
, Rachel Dratch
, Richard Kind
, and a pre-Modern-Family Jesse Tyler Ferguson
. The energy in the theatre was ridiculously high. I always feel a buzz when attending a live performance, but this was the norm times... I don't know, a million? The actors were sweating, the producers were running around like crazy people, and the librettists & composers were nearly passed out. I experienced all of this from the audience, and it made me both nervous and excited. I remember thinking that it was kind of like being backstage for a production's opening night.
Well, I had no idea. Tonight, I got a taste of what that night was really about.
A new documentary film, "One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day" was screened tonight in a Times Square movie complex for bloggers, media, and a few lucky fans. The titular "one night" was that same night in 2009. And that electricity I felt? Whew, it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the course of about 90 minutes, the film captures the entire process that spans the 24 hours of creation. It goes something like this:
10:15pm - actors introduce themselves and share props & costumes they think might inspire a storyline (Richard Kind
brings a three piece suit he wore on Sesame Street. Ellie McKay has an Amy Winehouse
10:45pm - actors & directors are released to sleep for a bit, and writers fight for the actors they want (Rachel Dratch
is chosen first, followed by Cheyenne Jackson
11pm-6am - book writers & composers, often after introducing themselves to each other for the very first time, create a story, a script, and three original songs each (Pasek & Paul stress-bicker until Justin throws up, which gives him a "clear head and a clear stomach").
6:30am - directors arrive and begin to plan.
8:00am - actors arrive and assemble in their casts (the Cheyenne Jackson
& Jesse Tyler Ferguson
musical seems stacked, but maybe only because they've both become way more famous since 2009).
2:00-5:00pm - tech rehearsals (The lucky/ best-prepared shows manage one run-through).
5:00-7:00pm - frantic memorization of lines (Rachel's big scared eyes get bigger and more scared. Richard still doesn't know his song).
7:30pm - the audience arrives at the theatre.
8:00-10:00pm - the musicals come to life!!
This is where the film catches up to my electric memories of the night, except this time the buzz comes with context. The process that made composers vomit and actors have panic attacks, which caused an entire stable of theatre-makers to lose a night of sleep and sanity, has somehow resulted in four clever, touching, and hilarious new musicals. 25 hours earlier many of these collaborators had never met. Now they were singing, dancing, slly feeding each other the occasional line, and supporting each other through one of the most stressful -- and most rewarding -- experiences of their professional lives.
There's nothing like seeing live theatre in person, but this film gets you as close to the process as any fan is likely going to get.
Appropriately, the movie is playing in theatres as its own One Night Stand. Us lucky ones got a sneak preview tonight, but the rest of the world will only be able to see it in theatres on January 30, 2013. FathomEvents.com is selling tickets to 7:30pm showings all over the country; about 450 screens in total. While I wish, for the sake of this amazing project and the visibility it deserves, that this movie was getting a wider release. But at the same time, there's something pretty special about viewing it with the same urgency as when it was created. One chance to be there; one chance to shine; one chance to appreciate exactly what the theatre-making process is about in a single, manic episode.
One Night Stand is a love-letter to the people who use love as the springboard for theatre; it's a behind-the-scenes window into the crazy, brilliant minds that come together in collaboration; and it's a solid fix for those of us who can't get enough. Plus, if you think it impossible to respect theatre-makers more than you already do, this film will change your mind a thousand-fold. Brava, brava, brava.
For January 30 tickets & information on "One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day," go to FathomEvents.com